Several reporters were present in Choisy-le-Roi, South of Paris on 28 April 1912 (more will be present a few days later for the final assault of the surviving members of the Bonnot gang).
The compositions in this series are different from the famous Agence Rol reportage, and seem more friendly with the police, indicating a Bertillon team photographer.
Bonnot was born on October 14, 1876 in Doubs Department, France. As a teenager, Bonnot served time in prison on two occasions (the latter, for assaulting a police officer) and was compelled to leave his work at the factory after being accused of stealing copper shavings.
At the age of 21, Bonnot was conscripted for service in France’s infantry, where he served three years as a truck auto mechanic. An excellent rifleman, Bonnot left the army as a corporal first class.
In 1908, Bonnot began to associate with anarcho-individualists involved in counterfeiting. Along with several Italians, he began forging ten-franc pieces and carrying out minor thefts and burglaries. Eventually, using Bonnot’s automotive skill, they progressed to the theft of luxury-cars in France and Switzerland.
In December 1911, having moved to Paris to avoid arrest, Bonnot joined a criminal anarchist affinity group led by Octave Garnier. On December 21, the gang made national news when they robbed a messenger of the Société Générale Bank in broad daylight and then fled in a limousine (the first ever criminal use of a “get-away” car).
They were branded “les bandits en auto” by the press and a wave of panic swept the nation.
Although Bonnot was never the leader of the group, the gang was dubbed the “Bonnot Gang” by the press after Bonnot appeared, armed with a Browning automatic, in the office of the Le Petit Parisien to file a complaint about the daily paper’s coverage of the group. Bonnot was quoted as having stated, “We’ll burn off our last round against the cops, and if they don’t care to come, we’ll certainly know how to find them.”
This show of bravado coupled with the gang’s criminal activities led to a general state of hysteria within middle-class French society.
In an effort to escape capture, the gang split up in April 1912.
On April 24, three police officers surprised Bonnot in the apartment of a suspected fence. He shot at the officers, killing one and wounding another, and then fled over the rooftops. Part of the 100,000 francs reward was later given to the widow of the killed police officer (Louis Jouin, the vice-chief of the French National Police).
On April 28, police tracked Bonnot (now France’s “most wanted” criminal) to a house in the Paris suburb of Choisy-le-Roi. They besieged the residence with 500 armed police officers, soldiers, firemen, military engineers and an impressive lynch mob of local citizens.
The building had only one entrance so it was possible for Bonnot to keep the police at bay. Armed with three Brownings and a Bayard pistol, Bonnot succeeded in wounding three police officers…
They besieged the place with 500 armed police officers, soldiers (with one brand newHotchkiss machine gun), firefighters, military engineers and private gun-owners.
By noon, after a sporadic firing from both sides, Paris Police Chief Louis Lépine sent three police officers hidden on a horse-carriage to put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building and killed Dubois.
Barely conscious, lying underneath a mattress, Bonnot was shot ten times in the upper-body before Lépine shot him non-fatally in the head.
Afterwards police again had to prevent the spectators from lynching Bonnot. They simply told the crowd that Bonnot was already dead and had been buried in a secret grave.
Bonnot was moved to the Hotel-Dieu and pronounced dead at 1:15 PM. He was buried in an unmarked grave and police refused to release his last will and testament.
On the evening of May 14, Octave Garnier and Rene Valet were besieged in the Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne by a large force including 300 police officers and gendarmes and 800 soldiers. Sûreté Chief Xavier Guichard himself led the siege. The firing from both sides was intense, and at 2 AM, Guichard decided to blow the place up. Garnier died in the explosion, but Valet tried to keep firing despite his wounds.
The trial of the Gang’s survivors began on February 3, 1913. Victor Serge was sentenced to five years for robbery. All the others were initially sentenced to death. The sentence of Eugène Dieudonné was commuted to life imprisonment. Sentences of Édouard Carouy and Marius Metge were commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor. Carouy later committed suicide. Metge was sent to a penal colony. Raymond Caillemin, Étienne Monier and André Soudy refused to plead for clemency and they were executed by guillotine.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the Bonnot Gang, French authorities used the threat of anarchist violence as the pretext for a substantial expansion in law enforcement power. Hundreds of raids were carried out against known anarchists and sympathizers (similar in scale to the Palmer Raids in the United States). Although the actions of the gang were not widely supported, even within the anarchist milieu, the mainstream press called for a general crackdown on left-wing revolutionary activity.
Although demonized by large sections of French society, Bonnot’s death was mourned by those sympathetic to individualist anarchism.
The French movie “La Bande à Bonnot” (1968; “Bonnot’s Gang”) is loosely based on the gang’s escapades. Jacques Brel produced the soundtrack with François Rauber. Raymond-la- science (Brel), an anarchist, is released from prison after serving a sentence for spreading agitation among his co-workers…: