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French Documentary Features Finley-Croswhite and Her Murder Mystery


Annette Finley-Croswhite, the Old Dominion University history professor and author of "Murder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France," is appearing in a documentary about the book on French television this fall.

The documentary was made by Pallas Television for the series "Des Crimes Presque Parfaits" ("Perfect Crimes") on the channel Planete + Justice, which is owned by Canal +, Multi Thematique and French Televisions.

More than a decade of research by Finley-Croswhite and co-author Gayle Brunelle, a history professor at California State University at Fullerton, turned up a politically charged storyline. The book was published in 2010 by Louisiana State University Press.

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. "As something of a triple-agent, (Toureaux) infiltrated a far-right terrorist organization, the Comité Secret d'Action Révolutionnaire, which went by the popular name of the Cagoule, and she took the organization's 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 the case has been 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.

Patrick Schmitt, the documentary's director, brought a crew from Paris to Washington, D.C., last summer to interview Finley-Croswhite. (She was working there on a project with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

"They shot my on-camera scenes in Washington, and then Patrick and I and my co-author, Gayle Brunelle, met several times later in the summer in Paris. There are multiple layers of controversy over Laetitia's death, not the least of which is a letter that surfaced in the 1960s from a man claiming to have committed the crime. Gayle and I discount the letter for a variety of reasons outlined in the book, but in France many still want to give it validity," Finley-Croswhite said.

"The details in the letter about the murder aren't quite right, and it makes no sense that if the man was really the killer that the murder would have remained 'unsolved' until this day and the documents classified until 2009. As such, it was flattering that the director explores this controversy and then sides with us. The documentary actually ends by saying, 'If you want to find the answers to this mystery, you have to go to the United States,' a bow to me, my co-author and our book."

For more information, see www.planeteplusjustice.fr/Programmes/Des-crimes-presque-parfaits.

This article was posted on: November 29, 2011

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