Axidava

Dr. Castaing

There are two reports of the trial of Castaing: “Proces Complet d’Edme Samuel Castaing,” Paris, 1823; “Affaire Castaing,” Paris, 1823.

I. AN UNHAPPY COINCIDENCE

Edme Castaing, born at Alencon in 1796, was the youngest of the three sons of an Inspector-General in the department of Woods and Forests. His elder brother had entered the same service as his father, the other brother was a staff-captain of engineers. Without being wealthy, the family, consisting of M. and Mme. Castaing and four children, was in comfortable circumstances. The young Edme was educated at the College of Angers—the Alma Mater of Barre and Lebiez—where, intelligent and hard working, he carried off many prizes. He decided to enter the medical profession, and at the age of nineteen commenced his studies at the School of Medicine in Paris. For two years he worked hard and well, living within the modest allowance made him by his father. At the end of that time this young man of two or three-and-twenty formed a passionate attachment for a lady, the widow of a judge, and the mother of three children. Of the genuine depth and sincerity of this passion for a woman who must have been considerably older than himself, there can be no doubt. Henceforth the one object in life to Castaing was to make money enough to relieve the comparative poverty of his adored mistress, and place her and her children beyond the reach of want. In 1821 Castaing became a duly qualified doctor, and by that time had added to the responsibilities of his mistress and himself by becoming the father of two children, whom she had brought into the world. The lady was exigent, and Castaing found it difficult to combine his work with a due regard to her claims on his society. Nor was work plentiful or lucrative. To add to his embarrassments Castaing, in 1818, had backed a bill for a friend for 600 francs. To meet it when it fell due two years later was impossible, and desperate were the efforts made by Castaing and his mother to put off the day of reckoning. His father, displeased with his son’s conduct, would do nothing to help him. But his mother spared no effort to extricate him from his difficulties. She begged a highly placed official to plead with the insistent creditor, but all in vain. There seemed no hope of a further delay when suddenly, in the October of 1822, Castaing became the possessor of 100,000 francs. How he became possessed of this considerable sum of money forms part of a strange and mysterious story.

Among the friends of Castaing were two young men of about his own age, Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. Auguste, the elder, had the misfortune a few days after his birth to incur his mother’s lasting dislike. The nurse had let the child fall from her arms in the mother’s presence, and the shock had endangered Mme. Ballet’s life. From that moment the mother took a strong aversion to her son; he was left to the charge of servants; his meals were taken in the kitchen. As soon as he was five years old he was put out to board elsewhere, while his brother Hippolyte and his sister were well cared for at home. The effect of this unjust neglect on the character of Auguste Ballet was, as may be imagined, had; he became indolent and dissipated. His brother Hippolyte, on the other hand, had justified the affectionate care bestowed on his upbringing; he had grown into a studious, intelligent youth of a refined and attractive temperament. Unhappily, early in his life he had developed consumption, a disease he inherited from his mother. As he grew older his health grew steadily worse until, in 1822, his friends were seriously alarmed at his condition. It became so much graver that, in the August of that year, the doctors recommended him to take the waters at Enghien. In September he returned to Paris apparently much better, but on October 2 he was seized with sudden illness, and three days later he was dead.

A few years before the death of Hippolyte his father and mother had died almost at the same time. M. Ballet had left to each of his sons a fortune of some 260,000 francs. Though called to the bar, both Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet were now men of independent means. After the death of their parents, whatever jealousy Auguste may have felt at the unfair preference which his mother had shown for her younger son, had died down. At the time of Hippolyte’s death the brothers were on good terms, though the more prudent Hippolyte disapproved of his elder brother’s extravagance.

Of Hippolyte Ballet Dr. Castaing had become the fast friend. Apart from his personal liking for Castaing, it was a source of comfort to Hippolyte, in his critical state of health, to have as his friend one whose medical knowledge was always at his service.

About the middle of August, 1822, Hippolyte, on the advice of his doctors, went to Enghien to take the waters. There Castaing paid him frequent visits. He returned to Paris on September 22, and seemed to have benefited greatly by the cure. On Tuesday, October 1, he saw his sister, Mme. Martignon, and her husband; he seemed well, but said that he was having leeches applied to him by his friend Castaing. On the Wednesday evening his sister saw him again, and found him well and with a good appetite. On the Thursday, after a night disturbed by severe attacks of vomiting, his condition seemed serious. His brother-in-law, who visited him, found that he had taken to his bed, his face was swollen, his eyes were red. His sister called in the evening, but could not see him. The servants told her that her brother was a little better but resting, and that he did not wish to be disturbed; they said that Dr. Castaing had been with him all day.

On Friday Castaing himself called on the Martignons, and told them that Hippolyte had passed a shockingly bad night. Madame Martignon insisted on going to nurse her brother herself, but Castaing refused positively to let her see him; the sight of her, he said, would be too agitating to the patient. Later in the day Mme. Martignon went to her brother’s house. In order to obey Dr. Castaing’s injunctions, she dressed herself in some of the clothes of the servant Victoire, in the hope that if she went into his bedroom thus disguised, Hippolyte would not recognise her. But even this subterfuge was forbidden by Castaing, and Mme. Martignon had to content herself with listening in an adjoining room for the sound of her brother’s voice. At eight o’clock that evening the Martignons learnt that Hippolyte was better, but at ten o’clock they received a message that he was dying, and that his brother Auguste had been sent for. Mme. Martignon was prostrated with grief, but her husband hastened to his brother-in-law’s house. There he found Castaing, who said that the death agony of his friend was so dreadful that he had not the strength to remain in the room with the dying man. Another doctor was sent for, but at ten o’clock the following morning, after protracted suffering, Hippolyte Ballet passed away.

