Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Perry Mason, and Magnum P.I. are all well-known fictional detectives throughout our time. However, have you ever heard of Robert Ledru? Probably not. Ledru was a real-life detective during the 1880s and was considered one of France’s best. That is, until after a horrendous crime, the finger-pointing turned in his direction.
Robert Ledru’s story really begins when he was 35 years old and was the go-to man when it came to solving criminal cases. Compared to Sherlock Holmes, Ledru had made his name in Paris as the man who caught murderers and abhorred violent lawbreakers. He was well known for his part in breaking up black magic cults and the arrests of vicious anarchists. In 1884, he even led the investigation that resulted in the imprisonment of a group of political rebels who had made plans to overthrow the government.
In 1887, due to his track record of solving cases, authorities in Le Havre, France asked Ledru to assist them on a case involving missing sailors. After arriving in the Normandy port, Ledru went to bed quite early. When he awoke, he was confused at the fact that his shoes and socks were wet. With no real time to sit and speculate as to the cause, he headed out for the Le Havre police station.
Detective Robert LeDru
Once he arrived, he was informed that the missing sailors’ case had been downgraded to a lower priority as there had been a murder the previous night. Prominent dress-shop owner Andre Monet had been found face down on the shore with a gunshot wound to the chest. There was no apparent motive, as Monet still had all of his belongings on his person, which ruled out robbery.
As Ledru arrived at the crime scene, his attention was immediately drawn to the footprints that led to and away from the body. While examining them, it was noted that Ledru’s demeanor changed, as though he was troubled.
“They look familiar to me,” he said. “I seem to have seen them somewhere before.”
He then ordered plaster casts made of some of the clearest footprints. Afterwards, he sat on the beach looking at the plaster casts for hours.
“He was like a statue,” said one of the local policemen. “A statue which was impervious to the hot sun and the incoming tide.”
When he finally arose, he announced to the Chief that he has solved the crime and there was no further need for an investigation.
“There is no need to stay here any longer,” he declared. “The case is solved. I know the identity of the killer!”
He then turned around, headed back to his hotel and remained locked in his room until the next morning. At that time, the Chief informed him that the fatal bullet had been recovered on the beach. Once the bullet was handed to him, he pulled out his revolver and compared the cartridges.
Ledru shocked his fellow law enforcement when he declared that he was in fact the murderer, although he had no recollection of taking the man’s life.
Ledru immediately made the observation that the killer was missing his big toe, based on the footprints. The plaster casts perfectly matched his own footprint as he was indeed missing his big toe. The memory of waking with his socks and shoes being wet added to the evidence.
Finally, when he had returned to his hotel, he checked his revolver, which was always fully loaded and realized that it was missing a round. After comparing it to the cartridge located on the beach, there was no doubt that the fatal shot had come from his gun, at his hand. He had no choice but to board the next train to Paris and reported the incident to his superior.
How could a police detective murder an innocent man on the beach in the middle of the night and have no recollection of the event?
While Ledru was confident that he pulled the trigger, he did not believe that he knew what he was doing. His only explanation that he must have been asleep or in a trance like state when he committed the murder. Even though no one could possibly believe that he was the murderer, with the fear looming that he could possibly kill again, Ledru insisted that he be arrested and placed where he could do no more harm.
As the evidence mounted and proved without a doubt that Ledru did kill Monet, Ledru was sent to prison and kept under constant watch. His bosses, however, continued in their search for answers as to “Why?” and “How?”
They believed that Ledru was suffering from a sort of temporary crisis caused by stress and overwork that led him to imagine himself as a killer and was acted out in a state of sleep. They decided to test their theory.
While in prison, authorities gave Ledru a revolver loaded with blanks, that he was to keep under his pillow. One night, Ledru got up out of his bed, removed the gun from underneath his pillow, aimed, and fired it at a guard. It was at this point that the authorities were convinced that the successful police detective was also a homicidal sleepwalker.
What do you do with a renowned police detective who had given his life to serving his fellow man, but was involuntarily a danger to those he has vowed to protect? It was agreed that the best solution was not imprisonment, but seclusion. Ledru lived alone on a farm outside Paris until his death in 1937. He was overseen by doctors and armed personnel. One must wonder if they were told the whole story about the sleepwalking detective who caught himself.
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