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Finale Marked Presto: The Killing of Leclair

Author(s): Albert Borowitz

Source: The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 2 (1986), pp. 228-238
Published by: Oxford University Press
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FinaleMarkedPresto:The KillingofLeclair


THE murder of Jean-MarieLeclair,1 eighteenth-century composer and

violin virtuoso,is a mysteryworthyof Agatha Christie.The Paris detec-
tive forcesheaded by Lieutenantof Police Antoine Gabriel de Sartine2
picked their way through a maze thickly populated with suspicious
charactersand lyingwitnessesand, to make theirpath moredifficult, they
encounteredmany red herrings.The motive for the crime was perhaps
the most bewilderingenigma of all; the investigators were compelledto
considerthe possibilitythat Leclair's sudden death was due to robbery,
maritaldiscord,professionalhostility,or perhapsthe dark act of a sardonic
In 1764, the sixty-seven-year-old Leclair would have been justifiedin
resting on the laurelsof his career.Bornin 1697 at Lyons,the
eldestof eightchildrenof a masterlacemaker,he reportedly made his debut
as a dancer at Rouen. He laterfollowedhis father'sprofessionfora while
in his native city, where he marriedthe daughterof a liquor merchant
in 1716. In 1722 he went to Turinto serveas principaldancerand ballet
master.It was in the Turin theaterthat he mountedhis firststageworks,
mythologicalballets composed in the popular taste of the time. He then
returnedto Paris,wherein 1723 he publishedhis earliestworkof instru-
mental music (which was to be his principalgenre); this maiden effort
was a book of sonatasforviolinand basso continuo.Five yearslaterLeclair
made a brilliantdebut as a violinistin the Concertspirituel.About that
time he publisheda second book of sonatasin whichhis characteristic and
frequentuse of double stops showedthe influenceof theviolinistGiovanni
Battista Somis with whom he had studied at Turin. Leclair's firstwife

1 The
principal source for biographicalfacts regardingJean Marie Leclair (called the "elder"
to distinguishhim froma youngerbrotherof the same name) is Lionel de la Laurencie,L'Ecole
francaisede violonde Lully a Viotti,2 vols. (Paris,1922), I, 269-349.
2 M. B. Saint-Edme,Biographiede la police en France (Paris, 1829), pp. 119-50; Alan Williams,

The Police of Paris 1718-1789 (Baton Rouge, 1979).


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Killingof Leclair 229

died, and in 1730 he marriedLouise Roussel, a music engraverwho had

publishedsome of his works.3
Leclair's career continuedto blossom.Beginningin 1733 he performed
in the Royal Orchestra,where he encountereda formidablerival, the
violinistPierreGuignon. Neitherof them wanted to play second fiddle
to the other's firstviolin. So they agreed to changeplaces on a regular
monthlyrotation;Guignonallowed Leclair to begin the new arrangement
by occupying firstplace. However, when Leclair's month had run out
he is supposed to have resignedfromthe orchestraratherthan pass to
the secondrank.4
Afterleavingthe Paris orchestra,Leclair spentseveralyearsin Holland
under the sponsorshipof PrincessAnne of Orange and of Francois du
Liz, and was subsequentlycalled to the Court of Don Philip of Spain at
Chambery.In 1746 Leclair's only opera, Glaucuset Scylla, was performed
with moderatesuccess at the Paris Opera. About 1749 he came underthe
protectionof his last patron,the Duke of Gramont,who had established
a fashionabletheaterin his villa at Puteaux. Here Leclair servedas first
violinistand contributedballet pieces and divertissements
to itsrepertory.5
By the end of the next decade a streakof misanthropy, quite in the
of to
style Moliere,seems have afflictedLeclair. In 1758 he left his wife
and lived alone in a house on the Rue de Careme-Prenant in a northeast
suburbof Paris near what is now the St. MartinCanal. It was a smallram-
shackletwo-storystructuresituatedwithina walled gardenenteredthrough
a gate fromthe street.The Duke de Gramontwas concernedabout the
dangerous circumstancesof his favoritemusicianlivingin seclusion and
many times offeredLeclair a lodgingat his own residence.Accordingto
Leclair's biographerde Rozoi, Leclair was goingto accept the offer,but
he was not fatedto do so.6
At about 6:00 A.M. on October 23, 1764, Louis Bourgeois,a sixty-
four-year-old gardener,while passing Leclair's garden gate, noticed that
it was open. This seemed strangebut not strangeenough to overcome
his early-morning appetite,and he wentto hisregularplace forbreakfast.On
his way back he met Jacques Paysant,who tended Leclair's garden.He
told him about the open gate and left.Shortlyafterward, Paysantappeared
at Bourgeois'shouse in obvious distress.In the gardenhe had found his
employer'shat and wig lying on the ground.Fearingsome calamity,he
did not dare to enterthe house alone and wantedBourgeoisto accompany
him. They summoned other neighborsand, buoyed by the strengthof
3 La Laurencie,L 'Ecole francaise,I, 269-75.
4 Ibid., I, 282.
5 Ibid., I, 285-97.
6 Ibid., I, 298.

