PIERRE FRANÇOIS LACENAIRE 1803-1836
Soldier, poet and… killer. France trembles in his wake!
When Fyodor Dostoevsky began work on his monumental novel, Crime and Punishment (1866), there was one man whose story inspired him above all others. That man was Pierre François Lacenaire, whose crimes were the genesis of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s work.
Lacenaire was a soldier who dreamed of becoming a poet. He deserted his regiment and turned to a life of crime, fuelled by hatred for a society that he believed was evil incarnate. He began with robbery but in 1834, joined an associate in the murder of a fellow criminal and his mother, suffocating her with her own mattress before stealing her paltry savings.
Following his arrest, Lacenaire filled his days writing essays and gave speeches about his crimes, saying that they were his personal protest against an unjust society. The public celebrated this poetic killer all the way to the guillotine but it was Dostoevsky, haunted by Lacenaire’s story, who made him a literary legend.
1858 illustration showing the many brutal murders of Pierre François Lacenaire and accomplices
Lacenaire’s dandyish ways and erudite manner made him a popular figure despite his brutal crimes