A post-mortem was held on his body. It was made by Drs. Segalas and Castaing. They stated that death was due to pleurisy aggravated by the consumptive condition of the deceased, which, however serious, was not of itself likely to have been so rapidly fatal in its consequences.

Hippolyte had died, leaving a fortune of some 240,000 francs. In the previous September he had spoken to the notary Lebret, a former clerk of his father’s, of his intention of making a will. He had seen that his brother Auguste was squandering his share of their inheritance; he told Lebret that whatever he might leave to Auguste should not be placed at his absolute disposal. To his servant Victoire, during his last illness, Hippolyte had spoken of a will he had made which he wished to destroy. If Hippolyte had made such a will, did he destroy it before his death? In any case, no trace of it was ever found after his death. He was presumed to have died intestate, and his fortune was divided, three-quarters of it going to his brother Auguste, the remaining quarter to his sister, Mme. Martignon.

On the day of Hippolyte’s death Auguste Ballet wrote from his brother’s house to one Prignon: “With great grief I have to tell you that I have just lost my brother; I write at the same time to say that I must have 100,000 francs to-day if possible. I have the greatest need of it. Destroy my letter, and reply at once. M. Sandrie will, I am sure, accommodate me. I am at my poor brother’s house, from which I am writing.” Prignon did as he was asked, but it was two days before the stockbroker, Sandrie, could raise the necessary sum. On October 7 he sold out sufficient of Auguste’s stock to realise 100,000 francs, and the following day gave Prignon an order on the Bank of France for that amount. The same day Prignon took the order to Auguste. Accompanied by Castaing and Jean, Auguste’s black servant, Auguste and Prignon drove to the bank. There the order was cashed. Prignon’s part of the business was at an end. He said good-bye to Auguste outside the bank. As the latter got into his cabriolet, carrying the bundle of notes, Prignon heard him say to Castaing: “There are the 100,000 francs.”

Why had Auguste Ballet, after his brother’s death, such urgent need of 100,000 francs? If the statements of Auguste made to other persons are to be believed, he had paid the 100,000 francs which he had raised through Prignon to Lebret, his father’s former clerk, who would seem to have acted as legal and financial adviser to his old master’s children. According to Auguste’s story, his sister, Mme. Martignon, had offered Lebret 80,000 francs to preserve a copy of a will made by Hippolyte, leaving her the bulk of his fortune. Castaing, however, had ascertained that Lebret would be willing, if Auguste would outbid his sister and pay 100,000 francs, to destroy the will so that, Hippolyte dying intestate, Auguste would take the greater part of his brother’s fortune. Auguste agreed to accept Lebret’s terms, raised the necessary sum, and handed over the money to Castaing, who, in turn, gave it to Lebret, who had thereupon destroyed the copy of the will. Castaing, according to the evidence of Auguste’s mistress, an actress of the name of Percillie, had spoken in her presence of having himself destroyed one copy of Hippolyte’s will before his death, and admitted having arranged with Lebret after Hippolyte’s death for the destruction of the other copy.

How far was the story told by Auguste, and repeated in somewhat different shape by Castaing to other persons, true? There is no doubt that after the visit to the Bank of France with Prignon on October 8, Auguste and Castaing drove together to Lebret’s office. The negro servant said that on arriving there one of them got out of the cab and went up to Lebret’s house, but which of the two he would not at first say positively. Later he swore that it was Auguste Ballet. Whatever happened on that visit to Lebret’s—and it was the theory of the prosecution that Castaing and not Auguste had gone up to the office—the same afternoon Auguste Ballet showed his mistress the seals of the copy of his brother’s will which Lebret had destroyed, and told her that Lebret, all through the business, had refused to deal directly with him, and would only act through the intermediary of Castaing.

Did Lebret, as a fact, receive the 100,000 francs? A close examination of his finances showed no trace of such a sum. Castaing, on the other hand, on October 10, 1822, had given a stockbroker a sum of 66,000 francs to invest in securities; on the 11th of the same month he had lent his mother 30,000 francs; and on the 14th had given his mistress 4,000 francs. Of how this large sum of money had come to Castaing at a time when he was practically insolvent he gave various accounts. His final version was that in the will destroyed by Auguste, Hippolyte Ballet had left him an income for life equivalent to a capital of 100,000 francs, and that Auguste had given him that sum out of respect for his brother’s wishes. If that explanation were true, it was certainly strange that shortly after his brother’s death Auguste Ballet should have expressed surprise and suspicion to a friend on hearing that Castaing had been buying stock to the value of 8,000 francs. If he had given Castaing 100,000 francs for himself, there was no occasion for surprise or suspicion at his investing 8,000. That Auguste had paid out 100,000 francs to some one in October the state of his finances at his death clearly proved. According to the theory of the prosecution, Auguste believed that he had paid that money to Lebret through the intermediary of Castaing, and not to Castaing himself. Hence his surprise at hearing that Castaing, whom he knew to be impecunious, was investing such a sum as 8,000 francs.