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230 The MusicalQuarterly

numbers,returnedto the garden.Near the frontdoor of the house lay the

hat and wig, as Paysant said. The door was open and even beforethey
enteredthevestibuletheycould see Leclair'sbody.
He was lyingon his back on the floorof the vestibulein frontof the
staircase,with his bare head restingagainstthe door leadingto the cellar.
He was dressed in ordinarystreetattire-grayjacket, a vest, two shirts
(one heavy and decorated and the other of mousseline),trousers,black
woolen stockings,and shoes with copper buckles. His shirtsand camisole
were stained with blood; he had been stabbed threetimesby a pointed
instrument-abovethe left nipple,in the lower stomachon the rightside,
and in the middle of his chest. Frightenedby what they had found,the
witnesseslocked the gardengate. Paysantran to notifyMme. Leclairand
Leclair'sson-in-law,thepainterLouis Quenet.7Withinan hourMlle.Nigotte
Petitbois,the Leclairs'goddaughter,arrivedafterhavingalertedCommissaire
Thiot at the Parispolice headquartersat the Chatelet;she was accompanied
by a lawyer named Godard whom one of her neighborshad summoned.
The police investigation,
underthe immediatedirectionof Commissaire
Thiot and InspectorHubertReceveur,was soon in fullswing.PierreCharles,
masterin surgery,was called in to examinethe body. He observedbruises
in the lumbar area and on the lips and jawbone, whichtended to show
that after a strugglewith his assailantLeclair had been thrownonto his
back.8 His body had been surroundedby a numberof oddlyassortedobjects
that seemed to have been deliberatelyarrangedby the murdererto create
a bizarremise-en-sc~ne, much in the mannerof whodunitauthorsof the
1930s. In additionto thehat and the wig,the police foundnearthevestibule
door a roll of blank musicmanuscriptpaper and a book (apparentlyfrom
the victim'sown library)on which the hat had been placed. The book
was a collectionof witticismsentitledL'Elite des bon mots. In the midst
of a trellisoutsidethe vestibuledoor, the police also founda huntingknife
with its bare, unstainedblade pointed downward;it fitpreciselythe scab-
bard attachedto the sash that Leclairwore.At a cornerof the trellis,which
showed no signs of being disturbed,the police came upon anotherknife
lyingon the ground.It was a blunttable knifeand appearedto be stained
A search of Leclair's pockets turnedup a snuffbox with only two
pinches left, a black leathercase containinga pair of spectacles,a bread
Informationet Interrogatoirea la requete
7 Deposition of Louis Marie Bourgeois,Proces-verbal,
de Monsieur le Procureurdu Roy, au sujet de la mort violentede M. Le Clerc, October 23, 1764,
ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
8 Transcriptof examinationof the body by Jacques-Pierre Charles,Proces-verbal,
October 23, 1764, ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
9 Proces-verbal,
Information, October 23, 1764, ArchivesNationalesY 13773.

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Killingof Leclair 231

roll,and two handkerchiefs, one of themwrappedarounda meatsandwich.

