“Fearsome Armour of the ‘Human Porcupine’” (1910)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 20th February 2017

From the Dundee Evening Telegraph of 10 January, 1910:


One Killed and Three Wounded.

Paris is no stranger scenes of violence in the streets, but the struggle which took place on Saturday night with Apaches surpasses in ferocity anything which has happened for a long time. The bill for the adventure was one policeman killed and three wounded.

Shortly after seven a sinister individual, of the true Apache type, sitting in a small wine shop the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, boasted aloud that he was going to kill a policeman as soon as possible. Warned of this, two plain-clothes policemen came up and found the Apache, whose name was Liabeuf, just leaving the wineshop.

They immediately clapped hands on him, but at once jumped back with shrieks of pain. Under his sleeves Liabeuf, it seems, was armed with bands of leather studded with long needle-pointed nails, and these had penetrated deeply into the hands of the policemen.

Profiting from their pain and astonishment, Liabeuf then whipped out a long, sharp shoemaker’s knife, and as quick as lightning stabbed one policeman, named Deray, eight times in the chest, then immediately turned to the other policeman and stabbed him twice in the neck.

Half a dozen other policemen came running up and a terrible struggle followed, but owing to the studded bands round Liabeuf’s arms it was impossible to hold him, and he continually stabbed at random.

Liabeuf then took refuge in the entrance of small hotel, and, abandoning the knife, drew a revolver. At the first shots, Deray, who was first stabbed, and in spite of great loss of blood, had gallantly joined again in the struggle, fell with two bullets in the stomach.

Another policeman’s life was saved by his belt buckle, which stopped the third revolver ball.

A bloodthirsty struggle in the narrow, ill-lighted passage was only ended by six or eight policemen, all of whom showed the greatest gallantry, hurling themselves in a heap on Liabeuf. One policeman, then, drawing his sabre, transfixed him through the ribs, but without killing him.

It was with the greatest difficulty that reinforcements of police afterwards kept the enraged crowd of inhabitants from trampling on the inanimate body of Liabeuf.

Policeman Deray died in hospital from his ten wounds after the gold police medal had been pinned on his breast by Monsieur Lepine, just before the final operation. The other wounded are going on well.

Liabeuf turns out to be a vagabond shoemaker, who was recently sentenced three months for exploiting women in Paris. For this he had sworn to be revenged on the police as soon possible. The leather nail-studded bands were made with all the shoemaker’s skill, and had only just been finished.

Postscript: during his trial, Jean Liabeuf claimed that he had not intended to kill Deray, but was rather seeking revenge against the gendarmes Maugras and Vors, who had falsely arrested him for procuring.  He said that he had conceived of his unique “porcupine quill” armour during his three months of imprisonment on that charge.  

Despite the support of two socialist newspapers – La Guerre Sociale and The Radical – Liabeuf was executed by guillotine on the morning of Friday, July 1, 1910.  A large and hostile crowd of spectators had gathered to protest the execution; the police were hissed at and three shots rang out, one wounding a police inspector in the throat.  The police then charged the crowd with drawn sabres, and they were dispersed.

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