Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #213: "Finished with Life" (The Suicide of Father Louis Caceres)
Nominated BEST TRUE-CRIME PODCAST at The British Podcast Awards, 4th Best True Crime Podcast by The Week, The Telegraph's Top Five True-Crime Podcasts, The Guardian and TalkRadio's Podcast of the Week, Podcast Magazine's Hot 50 and iTunes Top 25.
EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN:
On 15th September 1894, being part way through a world tour to spread the word of God, Father Louis Caceres, a portly elderly priest had booked a room for himself and his faithful assistant Eugene. But growing depressed at his failing health as the tour took its toll, here the priest would take his own life. His death sent shock waves throughout the Catholic faith, but not just because his suicide was a sin.
CLICK HERE to download the Murder Mile podcast via iTunes and to receive the latest episodes, click "subscribe". You can listen to it by clicking PLAY on the embedded media player below.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location is marked with a black exclamation mark (!) near the words 'Soho', right in the midst of all the icons. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other maps, click here.
SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing outside of 49 Old Compton Street in Soho, W1; directly opposite of the unsolved killing of Dutch Leah, six doors west of the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub, and three doors east of the not-so-tragic demise of ‘the cruel vulture of Soho’ - coming soon to Murder Mile.
At 49 Old Compton Street currently stands a four-storey red-brick monstrosity with six crappy flats above housing (as witnessed on my old tour) one of the rudest arseholes in the whole of Soho, and on the ground-floor stands a shop - which could be open, closed or empty - as with every new tenant coming up with the genius idea to sell just one item – whether croissants, hand-cut crisps or hummus – they all appear shocked when their entrepreneurial dream shuts having not had a single customer.
Back in 1894, this building was a modestly-priced hotel called Blondel’s. Set over four floors with ten rooms per level, a bathroom per floor and a restaurant on the ground, Blondel’s became a home-from-home for many businessmen, travellers and even clergymen from all four corners of the world.
On 15th September 1894, being part way through a world tour to spread the word of God, Father Louis Caceres, a portly elderly priest had booked a room for himself and his faithful assistant Eugene. But growing depressed at his failing health as the tour took its toll, here the priest would take his own life.
His death sent shock waves throughout the Catholic faith, but not just because his suicide was a sin.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 213: “Finished with Life” – the suicide of Father Louis Caceres.
Everybody has their breaking point. For the elderly, once their will has gone, their bodies simply slip away. Whereas for those who still have life to live, the only way to reach the eternal sleep is by their own hand. For Father Louis Caceres, every problem in his life came to a head on Old Compton Street.
Little is known about the life of Father Louis, for obvious reasons.
Said to be a native of the South American country of Peru, Father Louis came from money, being the son of a wealthy trader who had enjoyed all of the pomp and privilege that came with such high status.
Unlike many in his country, Louis was well-educated - being fluent in Spanish, English and Latin - with his handwriting as neat as any scribe and his spelling and grammar was nothing short of faultless. But although his family’s wealth kept him shielded from the poverty of his country, it also broke his heart.
At an early age, Louis found God and making it his mission to help those less fortunate than himself; he joined his local church as an altar-boy, and in his teens, he entered the seminary where he learned to live a humble and decent life - the whole ethos of his education was to live as simply as Jesus had.
Which was easier said than done when the church was a place of privilege and excess; being a brick-built monument to God’s wonder stretching to the sky which dwarfed the shacks in its shadow; and being stuffed with ornate manuscripts, golden icons and sparkling stained-glass windows which – if sold - could feed and clothe the community for a year, it filled him full of conflict that, as the priests in their silk robes asked the poor to donate, the Church was (and still is) the world’s largest landowner.
The church was a contradiction of wealth and poverty made all the more confusing by his upbringing.
Father Louis liked his food, and being well-travelled, he always ate well; whether pheasant, quail, caviar or pate, with a sherry or a flute of champagne from time to time, and maybe even a cigar. And burdened by a sweet tooth, he was not averse to demolishing a pudding or two, shovelling in a few sweeties into his unoccupied pie-hole or sampling a merest morsel of cake should he pass any bakery.
When he was young, this excessive consumption wasn’t much of a problem, as although being a little man of barely five-foot-tall, his health could carry his bulk. But as he entered his sixties, and his weight ballooned up to 18 stone, the additional chunkage put a real strain on his limbs, his lungs and his heart.
Being shaped like a well-stuffed doughnut, when he walked, his jowls wobbled like a glorious jelly and his ankle fat billowed over his shoes like an over-generous piecrust, but with his lungs wheezing like a broken accordion, every step he walked felt like a mile and every breath was like a battle to find air.