It was observedthat his gilded copper watch was missing.The detectives
surmisedthat the murderermighthave takenthe watchto lay a falsetrail,
for they ransackedthe house withoutuncoveringany evidence of theft
or breakingand entering.It was noted,however,thatmanyof the shutters
of the windowsfacingthe gardenwere open, that two panes of the first-
storywindow were half open, and that one of the leaves of the vestibule
door had been foundajar by the originalinvestigators. In thelocked drawer
of a commode in Leclair's bedroom,the police found fourlouis d'or of
twenty-four livresand two and a half louis in six-franccrowns,a cache
of money sufficientto rule out burglaryas a motiveforthe crime.Never-
theless,the gardenand adjacentpropertieswere also examinedforpossible
evidence of a nocturnalintrusion.The police observedthat about a foot
of the copingof the gardenwall facingthe house was damaged,the plaster
was detached,and many pieces of it lay on the groundof Leclair'sgarden
and his neighbor's.It was also noticed that behind the wall on the left
of Leclair'sgarden(on the propertybelongingto the fatherof thegardener
Bourgeois)therewas a large mass of mould thatwould have made it very
easy to pass over the wall onto Leclair's premises.The police determined,
however,that the mould had been placed therea verylong time ago.?1
One of the centralmysteriesof themurderscene,theroleplayedby the
house keysin the fatalencounter,is not clarifiedin the surviving police ar-
chives.However,the testimonyof JeanneLouise Aubert,a sixty-year-old
widow livingon the Rue de Careme-Prenant, suggeststhatkeysto both the
vestibuleand gardendoor may have been foundon the premises.She testi-
fiedthat when Leclair'sneighborsleftthe house afterdiscovering the body
they locked the vestibule door and gave the key to her for safekeeping
pendingthe arrivalof the family.She also noticedon leavingthehouse that
the latchkeyto the streetgate had been found restingon the trellis.1l
The police also investigatedreportsof movementsof strangersin the
neighborhoodon the nightof the crime. PierreDangreville,a sentryon
duty nearbythat evening,noticeda driverless carriagedrawnby two horses,
comingfromthe directionof Paris toward the suburbs;it stopped at the
corer of Leclair's street.He approachedthe carriageand found it laden
with pottery.About a quarterof an hour latertwo soldiers,who appeared
to be on guard duty, stopped in the middle of the road near the Rue de
Careme-Prenant.Dangrevilleobservedthem closely, concernedthat they
mightsteal the pottery.But they did not show the slightestinterestin
Proces-verbal,Perquisition en la maison de M. Le Clerc, October 29, 1764, Archives
NationalesY 13773.
Deposition of JeanneLouise Aubert,Proces-verbal,Information,October 23, 1764, Archives
NationalesY 13773.

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232 The MusicalQuarterly

the vehicle;one of thempassed beyondit into the Rue de Careme-Prenant

and was lost to view. About a quarterof an hourlaterhe returned, running,
to rejoinhis comrade;it was rainingveryhard and Dangrevillehad assumed
thatthiswas the reasonforhis haste.Whilethe soldierwas absent,Dangre-
ville heard no cries or noise fromthe directionof Leclair's street.A few
momentslater, the soldiers' patrol appeared and they rejoinedits ranks
on the way back to the city.Later thatnightthe mysteryof the driverless
potterycarriagewas solved: Dangrevillewas introducedto a carter,who
inquiredabout the carriage.He said that afterhe entereda cabaretabout
9:00 P.M. to have a drink,the horseswanderedoff. Police effortsto de-
terminetheidentityof the suspicioussoldierwerefruitless. 12

