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hen we think of the guillotine, images of the revolutionary years of France come to our minds. A device mainly used to kill the nobility at its conception, the guillotine became widely used after the early revolutionary period of France in the late 18th century. As the years passed, new methods of capital punishment were invented. During the 20th century, methods such as the electric chair and lethal injection have been widely used as a form of capital punishment for those who committed crimes deemed to be too despicable to be punished by prison time.

As such many would think the guillotine would find no use in the 20th century as a method of execution, especially 8 years after humanity would first set foot on the moon, but this turns out to be false.

Hamida Djandoubi

حميدة جندوبي (Anglicised: Hamida Djandoubi) was a Tunisian agricultural worker who moved to Marseille, France, in 1968. During his stay in France, Djandoubi would work in a variety of jobs, starting off as a clerk in a grocery store then moving on to working in landscaping. During his landscaping work, he would be involved in an accident which resulted in the loss of most of his right leg.

Recreation of the night when Djandoubi killed Élisabeth Bousquet, the shed he hid her body in can be seen in the background. Source: Jeremy Mercer

In 1971 while in hospital, Djandoubi would meet Élisabeth Bousquet, who would become his partner until she broke off relations and filed a complaint to the local police in 1973, where she stated that Djandoubi tried to force her into prostitution. This complaint would lead to the arrest of Djandoubi in early 1973, but he would be shortly released in the spring of the same year.

Shortly after his release Djandoubi lured two young girls into prostitution. To teach them a lesson about disobedience, on 3 July 1974, he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend Élisabeth Bousquet. When he arrived home with her, he proceeded to torture her in front of the two young girls. Djandoubi would then take the barely alive Élisabeth to the outskirts of the town and strangle her to death, hiding her body in a shed.

Djandoubi warned the young girls that if they ever disobeyed him or told anyone about what they just saw they would face the same fate. Even so, the body would be discovered by a young boy only 4 days after the murder. A month later a girl who was kidnapped by Djandoubi would escape and report Djandoubi to the local police, connecting him to the body found a month before.

11 August 1974

On 11 August 1974, Djandoubi was caught by the local authorities. This would mark the start of 4 long years of battle by his lawyer to try to prove Djandoubi’s innocence.

Djandoubi’s main defense was that the amputation of his leg turned Djandoubi into a different man as he was driven to alcohol abuse and sudden outbursts of violence, turning him into a different man than he was before. This would mean that Djandoubi could’ve been sentenced to a mental institution rather than to execution.

This defense was swatted down by the judge, and on 25 February 1977, Djandoubi was sentenced to death by guillotine. Djandoubi’s lawyer tried to appeal the decision on 9 June of the same year, but the appeal was rejected. On 10 September 1977 at 4:40 am, twelve days before his 28th birthday, Djandoubi was executed by guillotine at Baumettes Prison in Marseille.

Capital Punishment

The death of Djandoubi would mark the last time that the guillotine would be used in capital punishment. Capital punishment would be outright banned in France in 1981 after François Mitterrand was elected as president of France, thus leading to the pardon of all those who were sentenced to death at the time of the ban.

For such an old method of execution, the guillotine has stood the test of time as a relatively humane way to end the life of someone. Lacking the uncertainty of the old types of execution, it has allowed this machinery to be used even after humanity reached the moon.

Fortunately, we have now evolved in some aspects such that most countries now do not focus on punishment but rather rehabilitation when it comes to how they handle criminals. As a result, such methods of execution have mostly been phased out in the western world except for America, which continues to use lethal injections for executions.

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