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Saturday 31 March 2018

How a Hermes 2000 Typewriter Foiled the Copybook Le Crime à l’Américaine

Larry McMurtry once publicly praised the Hermes 3000 for winning him a Golden Globe. But that was nothing compared to one of the earlier Swiss models, a Hermes 2000 semi-portable typewriter, which French gendarmes were toasting in Paris in March 1961, after the Hermes had been dredged from the murky bottom of the Seine and had nailed the kidnappers of the heir to the Peugeot billions.
         Jean Elie Yves Verdier (1915-74) was at the time of the kidnapping the director-general of the Sûreté Nationale Française (French National Security) and had been instructed by the French Government to personally supervise the investigation. Verdier accepted a wager from FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover that the culprits would never be caught. Thanks to the Hermes 2000, they were. 
The rescued Eric Peugeot with his mother Colette, right,
and father Roland with Eric's brother Jean-Philippe.
The rescued Hermes had solved France’s first child kidnapping case for ransom. At the time, with no phrase for the outrage of their own, the French referred to it as le crime à l’Américaine. The Hermes 2000 had been thrown off the Pont d'Iéna ("Jena Bridge") spanning the Seine and linking the Eiffel Tower on the Left Bank to the district of Trocadéro on the Right Bank.
A Swiss newspaper's coverage.
The Hermes 2000 belonged to actress Ginette Rolland (left, 1925-), the former wife of one of the kidnappers, Brittany-born Raymond Rolland (1936-), who in early April 1961 had borrowed it from Ginette to type (wearing gloves) the ransom note with red ribbon on cheap paper bought at Monoprix SA. The note was a copy of one which had appeared in Lionel White’s 1953 book The Snatchers (published in French as Rapt = Abduction), which Rolland’s accomplice Pierre-Marie Larcher (1923-) had read some years earlier, while on the run. In 1936 Larcher had himself been headlined in Paris Soir as a kidnap victim, but as a 13-year-old had merely escaped from an evil step-father to live in Paris. In the Peugeot case, the victim was chosen by Rolland and Larcher from the social register, La Composition Sociologique du Bottin Mondain. White (1905-78), by the way, was an American crime reporter who wrote suspenseful thrillers and was an inspiration for Reservoir Dogs.

Within 56 hours of their snatch, Rolland and Larcher had picked up the ransom and dropped off the kidnapped child, Eric Peugeot, grandson of the car company’s founder Jean-Pierre Peugeot and son of Roland Peugeot. Two days later, on April 17, investigators revealed their search for the typewriter which had been used for the ransom note and two letters later sent to Roland Peugeot. But it took the gendarmes almost 11 months, until March 5, 1961, to arrest Rolland and Larcher, who had gone on a massive spending spree with the ₣50,000,000 Peugeot francs (then worth more than $US100,000). The long arm of the law reached them at an 11-room chalet (called, ironically, Les Six Enfants) they were renting at Megève in the Haute-Savoie department of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, a ski resort near Mont-Blanc in the French Alps. Amazingly, the Peugeot family, including little Eric, were staying in an adjoining chalet at the same resort at the same time.
What really sealed the case, however, was when an informant identified only as "X" told gendarmes and Interpol that while Rolland’s ex-wife was still waiting for her Hermes 2000 to be returned, she had kept her typed notes. Investigators agreed this was the "key" clue. After Rolland was nabbed, he eventually broke down and confessed to tossing the Hermes in the Parisian river. Once frogmen had fished up the machine, after almost two weeks of searching, on March 21, it produced typing which was forensically tested to match the Peugeot ransom note. In a first-person article he wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 1961, Larcher lamented that Rolland had only told him he had borrowed the Hermes 2000 “from a friend. “I did not ask any questions,” Larcher wrote, “But today I can only say, ‘If only I had known …”
The kidnapping occurred in the late afternoon of April 12, 1960, when Jean-Pierre Peugeot was golfing at Saint-Cloud and his two grandsons, Jean-Philippe, 7, and Eric, 4, were in a nearby playground in the care of nanny Janine Germanio. With Janine and chauffeur Georges Parelli momentarily distracted, Eric was playing with Thierry Tetraz in a sandpit when Rolland lured him away, leaving behind the typed ransom note and, with Larcher at the wheel, speeding off in … Yes, you guessed it, a stolen black Peugeot 403! (The four-year-old later told police he recognised the model as a 403.)
The kidnappers took Eric to a rented hideway at Grisy-les-Plâtres, a village in the Val d'Oise, where Larcher’s 19-year-old girlfriend, mannequin Rolande Niemezyk (right) helped care for him, before collecting the ransom money on Passage Doisy near the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile (the code phrase was “gardez la clef”) and leaving Eric to be rescued a few hours later in the Le Brazza Cafe off Avenue Raymond Poincare.
The ₣50,000,000 proved far too hot for the kidnappers’ hands. They hit the nightclubs, casinos and ski resorts, scorching across western Europe in luxury and conspicuous American cars with beauty queens and good-time girls on their arms. Pretty soon ₣43,000,000 was gone (a little more than one-tenth of the ransom, ₣70,000, or 14%, was later found in Larcher’s care). And although Rolland was calling himself de Beaufort and Larcher Beau Serge, the money trail was still much too obvious for Interpol to miss. The more so given the kidnappers were mere jobless petty crims - Larcher, a convicted car thief and smuggler, was ostensibly by day a slot machine operator and Rolland a money launderer cum cabaret acrobat.
Rolland and Bodin at Megève.

Two ladies in particular caught their fancy – striptease artist Maryse Guy (left,1943-95), also known as Mitsouko, and blonde fashion model Ingelise Bodin (right, 1941-), 1960’s Miss Denmark in the Miss World contest. Both were detained along with Rolland and Larcher, as well as Niemezyk, but Guy was soon released while Bodin was taken into custody in Paris and held for four months. She was actually in Denmark when the kidnapping occurred, as she explained to a Danish newspaper in 2015. Ironically, in 1965 Guy played a French secret service agent (Mademoiselle La Porte) in the James Bond movie Thunderball.
Bodin with Larcher
Bodin with Rolland
Guy with Rolland
A stunned Guy is released by gendarmes,
The trial of Rolland and Larcher was heard before the Assize Court of Versailles in October 1961 and both men were sentenced to 20 years’ jail. Rolland served 12 years and Larcher 14, and the pair emerged new men, Rolland as an expert in law and Larcher as a publisher. Twenty years after Larcher was released, Guy committed suicide in Paris. Bodin married a childhood friend called Fred Schäfer, who preferred to shoot buffalo in Australia than imprison little boys. The couple moved to California and opened a pioneer takeout restaurant.
 Bodin tries to hide her face as Rolland is brought in for questioning.
A happier Bodin leaves court.
Bodin in Hove, Denmark, in 2015.

Monday 26 March 2018

Flash Typewriters, Flash Cars: 1928-1968

Aside from whiskey distilleries and cigarette manufacturers, some of the most regular and eye-catching full-page (and usually full-colour) advertisements which appeared in LIFE magazine over the years came from typewriter companies and especially automobile conglomerates. While specifically looking for typewriter ads, I must admit to often being almost equally impressed by the car spreads. So I've decided to put together a selection of both, covering the 40 years from 1928 (when the magazine was still owned by Clair Maxwell) to 1968.
1928 - 90 Years Ago
1938 - 80 Years Ago
1948 - 70 Years Ago
1958 - 60 Years Ago
1968 - 50 Years Ago
That's all folks ... !