So, it may seem surprising that, in the Spring of 1893, Father Louis Caceres decided to leave his native Peru and to set-sail on a world-tour to spread the word of God. It was never said why he chose that moment to leave; maybe he felt the change of scenery would be beneficial to his health, maybe he wanted to flee his family and the excesses of the church, or maybe this was his last chance to do good.
It was a journey which would cover South America, North America, Europe and England…
…but having arrived in Soho, he would never return home.
As a man described as being “in comfortable worldly circumstances”, the world tour of Father Louis was entirely self-financed, as into the Banco de Londrs y Rio de la Plata in Buenos Ayres, he deposited £400 (roughly £50,000 today), and with branches across the Americans but also in London and France, all he needed was his notarised letter of credit to allow him to withdraw any money, at any time.
Remarkably, the Central American leg of the trip went without a hitch, but with him no longer being a spring chicken but more of a fatted duck, even the most simple of duties became a mission for Louis.
Therefore, it was a blessing when Louis met Eugene; a man more than half his age and three times his strength - who as a devout Catholic, spoke fluent French, moderate English, had worked in Paris and London, and as an out-of-work chef who desperately needed a job – he was more than thrilled (if not honoured) to assist this well-respected priest in return for a warm bed, free meals and a small wage.
As the Priest’s personal servant, Eugene was unvaluable; he carried his luggage, he made his meals, he re-arranged his itinerary when Louis got too weak, and he ensured that every bill was paid on time.
By August 1894, having arrived in Paris, much of the priest’s planned schedule was scrapped, as having become slower and weaker, any trips to visit local charities had been side-lined in place of bed rest. And it wasn’t just the priest’s strength which was being sapped, so was his mood. Gone was the jolly man with the hearty laugh, as in its place stood a sullen man who slumped with every fading footstep.
Whether life had lost its meaning, or he knew that every breath may be his last, as they travelled from Paris to Dieppe, Father Louis had even lost his love of food. Pushing a fine French cassoulet to the side of his plate, even the one true love in his life couldn’t rouse this fading light from toward the darkness.
On 14th September 1894, Louis & Eugene arrived in Newhaven on the English south-coast. As neither anywhere new or even a haven (except for drunken sailors and lost deadbeats), they bedded down in a cheap B&B for one night, and – although Father Louis should have called it quits on the tour and headed home to Peru – on the 15th September, they arrived amongst the sprawling smog of London.
As a Priest, Soho was an odd choice…
…a godless hole riddled with the excesses of cruelty and corruption, a feted pit piled high with the shattered souls of the debauched, and with every street stained with the acrid stench of drink, drugs, sex and sin. Across the world, Soho was synonymous as a place where unlawful death was common and even the innocent were killed for as a little as a few pounds to satisfy the cravings of a dope fiend.
…but Soho was where he chose to stay, and it was also, where he would die.
Blondel’s at 49 Old Compton Street was an affordable but decent hotel with soft beds, clean sheets, running water, a chambermaid service if required, and a restaurant on the ground-floor for all meals.
As his assistant, Eugene booked them into a twin-room on the third floor overlooking the street. It was small and simple, with the priest’s bed nearest the window so the air could aid his recovery. As a priest, although unknown to the denizens of Soho, Father Louis was respected, and knowing that his sickness was being attended to by his faithful assistant who fetched his meals and medicine, although his hacking cough would echo the halls, they gave him the privacy that this man of the cloth required.
Over those three weeks Father Louis was in Soho, he never left his room and rarely left his bed. Stuck staring at a blank wall, as he gripped his crucifix in his hand, he pondered whether his time had come, or if – for sins he was never absolved of, whether of the heart or the mind - God had abandoned him.
According to Eugene, Father Louis was a good man, but even his faith couldn’t save him now.
At Father Louis’ request, on Wednesday 3rd October, Eugene went Banco de Londrs y Rio de la Plata with the ‘letter of credit’ signed by the priest, and with his ID, he withdrew £30 (roughly £4000 today).
As was their routine, clearing the bills till the end of the week – for a laundry, a bakery and a charity –as requested, Eugene paid 17 shillings at the Hotel Blondel covering their stay until the coming Sunday.
That afternoon, as had become all-too-common, Father Louis was heard coughing and choking as his body failed him once again, and having become increasingly depressed, he had decided he was done.
On the morning of Sunday 7th October, four days later, the chambermaid came to change the sheets, as – by all accounts – their check-out time had elapsed, and some new guests were due to move in.
Hearing nothing familiar - no snoring, no coughing and no choking – she assumed the priest had left.
But opening the unlocked door, there she found his body.