No money had ever reached Lebret. His honesty and good faith were demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt; no copy of any will of Hippolyte Ballet had ever been in his possession. But Castaing had shown Auguste Ballet a copy of his brother’s will, the seals of which Auguste had shown to his mistress. In all probability, and possibly at the instigation of Castaing, Hippolyte Ballet had made a will, leaving the greater part of his property to his sister. Somehow or other Castaing had got possession of this will. On his death Castaing had invented the story of Mme. Martignon’s bribe to Lebret, and so persuaded Auguste to outbid her. He had ingeniously kept Auguste and Lebret apart by representing Lebret as refusing to deal direct with Auguste, and by these means had secured to his own use the sum of 100,000 francs, which Auguste believed was being paid to Lebret as the price of his alleged destruction of his brother’s will. The plot was ingenious and successful. To Lebret and the Martignons Castaing said that Hippolyte had made a will in Mme. Martignon’s favour, but had destroyed it himself some days before his death. The Martignons expressed themselves as glad that Hippolyte had done so, for they feared lest such a will should have provoked resentment against them on the part of Auguste. By keeping Auguste and Lebret apart, Castaing prevented awkward explanations. The only possible danger of discovery lay in Auguste’s incautious admissions to his mistress and friends; but even had the fact of the destruction of the will come to the ears of the Martignons, it is unlikely that they would have taken any steps involving the disgrace of Auguste.

Castaing had enriched himself considerably by the opportune death of his friend Hippolyte. It might be made a matter of unfriendly comment that, on the first day of May preceding that sad event, Castaing had purchased ten grains of acetate of morphia from a chemist in Paris, and on September 18, less than a month before Hippolyte’s death, he had purchased another ten grains of acetate of morphia from the same chemist. The subject of poisons had always been a favourite branch of Castaing’s medical studies, especially vegetable poisons; morphia is a vegetable poison.

Castaing’s position relative to Auguste Ballet was now a strong one. They were accomplices in the unlawful destruction of Hippolyte’s will. Auguste believed it to be in his friend’s power to ruin him at any time by revealing his dealings with Lebret. But, more than that, to Auguste, who believed that his 100,000 francs had gone into Lebret’s pocket, Castaing could represent himself as so far unrewarded for his share in the business; Lebret had taken all the money, while he had received no recompense of any kind for the trouble he had taken and the risk he was encountering on his friend’s behalf. Whatever the motive, from fear or gratitude, Auguste Ballet was persuaded to make a will leaving Dr. Edme Samuel Castaing the whole of his fortune, subject to a few trifling legacies. But Auguste’s feelings towards his sole legatee were no longer cordial. To one or two of his friends he expressed his growing distaste for Castaing’s society.

Dr. Castaing can hardly have failed to observe this change. He knew Auguste to be reckless and extravagant with his money; he learnt that he had realised another 100,000 francs out of his securities, and that he kept the money locked up in a drawer in his desk. If Auguste’s fortune were dissipated by extravagance, or he revoked his will, Castaing stood to lose heavily. As time went on Castaing felt less and less sure that he could place much reliance on the favourable disposition or thrift of Auguste. The latter had fallen in love with a new mistress; he began to entertain expensively; even if he should not change his mind and leave his money away from Castaing, there might very soon be no money to leave. At the end of May, 1823, Castaing consulted a cousin of his, Malassis, a notary’s clerk, as to the validity of a will made by a sick man in favour of his medical attendant. He said that he had a patient gravely ill who, not wishing to leave his money to his sister, whom he disliked, intended to leave it to him. Malassis reassured him as to the validity of such a will, and gave him the necessary instructions for preparing it. On May 29 Castaing sent Malassis the will of Auguste Ballet with the following note, “I send you the will of M. Ballets examine it and keep it as his representative.” The will was dated December 1, 1822, and made Castaing sole legatee. On the same day that the will was deposited with Malassis, Castaing and Auguste Ballet started to-gether on a little two days’ trip into the country. To his friends Auguste seemed in the best of health and spirits; so much so that his housekeeper remarked as he left how well he was looking, and Castaing echoed her remark, saying that he looked like a prince!

During the afternoon the two friends visited Saint Germain, then returned to Paris, and at seven o’clock in the evening arrived at the Tete Noire Hotel at Saint Cloud, where they took a double-bedded room, Castaing paying five francs in advance. They spent the following day, Friday, May 30, in walking about the neighbourhood, dined at the hotel at seven, went out again and returned about nine o’clock. Soon after their return Castaing ordered some warmed wine to be sent up to the bedroom. It was taken up by one of the maid-servants. Two glasses were mixed with lemon and sugar which Castaing had brought with him. Both the young men drank of the beverage. Auguste complained that it was sour, and thought that he had put too much lemon in it. He gave his glass to the servant to taste, who also found the drink sour. Shortly after she left the room and went upstairs to the bedside of one of her fellow-servants who was ill. Castaing, for no apparent reason, followed her up and stayed in the room for about five minutes. Auguste spent a bad night, suffering from internal pains, and in the morning his legs were so swollen that he could not put on his boots.