Anothermysteriousstrangerwas seen on the nightof the crimeby

Rose Pelletier,the wife of a mountedpatrolman,AntoineClaude. About
10:00 P.M., while enteringthe Rue de Careme-Prenant on her way home
froma visitto the Bourgeoisfamily,she saw a largeman standingwithhis
back against a garden wall. He was dressed in a black or graycoat and
had brown unpowderedhair. He frightened her and she hurriedhome.l3
For the most partthepolice inquiriesas to Leclair'sactionsimmediately
beforethe crimewereunilluminating. As he was accustomedto do, Leclair
had played several games of billiardson Monday evening,October 22,
at the establishmentof Pierre Lamotte. Lamotte recalled that at 9:30
P.M. Leclair had invitedhim to join him for supperat an inn and, after
he had declined,had bid him good night.l4At about 9:45 Leclairentered
CharlesRoussel's food shop and purchaseda roll, perhapshavingdecided
to dine alone. From his sentrybox PierreDangrevillesaw Leclair light
a candle withina little paper lanternand proceed on his way home. (It
will be recalledthat a roll was discoveredin one of his pockets afterhis
death.) His last stop beforereachinghis house was at the neighboring shop
of JeanThibault,wherehe purchaseda ball of twine.15
InspectorReceveur was able to account for the probable sourcesof
the money found in Leclair's commode. Mme. Leclair told him that she
had givenLeclair some fundsabout ten days earlierand thatM. Geoffroy
had givenhim fivelouis about two days beforehis death.l6 An intriguing
piece of information was suppliedby the cafe keeperRoussel. On Sunday,
October 14, Leclairhad awakenedhim aroundmidnightand asked him for
the duplicatehouse key he had leftwithhim about eighteenmonthsearlier
12 Deposition of PierreDangreville,Continuationd'information au sujetde l'assassinatdu M. Le
Clair,November21 (and otherdates), 1764, ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
Deposition of Rose Pelletier,Continuation d'information,ArchivesNationales Y 13773.
14 Deposition of Pierre Lamotte, Continuationd'information,ArchivesNationales Y 13773.
Depositions of Charles Roussel and Jean Thibault, Proces-verbal,Information,October
23, 1764.
16 Recueil d'informationsde M. Receveur,Archivesde la Bastille 10068.

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Killingof Leclair 233

for safekeeping.He told Roussel that eithersomeone had stolen his keys
at a theatricalperformance or thathe had lost themduringthe day.
Of the many dubious figuresreferredto in the police interrogations,
two principalsuspects emerged.The firstwas Leclair's gardenerPaysant,
who aroused the interestof the investigators by his lies, misleadingtesti-
mony, and defensive, hostile no
gossip.When watchwas foundon Leclair's
body, Paysant claimed that Leclair had not possessed one for eighteen
months.But Lamotte, the proprieterof the billiardparlor,told the police
that he had seen Leclair consult his watch before leavingthe parloron
the night of the crime. Paysant also swore that Leclair had no money,
a factcontradictedby the testimonyof othersand by thepolice's discovery
of cash in Leclair's commode.The gardeneralso may have giveninaccurate
testimonyabout the timeof his discoveryof the body and his whereabouts
on the nightof the murder.He assertedthat he had firstseen the open
garden gate at 6:00 A.M., but other witnessesstated that Paysant and
Bourgeoishad awakenedthemas earlyas 4:30 to ask theirhelpin inspecting
Leclair's house. He also informedthe police thathe had returnedhome at
7:30 P.M. on October 22, but his mistresstold a womannamed Laborgne
that he had not actuallycome back until 10:30, perhapsa halfhour after
Leclair had completedhis evening'spurchasesand arrivedat his house.17
The gardener'sgarrulousnessalso weighed against him. He remarked
to one of the neighborsthat he had enlistedto visit Leclair's house on
the morningof October 23 that perhaps Leclair had an attack of colic
to which he was prone and had died for want of assistance.He repeated
this when the body was discoveredeven thoughthe blood-drenchedshirt
should have convincedhim that a more violentincidenthad occurred.18
Paysantwas not presentat the burialof his employerin the Saint Laurent
Church on October 25, and his brotherdrew many questioninglooks
by his effortsto eavesdrop on the conversationsof those in attendance.
At the very moment when the body was to be lowered into the grave,
a woman from Leclair's neighborhoodexclaimed: "M. Paysant told me
thathe would do the sameto myhusband."19
Questioning by the investigatorsindicated that the gardener'sodd
behaviormightbe partly explained because he had a police recordthat
he feared mightbringhim under suspicion. Paysant also remarkedthat
thiswas the second timehe had had the misfortune of havingan employer
die duringhis service.However,Paysant'spast encounterswiththe police
La Laurencie,L 'Ecole franqaise,I, 300.
Depositions of Jean-JacquesMeunier and Pierre Charpentier,Informationde Monsieurle
Procureurdu Roy au sujet de l'assassinatde M. Leclair, November7, 10, 13 and 14, 1764, Archives
NationalesY 13773.
19 Recueil d'informations de M. Receveur,Archivesde la Bastille 10068.