Dressed in just a pair of silk pyjamas, although a deep indentation of his corpulent body remained on the mattress where he had spent the last three weeks of his life, Father Louis was not in bed. Being too large and sickly to get to his feet, Dr Severs of Gerrard Street would confirm “he had lied upon his bed, tied the ends of a silk handkerchief together, and with the loop over his head and the bedframe, he put his feet on the ground and rolled himself out of the bed, and thereby strangling himself”.
Found lying face-up, with his lips blue, his tongue out and his eyes protruding, a large pool of blood flowing from his nostrils was consistent with asphyxiation. And with the greater part of his body (his legs, his trunk and his right elbow) resting on the floor, although his head was just a few inches off the floor, it was a strange way to die, but being too sick to stand, the doctor said it was entirely possible.
With no bruises to his body and no signs of a struggle or an assault, the room told a similar tale; as none of the furniture was disarranged, his luggage trunks were in the corner, and his slippers were to the side of the bed as if they had either fallen off or he had taken them off prior to taking his own life.
On the bedside table lay two things; a loaded six-shot revolver with no cartridges spent, which he may have considered as an option; and his suicide note – which being a sin – showed the imbalance of his mind. Handwritten in Spanish, his final words were “To the inspector of Police. Dear Sir. Do not accuse anybody of my death. I am finished with life. I am disgusted with my family. I do not require any noise after my death. I have no papers. I do not wish anybody to know the other motives. Once more, keep silence in order there may be no scandal. May God bless you. Father Louis Caceras, a native of Peru”.
At 10am, Mr Blondel, the hotel proprietor called James Spindelow, the coroner’s officer to state that one of his lodgers had “hanged himself”. Dr Severs of Gerrard Street confirmed this cause of death, and as was standard practice, Detective Inspector Greet of Scotland Yard headed up an investigation.
It was as clear a case of suicide as he had ever seen, but the hardest part was identifying the priest. Liaising with the Spanish and Peruvian Consuls, as Father Louis had no papers upon his person and – it was believed that (as his assistant) Eugene had possibly been sent on a religious mission to a God-forsaken place in the wilds of somewhere near or far – until confirmed - an inquest was held at St Ann’s church on Dean Street into the death of an unknown priest, believed to be Father Louis Caceres.
Headed up by Harold Smith, the newly-appointed coroner for Westminster, on 9th October 1894, with the jury having listened to the expert witnesses testimony of the chambermaid, the hotel proprietor, the police inspector and Dr Severs who had performed the autopsy on the body, the inquest took just thirty minutes to reach a verdict of ‘death by suicide, while the balance of his mind was disturbed”.
And with that, the case was closed.
The room was cleaned, his belongings went into storage, and although he had committed the ultimate sin which negated his ascent to heaven, the body of Father Louis Caceres was shipped back to Peru, and until his details could be determined, he was buried in a temporary grave. And there our story ends - a sick elderly priest came to Soho, and growing ever more depressed, he took his own life.
…only the jury would call “bullshit”.
The ruling of ‘death by suicide’ was based on the evidence put before them, but having read-up further about the case in the Pall Mall Gazette which contained details neither the jury nor the coroner knew, and (as was their right) having seen hotel room with the body in situ before attending the inquest, the jury found huge gaping holes in the case and requested that the coroner insist on a second inquest.
As is the role of any inquest, with the first one described as “hurried” and “anything but searching”, the second – opened just two days later – ensured that this tax-paying jury who funded this hogwash made full use of their right to pose questions to these expert witnesses, and they had a lot to say.
A series of searing questions were posed by the foreman of the jury to the experts.
Foreman: “Dr Severs, you say this man committed suicide by hanging, but his head was barely off the floor”. Dr Severs: “indeed I did Sir, it only takes but an inch to hang one-self”, Foreman: “I see, but surely if he had tied the noose and rolled out of bed, he would have been found face down. Whereas this man died face up, and how could a man (even of his bulk) strangle himself if he was face up?”
At which, the Doctor umm’d and arrgh’d, but even he couldn’t provide a logical answer.
To Detective Inspector Greet, the Foreman asked: “you said there were no signs of a robbery?”, Greet: “I did, Sir”, Foreman: “in your words, ‘nothing was found on the corpse’?”, Greet “not a farthing Sir”, Foreman: “but what about elsewhere in the room? What about his papers, his passport, his bank details? The luggage was there, but what was inside?” - it was an answer the foreman knew as they had seen the crime scene in situ – at which the Inspector replied “nothing”. Foreman: “nothing? Not his clothes or his priestly robes?”, Greet “Erm, no Sir”, Foreman: “and you say there was no robbery?”,
At which, the Inspector umm’d and arrgh’d, but even he couldn’t provide a logical answer.
