When French brush manufacturer Jean Kinck was approached by a young man with a business proposition in 1869, he couldn’t believe his luck. Jean had a wife and six children and the idea of making more money was a tempting one, even if it involved criminal activity. Jean-Baptiste Traupmann was a 21-year-old career criminal who was known for his bad temper. He had once knocked his father down in an argument and was suspected of murdering a tramp simply because he felt like it, although he was never prosecuted. When Traupmann explained his scheme, Kinck was taken in hook, line, and sinker. Traupmann wanted to set up a counterfeiting operation and he knew the perfect place to do it – the basement of a ruined country house in a remote location where the police were unlikely to come knocking.
Kinck was lost in thought as Traupmann showed him around the basement, musing over how his already healthy bank balance could grow even more if their counterfeiting factory was successful. He owned three houses in the city of Roubaix but he was ready to expand his wealth. As he congratulated Traupmann for finding the perfect place to house their illegal outfit, the young entrepreneur poured some prussic acid into a bottle of wine and offered it to him. Kinck took a sip and the words of jubilation died on his lips. He collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath, and was dead within moments.
Jean-Baptiste Traupmann relieved Kinck of his money and valuables then buried him in the basement, having never had any intention of going into business with him. But his outrageous deception wasn’t over. He penned a letter to Kinck’s wife asking her to send her husband some money, mentioning that he was writing on Kinck’s behalf as he was very busy working. Madame Kinck was a trusting woman and saw no reason to question the note, so she sent her 16-year-old son Gustave to the address provided in the letter, with an envelope full of money. Not content with the wad of banknotes, Traupmann murdered Gustave too. The urge came over him to write another letter, this time inviting Madame Kinck to meet him at a village called Pantin on the outskirts of Paris on 19th September with more money. When she arrived at the agreed meeting point bearing 55,000 francs, it turned out that it wasn’t just her cash Traupmann wanted to steal – it was her life. Worst of all, Madame Kinck had brought her other five children with her, apparently not having wondered where Gustave had got to: 13-year-old Emile, 10-year-old Henry, 8-year-old Achille, 7-year-old Alfred, and 2-year-old Marie. Traupmann killed them all one by one. Madame Kinck was stabbed in the neck with a long knife and there was evidence of 30 other stab wounds on her body, inflicted long after she had died. Two of the children had been stabbed and strangled, while the other three had had their skulls smashed with a pickaxe. Once his homicidal rage had passed, Traupmann buried them in a shallow grave in the field, measuring 3 metres long and 50 cm deep. He then buried Gustave, who he had killed earlier, in the same field some distance away. Apparently, the only business Traupmann was interested in was the business of murder.
Having callously wiped out all eight members of the Kinck family, Traupmann packed his bags and absconded, staying at a number of different hotels under an alias. He was heading for the port of Le Havre, where he planned to board a ship to America, and he knew an old woman there who could be relied upon to create fake passports. But in a stroke of bad luck, the police raided her home while he was there on 23rd September and demanded to see his documents, so he made a break for it and leapt off a bridge into the churning sea below. Had the waves swallowed him up, it would have been a less ignominious end than the one he knew he would face if the French police caught him. But catch him they did, after dramatically plunging into the water after him.
By now, the bodies of a woman and five children had been discovered in the shallow graves at Pantin by a farmer who followed a trail of blood and found a handkerchief sticking unnervingly up from his field. Brushing away some of the soil, he had been horrified to see a human face staring back at him. The police excavated the entire field and dug up body after body, until seven corpses lay before them, each one heartrendingly smaller than the last. They were soon identified as the Kinck family. At first, they suspected husband and father Jean Kinck, as his body hadn’t yet been discovered in the abandoned house. But when Traupmann was captured and searched after making his break for freedom at Le Havre, the officers found that he was carrying ID papers on his person belonging to Jean, as well as the sum of 200 francs, linking him to the sickening mass murder.
Traupmann spun them a yarn, claiming that Jean was the mastermind behind a plan to kill his own family, because his wife had been unfaithful, and that he had bribed Traupmann to help him with the promise of a passage to America. Nobody believed him, and word of the cold-blooded slayings spread across Europe, and he became the first French murderer to be featured by the International Police News. Meanwhile, crowds of Parisians flocked to see the field where Madame Kinck and her children had been slaughtered and buried. So many came to view the crime scene and trampled all over it, that it couldn’t be used for planting crops for a full two years afterwards.
So who was this villain who so coldly executed an entire family one by one? Traupmann was born in the Alsace region and had been spoilt by his mother as a young boy. He left school at 14 to work for his father’s firm, Traupmann and Kambly, mounting his father’s patented spindles for cotton spinning machines. He was of above average intelligence and his fascination with true crime was overshadowed only by his fixation with money. Despite his slight build, he was agile and strong, and one of his first explorations of violence was when he attacked his brother Edmund with a hammer; injuring, but not killing him. He had first met Kinck when his father sent him to Roubaix (Roo-bay)to fit some machinery, and it was then that Traupmann profiled him as a potential victim.
After his arrest, a phrenologist examined the shape of Traupmann’s head and face – an old-fashioned pseudo-science that believed a person’s physical features could predispose them to crime. In the court transcript the doctor was quoted as saying, ‘Traupmann’s forehead is ample and singular in design which suggests high intelligence. His upper lip is distrustful, which cannot be concealed even by his slight moustache. When he smiles, his teeth are white and pointy like a dog’s, and his ears are symmetrical, which is usual for people of sound mind. His feet are flat-footed like an ape’s.’ I’ll include an image of Traupmann in the blog on my website, which is interesting to see in view of the phrenologist’s description. I’ll put the link in the show notes.
The trial began on 27th December 1869. Each time he told the story, he seemed to invent new accomplices, and he now claimed to have three but refused to give their names. He was a cunning, greedy man who is unlikely to have wanted to share the money with anyone or put himself in a position where others held something over him, so he was probably lying for self-preservation, to make it look as though he was less culpable than he was. As hard as it is to believe that someone could single-handedly murder eight people in so brutal and bloody a manner, including children, we have every reason to believe he worked alone.
While awaiting his fate, Traupmann told his fellow inmates that he would rather commit suicide than be executed. But he didn’t get the chance. On 19th January 1870, Jean-Baptiste Traupmann was led to the guillotine in La Place de la Roquette, where, with the pull of a rope and the flash of a blade, his head was separated from his body with the same ease and efficiency with which he had taken the lives of the Kinck family – and perhaps, others before them.
N.B a book entitled “The Making Of Modern Law: 1600-1926, The Trial Of Traupmann” spells the murderer’s surname as Traupmann as opposed to Troppmann.