Tales from the Morgue: Eulogy for an executioner

2014-01-22T18:00:00Z 2014-07-13T15:49:40Z Tales from the Morgue: Eulogy for an executionerJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 22, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

This story has nothing to do with Tucson except that it appeared in the Arizona Daily Star, picked up from the Associated Press. It was just rather interesting. You decide if it is worth reading.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Friday, Feb. 3, 1939:

French Executioner Is Dead; Position Had Been Hereditary
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Man Who Spoke Softly of His Duty and Liked to Work In His Garden Had Record of 401 Beheadings And Was Starting for Another at Death
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PARIS, Feb. 2.—(AP)—France's "hereditary executioner of high justice," Anatole Deibler, died today as he was starting out for his 402nd execution with the guillotine.

The execution was to have take place tomorrow at Rennes, where Deibler was born 75 years ago and passed the unhappy years of his childhood, direct in line for a job that had been in the family 120 years.

Son, grandson and great grandson of France's master of the guillotine, Deibler was forced into his gruesome career simply because all other doors were closed to him.

Falls in Station

The mild-mannered old man who had come to speak in gentle tones of his "duty" collapsed this morning on the platform of a subway station near his home in suburban Paris.

Station attendants took him to a hospital where he died.

With the passing of "Monsieur de Paris," the position of high executioner passed to a name other than Deibler, but the job still will be in the family. In 1936 Deibler persuaded his nephew, Andre Obrecht, to carry on and Obrecht, 40 years old, became an assistant.

Obrecht has helped his uncle on occasion and is said to have mastered his uncle's technique by chopping off the ends of straw bundles with one of the three guillotines in Deibler's custody.

For 40 years and a month Deibler followed his strange calling — to the public, a sinister figure, but to those who knew him, a dignified, gray-bearded man who lived quietly with his family and like to putter about his garden.

He had few friends and he shunned strangers.

He was said to be a billionaire in francs although his pay was secret. A few years ago an assistant thought the "master" received a flat salary of 18,530 francs (about $480) a year and 10,000 francs ($260) for maintenance of his guillotines, plus traveling expenses.

Deibler's job cost him his first love. The girl, whose father had built the guillotine for Deibler's father, refused to marry young Anatole because she felt he had blood on his hands. Later he married one of France's first woman cyclists.

Speaks of Duty

Diebler looked at his job thus:

"After all I am a disciplined government employe, a citizen who does his duty like the rest in accordance with his station."

The Morgue Lady didn't realize there would be a technique to master with the guillotine, as long as it worked and the blade was sharp. She hopes the technique caused it to be quick.

The guillotine was France's standard form of execution until capital punishment was abolished in 1981. The last execution in France by guillotine was Sept. 10, 1977.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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