Jo Attia was France’s most colourful criminal until his death in 1972.
image of Jo (second from right) found here
***He was raised in a convent until age twelve, when he was sent to earn his keep on a farm. Out of the hard grind came the magnificent physique that would become his underworld trademark. But by age sixteen he’d had it with farm life. He headed to Marseilles and joined a gang of youths. Within a year police caught him red-handed in a break-in. He was sent to North Africa with a penal batallion. There he learned to box and to kill, and became a close friend of Marseilles gangster Pierre Loutrel.
image found here
During the war Attia worked with the French resistance force, the Maquis. His main contribution was to confine his thievery to Germans and their French collaborators. But he allegedly also helped hundreds of Jews to cross the border to Spain.
Following the war Charles de Gaulle appointed Jo Attia to the Legion of Honor. Still, a hero’s glory buys no bread. Jo thought of entering the boxing ring, but the first manager he approached broke up at the sight of Attia’s tattoed body. “We’re looking for a boxer,” he said, “not a roadmap.”
magazine cover found here
By chance Attia ran into his old friend from the penal battalion, Pierre Loutrel who had become one of Paris’s leading crooks, “Pierrot le Fou” (the crazy). He joined Pierre’s gang only to be nearly caught by the police in September 1946. There followed an exchange of fire in the classic Chicago tradition.
Pierre’s gun found here
When the sound of gunfire reached him, Loutrel sprang into his brand new armored Delahay, not to flee, but to rescue his pals. At top speed he swung through the bullet shower at the hotel entrance and jammed on the breaks long enough for Attia to jump in. He then floored the gas pedal and disappeared. The gendarmes were left gaping. Another gang member, by hiding in a water barrel and breathing through a hose, also managed to escape. When the police left the scene, he emerged.
unarmoured Delahaye found here
Their luck ran out a few months later when they assaulted and shot a jeweler. Carrying the take to the car, Pierrot le Fou stuffed his pistol under his belt. It fired, stopping him in his tracks. His partners buried him on an island in the Seine. Attia took over, but some of the wildness had left him and he opened a chain of bordellos and nightclubs.
image from Vee Speers Bordello series found here
In 1949 Attia was sent to prison for four years for concealing a body (that of Pierrot le Fou) and illegal possession of weapons. The prosecutor, charging Attia with murder, had asked for a life sentence. But Attia got off lightly thanks to the intervention of one Colonel Beaumont, whose life Attia had saved during the war. Behind bars in Fresnes in 1952, Jo married the mother of his daughter, Nicole.
***This is an extract from a fascinating book, The Great Heroin Coup by Henrik Kruger translated by Jerry Meldon and found here. If you were intrigued by this, I recommend you click the link and read more. Or buy the book!
I found it when researching French actress Martine Carol who was briefly kidnapped by Pierre Loutrel. He apologised the next day by sending her a bouquet of red roses.