On This Day

guillotine, guillotine execution, marcel petiot
Associated Press
A guillotine in Paris following the
execution of convicted serial killer
Marcel Petiot, May 25, 1946.

On This Day: France Implements the Final Execution By Guillotine

September 10, 2011 06:00 AM
by Josh Katz
On Sept. 10, 1977, convicted murderer Hamida Djandoubi became the last person executed by guillotine in France.

The Execution of Hamida Djandoubi

In 1974, Tunisian immigrant Hamida Djandoubi tortured and killed 22-year-old Elisabeth Bousquet in Marseilles, France. He put out cigarettes on her body, lit her on fire, strangled her and left her body in the Provencal countryside.

“When the Guillotine Fell,” a book by Jeremy Mercer, relates the story of the Djandoubi and the history of the guillotine. According to Mercer, Djandoubi was a depressed man who had lost part of his leg in an accident.

“Handsome and exotic, he seduced and then controlled several young women, before torturing one of them to death,” The Associated Press says in its review of the book.

The case generated a great deal of attention throughout France. Djandoubi would ultimately confess to Bousquet’s murder, saying: “I put the scarf around her neck and she didn’t struggle when I began to choke her. … I choked her for a few minutes and then I asked for the flashlight so I could make sure she was really dead. At one point, for reasons I can’t really explain, I kicked the girl’s nose but she didn’t move.”

Despite Djandoubi’s confession, if the jury concluded that there were “extenuating circumstances,” the death penalty could still be avoided, according to Mercer. But the jury determined that there were no extenuating circumstances and Djandoubi would go to the guillotine.

History of the Guillotine

In January 1307, a machine that resembled a guillotine was reputedly used to execute Murcod Ballagh in Ireland, according to the Holinshed’s Chronicles, published in 1577. Other similar devices were used during executions from that point on in Scotland, England and other countries in Europe, but the infamous machine known to the public today traces its roots to the time of the French Revolution.

In 1789, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed the use of the decapitation device as a form of supposedly painless capital punishment that applied to all Frenchmen. Death by decapitation had previously been reserved for “criminals of noble birth,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The guillotine would be used to kill hundreds of people during the French Revolution.

King Louis XVI would permit the use of the guillotine in 1791 and he would die by the machine in 1793. Robert Badinter, an anti-death penalty advocate and French justice minister in the early 1980s, remarked, “I don’t think the machine gave him much satisfaction in the end.”

Methods of execution such as drawing and quartering and the wheel came to be seen as horrific and barbaric during the Enlightenment. Beheadings had been done as well, but usually by sword, an inefficient tactic, the AP states.

France executed criminals with the guillotine throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The final public execution in France occurred in June 1939. However, use of the guillotine continued, and became less commonplace in the 1960s and ‘70s; only eight such executions took place between 1965 and 1977, notes Encyclopedia Britannica.

The End of Capital Punishment in Europe

France would end capital punishment in September 1981. In total, the guillotine would be used about 4,600 times in France.

France was the last European Union country to use capital punishment. Currently, “The death penalty is not only illegal in the European Union but also severely frowned upon as a form of punishment,” according to Der Spiegel.

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