Castaing got up at four o’clock that morning and asked one of the servants to let him out. Two hours later he drove up in a cabriolet to the door of a chemist in Paris, and asked for twelve grains of tartar emetic, which he wanted to mix in a wash according to a prescription of Dr. Castaing. But he did not tell the chemist that he was Dr. Castaing himself. An hour later Castaing arrived at the shop of another chemist, Chevalier, with whom he had already some acquaintance; he had bought acetate of morphia from him some months before, and had discussed with him then the effects of vegetable poisons. On this particular morning he bought of his assistant thirty-six grains of acetate of morphia, paying, as a medical man, three francs fifty centimes for it instead of the usual price of four francs. Later in the morning Castaing returned to Saint Cloud, a distance of ten miles from Paris, and said that he had been out for a long walk. He found Auguste ill in bed. Castaing asked for some cold milk, which was taken up to the bedroom by one of the servants. Shortly after this Castaing went out again. During his absence Auguste was seized with violent pains and sickness. When Castaing returned he found his friend in the care of the people of the hotel. He told them to throw away the matter that had been vomited, as the smell was offensive, and Auguste told them to do as his friend directed. Castaing proposed to send for a doctor from Paris, but Auguste insisted that a local doctor should be called in at once.

Accordingly Dr. Pigache of Saint Cloud was summoned. He arrived at the hotel about eleven o’clock. Before seeing the patient Castaing told the doctor that he believed him to be suffering from cholera. Pigache asked to see the matter vomited but was told that it had been thrown away. He prescribed a careful diet, lemonade and a soothing draught.

Dr. Pigache returned at three o’clock, when he found that the patient had taken some lemonade, but, according to Castaing, had refused to take the draught. He called again that afternoon. Ballet was much better; he said that he would be quite well if he could get some sleep, and expressed a wish to return to Paris. Dr. Pigache dissuaded him from this and left, saying that he would come again in the evening. Castaing said that that would be unnecessary, and it was agreed that Pigache should see the patient again at eight o’clock the next morning. During the afternoon Castaing sent a letter to Paris to Jean, Auguste’s negro servant, telling him to take the two keys of his master’s desk to his cousin Malassis. But the negro distrusted Castaing. He knew of the will which his master had made in the doctor’s favour. Rather than compromise himself by any injudicious act, he brought the keys to Saint Cloud and there handed them over to Castaing.

When Jean arrived his master complained to him of feeling very ill. Jean said that he hoped he would be well enough to go back to Paris the following day, to which Auguste replied, “I don’t think so. But if I am lucky enough to get away to-morrow, I shall leave fifty francs for the poor here.” About eleven o’clock that night Castaing, in Jean’s presence, gave the sick man a spoonful of the draught prescribed by Dr. Pigache. Four or five minutes later Auguste was seized with terrible convulsions, followed by unconsciousness. Dr. Pigache was sent for. He found Ballet lying on his back unconscious, his throat strained, his mouth shut and his eyes fixed; the pulse was weak, his body covered with cold sweat; and every now and then he was seized with strong convulsions. The doctor asked Castaing the cause of the sudden change in Ballet’s condition. Castaing replied that it had commenced shortly after he had taken a spoonful of the draught which the doctor had prescribed for him. Dr. Pigache bled the patient and applied twenty leeches. He returned about six; Ballet was sinking, and Castaing appeared to be greatly upset. He told the doctor what an unhappy coincidence it was that he should have been present at the deathbeds of both Hippolyte and his brother Auguste; and that the position was the more distressing for him as he was the sole heir to Auguste’s fortune. To M. Pelletan, a professor of medicine, who had been sent for to St. Cloud in the early hours of Sunday morning, Castaing appeared to be in a state of great grief and agitation; he was shedding tears. Pelletan was from the first impressed by the suspicious nature of the case, and pointed out to Castaing the awkwardness of his situation as heir to the dying man. “You’re right,” replied Castaing, “my position is dreadful, horrible. In my great grief I had never thought of it till now, but now you make me see it clearly. Do you think there will be an investigation?” Pelletan answered that he should be compelled to ask for a post-mortem. “Ah! You will be doing me the greatest service,” said Castaing, “I beg you to insist on a post-mortem. You will be acting as a second father to me in doing so.” The parish priest was sent for to administer extreme unction to the dying man. To the parish clerk who accompanied the priest Castaing said, “I am losing a friend of my childhood,” and both priest and clerk went away greatly edified by the sincere sorrow and pious demeanour of the young doctor. About mid-day on Sunday, June 1, Auguste Ballet died.

During the afternoon Castaing left the hotel for some hours, and that same afternoon a young man about twenty-five years of age, short and fair, left a letter at the house of Malassis. The letter was from Castaing and said, “My dear friend, Ballet has just died, but do nothing before to-morrow, Monday. I will see you and tell you, yes or no, whether it is time to act. I expect that his brother-in-law, M. Martignon, whose face is pock-marked and who carries a decoration, will call and see you. I have said that I did not know what dispositions Ballet may have made, but that before his death he had told me to give you two little keys which I am going to deliver to you myself to-morrow, Monday. I have not said that we are cousins, but only that I had seen you once or twice at Ballet’s, with whom you were friendly. So say nothing till I have seen you, but whatever you do, don’t say you are a relative of mine.” When he returned to the hotel Castaing found Martignon, Lebret, and one or two friends of Auguste already assembled. It was only that morning that Martignon had received from Castaing any intimation of his brother-in-law’s critical condition. From the first Castaing was regarded with suspicion; the nature of the illness, the secrecy maintained about it by Castaing, the coincidence of some of the circumstances with those of the death of Hippolyte, all combined to excite suspicion. Asked if Auguste had left a will Castaing said no; but the next day he admitted its existence, and said that it was in the hands of Malassis.

