Detective Marie Francois Goron and the Gouffe Case Part 3

About the famous detective Marie Francois Goron and the Gouffe Case, account of the crime and clues, history of the chase.


No matter what the outcome of the autopsy, the very fact that the body had been exhumed stood as a triumph for Goron. At the beginning of November, Magistrate Dopffer had handed him some railroad baggage labels which had been attached to a trunk found in the vicinity of the Lyons corpse. The labels indicated that the trunk had been put aboard a Paris-to-Lyons train on July 27, but the year was obscured, and both the Lyons authorities and Dopffer had concluded that the original marking had been 1888--the previous year. Idiots, Goron had cried as he rushed to examine the registry at the baggage office.

Just as he had thought, there was no record of such a trunk's being shipped on July 27, 1888. But on the July 27, 1889, listing for the 11:45 A.M. train bound for Lyons, he found an entry for "one trunk, weight 105 kilograms." Rushing back to Dopffer, Goron convinced the magistrate that this trunk, sent to Lyons from Paris the day after Gouffe had last been seen, must have contained the body of the dead bailiff. Still doubtful, Dopffer nevertheless had granted Goron permission to go to Lyons, have the body exhumed, and hopefully have its identity as the missing Gouffe either confirmed or denied.

Following 11 days of applying every test in the still primitive art of forensic medicine, Dr. Lacassagne was now ready to announce his conclusion. He had measured the leg and arm bones to determine the dead person's height; he had noted the indications of deformity in the right kneecap and foot; he had determined the dead man's age by calculating the wear of the dentin and checking the accumulation of tartar at the roots of the teeth. Finally, after washing the victim's hair time and again, he observed that it gradually turned from black to auburn. It all fit. On Nov. 21, 1889, Lacassagne looked up at Inspector Jaume and then across the table at Goron. With his characteristic flair for the dramatic, he loudly proclaimed, "Messieurs, I herewith present you with Monsieur Gouffe."

Nearly four months after the murder, the only things Goron knew for certain were that it was indeed a murder case and that the Lyons corpse was Gouffe, the missing Parisian bailiff. So much time had elapsed, however, that Gouffe's killer or killers were surely beyond even Goron's grasp.

He would not give up. To launch the investigation, he ordered that a replica of the trunk be built and displayed. Within three days, 25,000 curiosity seekers came to gaze upon it, but the information Goron was after was not forthcoming until the end of the month. Then a letter writer in London advised Goron that a French couple had purchased such a trunk in the English capital the previous July. Goron immediately dispatched an inspector, who learned that the trunk buyers were a short man with huge hands and arms and a much younger and fairly attractive woman.

On Dec. 19, Goron himself arrived in London, where he tracked down a Frenchwoman who had befriended the couple in question during their July visit. Reluctantly she admitted that the man was her former lover, Michel Eyraud, and that the woman was Michel's new mistress, Gabrielle Bompard.

Back in Paris on Dec. 22, Goron knew for certain who had killed Gouffe, who had ransacked the bailiff's office until frightened away by an approaching constable, who had transported the body by train in a large trunk to Lyons, and who had opened the trunk and tossed the body--encased in an oilcloth sack--down the Rhone riverbank from the road that ran between Lyons and Millery. The only thing he did not know--in fact, about which he had not even the inkling of an idea--was the whereabouts of one Michel Eyraud and his girl friend, Gabrielle Bompard.

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