Well the Christmas season is upon us, and time for all things festive and bright. I’m a stickler for traditions, and since I was born in the United Kingdom, and my wife was born in America, we’ve managed to merge our respective traditions together to make our own unique blend of Yuletide joy. For reasons that totally elude me, there are homes on my way into work that feel compelled to put up their Christmas trees just in time for Halloween. Of course, no one in their right mind would ever think of taking down a Christmas tree before 12th Night (Jan 6th). Why else would there be a song about the Twelve Days of Christmas? I admit that one of the British Christmas traditions that is somewhat baffling, is the telling of ghost stories. Well I don’t have a Christmas ghost story to write about, but I do have a Christmas murder to share.
Roland Roussel lived in the small town of Créances in Normandy, France. Roland’s mother was dead, and he was convinced that another woman in the town was responsible for her murder. The woman was a frequent visitor to Roland’s Aunt and Uncle’s house, where she was known to enjoy a glass of wine during her call. Since Roland’s relatives usually abstained from imbibing alcohol, Roland carefully added a lethal dose of atropine to a bottle of Côte du Rhône wine, which he then presented to his Aunt and Uncle. Roland felt sure that his intended victim would be the sole beneficiary of his deadly concoction. As is often the case, things did not go according to plan, and Uncle Maxime, grateful for the good wine, decided to keep it for a special occasion rather than opening it immediately.
On 24th December 1977, Uncle Maxime and his wife sat down for their Christmas Eve meal. Since it was a special occasion, they decided to have some wine with their meal of Moules Marinieres, and recalled the bottle of Côte du Rhône, that they had been given the previous summer by their nephew, Roland. Pouring the wine, the couple toasted to the season and to their nephew, and took a drink. Minutes later, 80-year-old Uncle Maxime was dead, and his wife lay next to him unconscious. Fortunately, a passing neighbor happened upon the house, and Roland’s aunt as rushed to hospital, where she spent the next 11 days in a coma. Having nothing else to go on, the doctors concluded that Roland’s aunt and uncle were victims of accidental food poisoning. A tragedy to be sure, but an accident nonetheless. This diagnosis by default was brought into question a few days later, when the couple’s son-in-law, together with a local carpenter entered Maxime’s home.
Still on the table was the opened bottle of red wine. Being French, it is possible the Maxime’s son-in-law, along with his friend, were loath to see a good wine go to waste, but whatever the reason, a mouthful of wine each, and the pair collapsed on the floor unconscious. Perhaps it was because they were younger than the Masserons, but the son-in-law and carpenter made a full recovery. It was now clear that food poisoning was not involved, and this caught the attention of the local police. An analysis of the wine bottle revealed that in addition to wine, the alcohol was laced with large amounts of atropine. Roland fell under immediate suspicion, as he had been the one to give the wine to Uncle Maxime in the first place. A search of Roland’s apartment revealed an Agatha Christie novel, with chapter 9 highlighted, a chapter containing a description of how the contents of a bottle of eyedrops (containing atropine) had been substituted for drinking water. Roussel confessed to injecting atropine into the bottle of Côte du Rhône which he had given to his Aunt and Uncle as a gift, and was found guilty of his Aunt’s attempted murder, and his uncle’s murder. Roussel’s true target, the woman he suspected of being involved in his mother’s death, never got to taste the wine.
So, if you get given a bottle of wine over the Christmas season, just think about who gave it to you. As you pour a drink, you may want to have a phone nearby with 911 on speed dial. Merry Christmas.