break a leg – twice

Émile Buisson (1902 – 1956), a French gangster, was proclaimed French Public Enemy No. 1 for 1950. One of nine children, he and his brother Jean-Baptiste, both turned to crime at an early age.

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Emile served his first term in jail at the age of sixteen in a penal battalion in North Africa. The brutality of these battalions was unspeakable, however Emile managed to distinguish himself and earn the Croix de Guerre. But back in France, he again turned to crime and served many short terms in jail.

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In 1932 he helped to rescue his brother from jail with a bold plan. Jean-Baptiste had himself transferred to Strasbourg model prison at Ensisheim by confessing to a crime in Strasbourg and getting three years added to an eight year sentence. Once there he broke his leg by smashing it with a table leg. He was transferred to hospital, and that same night he jumped from a first floor window, breaking it again. But with the help of Emile, he made a clean getaway.

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Emile committed his first big robbery in 1937, earning himself the nickname “Crazy Mimile”. He was arrested one month later but escaped while awaiting trial. In 1941 he robbed the Credit Lyonnais bank, killing two employees in cold blood. Shortly after this he was caught by the Gestapo and sent to a military prison. This time he escaped by simulating lunacy until he was transferred to an asylum. 

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Over the next few years he took part in many holdups, always using sten-guns and Citroen ‘traction’ front wheel drives. Following the war, Paris was considered a dangerous city where gang killings were commonplace. The police were armed with sub-machine guns but after accidentally shooting an old drunk gentleman and a bus full of passengers they were forced to be a little more cautious with their firearms.

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He was finally arrested in 1950 by Roger Borniche, a French detective of the Sûreté Nationale and author of a number of books.

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Borniche had started out as a singer, but his fledgling musical career was interrupted by the German invasion. In 1943, he joined the Sûreté Nationale as an inspector to avoid being shipped to a forced labor detail.

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In 1947, he was assigned to capture the escaped murderer, Emile Buisson. Borniche kept critical investigative files in his office, forcing the other investigators to bargain with him for their contents. He also competed with the other agencies for informants, who tried to play the investigators against each other for more rewards. He was sometimes shadowed by other investigators and would have to lose his “tail” to meet with an informant.

He was able to bargain with informants by offering them a signed permit to remain in Paris (despite being banned from the city by other police forces) and by delaying distribution of official warrants, keeping the notices locked in his desk. Borniche forced an informant to lead Buisson into a trap where he was captured eating lunch in a restaurant. Borniche was rewarded with a promotion and a 30,000 franc bonus. He retired in 1956 and  formed his own detective agency in Paris. His first set of memoirs, Flic Story, became the basis of a 1975 film featuring Alain Delon as Borniche and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Buisson.

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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And what was the final fate of Buisson? And the determination of the brother was noteworthy. What happened to him? Nonetheless, a fascinating story about the times of the Little Sparrow who is my true French heroine.

    • Buisson was executed by guillotine.

  2. Bornice sounds like that one really insufferable guy you find in every workplace.

    • but he did get the job done

  3. Perhaps we need to have a french crime film festival here at the castle…

    Is this the origin of the good luck phrase ‘break a leg’?

    The King

  4. Borniche was surely one clever detective. I also agree with what Laura said above as well.

  5. I’ve just bought a Citroen … I must test it’s traction now.

    • Funny DP, when I read that bit I thought of you

  6. I never thought I’d see the words “French” and “gangster” in the same sentence.

    How’s that for reducing an entire nation to a stereotype? Do I get an A+ for racism?

    He broke his own leg?! What a manly man. If I stub my tow I howl like a little girl.

    • He sounds like a psychopath to me

  7. oh, if i could only blame my failed singing career on an act of war…

    • haha. i love your quips daisyfae

  8. And where was Clouseau all this time?

    • Searching for the Doomsday device

  9. how can one shoot at a bus full of passengers thinking they are criminals.
    Jean Baptise sounds like a perfect gangster name.

    • It also sounds like a film star’s name or a writer’s name

  10. Interesting to see how anarchic Paris was after WWII. “Multipolar” seemingly. A bit like the fascist state.
    Penal battalions were never fun, I wonder whom they were fighting in the colonies, the croix de guerre is nothing to be sneezed at.

    • Penal battalions sound pretty scary to me

  11. Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it compromises and develops the germ of every other. As the parent of armies, war encourages debts and taxes, the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended … and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people …”

    Never trust a german.

    • Tony, I think I preferred it when you used my blog to tell silly jokes. you need to give this German bashing a rest

  12. Very interesting. I’m starting to realize that those of us who are law abiding and plod on from day to day trying to make our living in the boring but honest pursuit of employment just really don’t end up with lives that make such gripping reading.

    • I much prefer my life to one where people break their own legs and shoot at others. I couldn’t stand the stress.

  13. The German invasion didn’t go over as well as the British Invasion.

    • No fokker comes close

  14. I want to be a PI in some deeply noir setting. A chick PI with stockings and a cigarette holder.

    • Fishnets of course?

  15. A good detective needs snitches.

    • How else would they solve stuff? A snitch in time saves lots of work

      • snicker :-)

  16. Whenever I hear mention of The Sûreté I immediately start talking like Inspector Clouseau (of The Sûreté).

    • Me too! Unfortunately I have no talent for mimicry

  17. Can’t seem to shake the images of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday from my mind. Or the idea that “cheese monger” sounds like a fine career choice …

    • Oh I love Tati! Playtime is my favourite Tati film. What’s yours?

      Incidentally, there is a lovely perfume called Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. It smells like a salty breeze off the Mediterranean, driftwood and old leather suitcases

      http://www.cbihateperfume.com/

      • I think I’ve only seen the one film. But Playtime sounds pretty interesting.

        Finally got to the Irish stew scene in TMIAB. It was pretty amusing!

  18. I guess the moral is that crime doesn’t pay, unless you’re a detective.

    • Unless you’re a detective or Christopher Skase

  19. Makes me kind of sad to realize these people had started living way more interesting lives at a younger age than I have.

    • But would you really want to break your own leg or spend time in prison? Don’t the Chinese have a saying about an interesting life being a curse?

  20. Where do you find your stories?! They help me remember in retirement what I once learned daily in my work: every single human has a life full of surprising stories and some, perhaps those of whom you least imagine it, have stories so surpassingly strange that we’re left ‘mazed and stunned.

    • I get most of my post ideas from the books i read.

  21. Sounds like Crazy Mimile and I have a lot in common. I’ve been known to simulate lunacy to get out of relationships.

  22. Of course, the ol’ get a leg up by breaking your leg approach.

    • Yeah it’s such a chestnut. but it works well apparently.

  23. Escaping from a military prison to a lunatic asylum doesn’t sound like much of an escape to me

  24. Reminds me of a shoot-out at the Hotel Citroen…
    (sorry – I know I’ve used that reference before, but I just couldn’t help myself…)

  25. I hope if I ever become a criminal I can be so successful. Though I would probably feel bad at killing all those people.


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