The Château de Machecoul was home to Gilles de Rais (1404 – 1440), a Breton knight, the companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc, and a Marshal of France, but best known as a prolific serial killer of children.
In 1434–35, he retired from military life, dabbled in the occult, and depleted his wealth by staging an extravagant theatrical spectacle of his own composition.
Sometime between spring 1432 and spring 1433, the first child-murder occurred and was followed by similar crimes. The victims may have numbered in the hundreds. After raping the boys he kidnapped, he would slash their throats and masturbate in their blood and innards. T
he court transcripts from his trial state: “when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed…”
He was executed by hanging at Nantes on 26 October 1440. Gilles de Rais was the inspiration behind the tale of Bluebeard. All of his crimes took place in the Castle of Machecoul which remains to this day (though in ruins). The victims bodies were stuffed in the walls, dropped down chimneys, and buried around the site.