March 26th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1907, Emile Dubois was shot in Valparaiso, Chile for murder.
The French-descended Dubois (English Wikipedia link | Spanish) was credited with a string of homicides in Valparaiso spanning 1905-1906. (Although the first murder attributed to him, and the only one he was formally convicted of, was that of an accountant in Santiago.)
The official version of our man’s career is roughly this: in September 1905, he killed a merchant named Reinaldo Tillmanns; in October, he killed another one named Gustavo Titius — robbing both.
The following April, he stabbed the French trader Isodoro Challe, although he did not rob him. In June, he attacked an American dentist in his office, although the dentist fought him off and the assailant fled.
All this was rolled up into the indictment when “Emile Dubois” was finally captured that summer. This was the name he gave, but his Colombian documents were sketchy; his real name might have been Luis Amadeo Brihier Lacroix, or heaven knows what else.
The crime spree alone would be interesting enough for this site, but it’s really the least interesting thing about this unusual man.
Dubois exerted a curious magnetism. He was handsome, certainly, but more than that: he was gracious, impossibly serene in the face of the dangerous charges against him, and his adherence to his innocence was calm and unshakable. Dubois’s intelligence was impossible to miss; he spoke ironically with inspectors, like their fellow-man instead of their prey. “He had ideas above those of a common criminal,” wrote one biographer. (Spanish link)
His long time loose on his crime spree — if indeed the attributed crimes were really all his — had served to direct popular scorn at the police who were unable to locate the criminal. At the same time, the victims in these cases were wealthy foreign merchants, and these “usurers” would have limited purchase on public sympathy as Argentina’s oligarchy faced an unfolding social crisis. (And Valparaiso endured a natural disaster.) Meanwhile, in the courtroom itself, Judge Santa Cruz was so convinced of Dubois’s guilt that he cut a vindictive Javert-like figure hounding the accused to his death.*
Guilty or innocent, the wry and gentlemanly Dubois compared very favorably to the other characters in his drama.
Dubois played the part unerringly to the last, when he declined a blindfold and unpertubedly puffed a cigar as he faced his four-man firing detail with open eyes and the command “¡Ejecutad!”
Dubois’s last statement reasserted his innocence without vitriol or bitterness. “It was necessary that someone be held responsible for these crimes, and that someone was me,” he said. (More Spanish)
Then he died.
And after that Christ-like exit, he lived.
Dubois, who was obviously an utter obscurity prior to his arrest, went on to a surprising posthumous life as a popular folk saint. His brightly-painted grave in Valparaiso is a pilgrimage shrine forever crowded with votive offerings from followers convinced of Dubois’s powers of divine intercession (and, accordingly, his innocence).
* Dubois to the priest sent to confess him before execution: “”You should be taking the judge’s confession, not mine. The judge who ordered my murder. Go inspire his repentance.” (Source)
Also on this date
- 1822: Hannah Halley, scalding infanticide
- 1913: Henry Lovell William Clark, Raj poisoner
- 1555: William Hunter, reader
- 1918: Emile Ferfaille, the last in Belgium
- 1910: Ahn Jung-geun, Korean nationalist
- 1697: Godfrey McCulloch, the last man to die on the maiden
- 922: Mansur al-Hallaj, Sufi mystic