And then there was the suicide note, which had been read in full and taken as fact that it was written by Father Louis, but having not seen it before, the jury had a few issues with this piece of evidence.
Foreman: “the priest was an educated man, was he not?”, Inspector Greet: “he was”, Foreman: “a fluent Spanish speaker being a native of Peru?”, Greet: “he was”, Foreman: “hmm, so why if he wrote this note in his native tongue was his spelling so atrocious?”, as not only was it gibberish but the penmanship was so poor it looked as if a disabled donkey had scrawled it using a broken crayon. And when the foreman asked: “Is this the suicide note of a scholarly priest?”, the Inspector had to conclude “possibly not”, as the vestry room flooded with a sea of red faces who had done the bare minimum.
Finding “insufficient grounds to adopt the medical view of the case being one of suicide”, the foreman returned an open verdict, and the police were requested to re-investigate this as a possible homicide.
It didn’t take long to find a loose thread or two in Soho: some of the priests’ clothes were found at a pawnbroker having been sold days earlier; debts had been paid at the laundry, but from his deathbed – somehow - the priest had racked up debts in many pubs, clubs and brothels; and having emptied his account at the Le Harve branch of his bank two days after he had died - they eventually discovered that Father Louis Caceres of Peru didn’t exist, as – taking his registration at the Hotel Blondel as proof – someone had deliberately hidden the fact that the victim was Father Gabriel T Seguí of Buenos Ayres.
Only one man knew the truth of what had happened that day…
…and he had vanished into thin air.
Eugene Roubillot, his 24-year-old assistant had left the Hotel Blondel on the afternoon of Thursday 4th October, carrying a small suitcase and being dressed in a fine set of priestly robes. Identifying himself as Father Gabriel T Segui the Chief Chaplin of the Argentine Republic, he went unchecked at any border as he caught the boat train from Waterloo to Southampton, and at midnight, hopping the train to Le Havre – as a man of God – he was treated with respect and no-one dared to question or bother him.
On Friday 5th October, Eugene entered Banco de Londrs y Rio de la Plata in Le Harve, with his ID and his letter of credit, he closed the full remainder of the account, being £370, roughly £48,000 today.
Knowing that such a silly crime scene wouldn’t fool anyone and that the suicide was just plain stupid, Eugene fled as far as he could and caught a French liner from Le Harve to New York, where a respected priest with the money to pay his way booked into a modestly priced hotel and laid low for a while.
His escape was swift, in fact his fleeing was faster than the reporting of the case in the press, as by the time he had arrived in New York, he was overjoyed to read an article in an American newspaper which declared “an inquest in Soho, London has ruled the death of an unknown Peruvian priest as suicide”.
Based on this article, Eugene had committed the perfect murder… but by the time that news of the second inquest would be reported, he would be too drunk, stoned and shagged-out to know the truth.
Burning through the money like his pockets were on fire, Eugene blew a wad on fancy hotels, fine wines, sexy fillies and enough ‘white powder’ to reline a football pitch, and although this was an era when priests were as corrupt as the police, causing too much of a stink in the core of the Big Apple, he hopped the next liner to France, and fled back to his home town of Toulon in the South of France…
…where he lived a raucous life full of champagne, cocaine and prostitutes. (End)
The excesses of Eugene Roubillot came to an end barely one month later on 6th November 1894, when two men were arrested for starting a drunken bar fight in Toulon, one of whom was dressed as a priest and gave the name and ID of Father Gabriel T Segui, a man who had – supposedly – committed suicide.
With Scotland Yard notified of his arrest, and with almost none of the money left, all he had to show for his month of fun was a black eye, a hangover, a dirty set of priest’s robes and a knackered penis.
Charged with the murder of Father Segui, British Police unsuccessfully tried to extradite him back to London, but being a French citizen, he was ultimately tried in Court of Assizes at Draguigpan in Paris.
To determine if foul play had occurred, the priest’s body was exhumed and a thorough autopsy was conducted, leading to a new investigation which took almost a year to bring to court. Tried on the 20th January 1896, Eugene Roubillot was found guilty of robbery and fraud, but with murder impossible to prove, the jury granted him extenuating circumstances and he was sentenced to hard labour for life.
The likelihood is that the priest was strangled to death by his assistant for the sake of his money. It was far from being the perfect murder, but he almost got away with it, owing to the failure of three expert witnesses; a doctor, a coroner and a detective being too unwilling to see beyond the obvious…
…that on the surface, although it looked like a suicide, a priest had been murdered in Soho.
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
Subscribe to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast
Note: This blog contains only licence-free images or photos shot by myself in compliance with UK & EU copyright laws. If any image breaches these laws, blame Google Images.