Cold Cases #5. Mis and Thiennot, a fight for the truth started 75 years ago

History began on the last Sunday of 1946 and it continues to be written today. No less than three books have been published this year on the case and a seventh request for review of the convictions of Raymond Mis and Gabriel Thiennot was filed in June. The magistrates of the commission of instruction of the Court of revision will say in the autumn if they judge this one admissible: justice, then, should again decide on an old file of more than three quarters of a century, which still unleashes passions and fuels the mobilization of a support committee that is still active, forty-two years after its creation. Convicted of the murder of gamekeeper Louis Boistard by three Assize Courts between 1947 and 1950, despite confessions extracted under torture, Mis and Thiennot never ceased to proclaim their innocence throughout their lives. And even beyond, their relatives and friends relentlessly pursuing the fight after their deaths in 2003 and 2009.

Raymond Mis (left) and Gabriel Thiennot in 1988, after the Court of Appeal rejected their request for a review of the trial. © Keystone UK

How to explain such abnegation? Largely thanks to the work of a man: Léandre Boizeau, 82 years old, son of showmen who, thanks to the school of the Republic, became a teacher then a writer, a communist activist too, before returning his card in 1983. This child of the Berry, who was 6 when the murder took place, grew up hearing about the case. “My father knew two of the protagonists well, arrested with Mis and Thiennot, the Thibault brothers, who had just set up as butchers in Saint-Genou. For him, it was impossible that they could have participated in a murder. It was his investigation, conducted at the end of the 1970s, which was to relaunch a case that had been bogged down for more than twenty-five years. Sunday, December 29, 1946, a thick fog falls on this very poor corner of France where, to fill your plate, it is better to know how to aim well with your gun. It’s closing day for the hunt, and several small groups have met to try to improve the ordinary. Gabriel Thiennot, 19 years old, 1.52 meters, is about to experience his first hunting trip, invited by his friend Christian Grosjean, 17 years old. The Mis, Poles who have been living in the area for barely six months, are also out with their guests. The two groups meet in the morning and meet at the beginning of the afternoon.

A former collaborator commissioner leads the investigation

This is the moment when Louis Boistard leaves his home. The gamekeeper works for Jean Lebaudy, an industrialist who made his fortune in sugar and owns a huge area of ​​2,800 hectares in one piece, dotted with 23 farms. This Sunday, he also gives a Christmas party in his majestic Blizon castle, in Saint-Michel-en-Brenne. Except that in the evening, the game warden does not return home. Concern spreads and suspicion quickly falls on the group of young hunters. On Monday, Désiré Brunet, a sharecropper who works at the Prends-Garde-À-Toi farm – the name of the locality – claims to have heard, without seeing her, an altercation between the guard and hunters. Gabriel Thiennot, who had had trouble with the Boistard couple two years earlier, was arrested and the Mis assigned to residence. On Tuesday morning, after barely two days of searches organized by the staff of the Lebaudy family, the body of Louis Boistard was found floating in the Etang des Saules. The body pierced by four bullets, two of which were fired at close range. His notebook, where he notes his interventions, has disappeared. For the gendarmes, it is clear: the culprits are poachers. Ideally, the eight young people on a trip that day…

Eight days of torture left more scars than seven years in prison.

All are gathered at the gendarmerie of Mézières-en-Brenne and interrogated overnight in the nearby town hall. At work, commissioner Georges Daraud, with a more than questionable record of service. Engaged in the Vichy police in 1941, he will be responsible during the war for filing foreign Jews in the region, to send them to the Douadic internment camp (Indre). Final destination: the extermination camps. Few will return. Despite this past, Daraud was only dismissed from the police for six months, before returning to service. At the end of 1946, he is in post and has just failed to solve a quadruple murder, not far from there. A new failure would have a bad effect. “Thiennot came from a family of communist resistance fighters, Mis had the misfortune to be Polish. The time was still settling scores, in those years. For this Commissioner with very clear Vichy sympathies, all means were good to obtain a confession, ”says Me Jean-Pierre Mignard, the lawyer for the Mis and Thiennot Support Committee.

« Justice was not comfortable with this case »

The eight young hunters are questioned for over a week. “At the town hall, at night, the upper room is the place of the worst abuse, specifies Léandre Boizeau. The police keep their victims awake, naked, on their knees, on iron rulers. They are also inflicted with the “Jewish prayer”: pieces of wood inserted between the fingers and pressed until the knuckles burst. Forty years later, one only had to look at their hands to see what they had suffered. Very quickly, these abuses paid off: Albert Niceron, one of the participants, accused Mis and Thiennot of being the killers. Later, the man will be diagnosed as weak and suggestible, with the “mental age of a 9-year-old child”. But no matter, Daraud holds his culprits. To encourage the investigators in their task, on January 4, the Lebaudy family made a donation of 100,000 francs to the police and the gendarmerie. All end up signing a confession. Émile Thibault, 26, the oldest of the eight, will last the longest, at the cost of a punctured lung which will force justice to release him.

The revision of the trial, a request that the relatives and families of the accused will not stop demanding, as here, in 2017, before the Paris Court of Appeal. © Martin Office /AFP

At the time, this violence went unnoticed (except for the guards of the Châteauroux prison, who received the detainees) and « la Marseillaise », the local communist newspaper, was initially delighted that « light (was) definitively shed on the horrible crime of the Etang des Saules ». The interested parties may retract, the material evidence collapses one after the other, the confessions of January are enough to convince the jurors: three times, in Châteauroux (1947), Poitiers (1948) and Bordeaux (1950), Mis and Thiennot are found guilty and ultimately sentenced to fifteen years hard labor. « A modest sentence for a premeditated murder, then punishable by death, » noted Léandre Boizeau. This shows that justice was not comfortable with this case. In October 1947, the six other hunters were sentenced to eighteen months to two years in prison for « voluntary abstention from preventing a crime ».

A modification of the Penal Code… in 2021

« La Marseillaise » reopened the case in 1952, campaigning for the release of Mis and Thiennot. The newspaper produces new testimonies and reveals the violence inflicted in police custody. Enough to force the authorities to launch a rogatory commission, which will establish that Commissioner Daraud is not his first confession obtained under torture. On July 21, 1954, Raymond Mis and Gabriel Thiennot were pardoned by President René Coty. They are released the next day, « after seven years, six months and fourteen days in prison », specifies Thierry Thiennot, one of Gabriel’s sons, who continues to fight for the rehabilitation of his father.

The case, then, disappears from the radar. The defendants are trying to resume a normal existence, but the eight days of torture have left their mark, even more so than the seven years in prison. « These men were broken », summarizes Léandre Boizeau who, at the end of the 1970s, embarked on his own investigation and met the main protagonists. Unlikely luck, the public prosecutor gives him access to hundreds of pages of the file. “I wanted an honest investigation, confides the writer, I was embarrassed to leave with the conviction of their innocence. But after hearing all these witnesses and reading the file, I was relieved: the truth was substantiated, not sentimental. His book, « They are innocent », a title borrowed from the magazine « Detective », was released in early 1980. He revived the fight for Mis and Thiennot. The support committee is created. Forty-two years later, after having obtained a modification of the Penal Code deeming as null confessions obtained by violence for cases tried before 1958, he has just filed a seventh request for revision of the file. “We have never been so close to winning our case,” Léandre Boizeau wants to believe.

(1) Léandre Boizeau, “They are innocent”, the Golden Circle, 1980; and « Mis and Thiennot, a life of combat », Bouinotte editions, 2022.

Icon TitleChronology

December 29, 1946 Louis Boistard is killed.
1er-January 8, 1947 Eight young hunters are tortured at the town hall of Mézières-en-Brenne, in order to make them confess to the murder.
1947-1950 Mis and Thiennot were condemned by three successive assize courts. The last, to fifteen years of forced labor.
July 21, 1954 President René Coty pardons the two men.
1980 Publication of “They are innocent”, creation of the support committee and filing of the first request for review.
September 21, 2021 Adoption of an amendment authorizing referral to the Court of Revision in the event of a confession obtained with violence.
1er June 2022 Deposit of the 7e request for review.


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