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Death by Fellatio

Rogues Gallery Uncovered

Episode 12

Marguerite Steinheil

Rogues Gallery Uncovered

Bad behaviour in period costume

No judgment no moralising just the story.

Featuring history’s greatest libertines’ lotharios and complete bastards.

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Sucking the life out of the "Belle Epoch"



The following tale is written in the present tense of the period in which its set…. and as such, may contain attitudes and opinions of the protagonists and their times which would today be considered unacceptable.

As im not a fictional French detective in turn of the last century Paris those attitudes and opinions are obviously not mine.

PARIS 1899 Let me get this crystal-clear monsieur, you are saying that the president of France has been killed by a passionate and vigorous act of fellatio?

Please don’t misinterpret my tone for scepticism monsieur, as a professional detective my duty is to establish and follow the facts, however unusual or updateable they may be.

I suspect however that many a Frenchman would rather die in such a pleasurable manner than alone in their beds, n'est-ce pas?

Pardon monsieur just a little detective humour there, let’s examine the facts.

On the morning of February 16th President Felix Faure’s FAWS mistress (let’s not be coy about this) Madame Marguerite Steinhiel STEN ISLE received a telephone call asking her to visit the president at the Palais de l'Élysée.

She has been his lover since 1897 when he offered a contract of employment to her husband, the artist Adolphe Steinheil. STEN ISLE

Since then she has regularly visited his private residence as, she claims, his “psychological advisor", and has also received him at her own home - usually when her husband was absent. We know that President Faure had a great fondness for the fairer sex and kept several mistresses – going to great lengths to maintain what he considered to be an attractively trim figure.

He was also fastidious about his appearance – changing his clothes upwards of three times a day.

I believe he also wanted to have an elaborately embroidered presidential costume specially made for him but was discouraged by almost universal mockery.

Madame Steinheil, STEN ISLE for her part has a well-established reputation as a society beauty.

Her husband is twenty years her senior and she has strongly hinted that the only reason she married him in the first place was to escape from her rural home life and move to the city. You do not have to be Madame de Pompadour to realise that this is not the basis for lasting relationship and despite remaining married, the two now lead almost entirely separate lives.

The scandal of divorce combined with the loss of her socialite lifestyle played a not insubstantial part in the commitment to her vows, I’m sure. In the years following their “Separation” Madame Steinheil has entertained a host of prominent men including Ferdinand de Less eps, René Lalique, Jules Massenet, François Coppée, Émile Zola, and Pierre Loti.

Many of them (perhaps hoping to assuage a guilty conscience) commissioned the husband they cuckolded to paint their portraits. - I dare say he’s never been so busy.

However, on the day in question Madame Steinheil entered the Palais as usual through a side door and accompanied by a plain clothes detective made her way to the "Salon Bleue" – a discreet well-appointed room on the ground floor. She was subsequently joined by the president and the two were left alone behind closed doors. Servants were alerted that all was not well shortly after by the frantic ringing of a bell.

Bursting into the salon, they found Monsieur le President lying on the couch with his trousers and underpants around his ankles, in obvious distress. According to some reports, Madame Steinhiel’s head was in his lap – in flagrante Delicto – so to speak – and the president’s hands were so tightly entwined in her hair that strands of it needed to be cut off before she could be escorted discreetly from the room.

What is certain is that her clothing was in a state of extreme disarray and that she had almost certainly been occupied in pleasuring the head of the French government – who died of a cerebral haemorrhage later that evening.

Ironic don’t you think that we French refer to the blissful moment of orgasm as “le petite mort" Obviously, the exact nature of the Presidents demise was kept from the public although rumours started to fly through the cafes of Paris before the following day was out. It is widely believed that he was in the embrace of another of his mistress’s, the actress Cécile Sorel when he died.

The newspapers have certainly wasted little time in making smutty innuendo their front-page headline.

