Marguerite Steinheil made headlines in France for years with her famous lovers and high-living…but now the headlines were totally different. She was standing trial for double murder…
Hush fell across the packed courtroom. The judge cleared his throat and took a long, hard look at the defendant.
‘Madame,’ he began. ‘Your stories are a tissue of lies.’ In the dock, Marguerite Steinheil breathed deeply.
The moment had finally come in which she’d either walk from court a free woman, be sent to prison for the rest of her life, or face the guillotine’s blade.
The year was 1909. Paris. Marguerite Steinheil’s trial had lasted 350 days. And in that time, she’d been kept in the Saint Lazare prison in Paris.
In her dark, cold cell there were pools of stagnant water, rats and cockroaches. It was a far cry from the high-life Marguerite was used to.
She’d been born in 1869 to a rich family. As she’d grown up, it’d become clear that Marguerite, or Meg as her friends called her, was a beautiful woman.
When she was 21, she’d caught the eye of a famous artist, Adolphe Steinheil.
True, at 40, he was 19 years older than pretty Meg. But they’d loved each other, had a daughter together. And he’d introduced her to a world of painters and poets, writers and actors.
Now, 18 years after she’d married Adolphe, she was standing trial for his murder.
On the morning of 31 May 1908, Adolphe had been found suffocated in his bed.
In another room of the large, Paris home he shared with Meg, was another victim. Meg’s own stepmother, who’d been staying with the couple.
She’d also been suffocated, had choked on her false teeth.
And then there was Meg herself. She’d been found with a gag stuffed down her throat, bound and tied up in another room. But alive.
Meg told the police how, the night before, four strangers had entered her home, killed her husband and stepmother.
Three men and a woman.They’d been dressed in floor-length, black cloaks, their faces hidden by masks.
The police searched high and low for the four mysterious strangers. They didn’t find anything.
Meanwhile, French newspapers had gone wild for the story. For weeks there was only one name in the headlines. Meg’s. And Meg wasn’t making headlines for the first time.
Nine years before, Meg had had a lover. She and Adolphe had an open relationship. She accepted his infidelities, he hers.
But, Meg’s was no ordinary lover.
His name was Felix Faure. And he was the President of France.
The public hadn’t known anything about the affair until 16 February 1899…the day Felix Faure had died suddenly.
He’d taken his final breath while Meg had been sexually pleasuring him in his office. The newspapers at the time had a field day, their pages full of the story for weeks on end.
Questions were asked. If the president had allowed Meg into his office, had he trusted her with anything else? State secrets? Documents? Had she wormed her way into his confidence because she was a spy?
After, Meg was never out of the papers. She had a string of high-profile, lovers.
And now, November 1909, she was in the news again – this time, the papers were covering her trial for murder.
The judge and jury listened to the evidence.
From the start, the police had suspected Meg was involved in killing her husband and stepmother.
She herself had suggested to the police that the four black-robed individuals had broken into her home on the hunt for top secret documents the President had given her before his demise.
But what were those documents? And why had the intruders killed everyone in the house apart from Meg to get hold of them?
Somehow, it all seemed a bit too convenient.
Yet, the investigation stalled. The police had no leads, no idea who the four intruders might be.
In court, the judge and jury listened as investigators explained they’d hit a dead end.
The court heard how desperate Meg had been for someone to blame.
First, she’d tried to pin the blame on one of her own servants, Remy Couillard. She’d planted bogus evidence on him in an attempt to frame him.
The police, however, had established his innocence through an alibi.
Then there was Alexandre Wolff, her housekeeper’s son. She’d told the police she’d suspected him.
Again, the police had accepted he had an alibi.
But why had she tried to frame these men? Why had she told what the judge has called ‘a tissue of lies’?
There seemed only one possibility.
Meg had wanted to frame someone else to hide her guilt. If someone else went down, she’d be exonerated.
Did Meg’s lies hide an ugly truth?
If so, why?
Why would she kill her husband? He’d always let her do what she wanted. And why would she also kill her stepmother?
It appeared there was no motive, yet police were sure enough of her guilt to arrest and charge meg.
But then, on 14 November 1909, the judge brought the trial to a close. He acquitted Marguerite Steinheil. Despite the lies she’d told, there was no evidence against her. The trial now over, Meg changed her name and moved to London. She still turned heads, and married a rich baron a few years later.
No one knows to this day who killed her husband and stepmother, or why. Those four strangers in black robes have vanished forever into history.