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ODU Historian's Latest Book Touted as a 'Best Bet' for Crime and Media

Old Dominion University historian Annette Finley-Croswhite's new book about an unsolved murder that took place in 1937 on the Paris metro subway is being praised by critics, including one who called it "well-researched and … consistently compelling."

"Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France" is a politically charged story uncovered by Finley-Croswhite and co-author Gayle Brunelle. The book was published in early April by Louisiana State University Press.

Finley-Croswhite is a professor of history and chair of the ODU Department of History. Brunelle is a professor of history at California State University at Fullerton.

The book has been chosen by the Canadian Distributors of Scholarly Books as their "best bet" in crime and media for summer 2010. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the authors "provide a speculative but strong plausible case for who murdered Toureaux and why. Brunelle and Finley-Croswhite have produced an exceptionally fine work that is well-researched and documented and consistently compelling." Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle have already been invited to New York University's Institute of French Studies in the fall to discuss the book.

Toureaux, an Italian immigrant, was the first person ever killed in the Paris metro. "She was a fascinating woman whose life reflected many of the complexities of inter-war France," Finley-Croswhite said in an interview.

A factory worker and young widow, Toureaux loved to frequent music halls in some of Paris' shabbier neighborhoods. She called herself "Yolande" and worked as a private detective for the Agence Rouff as well as for the Paris Police and agents of the Italian government.

"As something of a triple-agent, Yolande infiltrated a far-right terrorist organization, the Comité Secret d'Action Révolutionnaire, which went by the popular name of the Cagoule, and she took their gun-running expert as her lover," the ODU professor said.

Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle researched mountains of archival sources as well as newspaper clippings and other records from the 1930s and 1940s in order to reconstruct the untold story of why someone stabbed Toureaux in the neck on the Paris metro and why the Paris police shelved the investigation and left the case unsolved to this day. They build a convincing case for her having known too much about the plans of French and Italian fascists, and for the inevitable suppression of the murder investigation by men who would become post-war leaders of France.

The authors are the first scholars to explore the Cagoule as an actual terrorist group that blew up a building in Paris on Sept. 11, 1937, and planned a coup d'état. "The Cagoule also were involved in arms smuggling, sabotage, political intrigue, assassinations, bombings, and they directed violence toward noncombatants, although their targets were specific rather than indiscriminate, at least during the period, 1936-37," said Finley-Croswhite. They are indentified by historians as one of the earliest terrorist groups in modern history.

For Finley-Croswhite, the publication of the book caps a 12-year saga that began in 1997 with her reading a few sentences in a Paris travel guide about an unsolved murder in the city's subway 60 years earlier. It ended last year, Finley-Croswhite said, when she and Brunelle were able to interview the son of Toureaux's Cagoulard lover, who was born long after the war and is now the head of the largest newspaper conglomerate in France.

Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle specialize in 16th-century French history, but the two women who became friends when both were graduate students at Emory University decided to delve into this modern mystery.

"As historians Gayle and I really got drawn into this woman's story and thought others would be, too," Finley-Croswhite said. "Toureaux actually kept me up at night. Sometimes I couldn't sleep for thinking about her and the significance of her life. We dedicated the book to the memory of Yolande, who took us on a splendid and completely unexpected adventure through the streets and back alleys of 1930s France."

In a statement about the book, historian Bertram M. Gordon concludes, "In a well-documented and fast-moving account that reads as a novel, the authors tell of a serious threat to a major democratic power that should fascinate readers interested in terrorism today."

Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle will begin the scholarly sequel to "Murder in the Métro" this summer, about the trials of the Cagoule in 1938-39 and 1948.

This article was posted on: April 28, 2010

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