Blanche Monnier (March 1, 1849 – October 13, 1913), often known in France as la Séquestrée de Poitiers (roughly, “The Confined Woman of Poitiers”), was a French socialite from a well-respected, bourgeoisie family in Poitiers of old noble origins. She was renowned for her physical beauty, and attracted many potential suitors for marriage.
In 1874, at the age of 25, she wanted to marry an older lawyer who was not to her mother Louise’s liking; she argued that her daughter could not marry a “penniless lawyer”. Her disapproving mother, angered by her daughter’s defiance, locked her in a tiny, dark room in the attic of their home, where she kept her secluded for 25 years. Louise Monnier and her brother Marcel continued on with their daily lives, pretending to mourn Blanche’s death. None of her friends knew where she was, and the lawyer she wished to marry unexpectedly died in 1885.
Her discovery occurred on May 23, 1901 after the Paris Attorney General received an anonymous letter indicating a woman was being held captive in a home located on “21 rue de la Visitation” street in a wealthy neighborhood of Poiters, France.
The anonymous letter read in part:
“Monsieur Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence. I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half starved, and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years – in a word, in her own filth.”
The letter surprised the police as they knew that 75-year-old widower, Madame Louise Monnier Demarconnay and her son Marcel Monnier, a law-school graduate and previous sub-prefect of Puget Théniers, lived at the address noted in the letter. The Monnier family were an upper-middle class family who hailed from the aristocratic Poitiers family and were honored in the region (the Paris suburb of Poitiers was named after). Madame Louise’s husband, Emile Monnier, who had been the head of a local arts faculty, died in 1879, many years earlier. The family had even earned the prestigious Committee of Good Works award, a prize honoring citizens who displayed the highest of virtues. On the other hand, police recalled that 25 years prior, without drawing any suspicion from the authorities, their daughter, Blanche Monnier, a “joyous and playful” woman with a “wealth of beautiful hair and big, brilliant eyes”, disappeared without a trace when she was 25 years old.
Police arrived at the home, forced the door open, and found an emaciated Blanche Monnier lying in a pool of feces and food debris on a bed in an upstairs room. Her head hidden under the covers, the 49-year-old woman, who now weighed a mere 55 pounds, was naked, scared and deranged. She hadn’t seen the Sun in 24 years. A witness to the event described how Blanche was discovered:
“We immediately gave the order to open the casement window. This was done with great difficulty, for the old dark-colored curtains fell down in a heavy shower of dust. To open the shutters, it was necessary to remove them from their right hinges. As soon as light entered the room, we noticed, in the back, lying on a bed, her head and body covered by a repulsively filthy blanket, a woman identified as Mademoiselle Blanche Monnier. The unfortunate woman was lying completely naked on a rotten straw mattress. All around her was formed a sort of crust made from excrement, fragments of meat, vegetables, fish, and rotten bread. We also saw oyster shells and bugs running across Mademoiselle Monnier’s bed. The air was so unbreathable, the odor given off by the room was so rank, that it was impossible for us to stay any longer to proceed with our investigation.”
The terrified woman was quickly wrapped in a blanket and rushed to the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Paris where doctors initially thought that she would die. Blanche’s mother, 75-year-old Madame Monnier, was found sitting calmly in the living room garbed in a dressing gown decorated with little black and white squares. Police searched the home and questioned both the mother and brother.
|Blanche Monnier shortly after being discovered in her locked room in 1901.|
At the hospital, workers noted that Blanche took great pleasure at being washed and able to breathe clean air. She exclaimed, “How lovely it is.” They noted that she had a great aversion to light, according to her instincts, she couldn’t stand it. Despite claims by Blanche’s brother that she was “foul, angry, overly excited, and full of rage”, doctors noted that Blanche was calm, never wavering for a moment into fits of anger or excitement.
During the subsequent investigation, the truth began to trickle forth (although many questions remain unanswered to this day). Around her twenty-fifth year, Blanch Monnier fell in love with an older attorney who lived nearby, possibly even bearing a child from the liaison. Her mother forbade the relationship, first arguing, then pleading, and when Blanche refused to not marry the “penniless lawyer”, Louise plotted with her son to develop a plan to stop the marriage. One night Blanche was locked in an upper room of the house until she agreed to abandon the relationship. The mother thought at the time that the girl would relent and agree to her demands.
|A French newspaper from 1901 telling the tragic story of Blanche Monnier.|
A June 9, 1901 New York Times article explained what happened next:
“Time passed and Blanche was no longer young. The attorney she so loved died in 1885. During all that time the girl was confined in the lonely room, fed with scraps from the mother’s table – when she received any food at all. Her only companions were the rats that gathered to eat the hard crusts that she threw upon the floor. Not a ray of light penetrated her dungeon, and what she suffered can only be surmised.”
Time passed slowly for Blanche, who spent the next 25 years locked away in the room.
Blanche’s brother, Marcel, would later claim that Blanche was insane, and never attempted to escape the locked and shuttered room. But according to court testimony, several witnesses claimed that they often heard Blanche screaming and pleading, including clear mentions of words such as “police”, “pity”, and “freedom”. On August 16, 1892, one witness heard Blanche scream the following words:
“What have I done to be locked up? I don’t deserve this horrible torture. God must not exist then, to let his creatures suffer in this way? And no one to come to my rescue!”
Blanche, years after her recoveryBlanche’s mother, Madame Monnier Demarconnay, was arrested the next day and imprisoned at around six o’clock in the evening. Despite the precautions of the police, a surging crowd gathered at the prison with shouts of hatred and revenge. Madame Monnier Demarconnay was immediately placed in the infirmary (she suffered from heart disease) where she unexpectedly died 15 days later. It was said that her last words were spoken to the doctors who entered the room just moments before she died. They recalled that she cried out, “Ah, my poor Blanche!”
Her brother, Marcel, stood trial alone, accused of being his mother’s accomplice. The trial opened on October 7, 1901. Four days later, Marcel was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison. The judgment on October 11 raised applause in the courtroom and outside on the Palace Square, the crowd showed their approval, screaming and shouting hostile threats at the convicted man. Marcel immediately appealed the verdict and in a judgment announced on November 20, 1901, the court of appeal found that he had exercised no violence on the woman and hence, he was acquitted and released from jail.
Although Blanche Monnier did put on some weight over time, she never regained her sanity. She died in a Blois psychiatric hospital in 1913, 12 years after she was discovered captive in her room.
|Portrait of a young and beautiful Blanche Monnier.|