Executioner Anatole Deibler

Who was Anatole Deibler and what was it like to be an executioner in France?

It was a Family Affair

Anatole Deibler did not wake up one day and decide to become an executioner. It was actually a family affair passed down from father to son. Anatole’s grandfather was an executioner and so was his father, the famous Louis Deibler.

Louis Deibler was a peculiar character. During his life as an executioner, he had beheaded nearly 500 people and was known as M. de Paris. He was an extremely religious man who would pray over the bodies of the executed. Often seen wearing an old fashioned top hat, Louis’ most spectacular execution was his first as the executioner of Paris.

Leprade, a man who had murdered family members, became violent when he reached the scaffold. Not able to control him, Louis had little choice but to knock the man’s head on a paving stone before throwing him into position on the guillotine.

Louis Deibler passed away at the age of 81 in 1904. His son, the infamous Anatole Deibler, had already taken his place on the scaffold and would go on to lead a gruesome, though fascinating life. [1] [2]

From Draper’s Assistant to Executioner

While his father was lopping off heads, Anatole worked the counter as a draper’s assistant. Louis was, however, getting up there in age and, upon reaching 76, it was time for Anatole to take his place beside his father.

Anatole began his career by assisting his father in the executions. Shortly thereafter, Anatole’s wife told the press that Louis was retiring of his own free will.

Why was the wife talking to the press? Because Louis would not speak to the newspapers. As far as he was concerned, his job only required him to converse with the Ministry of Justice. Besides, his life was always under threat from political groups and the families of the executed. The man was wise enough to keep to himself and not expose himself to people he did not personally know.

Louis Deibler had provided France with 40 years of loyal service and was eager to retire to a quiet life in Point de Jour. [3]

Lived in Fear

It did not take long for Anatole to realize that his life would never be the same after he accepted his position as executioner. The man and his wife lived in constant fear that someone would take their lives in retaliation to an execution.

At the start of the new occupation, no one would rent a home to Anatole and his wife because it was feared that the anarchists would either damage the property or harm the landlord. The couple finally had to settle on purchasing a home for £1,000.

The home itself was a small fortress. A garden surrounded the home and a high, bulletproof wall separated them from the outside world. The door to the home was made of iron and when someone would ring the bell, iron curtains would automatically cover all the windows. No one was going to be able to break into their home, even if it meant that the couple themselves would have to live like prisoners.

The door to the home was never opened to strangers. When the bell rang, a boy would open the wicket and ask for the password. If the visitor did not know the password, there was no way he could enter the home. [4]

Cold, Clean, and Efficient

Not surprisingly, Anatole Deibler was in favor of capital punishment even though it was falling out of fashion among the politicians in France.

While Parliament was deciding on whether or not to abolish capital punishment, Anatole decided to speak to a reporter in 1907. It was the first time a reporter had spoken to a French executioner since 1848.

During the interview, the reporter asked what Anatole felt when he pressed the button on the guillotine. Anatole admitted that in the beginning he felt “a little qualmy,” but he had since become numb to the job. “It is all a matter of habit,” he said and viewed the experience as a surgical procedure, done without feeling.

At the time of the interview, Anatole already had 112 executions under his belt. Only one of the people he executed was over the age of forty. The rest of his clients were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six.

Anatole strongly believed that he was providing a genuinely beneficial service to his country and knew that the criminals he executed would have continued on their murder sprees if the justice system did not use capital punishment. [5]

The Pain of Beheading

On the few occasions that Anatole talked about being an executioner, he always brought up his father, Louis.

In one particle interview, Anatole was asked if it hurt to be beheaded. In response, he told a story about how his father was present during one of the gruesome experiments performed on a freshly cut off head. The criminal’s head was attached to the blood flow of a living dog and for a brief moment, the head regained its complexion and its lips trembled.

The professor who had helped perform the experiment said to Anatole’s father, “Deibler, be gentle and respectful with your heads. When the knife has done its work, when they roll in the sawdust, those heads hear the roar of the mob. They perceive their bodies lying in the basket. They see the guillotine – and the light of day.”

The incident made such an impression on Louis Deibler that he felt compelled to retell the story to Anatole. His son needed to understand the grave seriousness of the business. [6]

The Two Widows Out Back

Very few people realized that Anatole owned the guillotines he used for the executions. In fact, he owned two of them. One was a large, heavy guillotine that he used in Paris. The second one was smaller and lighter. It was perfect for loading onto the train when the executions took him to other parts of France.

When the guillotines were not in use, Anatole kept them in a shed outside of his home. They were packed into cases, ready to be transported to the next execution.

Eventually, Anatole invented a more portable guillotine which he kept packed in two wooden cases in his garage with the family car. The larger guillotine was then stored in a Paris prison because of the difficulty Anatole had in transporting it. [7] [8]

Ready to Resign

By 1936, Anatole announced that he was ready to resign.

He gave three reasons for wanting to leave the job. First, he was getting too old for the job and getting up so early in the morning was taking its toll. Most prisoners were woken at 5 AM to pray, have their hair cut, shirt collars slit, and to have a drink and a smoke before meeting the widow. Often, by 6 AM, the prisoner was lead out and beheaded.

It was up to Anatole and his assistance to set up the guillotine, prepare the prisoner, execute him, and clean up the mess afterwards. Anatole felt that his understudy was ready to step up and take his position so that he could finally relax and enjoy what was left of his own life.

Finally, Anatole was sick of people’s morbid curiosity about his job. Anatole did not want the attention he was gaining in the newspapers and he certainly did not want to talk about his profession. In fact, he flat out refused to write a memoir of his career as France’s most well-known executioner. [9]

His Final Execution

The year was 1939 and the 76-year-old executioner was on his way to his 401st beheading when he suddenly collapsed at the railway station. His assistants and guillotine were already on their way to the execution, but Anatole would never make it. He had passed away suddenly from heart problems.

The criminal he was to execute was given a reprieve that day and newspapers around the world announced the death of Anatole Deibler, the last in the Deibler family name to take the heads from murderers, Anarchists, and the nation’s traitors. [10]