12 'Real' Werewolf Cases Throughout History

A werewolf devouring a woman, France, 19th-century. Wikimedia Commons

Jacques Roulet

Jacques Roulet was convicted of lycanthropy in Angers, Western France, in 1598. One day, an archer of the Provost’s company and some peasants happened upon the nude and hideously mutilated body of a 15-year-old boy. The blood-soaked limbs were seen still to be palpitating, and so it was deduced that this was a fresh kill. As the men approached further, two wolves were startled and seen to bound away into nearby bushes. Since they were armed and numerous, the group decided to give chase through the thick undergrowth. Nevertheless, they were not prepared for what happened next.

A tall and gaunt figure of a man, with long, straggly hear and a great beard, half-dressed in torn rags, strode forth to meet them. His hands were bloody, and beneath his fingernails were lumps of human gore. So revolting a sight was the man that the group could scarcely muster the courage to seize and bind him, but they eventually succeeded in dragging him to the local town, where he was presented before the magistrate. It transpired that the man was Jacques Roulet, a vagabond who travelled begging from town to town with his brother, Jean, and cousin, Julien.

Jacques confessed to Maître Pierre Hérrault, examining him, that he was devoted to the devil at a young age by his parents. They had given him a special unguent that allowed him to transform into a wolf with a prodigious appetite for human flesh. Of the incident recounted above, Jacques revealed that the two wolves seen feeding on the carcass were his relatives, Jean and Julien. He confessed to having killed and devoured children, in the company of his brother and cousin, across the areas in which he was accustomed to travel. He also confessed to attending witch’s sabbats.

Jacques gave precise dates and times for his crimes, which were found to tally exactly with records of missing children and those supposed to have been killed by actual wolves. Unsurprisingly, Jacques received the death penalty for werewolfism, cannibalism, and murder, though his accused parents were found to be of good character and released. However, this tale then took an unexpected turn: Jacques appealed against his conviction to the Parliament of Paris. Protesting that his confession had been given under duress, the Parliament decided that he was insane, and instead sentenced him to 2 years in a mental institution.

Perhaps Jacques was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and, doubtless, as in nigh-on all werewolf and witchcraft cases, was tortured to extract his confession. The inquisitors could simply refer to records of deaths in the area, and force him to admit to the crimes. It is noteworthy, though, that the Parliament decided that he was mad rather than blaming his confession on the terrible torture he suffered, which is typical of attitudes towards torture in 16th-century Europe. It has even been speculated that the mysterious unguent was a hallucinogen, leading to a series of wild delusions.