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j 79 4 Provocations and Assassinations in 1937 By July 16, 1937, the Parisian police had been investigating Laetitia Toureaux ’s murder for exactly two months. So far, they had made little headway. The murder weapon, a generic Laguiole knife, still could not be traced to its owner. No witnesses had come forward who could identify the murderer and, despite the efforts to tie the crime to Toureaux’s unorthodox lifestyle, so far none of the usual underworld characters who haunted the same bals musette and cafés as she had emerged as a likely suspect. Rouffignac continued to maintain that her death was unrelated to her work for him, and the police were making no headway in tracking down either the mysterious “I. Ch.” from the postcard found in her apartment or whoever had employed her to perform surveillance in the 18th arrondissement. Her friends, family, and coworkers professed nothing but love and admiration for the attractive, charming widow, while the family of her deceased husband claimed to have had no contact with her after his funeral. In sum, the hunt seemed rapidly to be coming to a dead end.1 That day, however, the Parisian left-wing newspaper La Liberté suggested a new angle, linking Toureaux’s death to other assassinations that also took place during the first six months of 1937. It was not the first time that the popular press had tried to forge links between her murder and other sensational unsolved crimes, but so far the authorities had ignored them. The Parisian police were well aware that journalists often ferreted out sources unavailable to representatives of the law, and thus they were assiduous readers of the press. The police also were quite skeptical, with good reason , of the more far-fetched theories about and reconstructions of crimes, based as often on gossip as on reliable information, that found their way onto the pages of popular newspapers. Still, sometimes the bottom-feeding journalists sucked up some gold along with the dross. On July 16, the inspector general of the criminal police evidently had read La Liberté over his morning coffee. Thinking there might be some truth in its story on the murders , he asked his subordinate, Police Commissioner Jean Belin, chief of the 80 / The Cagoule première section responsible for investigating ordinary crimes, to comment on it. Belin produced a report the next day in which he assessed the pros and cons of the newspaper’s theory. He doubted that there was much to it. But whether through good luck, good intuition, or good sources, La Liberté was eventually proved to have been correct.2 The year 1937 was a busy one for the French police. The Clichy riots that took place on March 16 resulted from the clash of right and left and seriously undermined Léon Blum’s government in the process, but an analysis of the crowd dynamic led police to believe that unidentified agents provocateurs had worked the demonstration and incited the riot. A series of strange, unsolved murders took place, including separate assassinations of well-known émigrés living in France, Dmitri Navachine and Carlo and Nello Rosselli. There were a number of bombings and attempted bombings, one causing two deaths. In addition, incendiary bombs and sabotage were used to destroy two American planes and disable two others, which the French government had secretly commissioned to donate to the Republican cause in Spain. There were many attacks that particularly affected southern France, including multiple attempts to disable rail lines around Perpignan in order to interrupt the secret government campaign to transport volunteer fighters and military supplies to the Spanish Republicans. On September 18, an attempt was even made to hijack and disable two Spanish Republican submarines that had taken refuge in Brest. Both the Spanish Nationalists and the Italians maintained dense networks of agents in France, and Spanish and Italian undercover agents were likely responsible for many of these attacks . But members of the French extreme right took part in them as well and were active in channeling vital intelligence to the foreign operatives to facilitate their task.3 The year began, however, with a brutal murder in a Parisian park. Around 10:30 in the morning on January 25, Russian economist and financier Dimitri Navachine was stabbed to death in an empty avenue of the Bois de Boulogne. Six months later, on June 9, two Italian émigré brothers, Carlo and Nello Rosselli, were murdered in the late afternoon on...


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