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234 The MusicalQuarterly

had nothingto do with the murderor other seriouscrimes.He had been

jailed forsome minorscrapeduringhis servicein a regimentof the French
Guard and had been broughtbefore the Chatelet as the putativefather
of an illegitimatechild borne by a woman of bad reputationwith whom
he had livedformanyyears.20
Paysant's worriesabout his past inspiredhim not only to equivocate
about his own actions and knowledgebut also to suggesta rivalsuspect
to the police. Why not, he suggested,investigatethe Duke de Gramont
himself?The duke had oftenvisitedLeclair in his presence,he said, and
the gardenerdrankwine withboth of them.This testimony, whentheduke
heard of it, drovehim to fury.The gossip about his drinkingin ill-assorted
companyhad the ringof truthabout it, forhe was reputedto be a drunkard
who "looked as if naturehad intendedhim for a barber."21But he did
not care to be brandedan alcoholic or a murdererand dashed offan angry
(and misspelled)letterto theLieutenantof Police Sartine:

It has come to my attentionthroughthe nephewof M. Leclairthathis gardener said

to Commissaire thathe had seenme manytimeswith
Guiot [sic] in his interrrogations
M. Leclairand thatthethreeof us had oftendrunktogether. I havebeenat M. Leclair's
house only twiceand I have neverdrunkor eatenthere.Besidessuchcompanyis not
made for me. Furthermore, forabout sevenor eightyearsI have drunknothingbut
water.A man who, in orderto clutchat strawsas best he can, sayswhatevercomes
intohisheadis a manto be mistrusted.22

The police brieflyarrestedPaysantbut his release was orderedby the

Chatelet. He undoubtedlywas an untrustworthy witnessbut there was
littlegroundto considerhimguiltyof murder.
A more likelysuspect was Leclair's nephew,mentionedin the duke's
letter.Francois GuillaumeVial, aged forty,was the son of Leclair'ssister
Franqoise.Himselfa musician,he came to Parisaround 1750 and, abetted
and pamperedby Mme. Leclair,nevertiredof beseechinghis uncle to find
him a post in the musical serviceof the Duke de Gramont.On many
occasions Vial gave vent in the bitteresttermsto his resentmentof his
uncle's failureto advance his career;among lettersdiscoveredat Leclair's
house, InspectorReceveur discoveredfour in which Vial asked Leclair's
pardon for the grave offenseshe had given him.23 But even his uncle's
murdercould not induce him to moderatehis expressionsof grievance.
He told the surgeonCharlesthat "his uncle had done him manyinjustices
Interrogationof Jacques Paysant, Proces-verbal,Information,October 23, 1764, Archives
NationalesY 13773.
Quoted in W. R. H. Trowbridge,Daughtersof Eve (London, 1912), p. 36.
Letterof the Duke de Gramont,November5, 1764, Archivesde la Bastille 10068.
La Laurencie,L 'Ecole francaise,I, 300-1.

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Killingof Leclair 235

and had refusedto introducehim to the Duke de Gramont."24To Mme.

