DOLE, FRANCE — On January 18, 1573, Gilles Garnier died howling. The reclusive, almost feral hermit had attacked and eaten a number of children in and around the town of Dole in France’s Franche-Comte Province. With much fanfare, then, local authorities burned Garnier at the stake for his crimes.
Given the savage, bloodthirsty nature of Garnier’s atrocities, he acquired the nickname “The Werewolf of Dole.” Given that all this happened in the 16th century, the court formally convicted him “crimes of witchcraft and lycanthropy.”
So, indeed, in the eyes of the law, Gilles Garnier officially met his fate for being a “loup-garou” — that is, a literal werewolf.
Wolf-men weighed heavily on the minds of rural France in those scary times — especially on long, dark winter nights, when food grew scarce, and both wolves and men alike became more likely to pounce on vulnerable passersby.Hunger almost certainly drove Gilles Garnier to madness. After a lifetime of solitary living, Garnier is said to have married in 1572, with his wife joining him in the isolated hovel he occupied in the woods outside St. Bonnot.
As a hunter and scavenger, Garnier faced new challenges with a second mouth to feed. As temperatures dropped, plants died and animals slipped off into hibernation, and he grew increasingly desperate. That’s when someone — or something — took to slaughtering and devouring the children of Dole.
The first to die was a 10-year-old girl, whose butchered body turned up in a vineyard. Garnier later said he partially ate the child on the spot, and then chopped off parts of her body to bring home as meat for his wife.
Shortly thereafter, Garnier brutally assaulted and chomped on another girl, who succumbed to her wounds several days later. He next strangled a boy, but had to ditch the body as locals approached.
Garnier murdered and partially consumed one more boy and girl with his hands and teeth. On the last occasion, he almost got caught. When villagers heard a child screaming, they ran in the direction of the commotion and saw Garnier in gruesome action.
What they actually reported to the police, though, was that they witnessed a little girl being torn to shreds by a crazed, half-human, half-beast — a werewolf.It didn’t take long for authorities to connect the werewolf claims to the one weirdo they knew who lived remotely in the woods.
Once brought into custody, Garnier “confessed” to not just killing and eating the children, but also to transforming into a mythical monster. He told his interrogators that, one night while out hunting, a “phantom” approached and provided him with a “balm” that could turn him into a wolf. Garnier said he used it.
It seems likely that Garnier’s captors tortured him into “admitting” his shape-shifting abominations. He may have also been delusional for any number of reasons, or perhaps just a typically heinous serial killer who seized on the era’s superstitions to explain himself.
Regardless, peasants and the powerful alike gathered to watch Garnier’s execution. Being purposefully constrained and set on fire will kill anybody — werewolf or not.
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Main image: Woodcut of a werewolf attack by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1512 [Wikipedia]