The Sylvie Reviriego Case, A Unique Case In The History Of French Justice

Sylvie Reviriego at her trial

The Sylvie Reviriego case remains a textbook case for French justice. The main protagonist of this criminal case, which took place in Tours in 1988, was a nurse’s aide with a passion for her work and an empathy praised by all, who decided to take the life of her best friend in an absolutely horrifying manner. The modus operandi combines the use of sleeping pills, a scalpel and a knife, but also a domestic oven. This quiet housewife turned into a relentless executioner overnight.

A macabre treasure hunt

The hospital Trousseau in Tours

On December 12, 1988, two garbage bags containing human remains were found in the parking lot of the Trousseau hospital in Tours, and a third macabre bag was discovered near a supermarket. It was a female body, some parts of which, notably the head, were missing. An anonymous caller gave the martyred body an identity: it was Françoise Gendron, 38, mother of a 20-year-old son. A neighbor of Madame Gendron’s confirmed that Françoise had not been seen for several days. The investigators entered her apartment, which was empty.

Among Françoise Gendron’s entourage, three people caught the investigators’ attention. Two men and a woman with whom she used to party in the restaurants and discotheques of Tours. It was rumoured that Françoise had threatened her two male friends with denunciation for drug possession, among other things. They were summoned, questioned and cleared of any wrongdoing. Françoise Gendron’s close female friend, Sylvie Reviriego, saw the police arrive at her home. Reviriego was cold and evasive, so the police searched her apartment. In the bathroom, small brownish stains were found and the police discovered a jar of jewelry, which turned out to belong to the victim. In the toilet, gold dental crowns were found in the bowl. Taken to the police station, Sylvie Reviriego finally confessed that she got rid of her best friend alone.

When friendship turns into bitter hatred

Sylvie Reviriego used a scalpel to finish off Françoise Gendron
Sylvie Reviriego used a scalpel to finish off Françoise Gendron

In a monotone, unaffected voice, Reviriego declared that she could no longer stand Françoise, a former classmate whom she had reunited with following her divorce when she moved from Chinon to Tours. According to Sylvie Reviriego, Françoise was clingy, shameless and selfish. On the morning of December 12, she arrived at Françoise’s home with the intention of killing her. While Françoise was taking a bath, Reviriego threw a hairdryer into the tub, but the electrocution failed. Reviriego decided to drag Françoise home to finish the job. Tea mixed with an anxiolytic will do the trick; Reviriego plunged her stunned “friend” into a bath before slashing her wrists with a scalpel she had stolen from the hospital where she worked as a nurse. After sending Françoise Gendron ad patres, Reviriego stored the corpse rolled up in a carpet on her balcony.

Françoise Gendron's body is disposed of on Sylvie Reviriego's balcony
Françoise Gendron’s body is disposed of on Sylvie Reviriego’s balcony

Sylvie Reviriego had then to prepare her son’s birthday party. She called Françoise’s companion and told him that Françoise had left for her property in Western France, so that her disappearance would not arouse suspicion. The next morning, using a scalpel and a knife borrowed from her mother, Sylvie Reviriego dismembered the corpse and, after putting the head in a bucket, puts the pieces in garbage bags. She then disposed of the bags in the Trousseau hospital parking lot and near a supermarket. As for the head, after several unsuccessful attempts to reduce it to nothing, Reviriego placed it in her oven in pyrolysis mode and went to bed. Finally, as she took her son to his father’s house, she disposed of the last of the remains in the Vienne river, in the company of her child, to whom she asserted that they were malodorous waste. The remains were easily found by the fire department due to the presence of a sandbank at the site. The murderer repeated her confession before the examining magistrate with unalterable calm. The only time she seemed to waver was when she mentioned the destruction of the head, which she absolutely wanted to destroy in order to annihilate Françoise once and for all. The investigators and the examining magistrate were stunned by the mother’s detachment and coldness.

The skinner from Tours succumbed to jealousy and despair

Francoise Gendron was 38
Francoise Gendron was 38

The question before trial was what Reviriego’s motive was. The degradation of her esteem for her friend seemed far too light a reason. At Orléans prison, Sylvie Reviriego was presented to two psychiatrists who, to their astonishment, found no mental disorder and judged her to be criminally responsible. The investigators and the examining magistrate decided to explore the life of the criminal. Suffering from poliomyelitis as a child in Chinon, she was nicknamed “wooden leg” by her classmates, which undermined her self-confidence. After working as a seamstress, she became a nurse’s aide and proved herself to be an excellent practitioner. After her divorce for adultery, she left Chinon with her son and moved to Tours, where she easily found a job as a nurse’s aide. This is where she again crossed paths with Françoise Gendron, a childhood friend and mother of a son, who was a party girl. Reviriego, who until then had had a limited social life, developed a close friendship with Françoise, with whom she used to go out practically every evening to the restaurants and discotheques of Tours.

