True Crime Leon Peltzer and the Great Alibi Part 2

About the brothers Leon and Armand Peltzer, their biography, history, the murder they undertook and their famous alibi, the hunt and arrest.

THE PELTZER CASE (1882)

The Hunt: After the killing, Leon Peltzer burned his wig and false beard, disposed of his glasses, washed off his makeup, and departed from the flat forever. Vaughan, the murderer, vanished into thin air. A man named Leon Peltzer, recently on a visit from New York, could not be suspected. And certainly his brother, Armand Peltzer, who had been going about his business in Antwerp, could not have even the vaguest connection with the violent crime. The deed had been done by an unknown hand. The slayer was nonexistent. The perfect murder had been committed. Armand Peltzer had the slain man's wife for his own.

Only one flaw made the perfect crime imperfect, and that stemmed from human vanity. In Bale, Switzerland, Leon Peltzer perused the newspapers daily for word of the discovery of the victim's body. When 10 days had passed without the corpse's being found, the impatient Leon, eager to see his press notices, wrote a letter to the Belgian police directing them to the body. He explained Bernays's death had been the result of a "horrible accident." He had been visiting Bernays on business, had shown him a revolver, and somehow it had gone off by accident and killed Bernays. Frightened, the letter writer explained, and fearful because he was a foreigner, he had fled. The letter was signed "Henry Vaughan."

The Belgian police, believing Bernays's death might have been accidental, yet suspecting he might have been murdered, began an intensive investigation. They also posted a 25,000-franc reward for information leading to the apprehension of Henry Vaughan, and they circulated specimens of Vaughan's handwriting.

It was Leon's letter that unraveled the mystery. He had made one mistake. In preparing his Henry Vaughan letter, he had neglected to change or disguise his Leon-style handwriting. In the town of Verviers, a chemist saw the police photocopy specimen of Henry Vaughan's handwriting--and recognized it as belonging to Leon Peltzer. Once the police were onto Leon, the trial led swiftly to the real mastermind, Armand Peltzer, and both brothers were arrested.

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