1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Desrues, Antoine François
DESRUES, ANTOINE FRANÇOIS (1744–1777), French poisoner, was born at Chartres in 1744, of humble parents. He went to Paris to seek his fortune, and started in business as a grocer. He was known as a man of great piety and devotion, and his business was reputed to be a flourishing one, but when, in 1773, he gave up his shop, his finances, owing to personal extravagance, were in a deplorable condition. Nevertheless he entered into negotiations with a Madame de la Mothe for the purchase from her of a country estate, and, when the time came for the payment of the purchase money, invited her to stay with him in Paris pending the transfer. While she was still his guest, he poisoned first her and then her son, a youth of sixteen. Then, having forged a receipt for the purchase money, he endeavoured to obtain possession of the property. But by this time the disappearance of Madame de la Mothe and her son had aroused suspicion. Desrues was arrested, the bodies of his victims were discovered, and the crime was brought home to him. He was tried, found guilty and condemned to be torn asunder alive and burned. The sentence was carried out (1777), Desrues repeating hypocritical protestations of his innocence to the last. The whole affair created a great sensation at the time, and as late as 1828 a dramatic version of it was performed in Paris.