Monday, June 2, was the day fixed for the post-mortem; it was performed in the hotel at Saint Cloud. Castaing was still in the hotel under provisional arrest. While the post-mortem was going on his agitation was extreme; he kept opening the door of the room in which he was confined, to hear if possible some news of the result. At last M. Pelletan obtained permission to inform him of the verdict of the doctors. It was favourable to Castaing; no trace of death by violence or poison had been discovered.

The medical men declared death to be due to an inflammation of the stomach, which could be attributed to natural causes; that the inflammation had subsided; that it had been succeeded by cerebral inflammation, which frequently follows inflammation of the stomach, and may have been aggravated in this case by exposure to the sun or by over-indulgence of any kind.

II. THE TRIAL OF DR. CASTAING

Castaing expected, as a result of the doctors’ report, immediate release. In this he was disappointed; he was placed under stricter arrest and taken to Paris, where a preliminary investigation commenced, lasting five months. During the early part of his imprisonment Castaing feigned insanity, going to disgusting lengths in the hope of convincing those about him of the reality of his madness. But after three days of futile effort he gave up the attempt, and turned his attention to more practical means of defence. In the prison at Versailles, whither he had been removed from Paris, he got on friendly terms with a prisoner, one Goupil, who was awaiting trial for some unimportant offence. To Goupil Castaing described the cruelty of his position and the causes that had led to his wrongful arrest. He admitted his unfortunate possession of the poison, and said that the 100,000 francs which he had invested he had inherited from an uncle. Through Goupil he succeeded in communicating with his mother in the hope that she would use her influence to stifle some of the more serious evidence against him. Through other prisoners he tried to get at the chemists from whom he had bought acetate of morphia, and persuade them to say that the preparation of morphia which he had purchased was harmless.

The trial of Castaing commenced before the Paris Assize Court on November 10, 1823. He was charged with the murder of Hippolyte Ballet, the destruction of a document containing the final dispositions of Hippolyte’s property, and with the murder of Auguste Ballet. The three charges were to be tried simultaneously. The Act of Accusation in Castaing’s case is a remarkable document, covering a hundred closely-printed pages. It is a well-reasoned, graphic and unfair statement of the case for the prosecution. It tells the whole story of the crime, and inserts everything that can possibly prejudice the prisoner in the eyes of the jury. As an example, it quotes against Castaing a letter of his mistress in which, in the course of some quarrel, she had written to him saying that his mother had said some “horrible things” (des horreurs) of him; but what those “horrible things” were was not revealed, nor were they ever alluded to again in the course of the trial, nor was his mistress called as a witness, though payments of money by Castaing to her formed an important part of the evidence against him. Again, the evidence of Goupil, his fellow prisoner, as to the incriminating statements made to him by Castaing is given in the Act of Accusation, but Goupil himself was not called at the trial.

During the reading of the Act of Accusation by the Clerk of the Court Castaing listened calmly. Only when some allusion was made to his mistress and their children did he betray any sign of emotion. As soon as the actual facts of the case were set out he was all attention, making notes busily. He is described as rather attractive in appearance, his face long, his features regular, his forehead high, his hair, fair in colour, brushed back from the brows; he wore rather large side-whiskers. One of the witnesses at Saint Cloud said that Castaing looked more like a priest than a doctor; his downcast eyes, gentle voice, quiet and unassuming demeanour, lent him an air of patience and humility.

The interrogatory of Castaing by the presiding judge lasted all the afternoon of the first day of the trial and the morning of the second. The opening part of it dealt with the murder of Hippolyte Ballet, and elicited little or nothing that was fresh. Beyond the purchase of acetate of morphia previous to Hippolyte’s death, which Castaing reluctantly admitted, there was no serious evidence against him, and before the end of the trial the prosecution abandoned that part of the charge.

Questioned by the President as to the destruction of Hippolyte Ballet’s will, Castaing admitted that he had seen a draft of a will executed by Hippolyte in favour of his sister, but he denied having told Auguste that Lebret had in his possession a copy which he was prepared to destroy for 100,000 francs. Asked to explain the assertion of Mlle. Percillie, Auguste’s mistress, that statements to this effect had been made in her presence by both Auguste Ballet and himself, he said that it was not true; that he had never been to her house. “What motive,” he was asked, “could Mlle. Percillie have for accusing you?” “She hated me,” was the reply, “because I had tried to separate Auguste from her.” Castaing denied that he had driven with Auguste to Lebret’s office on October 8. Asked to explain his sudden possession of 100,000 francs at a moment when he was apparently without a penny, he repeated his statement that Auguste had given him the capital sum as an equivalent for an income of 4,000 francs which his brother had intended to leave him. “Why, when first asked if you had received anything from Auguste, did you say you had received nothing?” was the question.