The investigators discovered that the two women’s precious friendship had become toxic in the months leading up to the murder. Françoise was freer, more successful with men, more opportunistic, which ultimately instilled resentment and jealousy in Sylvie Reviriego, who remained somewhat in the shadow of the woman who had become her rival. Didn’t Reviriego declare during her interviews that Françoise was clingy, shameless and selfish? The motive seemed to lie in Reviriego’s growing hatred for her victim. It was at this point that Sylvie asserted to psychiatrists and others involved in the judicial process that she no longer remembered the murder or the butchering. Psychiatrists considered this attitude to be a form of salvific amnesia. The Tours butcher, as dubbed by the press, was considered a unique case by the French justice system.

A trial that moved crowds

Reviriego at her trial
Reviriego at her trial

On June 24, 1991, the trial opened in Tours, with the public turning out in droves to see the skinner. The defense’s strategy was based on the fact that Reviriego had taken a cocktail of high-dose slimming drugs in the months leading up to the crime, which had altered her behavior and occasionally made her irascible. These drugs combined thyroid extracts, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and anorectics. The doctor who prescribed these drugs to Sylvie Reviriego was banned from practicing for three months by the French Medical Association. On the prosecution bench, Françoise Gendron’s only son was full of rage; his mother was his only family.

Catherine Lison-Croze, the defense lawyer, was unable to base her defense on expert analyses to support the theory that Sylvie Reviriego’s drug-induced psychosis had disinhibited her and encouraged her to commit the act. The psychiatrists strongly objected to this assertion, and the defense failed to discredit them, thus obtaining a no to the question “Did Sylvie Reviriego deliberately cause Gendron’s death?” by a majority of 5 votes among the jurors. When questioned, Reviriego declared that she could no longer stand Françoise Gendron’s whining, greed and vulgar, promiscuous attitude. Unsurprisingly, Sylvie Reviriego was not found to have suffered from impaired judgment and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In August 2009, she was released from the Rennes prison under judicial supervision and compulsory psychiatric follow-up.

A unique case in the annals of French justice

The Sylvie Reviriego case is a textbook case because it combines a number of exceptional elements:

  • A close friendship turned into a sick jealousy that led to a terrible crime perpetrated by a woman. This type of crime is usually perpetrated by men.
  • The criminal went unscrupulously from attempted electrocution to exsanguination followed by methodical butchering.
  • Sylvie Reviriego’s obsession with the annihilation of the head led her to bake it at maximum power for an entire night.
  • At no point did she falter in her determination to take her friend’s life and then dispose of the corpse. The first night, she rolled it up in a carpet on the balcony as the family’s son celebrated his birthday. Reviriego showed unflagging self-control.
  • The head was completely destroyed, but the dead woman’s dental crowns were crudely flushed down the toilet and the garbage bags containing her limbs were simply abandoned in parking lots in broad daylight.
  • The victim was a single mother raising her son, who had no other family. Sylvie Reviriego didn’t hesitate to take his mother away from him.
  • The motive is as old as time: jealousy. But it’s rare for this feeling to give way to an absolutely visceral hatred developed on the basis of judgments that some consider to be flimsy: the victim was judged to be whiny, lightweight, egotistical or even egocentric by her tormentor.
  • The homosexual friendship was evoked, then denied during the trial. Could Sylvie Reviriego have developed a friendly possessiveness flirting with love?
  • Jealousy and envy often go hand in hand. Françoise Gendron was a liberated person, who lived life to the full and was absolutely at ease in society. She was self-confident. Sylvie Reviriego had suffered from complexes and adversity since childhood, and seemed to deal with a pronounced superego.
  • Although swept aside by the court, the argument of partial impairment of judgment following ingestion of a dangerous drug treatment was not unfounded. Sylvie Reviriego’s mother testified at the trial that, in the months leading up to the crime, she no longer recognized her daughter, who had become somewhat irascible and more severe. Impaired judgment due to medication has been recognized in a number of judgments handed down by American courts.

The Sylvie Reviriego case was a landmark in the annals of French justice. How could a dull, unproblematic mother commit such a bloody, unabashed act? This investigation takes us back to the darkness of our deepest primitive instincts. Without resorting to psychology, how could this housewife’s id overpower her superego with such destructive force, sweeping away all the safeguards of her psyche? More than three decades later, Sylvie Reviriego remains an enigma to society.

More information on the case

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