"Felix Faure has sacrificed too much to Venus"

“He was sacrificed on Venus’s altar,

“Felix Faure passed away in good health, indeed from the excess of good health,”

I do not think however that sucking a man’s “Zob” until he drops dead constitutes a crime so I’m afraid monsieur, I must bid you adieu. Now, where did I put my cape?

PARIS 1908

Let me get this crystal-clear monsieur, you are saying that the husband and mother of the infamous salonnière Madame Marguerite Steinhiel have been found dead and she is on trial for their murder.

Mon Dieu!

In the years since her notorious liaison with the former President became public knowledge, she has enjoyed passionate relationships with a variety of politicians and wealthy industrials – apparently even the king of Cambodia.

All were intrigued by the opportunity to experience the kind of skilful wiles that had literally “Pleasured a man to death”

The popularity of her husband’s art exhibitions is without question – more because of men hoping to catch her eye than appreciate the work no doubt.

However recently his increasing ill health had led to a decrease in his lucrative commissions.

In addition, a rich widower with whom she had been having a liaison had ended their two-year relationship – so money was becoming an issue. She had begun posing for other artists such as the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Hugues OO GH who based his La Muse de la Source piece on her enviable figure. It’s is true that she had used her seduction skills on a young aristocrat by the name of Emmanuel de Balincourt – Pretending to faint in front of him so he would take her home indeed.

But even he found the prospect of paying a sad and ailing cuckold to paint his portrait more than a little distasteful.

So, the Steinhiel coffers were somewhat meagre. But first …the facts On the morning in question what we do know is that on descending from his attic room, her husband’s servant Remy Couillard heard muffled noises coming from a room he believed to be empty. On opening the door, he found a gagged Madame Steinhiel tied loosely to the bed.

Investigation of adjoining bedrooms revealed that her husband had been strangled to death with a cord tied around his neck and her mother – who had been visiting – was also deceased.

She had had her false teeth shoved down her throat and then been strangled with a cord.

Madame Steinhiel told police that she had been awoken in the night by a gang of black robed intruders – 3 men and one red headed woman-who asked her at gun point where the money was and then knocked her unconscious.

But they left her alive – mmmmm I wonder why. The police were suspicious immediately – tres bon!

At first Steinhiel hinted that the gang – whom she described in suspiciously impressive detail - may have been looking for secret papers that had been given to her by the Late President – a theory with absolutely no proof whatsoever.

Then she tried to implicate young Remy Couillard by claiming that she had found a stolen pearl in his pocket – a pearl that was later confirmed to have been removed by her from one of her rings TWO WEEKS AFTER the murder. Then she accused a man who had worked as a model for her husband – But he was found to have a cast iron alibiThen she accused the son of her housekeeper – but he too had incontrovertible proof of his innocence.

A local jeweller admitted to police that Madame Steinhiel had presented him with many of the jewels that she claimed had been stolen and asked him to mount them in new settings.

The investigating judge, infuriated by this habitual “j’accusing” sent her to the prison at Saint-Lazare where she spent 300 days.

He however had to give up his role in the investigation when it was revealed that HE TOO had had “knowledge” of the accused.

The trial is obviously the talk of Paris and the public gallery is always full.

Even Marcel Proust has been seen watching the proceedings – and his friends say that he never usually gets out of bed before noon.

On the witness stand, Madame Steinhiel weeps and wails most passionately as the judge calls her testimony “a tissue of lies” but it seems clear to me that without hard evidence and with witnesses either out of the country or unwilling to testify for the prosecution, she will be acquitted on all counts.

Do I have theory? Why monsieur you flatter me but yes, I do.

I suspect that because of her precarious financial position Madame Steinhiel had taken another lover – one not revealed to the press or the courts.

This unknown man had arrived unannounced at the Steinhiel home and the two had begun to quarrel.

Attempting to intervene Monsieur Steinhiel was struck in the throat and killed and the accused’s visiting mother on viewing the violent scene collapsed and died with a heart attack.

The whole robbery scene was then staged with the “murderer’s strangulation cord” being used to hide the truth of the initial death and cover up its equally fatal aftermath.

