1979: Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, former dictator of Ghana 2010: Ronnie Lee Gardner, by musketry

1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France

June 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1939, French murderer Eugen Weidmann dropped his head in the basket outside a prison in Versailles. France’s signal history of public beheadings died along with him.

The career criminal Weidmann knocked around prison in his twenties.

Further to the maxim that penitentiaries are the school of crime, Weidmann’s stint for robbery connected him right up with a couple of accomplices who started up a kidnapping-robbery-murder ring when they got out.

They left several bodies (and miles of newspaper copy) in their wake in late 1937 before the inevitable capture, confession, condemnation. (Weidmann’s accomplices all managed to avoid the chop.)

The beheading this day did not come off well; a massive crowd* jostled for a view, a scene belied by the tame crowd photo of the execution’s official witnesses.


Two photographs of Eugen Weidmann’s execution in Versailles 17 June 1939. (Click for larger images.)

The government immediately banned public executions. Although it wouldn’t be the government much longer, the change stuck.

But the crowd scene wasn’t the half of it.

Still photos of the guillotine had been snapped for years, but a delay putting justice into its heavy downward-crashing motion that morning meant the execution took place in plenty of light for an illicit moving picture.

Caution: Mature content. This is video of the guillotine in action.

From the time this film cut, France’s national razor would do its cutting only behind prison walls. It would be another 38 years yet before it trimmed its last client.

* According to his biography, British horror actor Christopher Lee — age 17 — was in the crowd.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Kidnapping,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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11 Responses to “1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France”

  1. 1
    Fiz Says:

    I don’t usually watch videos like that, but it certainly showed how efficient it was – no wonder “The National Razor” was able to shave so many heads in the 1790′s!

  2. 2
    Tamahome Jenkins Says:

    Yeah, that whole process was frighteningly efficient.

  3. 3
    KYGB Says:

    Things were a lot simpler way back when.

    Two guys march him out & one guy holds the condemned man in place with his hand!?

    Spartan, but effective, to say the least.

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1869: Charles Carpentier Says:

    [...] The upshot was that the French public beheading — sans scaffold — would persist for seven more decades, long enough not only for photography but for film. [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Fourth Annual Report: Wrung, Wan and Quartered Says:

    [...] 1997: Henry Francis Hays, Klansman 25. April 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad, honor killing victim 26. June 17, 1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France 27. Ma 16, 1975: Michael X 28. February 1, 1968: Nguyen Van Lem 29. December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas [...]

  6. 6
    ExecutedToday.com » 1386: The Sow of Falaise, seeing justice done Says:

    [...] pig within an unfolding saga of penal theory and practice stretching from the Roman Empire to the 20th century. And while Friedland’s study focuses on France in particular, the historical threads he [...]

  7. 7
    ExecutedToday.com » 1909: Remy Danvers Says:

    [...] date was still some years away, but a France increasingly discomfited by its history of public executions did institute laws [...]

  8. 8
    Albert Camus on Death Penalty | Cafe Dissensus Everyday Says:

    […] at the odd hours within the confines of the prison. The last public execution in France was that of Eugen Weidmann in 1939. The photographers were allowed to take pictures. When one French newspaper, Paris-Soir, did a […]

  9. 9
    Albert Camus on Death Penalty | Marginomarginalia Says:

    […] the odd hours within the confines of the prison. The last public execution in France was that of Eugen Weidmann in 1939. The photographers were allowed to take pictures. When one French newspaper, Paris-Soir, did a […]

  10. 10
    10 Of The Most Important Photographs In History | Bh words Says:

    […] less than a century ago. Above, we can see the guillotine’s blade about to claim the head of Eugen Weidmann. Weidmann was a robber and a murderer before he eventually got caught and sentenced to death. On […]

  11. 11
    Michael Says:

    Das Filmchen gefällt mir. Die einzig richtige Bestrafung für Mörder und Vergewaltiger.

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