Roussel he asserted that Leclair "had only receivedwhat he deserved,
havingalways lived like a wolf' and that "he had always hoped to die
suddenly."25To the mountedpatrolmanTetart,who was on duty at the
Leclairhouse, Vial delivereda tiradeof abuse againsthis dead uncle. Leclair,
he said, was a recluse who "didn't want to see anyone fromthe family
and desiredto die suddenly,even by murder";he "had neverwantedhis
nephewto have a careeror to givehimhis protection,"but now thatLeclair
was dead, "he [Vial] was going,thankGod, to have a career!"WhenTetart
proposed to Vial thathe view the body, he refused,statingthat "he knew
verywellwhatit was like."26
Vial was anxious to establishan alibi for himselfat the time of the
crime.He said thathe had arrivedin ParisfromConflans(wherehe claimed
to have gone to see the archbishop)and thaton his returnto Parishe had
found waitingforhim at home a procureurwho advisedhim of his uncle's
death. He added that it was fortunatefor him that he was not in Paris
at the time of the murder,for otherwisepeople mightperhapshave said
that he was the guiltyparty. InspectorReceveurvisited the archbishop
and discoveredthat Vial's alibi was a completeand shamelessfabrication.
He had not been to Conflanson the date of the crime,and he was unknown
to the archbishop,the membersof the archbishop'shousehold,and the
religious communityof Conflans. The methodical Receveur confirmed
thesefactsby interviews, not only withthe archbishop'slackeysand valets
de chambre,but also withthe mothersuperiorof the neighboring convent.
Receveur returnedfrom Conflans resolved to redouble his measuresto
investigateVial's actions.27
The inspector'ssuspicionsof Leclair'snephewwere strengthened by his
strange behavior at his uncle's to "a
funeral;according Receveur, trembling
and astonishingagitationon the day of burialcalled him to the attention"
of police and otherswho were in attendance.28To make mattersworse,
Vial had apparentlyattemptedto influencethe testimonyof otherwitnesses
in a directionthat he may have thoughtfavoredhis own alibi. Desnos,
a soldieron guardat the Leclairhouse,saw Vial take thegardenerBourgeois
aside and heard him say that he should not tell the police he had seen
Deposition of Jacques-PierreCharles, Continuation d'information,Archives Nationales
Y 13773.
Deposition of Marie Rose Laplanche, wife of Charles Roussel, Continuationd'information,
ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
Deposition of Guillaume Clothilde Tetart, Continuationd'information,ArchivesNationales
Y 13773.
Note, dated November 2, 1764, and letter, dated November 4, 1764, of M. Receveur,
Archivesde la Bastille 10068.
Undated note of M. Receveur,Archivesde la Bastille 10068.

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236 The MusicalQuarterly

the gardengate open between4:00 and 5:30; others,Vial whispered,had

alreadytestifiedthat they had not seen the gate open until6:00 or 6:30
and there was no point in creatingcontradictionsin statementson the
subject.29Receveuralso noted in his summaryof the evidencethatVial's
physique appeared to match that of the large man dressedin black who
had been seen movingalong Leclair's wall on the nightof the murder,
but he dutifullyconcededthatthispointwas "veryvague."30
Bemused by the complexitiesand ambiguitiesof the case, Inspector
Receveur summarizedhis tentativetheoriesin a reportto his superiors.
He had arrivedat the belief,he wrote,thatit was not professionalthieves
who killed Leclair, and he was preparedto find the perpetratorof the
crime among envious men or among those who would inheritfromthe
victim.The nephew seemed to meritattention,and he was "preparedto
look into him deeply." Vial, he noted, was "well advancedin the good
gracesof the widow," a factthatauthorizedhimto extendhisinvestigation
to her as well. The canny Receveurhad conceiveda new meansof recon-
ciling the disappearanceof the watch with the theoryof Vial's guilt;it
was possible that the watch had been stolen by Bourgeois,the gardener,
or one of the otherswho wereamongthe firstgroupto discoverthebody.31
Despite Receveur's suspicion of a conspiracybetweenVial and Mme.
Leclair, the police archivesdo not indicatethat an intensiveinvestigation
was made into the widow's possible involvementin the crime.Her depo-
sitionwas taken,but the questioningappearsto have been superficialand
prettymuch limitedto the circumstances under which she learnedof her
husband's murder.Perhaps it is not unfairto read in her testimonyan
exaggeratedeffortto put herselfat a safe distancefromthe crime.She
stated that she did not learnof the murderuntilthe afternoonof October
23, even thoughPaysant had broughtthe news to her apartmentin the
morningand had alertedMlle. Petitbois.32Mme.Leclairdid not accompany
her goddaughterto Leclair's house, and althoughit is conceivablethat
she was not at home thatmorning,the police recordsdo not indicatethat
she everpaid a visitthereafterto the sceneof the crime.
The investigation into Leclair'sdeathwas eventuallyclosedwithoutany-
one beingchargedwiththe crime.Leclair'sdevotedbiographerde Rozoi had
to contenthimselfwith inveighingagainstthe unknownmurderer:"There
are no doubtmonsterswho do not belongto theircountryor theirage. Such
beingshavenothinghumanabout themexceptthe faceof a man."33
Deposition of Franqois Desnos, Continuationd'information,ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
30 Recueil d'informations,
31 Undated note of
Receveur,Archivesde la Bastille10068.
Deposition of Louise Roussel (Mme. Leclair), Information,November 7, 10, 13 and 14,
1764, ArchivesNationalesY 13773.
33 Quoted in La Laurencie,L 'Ecole francaise,I, 302-3.