“It was a thoughtless statement,” was the answer. “Why,” pursued the President, “should you not have admitted at once a fact that went to prove your own good faith? If, however, this fact be true, it does not explain the mysterious way in which Auguste asked Prignon to raise for him 100,000 francs; and unless those 100,000 francs were given to you, it is impossible to account for them. It is important to your case that you should give the jury a satisfactory explanation on this point.” Castaing could only repeat his previous explanations.

The interrogatory was then directed to the death of Auguste Ballet. Castaing said that Auguste Ballet had left him all his fortune on account of a disagreement with his sister. Asked why, after Auguste’s death, he had at first denied all knowledge of the will made in his favour and deposited by him with Malassis, he could give no satisfactory reason. Coming to the facts of the alleged poisoning of Auguste Ballet, the President asked Castaing why, shortly after the warm wine was brought up on the night of May 30, he went up to the room where one of the servants of the hotel was lying sick. Castaing replied that he was sent for by the wife of the hotel-keeper. This the woman denied; she said that she did not even know that he was a doctor. “According to the prosecution,” said the judge, “you left the room in order to avoid drinking your share of the wine.” Castaing said that he had drunk half a cupful of it. The judge reminded him that to one of the witnesses Castaing had said that he had drunk only a little.

A ridiculous statement made by Castaing to explain the purchase of morphia and antimony in Paris on May 31 was brought up against him. Shortly after his arrest Castaing had said that the cats and dogs about the hotel had made such a noise on the night of May 30 that they had disturbed the rest of Auguste, who, in the early morning, had asked Castaing to get some poison to kill them. He had accordingly gone all the way, about ten miles, to Paris at four in the morning to purchase antimony and morphia to kill cats and dogs. All the people of the hotel denied that there had been any such disturbance on the night in question. Castaing now said that he had bought the poisons at Auguste’s request, partly to kill the noisy cats and dogs, and partly for the purpose of their making experiments on animals. Asked why he had not given this second reason before, he said that as Auguste was not a medical man it would have been damaging to his reputation to divulge the fact of his wishing to make unauthorised experiments on animals. “Why go to Paris for the poison?” asked the judge, “there was a chemist a few yards from the hotel. And when in Paris, why go to two chemists?” To all these questions Castaing’s answers were such as to lead the President to express a doubt as to whether they were likely to convince the jury. Castaing was obliged to admit that he had allowed, if not ordered, the evacuations of the sick man to be thrown away. He stated that he had thrown away the morphia and antimony, which he had bought in Paris, in the closets of the hotel, because, owing to the concatenation of circumstances, he thought that he would be suspected of murder. In reply to a question from one of the jury, Castaing said that he had mixed the acetate of morphia and tartar emetic together before reaching Saint Cloud, but why he had done so he could not explain.

The medical evidence at the trial was favourable to the accused. Orfila, the famous chemist of that day, said that, though the symptoms in Auguste Ballet’s case might be attributed to poisoning by acetate of morphia or some other vegetable poison, at the same time they could be equally well attributed to sudden illness of a natural kind. The liquids, taken from the stomach of Ballet, had yielded on analysis no trace of poison of any sort. The convulsive symptoms present in Ballet’s case were undoubtedly a characteristic result of a severe dose of acetate of morphia. Castaing said that he had mixed the acetate of morphia and tartar emetic together, but in any case no trace of either poison was found in Auguste’s body, and his illness might, from all appearances, have been occasioned by natural causes. Some attempt was made by the prosecution to prove that the apoplexy to which Hippolyte Ballet had finally succumbed, might be attributed to a vegetable poison; one of the doctors expressed an opinion favourable to that conclusion “as a man but not as a physician.” But the evidence did not go further.

To the young priest-like doctor the ordeal of his trial was a severe one. It lasted eight days. It was only at midday on the sixth day that the evidence was concluded. Not only was Castaing compelled to submit to a long interrogatory by the President, but, after each witness had given his or her evidence, the prisoner was called on to refute or explain any points unfavourable to him. This he did briefly, with varying success; as the trial went on, with increasing embarrassment. A great deal of the evidence given against Castaing was hearsay, and would have been inadmissible in an English court of justice. Statements made by Auguste to other persons about Castaing were freely admitted. But more serious was the evidence of Mlle. Percillie, Auguste’s mistress. She swore that on one occasion in her presence Castaing had reproached Auguste with ingratitude; he had complained that he had destroyed one copy of Hippolyte Ballet’s will, and for Auguste’s sake had procured the destruction of the other, and that yet, in spite of all this, Auguste hesitated to entrust him with 100,000 francs. Asked what he had to say to this statement Castaing denied its truth. He had, he said, only been in Mlle. Percillie’s house once, and then not with Auguste Ballet. Mlle. Percillie adhered to the truth of her evidence, and the President left it to the jury to decide between them.

A Mme. Durand, a patient of Castaing, gave some curious evidence as to a story told her by the young doctor. He said that a friend of his, suffering from lung disease, had been persuaded into making a will in his sister’s favour. The sister had offered a bribe of 80,000 francs to her brother’s lawyer to persuade him to make such a will, and paid one of his clerks 3,000 francs for drawing it up. Castaing, in his friend’s interest, and in order to expose the fraud, invited the clerk to come and see him. His friend, hidden in an alcove in the room, overheard the conversation between Castaing and the clerk, and so learnt the details of his sister’s intrigue. He at once destroyed the will and became reconciled with his brother, whom he had been about to disinherit. After his death the brother, out of gratitude, had given Castaing 100,000 francs.

