These star-crossed lovers mixed business with pleasure

Gouffe’s body was recovered days later although police didn’t immediately link him to the couple

These star-crossed lovers mixed business with pleasure

Gouffe’s body was recovered days later although police didn’t immediately link him to the couple who, in the meantime, had fled to America.

Some pretty exotic people have visited Victoria over the years. Not all of them have been accorded full recognition before passing on, unsung, to newer fields.

Take, for example, Gabrielle Bompard and Michael Eyrand, as star-crossed a pair of lovers as one could hope to meet. Aside from being lovers, they were partners in crime; a mixing of business with pleasure which had disastrous consequences.

The couple landed in Victoria in 1891 and put up at the city’s plushest hostelry, the Driard Hotel. Although they attracted little attention, it soon became apparent to some that money was not one of their problems.

At least one remembered them some 13 years later, recalling Mme. Bompard as having been “not handsome…[but] interesting and very nice in her manner. She spoke English with a charming French accent and the man and woman seemed to be much devoted to each other.

“Eyrand was a pleasant enough fellow. He played a good game of billiards and drank heavily of absinthe. They staid [sic] here almost 10 days and from here went to Vancouver, where they lived on the very best.”

And that was that, the couple soon being forgotten. The next that the few Victorians who’d met them knew, Mme. Bompard and M. Eyrand had been arrested in New York by a French detective who had a warrant for their arrest — for murder.

In due course they were extradited and tried in Paris. According to the prosecution, Gabrielle had enticed a wealthy businessman named Gouffe to her apartment, where she and Eyrand had strangled and robbed him. After binding the corpse with ropes they dumped it into the Seine.

Gouffe’s body was recovered days later although police didn’t immediately link him to the couple who, in the meantime, had fled to America. There, thanks to their victim’s money, they wined, dined, danced and travelled, all first-class. Heading south to Panama, they proceeded to San Francisco and, ultimately, to Victoria before continuing on to Vancouver, New York and — nemesis.

Convicted, Eyrand was sentenced to death and went to the guillotine. Mme. Bompard, who pleaded that she’d been under her lover’s “hypnotic influence,” was sentenced to 15 years.

Thirteen years after, the Colonist reported that she’d been released and that she’d sailed for America. Alas, upon landing in New York, she was taken into custody as an ex-convict and the Victoria daily concluded that she’d be returned to France as U.S. laws forbade the “immigration of such characters”.

Another pair of Victoria visitors with murder on their minds passed through Victoria in 1896. As representatives of the New South Wales Police, Det. McHattie and Const. Conroy were en route to San Francisco where they hoped to end an international manhunt with the arrest of Frank Harwood. Alias Butler, alias S. Burgess, alias Simpson, alias Clare, alias Leo Weller, he was wanted for questioning in more than a dozen murders, a lethal feat which had won for him the distinction of being the “most desperate homicide to horrify the public with his deeds” since Jack the Ripper.

Arriving aboard the steamship Miowera, they tarried but briefly in Victoria before proceeding to Vancouver where they caught a southbound train for the Bay City. The reason for their haste was the fact that their man, whose real name was thought to be Butler, was en route to that city aboard the four-masted collier Swanhilda, in the guise of an honest seaman.

But, before they departed, the officers gave a Victoria reporter a bloodchilling account of “arch-murderer” Butler’s activities. Unlike the infamous Ripper, they said that he’d made a business of murder, “his method being in brief to advertise in the daily papers for a partner to engage in prospecting in a richly mineralized district, making the stipulation that the victim must have 10 pounds capital”.

Sadly, Butler enjoyed a steady response to his ads and, once in the wilderness, he murdered and robbed his unsuspecting victims. How many men accompanied him into the bush and didn’t return, Australian authorities could only guess, although they suspected no fewer than 14. They’d also learned of Butler’s unique and gruesome modus operandi, the discovery of two bodies revealing that he’d had his victims dig their own graves by tricking them into thinking that they were digging for gold!

“Incontrovertible circumstances,” said the detectives, linked Butler to three atrocities the breadth of the Australian hinterland. Regrettably, evidence of his crimes hadn’t been forthcoming until a week after his departure for America via the Swanhilda, when authorities investigated the disappearance of two prospectors in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Capt. Lee Weller had headed into the hills with a new partner he’d met through answering a newspaper ad and hadn’t been seen since. The man who’d placed that ad, identified as Butler, had left Sydney with a strongbox of cash and jewelry.

The ground search for Weller turned up articles of clothing hidden in various locations that left “no shadow of doubt [but] that an awful tragedy had had been enacted”. Days later, an exhaustive search by volunteers led to the discovery of two bodies, that of Capt. Weller and a man named Preston.

Further investigation uncovered at least a dozen other cases of prospectors who’d vanished under similar circumstances while accompanying a man of Butler’s description, and that he’d sailed aboard the ’Frisco bound Swanhilda using his latest victim’s identification papers.

With that, Detective McHattie and Const. Conroy continued on their grim quest. There’s much more to the story of the “arch-murderer” Robert Butler but it will have to await another day.

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