Mademoiselle Blanche Monnier was a brown-eyed beauty known for her charming joyful personality and breathtaking good looks. She was born to a highly respected bourgeoise family in Poitiers, France.
Blanche, a 25-year-old French socialite, had amassed quite a collection of love letters from several wealthy suitors requesting her hand in marriage by 1876, but it was not to be because Blanche’s heart already belonged to another: a penniless lawyer several years her senior.
The couple intended to elope, but rumors of an illegitimate child reached Blanche’s mother, Madame Louise Monnier, who forbade her from marrying a man with no prospects and little to no wealth. Madame Louise ordered Blanche to end the relationship immediately, but she refused because living without the love of her life was like not living at all.
Enraged, widow Madame Louise consulted with her son Marcel, and together they devised a plan that would almost certainly persuade Blanche to marry one of her wealthy suitors instead: they threw her in the attic, locked the door, and refused to let her out until she relented.
Blanche, to their surprise, remained steadfast, cementing her confinement in the attic. In the meantime, Madame Louise reported to the police that her daughter had vanished without a trace. Over time, the distraught community speculated that the young woman had been the victim of a madman and died in a gruesome manner.
Blanche was presumed dead, and she might as well have been because she was forced to sleep on a straw mattress infested with insects and survive on scraps barely enough to feed a small child. She was left without food for several days. The rats that scurried around in the night were her only company.
Unlike the German fairy tale Rapunzel, Blanche had no way out because the room’s lone window was boarded up and a padlock made the front door impenetrable.
Blanche was nine years into her captivity when the man she had spent nearly a decade of her life with died unexpectedly, leaving her more hopeless than ever. Madame Louise refused to release her despite his death. Blanche would be locked away in the attic for another 16 years.
On May 23, 1901, relief finally came. An anonymous letter arrived at the office of the Paris Attorney General:
“Monsieur Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence. I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half starved, and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years — in a word, in her own filth.”
He initially assumed the unsigned letter was a twisted hoax; after all, 75-year-old Madame Louise was known as a woman of high morality and standards, with not a cruel bone in her body. Nonetheless, the man was so disturbed by the letter’s contents that he decided to look into the author’s morbid claims. He rushed to the Monnier home at 21 rue de la Visitation with several police officers.
Madame Louise, dressed in a black and white gown, sat calmly in the living room, paying no attention to the men pounding on the front door. They had no choice but to break in and rush to the attic, where they were greeted by an overwhelmingly repulsive stench. As they walked into a real-life House of Horrors, they smashed the padlock and gagged.
Blanche was discovered on the verge of death, lying on a bug-infested straw mattress surrounded by moldy remnants of rotten bread and oyster shells. She was wrapped in a blanket and rushed to Hôtel Dieu Hospital, weighing only 55 pounds.
Blanche was unable to face daylight or stand on her own two feet after spending half her life in the dark attic. When she took her first breath of fresh air in a quarter-century, the poor woman exclaimed, “Ah, how lovely it is.”
Madame Louise and her son were quickly apprehended. The former died 15 days later in the prison infirmary of heart failure. Marcel was left to deal with the charges on his own.
Marcel told the court that his sister had simply gone insane and locked herself in the attic in protest of their mother. He insisted she could have left at any time, but he made no attempt.
Several witnesses testified that they frequently heard the poor woman’s desperate cries for help in the middle of the night, contradicting Marcel’s wild claims. One witness recalled Blanche yelling, “What have I done to be locked up?” I do not deserve this heinous torment. God must not exist if he allows his creatures to suffer in this way, and there is no one to come to my rescue!” Eight years ago.
Despite hearing her screams, no one dared to assist the destitute woman for fear of upsetting Madame Louise.
Marcel was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal after he convinced the court that he had never been violent towards his sister and that he, too, was an innocent party forced to abide by the rules of their oppressive mother, whom he claimed was the true — and only — mastermind of the sadistic plot to imprison Blanche.
Marcel was free once more, but his acquittal sparked widespread public outrage. After receiving several death threats, his family was forced to seek police protection and go into hiding, and his 17-year-old daughter’s impending marriage to a well-respected police officer was quickly canceled as horrifying details of the case made front-page news.
Blanche miraculously survived, but she was never the same. She was diagnosed with a variety of illnesses ranging from anorexia to schizophrenia, and with nowhere to call home, she was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Blois, France, where she died 12 years later.
The author of the anonymous note that restored Blanche’s freedom remains unknown to this day. Some believe it was the husband of a housemaid who became sick to his stomach after learning of her captivity, while others believe it was Marcel himself to avoid becoming responsible for his sister as Madame Louise’s death was approaching. Blanche’s savior’s identity will most likely remain a mystery until the end of time.