President: Castaing, did you tell this story to Mme. Durand?

Castaing: I don’t recollect.

Avocat-General: But Mme. Durand says that you did.

Castaing: I don’t recollect.

President: You always say that you don’t recollect; that is no answer. Have you, yes or no, made such a statement to Mme. Durand?

Castaing: I don’t recollect; if I had said it, I should recollect it.

Another lady whom Castaing had attended free of charge swore, with a good deal of reluctance, that Castaing had told her a somewhat similar story as accounting for his possession of 100,000 francs.

Witnesses were called for the defence who spoke to the diligence and good conduct of Castaing as a medical student; and eighteen, whom he had treated free of expense, testified to his kindness and generosity. “All these witnesses,” said the President, “speak to your generosity; but, for that very reason, you must have made little profit out of your profession, and had little opportunity for saving anything,” to which Castaing replied: “These are not the only patients I attended; I have not called those who paid me for my services.” At the same time Castaing found it impossible to prove that he had ever made a substantial living by the exercise of his profession.

One of the medical witnesses called for the defence, M. Chaussier, had volunteered the remark that the absence of any trace of poison in the portions of Auguste Ballet’s body submitted to analysis, constituted an absence of the corpus delicti. To this the President replied that that was a question of criminal law, and no concern of his. But in his speech for the prosecution the Avocat-General dealt with the point raised at some length—a point which, if it had held good as a principle of English law, would have secured the acquittal of so wicked a poisoner as Palmer. He quoted from the famous French lawyer d’Aguesseau: “The corpus delicti is no other thing than the delictum itself; but the proofs of the delictum are infinitely variable according to the nature of things; they may be general or special, principal or accessory, direct or indirect; in a word, they form that general effect (ensemble) which goes to determine the conviction of an honest man.” If such a contention as M. Chaussier’s were correct, said the Avocat-General, then it would be impossible in a case of poisoning to convict a prisoner after his victim’s death, or, if his victim survived, to convict him of the attempt to poison. He reminded the jury of that paragraph in the Code of Criminal Procedure which instructed them as to their duties: “The Law does not ask you to give the reasons that have convinced you; it lays down no rules by which you are to decide as to the fullness or sufficiency of proof… it only asks you one question: ‘Have you an inward conviction?'” “If,” he said, “the actual traces of poison are a material proof of murder by poison, then a new paragraph must be added to the Criminal Code—’Since, however, vegetable poisons leave no trace, poisoning by such means may be committed with impunity.'” To poisoners he would say in future: “Bunglers that you are, don’t use arsenic or any mineral poison; they leave traces; you will be found out. Use vegetable poisons; poison your fathers, poison your mothers, poison all your families, and their inheritance will be yours—fear nothing; you will go unpunished! You have committed murder by poisoning, it is true; but the corpus delicti will not be there because it can’t be there!” This was a case, he urged, of circumstantial evidence. “We have,” he said, “gone through a large number of facts. Of these there is not one that does not go directly to the proof of poisoning, and that can only be explained on the supposition of poisoning; whereas, if the theory of the defence be admitted, all these facts, from the first to the last, become meaningless and absurd. They can only be refuted by arguments or explanations that are childish and ridiculous.”

Castaing was defended by two advocates—Roussel, a schoolfellow of his, and the famous Berryer, reckoned by some the greatest French orator since Mirabeau. Both advocates were allowed to address the jury. Roussel insisted on the importance of the corpus delicti. “The delictum,” he said, “is the effect, the guilty man merely the cause; it is useless to deal with the cause if the effect is uncertain,” and he cited a case in which a woman had been sent for trial, charged with murdering her husband; the moral proof of her guilt seemed conclusive, when suddenly her husband appeared in court alive and well. The advocate made a good deal of the fact that the remains of the draught prescribed by Dr. Pigache, a spoonful of which Castaing had given to Auguste Ballet, had been analysed and showed no trace of poison. Against this the prosecution set the evidence of the chemist at Saint Cloud, who had made up the prescription. He said that the same day he had made up a second prescription similar to that of Dr. Pigache, but not made out for Auguste Ballet, which contained, in addition to the other ingredients, acetate of morphia. The original of this prescription he had given to a friend of Castaing, who had come to his shop and asked him for it a few days after Ballet’s death. It would seem therefore that there had been two bottles of medicine, one of which containing morphia had disappeared.

M. Roussel combatted the suggestion that the family of Castaing were in a state of indigence. He showed that his father had an income of 10,000 francs, while his two brothers were holding good positions, one as an officer in the army, the other as a government official. The mistress of Castaing he represented as enjoying an income of 5,000 francs. He protested against the quantity of hearsay evidence that had been admitted into the case. “In England,” he said, “when a witness is called, he is asked ‘What have you seen?’ If he can only testify to mere talk, and hearsay, he is not heard.” He quoted the concluding paragraph of the will of Auguste Ballet as showing his friendly feeling towards Castaing: “It is only after careful reflection that I have made this final disposition of my property, in order to mark the sincere friendship which I have never for one moment ceased to feel for M. Castaing, Briant and Leuchere, in order to recognise the faithful loyalty of my servants, and deprive M. and Mme. Martignon, my brother-in-law and sister, of all rights to which they might be legally entitled on my death, fully persuaded in soul and conscience that, in doing so, I am giving to each their just and proper due.” “Is this,” asked M. Roussel, “a document wrested by surprise from a weak man, extorted by trickery? Is he not acting in the full exercise of his faculties? He forgets no one, and justifies his conduct.”

