While walking past the gardens in Bloomsbury’s Regent Square on Friday, November 2nd, 1917, a male nurse spotted a sack inside the railings. He opened it and found it contained a woman’s torso and arms, wrapped in a bloodstained sheet. Another bundle nearby contained a leg and a foot.

“Blodie Belgian” was scrawled in pencil on a scrap of paper found in the sack, and a laundry mark on the sheet was traced to Emilienne Gerard, a 32-year-old Belgian woman. She had not been seen for three days, and at her home in Munster Square, Regent’s Park, the police found blood in the kitchen, and an IOU signed by Louis Voisin, a 51-year-old French butcher living nearby in Charlotte Street.

Emilienne had been his housekeeper/mistress for about a year until he replaced her with another woman, Berthe Roche, and when detectives asked Voisin to write “Bloody Belgian” he made the same spelling error as that on the scrap of paper found with Emilienne’s torso. Her head and hands were found in a barrel in his cellar, one of her earrings was discovered caught up in a towel, and the walls of his kitchen were splashed with blood.

There had been an air raid on the night of OCTOBER 31st, and the police believed that Emilienne had gone to Voisin’s home to shelter in the cellar. Detectives theorised that she was killed in a quarrel with Berthe Roche, and Voisin then disposed of her body, also going to Emilienne’s home to which he had a key and splashing it with blood to suggest she was attacked there.

Both Voisin and Berthe Roche were charged with murder, and at their trial the court heard that Voisin had told the police: “During the night of the air raid, Wednesday, I was asleep. I went to Madame Gerard’s place in Munster Square on Thursday at 11 a.m., and when I arrived the door was closed but not locked. I went in. The floor and carpet were covered with blood. The head and hands were wrapped up in a flannel jacket which is at my place now. They were on the kitchen table. That’s all I can say. The rest of the body wasn’t there. I was so astounded at such an affair that I didn’t know what to do. I remained five minutes stupefied. I thought a trap had been laid for me…

“I went back to my house, had lunch, and during the afternoon I returned to Madame Gerard’s room and took the packet to my place. Why should I kill her?”

Nobody could be sure of the answer to that, but the jury convicted Voisin and he was sentenced to death.

Early in the trial the judge had ruled there was insufficient evidence of murder against Berthe Roche for her case to go to the jury, and at his direction she was remanded in custody, to be charged with being an accessory after the fact. Found guilty at her subsequent trial and given a seven-year jail sentence, she was certified insane less than a year later, and in 1919 she died in an asylum.

Meanwhile, Voisin had gone to the gallows on March 2nd, 1918, his neck so thick, with hardly any projecting chin, that his executioner John Ellis feared the rope might slip off over the prisoner’s head. It didn’t, and Voisin was dead within 30 seconds of being pinioned.