selling peanuts to the pope

Marthe Hanau (1890-1935) was a Frenchwoman who defrauded French financial markets in the 1920s and 1930s.

image found here

She married, and later divorced Lazare Bloch. In 1925, she and Bloch (the two remained business partners after the divorce) founded an economic newspaper, La Gazette du Franc et des Nations. Hanau used the newspaper to dispense stock tips to financial speculators. Bloch worked for his wife as a jolly, cigar-smoking customer’s man. He described himself as “the kind of fellow who could sell peanuts to the Pope.”

French Popes found here

Hanau’s paper promoted the stocks and securities of her own partners, whose businesses were mere shells or paper companies. French banks began to investigate the non-existent companies and soon there were numerous rumors about Hanau’s shady business practices and she and Bloch were arrested.

image found here

A preliminary trial began and Hanau protested that the court did not understand financial business, that she could return all the money, and that she should be released on bail. Comparatively few people had seen her till she appeared, aged 46, in the prisoner’s dock. She was an unusually short, round woman, with vulgar, virile gestures, a taurian head, full rouged lips and a fulminating vocabulary. When the court denied bail, she went on a hunger strike.

Taurian head found here

Three weeks later, Hanau was moved to Cochi hospital, where she was forcibly fed. When she was left alone, she made a rope out of sheets and climbed out of the window. Clad only in her chemise, stockings, slippers and a handsome sable coat, Madame Presidente hailed a taxi and returned to St. Lazare prison. Police chief Chiappe was afraid that she would die in his hands and requested that she be released on bail. She was moved to a hospice, where she still announced that she would return all the money. Not everybody believed her.

crocodile overalls and sable coat found here

She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, as the prosecution stated; so intelligent indeed that, as the judge agreed, only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe. The average provincial xenophobic Frenchman swallowed her rhetoric like a tonic. Along with their cheques, investors sent presents of homemade pates, garden flowers and knitted scarves.

scarf found here

During her trial Hanau revealed the names of all the politicians she had bribed and caused a scandal. She received a two year sentence, but the court credited her with the 15 months she had already spent in prison.

When Hanau was released later in the year, she bought Forces magazine. In April 1932 she published an article about the shady side of the financial markets — and quoted a Sûreté file about herself. Police arrested her but she refused to reveal who had leaked the file, just that it had been taken from the financial minister Flandin. She was sentenced to 3 months in prison for receiving classified information.

image found here

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43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have to admit that I rather applaud people who take the gullible and greedy for a ride. Especially if they have a “fulminating vocabulary.” 🙂
    And some of those scarves are good, too, especially the crime scene.

    • The crime scene one was my favourite

  2. …only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe…
    I like that.

    • It’s a clever quip

  3. Yes, I see. The sable. We have a group in the USA that rigs the financial markets too . Combo of megacorps, megabanks, US Congress and whoever happens to be President. If Theodore Roosevelt was President again , they’d be dis-empowered right quickly. If Andrew Jackson was President again, they’d all be hanged. Right quickly.

  4. I had to look up “fulminate” as it’s one of those words of which I *think* I know its definition but about which I have sufficient doubt to make a trip to the OED a necessity.

    The etymology’s interesting and has a very weak link to the talents of her husband:

    late Middle English: from Latin fulminat- ‘struck by lightning’, from fulmen, fulmin- ‘lightning’. The earliest sense (derived from medieval Latin fulminare) was ‘denounce formally’, later ‘issue formal censures’ (originally said of the Pope). A sense ‘emit thunder and lightning’, based on the original Latin meaning, arose in the early 17th century, and hence ‘explode violently’ (late 17th century)

    • Mmm…. I *thought* I knew what it meant too. Until you posted that….

  5. Awesome crime scene scarf…. 😉

  6. Stupid people deserve all that’s coming their way. I do like the gendarmes salt & pepper pots!

    • they are rather cute aren’t they?

  7. I’m a fan of that scarf’s design but it is acrylic…yuck.

  8. So, she goes on a hunger strike in prison, gets transferred to a hospital, breaks out of the hospital … and takes a taxi back to prison? That’s not how I expected that story to end.

    • She was a fascinating character

  9. Very interesting tale. Life is always stranger than fiction. Always.

    • Well, not always, but very often

  10. i hear the Pope likes his peanuts young…

    • Really? He strikes me as cold fish.

  11. Wouldn’t it be better to put all the stupid people in prison so the intelligent are safe? On second thoughts, maybe not, we’d have to quadruple the number of prisons.

    • Yes and we’re all so brilliantly clever and can look down on others. Come on, let’s not get all eugenicist.

      • Hey, let’s not get too po-faced either. Humour isn’t a crime yet. I’m the first to admit I’m not too intelligent myself. In fact I sometimes wonder how I’ve survived 64 years on this planet without any major disasters. Must have a guardian angel out there someplace.

  12. I don’t get the phrase. Can the pope not eat peanuts?

    • Perhaps one has to be French to truly understand

  13. “the shady side of financial markets” – is there any other?

    A vulgar, virile gesture to the financial manipulators of the world.

    • Sure, in an alternative universe financial markets are on the sunny side of the street

  14. The model in the overalls better steer clear of the Northern Territory’s waterways: it’s mating season for the salties!

    • It’s a thoroughly unappealing outfit

  15. Any idea if Lazare Bloch was related to the Blochs behind a number of WW2 French aircraft?
    And I adore the yellow scarf! 😀

    • I don’t know, but I would think Bloch is a fairly common surname

  16. Seems she was also a little inconsistent about her age – according to her dates, she lived from 1890-1935 but she appeared in the dock in her earlier trial aged 46.

    • a lot of women are inconsistent about their age 😉

  17. Ahh, you’ve left me hanging. She must’ve died very shortly thereafter but how? Love the Taurean head.

    • Yes, I was pleased with that find

  18. Trying to imagine what a “virile gesture” is. I can only come up with one…

    • I can think of two

  19. The stupid are safe with her in prison? To make sure they are safe today I could start what would be a long list of people who need to be hind bars now!

  20. Those yellow scarfs don’t leave a chalk outline, do they?!

  21. I’m not sure why, but I rather like her.

  22. I have, on occasion, resorted to using my “fulminating vocabulary” – although the similarity ends there.
    (I love that word.)

  23. That scarf is pretty rad.

  24. I like fulminative people. And I have to have that scarf.

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