When M. Roussel came to the incident of the noisy cats and dogs at Saint Cloud, he was as ingenious as the circumstances permitted: “A serious charge engrosses public attention; men’s minds are concentrated on the large, broad aspects of the case; they are in a state of unnatural excitement. They see only the greatness, the solemnity of the accusation, and then, suddenly, in the midst of all that is of such tragic and surpassing interest, comes this trivial fact about cats and dogs. It makes an unfavourable impression, because it is dramatically out of keeping with the tragedy of the story. But we are not here to construct a drama. No, gentlemen, look at it merely as a trivial incident of ordinary, everyday life, and you will see it in its proper light.” M. Roussel concluded by saying that Castaing’s most eloquent advocate, if he could have been present, would have been Auguste Ballet. “If Providence had permitted him to enter this court, he would cry out to you, ‘Save my friend’s life! His heart is undefiled! He is innocent!'”

M. Roussel concluded his speech at ten o’clock on Sunday night, November 16. The next morning Berryer addressed the jury. His speech in defence of Castaing is not considered one of his most successful efforts. He gave personal testimony as to the taste of acetate of morphia. He said that with the help of his own chemist he had put a quarter of a grain of the acetate into a large spoonful of milk, and had found it so insupportably bitter to the taste that he could not keep it in his mouth. If, he contended, Ballet had been poisoned by tartar emetic, then twelve grains given in milk would have given it an insipid taste, and vomiting immediately after would have got rid of the poison. Later investigations have shown that, in cases of antimonial poisoning, vomiting does not necessarily get rid of all the poison, and the convulsions in which Auguste Ballet died are symptomatic of poisoning either by morphia or antimony. In conclusion, Berryer quoted the words addressed by one of the Kings of France to his judges: “When God has not vouchsafed clear proof of a crime, it is a sign that He does not wish that man should determine it, but leaves its judgment to a higher tribunal.”

The Avocat-General, in reply, made a telling answer to M. Roussel’s attempt to minimise the importance of the cats and dogs: “He has spoken of the drama of life, and of its ordinary everyday incidents. If there is drama in this case, it is of Castaing’s making. As to the ordinary incidents of everyday life, a man buys poison, brings it to the bedside of his sick friend, saying it is for experiments on cats and dogs, the friend dies, the other, his sole heir, after foretelling his death, takes possession of his keys, and proceeds to gather up the spoils—are these ordinary incidents of every-day life?”

It was nine o’clock at night when the jury retired to consider their verdict. They returned into court after two hours’ deliberation. They found the prisoner “Not Guilty” of the murder of Hippolyte Ballet, “Guilty” of destroying his will, and “Guilty” by seven votes to five of the murder of Auguste Ballet. Asked if he had anything to say before judgment was given, Castaing, in a very loud voice, said “No; but I shall know how to die, though I am the victim of ill-fortune, of fatal circumstance. I shall go to meet my two friends. I am accused of having treacherously murdered them. There is a Providence above us! If there is such a thing as an immortal soul, I shall see Hippolyte and Auguste Ballet again. This is no empty declamation; I don’t ask for human pity” (raising his hands to heaven), “I look to God’s mercy, and shall go joyfully to the scaffold. My conscience is clear. It will not reproach me even when I feel” (putting his hands to his neck). “Alas! It is easier to feel what I am feeling than to express what I dare not express.” (In a feeble voice): “You have desired my death; you have it!” The judges retired to consider the sentence. The candles were guttering, the light of the lamps was beginning to fade; the aspect of the court grim and terrible. M. Roussel broke down and burst into tears. Castaing leant over to his old schoolfellow: “Courage, Roussel,” he said; “you have always believed me innocent, and I am innocent. Embrace for me my father, my mother, my brothers, my child.” He turned to a group of young advocates standing near: “And you, young people, who have listened to my trial, attend also my execution; I shall be as firm then as I am now. All I ask is to die soon. I should be ashamed to plead for mercy.” The judges returned. Castaing was condemned to death, and ordered to pay 100,000 francs damages to the family of Auguste Ballet.

Castaing was not ashamed to appeal to the Court of Cassation for a revision of his trial, but on December 4 his appeal was rejected. Two days later he was executed. He had attempted suicide by means of poison, which one of his friends had brought to him in prison, concealed inside a watch. His courage failed him at the last, and he met his death in a state of collapse.

It is not often, happily, that a young man of gentle birth and good education is a double murderer at twenty-six. And such a soft, humble, insinuating young man too!—good to his mother, good to his mistress, fond of his children, kind to his patients.

Yet this gentle creature can deliberately poison his two friends.

Was ever such a contradictory fellow?

SPARE SOME COIN

Support this fine website.

Your donations are greatly appreciated.

Thanks, champ.

Share via
Send this to a friend