the man who never was

Armand Peltzer was an Antwerp engineer when he fell in love with Julie Bernays, the wife of a local lawyer. He decided to eliminate the husband using his younger brother Leon in an ingenious way.

The Lawyer by Arcimboldo

Leon, after some financial indiscretions in Argentina, was living under an assumed name in New York where he worked as a linen goods salesman. Armand contacted Leon and arranged a meeting in Paris.

The Peltzer brothers met on November 16, 1881, and Armand explained his scheme to Leon who agreed to cooperate. The basic plot was simple. The crime would be committed by a person who did not exist. Therefore, after the murder, the police would have no one to look for.


Leon changed his appearance, complexion, dress, and took on the guise of one Henry Vaughan, a millionaire preparing to establish a fleet of ships crossing from Amsterdam to Sydney. Having converted himself into a fictitious tycoon, Leon visited Bremen, Amsterdam, Brussels, working out of the most expensive hotels and becoming known to the world’s foremost navigation firms.

Amsterdam 1880

Finally, Leon wrote to the lawyer Bernays–under the signature of the fictional Vaughan–explaining that he had been recommended as an attorney who might represent the new steamship line in Brussels. Bernays readily agreed to an appointment in Brussels to talk business. Leon, now a bewhiskered and bespectacled dandy, admitted Bernays to his flat, and led him to a chair. Then he drew out a noiseless pistol and shot Bernays through the back of the head. The murder was accomplished.

Jim Dandy

After the killing, Leon burned his wig and false beard, disposed of his glasses, washed off his makeup, and departed from the flat forever. Vaughan, the murderer, vanished into thin air. A man named Leon Peltzer, recently on a visit from New York, could not be suspected. And certainly his brother, Armand Peltzer, who had been going about his business in Antwerp, could not have even the vaguest connection with the violent crime. The deed had been done by an unknown hand. The slayer was nonexistent.


There was only one flaw with the crime imperfect, and that stemmed from vanity. In Switzerland Leon Peltzer perused the newspapers daily for word of the discovery of the victim’s body. When 10 days had passed without the corpse being found, the impatient Leon wrote a letter to the Belgian police directing them to the body. He explained Bernays’s death had been the result of a “horrible accident.” He had been visiting Bernays on business, had shown him a revolver, and somehow it had gone off by accident, killing him. Frightened and fearful because he was a foreigner, he fled. The letter was signed “Henry Vaughan.”

world’s smallest revolver found here

The Belgian police began an intensive investigation. They also posted a 25,000-franc reward for information leading to the apprehension of Henry Vaughan, and they circulated specimens of his handwriting.

It was Leon’s penmanship that was his undoing.  In writing his Henry Vaughan letter, he had neglected to change or disguise his Leon-style handwriting. A local chemist saw the photocopy specimen of Henry Vaughan’s handwriting–and thought he recognized it. Leon was traced, and found to be unable to account for his movements when “Vaughan” seemed to have legitimately existed. Eventually both brothers were tried and convicted of murder, receiving life sentences though Armand, the mastermind, maintained his innocence to the end.

John Wayne Gacy’s handwriting found here

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 8:36 am  Comments (37)  
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