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Killingof Leclair 237

The detailedpolice recordsthatsurviveprovidesome basis forhazarding

an opinion as to the identityof the guiltyparty. Was it the gardener
Paysant? It hardly seems likely. There is no apparentmotive,although
a secretgrievanceof an employeecannotbe ruledout. But Paysantseems
unfittedfor the role of murderer.He appears to have been one of those
maddeninglyunstable witnesses,in love with mystification for its own
sake, with whom the annals of French crime have abounded fromthe
FualdUs case of 181734 to the contemporarymysteryof the murderof
Mme. Leclair, the estrangedwife of the composer,is the choice of
Nicolas Slonimsky.Though she seems to have little to gain financially
fromher husband'sdeath-theircommunitypropertywas heavilyburdened
withdebts to a butcher,a wine merchant,a grocer,a masonand others-we
cannot ignoreDorothy Sayers' adage that in a murdercase marriageitself
can be a motive.Slonimsky,in placingthe blame on Mme. Leclair,notes
that "the three wounds . . . inflicted in the front part of Leclair's body
as he faced his murderer. . . might have been caused by a sharp tool used
formusic engraving-yet therewas no examinationof thesetools in Madame
Leclair'sapartment in Paris."He also observesthatonlya person"intimately
acquainted with the victim'smode of life" could have gone throughthe
motions of placingthe odd group of objects around the corpse and that
sucha personcould onlyhavebeen Mme.Leclair.35
Slonimsky,like a good detective-story writer,makes up in strength
of assertionfor what he lacks in logic. Giventhe evidenceof the violence
of Leclair's resistance,it is unlikelythathe could have been overwhelmed
by a femaleassailantof advancingyears.It also seemspossiblethatLeclair,
in wearinga huntingknifeat home,may have had reasonto fearan enemy
more formidablethan his wife; he may, in fact,have drawnthe knifein
his own defense,only to have been overpowered.Moreover,it is not true
that only Mme. Leclair had sufficientknowledgeof Leclair's household
to assemblethe hat, wig,book, and manuscriptpaper.Anothersuchperson
is my candidate forthe murderer, the composer'snephewVial. We do not
know the cause of estrangement of the Leclairs or the widow's feelings
toward her husband; we only know that she claimed to be continuing
to supplyhim with fundsin his last days. On the otherhand, thereis no
doubt of the depth of Vial's malice or of his irrationalconvictionthathis
uncle stood in the way of his musicaladvancement.He would have known
where to find Leclair's manuscriptpaper (assuming that Leclair, still
passionatelyengaged in compositionto the end of his life,did not have
34 AlbertBorowitz,Innocence and Arsenic: Studies in Crimeand Literature(New York, 1977),

pp. 132-62.
35 A Thingor Two About Music (New York, 1948), pp. 86-90.

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238 The MusicalQuarterly

the paper at hand when his murderercalled), and presumablyVial could

have located thejoke book in Leclair'slibraryshelves.If the mise-en-scene
near the vestibuledoor contained an ironic messagefromthe murderer,
it would have accordedwithVial's bitterspiritforhimto havesaid,through
the emptymanuscriptpage, that he had broughtthe careerof his fancied
rivalto an end; and to have sneered,throughthe title of the joke book,
thathe had had thelastlaugh.
Of course,it is possible that Mme. Leclair egged Vial on. It is all too
apparentthat she did not mournher late husbandor grieveforthe abrupt
end of his glorious career. Shortlyafterhis murder,she applied to the
police for permissionto take an inventoryof the contentsof his house
on Rue de Careme-Prenant. On October 26 and 27, 1764, the sale of
Leclair's propertywas carriedout and produced less than 2,000 livres,
whichwas insufficient to pay the creditorsin full.The followingJanuary
Leclair'swidowsold herhusband'sviolins.36

36 La
Laurencie,L 'Ecole franqaise,I, 306.

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