As for Madame Steinhiel’s wild accusations these were mere diversions.

I put it to you that the mystery man in question may have been foreign royalty – perhaps Russian - and the French government eager to avoid a scandal had spirited him out of the country and ensured that the subsequent trial was so badly managed that the accused was guaranteed to be acquitted and the whole affair conveniently forgotten.

But, as I say this is only a theory, I am but a humble detective.

Now if you’ll excuse me monsieur, I have an appointment with a dancer at the follies Berger.

I have heard her tongue is most exquisite. If she is as skilled as Marguerite Steinheil then wish me good fortune, for I am indeed dicing with death.

It seems incredibly bad luck to have been at the centre of not one national scandal but two.

Marguritte or “Meg” sten isle however found herself in that unenviable position within ten years.

I suspect much of the negative press she received stemmed from Edwardian Parisians being disapproving of her moral choices rather than any opinion on her actual guilt.

She was certainly accused of being every kind of villain. Some said that she poisoned Felix Faure as part of an international plot – which was nonsense.

She was a country girl who enjoyed money, status, the attention and generosity of powerful men and all the freedom and independence that went with it.

None of which is a crime.

The theory that a mysterious member of the possibly Russian nobility was involved in the death of her husband and mother has received a fair bit of credence over the years with a famous French criminologist lending his weight to it.

We will pprobably never know for sure.

What we do know is that Meg Steinthals trail was one of the most spectacular Paris had ever seen.

It had everything, death, sex, celebrity, scandal and courtroom dramatics

The worlds press couldn’t get enough of marguerite dubbing her “The Red Widow”

At one point some random bloke wearing a red wig and a black cloak stood up and confessed that he had in fact committed the murders

Release that woman!” he shouted. “She is innocent. I alone am responsible. Mme. Steinheil had nothing to do with the death of her husband and Mme. Japy. I killed them both and I am proud of it.”

As the crowd gasped Marguerite collapsed into her seat screaming ‘I am innocent; I tell you that I am innocent. Now that this man has confessed, do you still believe me guilty?’”

It was said that most of the men in the courtroom thought she was innocent while most of the women thought her guilty – although how those conclusions were reached, I have no idea.

It didn’t help that cellmates and fellow prisoners who shared the squalid confines of Saint Lazare with her kept telling journalists that she had already confessed to them – claims that were demonstrably false.

It turned out though that this new confession was a load of rubbish too as the man who made it – who was named Lefebvre (luh fev) – was revealed to be besotted fantasist.

Desperate to convict her the prosecution presented no fewer than 87 witnesses. But their aggressive, some said bullying tactics turned public opinion against them.

Marguerite stuck to her story and her performance on the stand soon had all of Paris rooting for her.

When the jury was sent out to consider their verdict it took them 2.5 hours. At ten to one in the morning, Marguerite was finally acquitted on all counts – a year after her ordeal had begun.

What was described as an “hysterical wave” swept through the corridors of the Palais de justice and out into the courtyard where 200,00 people stood wating to hear if the red widow would walk free or face the guillotine.

As word got out thousands more took to the streets all over the capital to shout their pleasure and excitement.

She began to be known by a different nickname “La Veuve Joyeuse” – The Merry Widow.

Marguerite’s notoriety however made a life in Paris impossible so she moved to England where she went by the name of Madame de Serignac” and began to write her memoirs.

These appeared in 1912 and not surprisingly gave a somewhat one-sided account of her colourful life. She claimed that she had been working with Felix Faure on his own set of recollections but after his death all the material was confiscated by a mysterious government official.

She also successfully sued a publisher who included her in a book about female criminals which stated that she lied at her trial.

She married Robert Scarlett, 6th Baron Abinger in 1917 and was again widowed ten years later.

Marguerite retired to Hove in Sussex where she died aged 85 in 1954.

Next time on Rogues Gallery Uncovered




Egil skallargrimson

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