To try to identify the Beast, it is necessary to divide all of these attacks into groups.
In the first group, we must put the attacks and wounds caused by an animal, as well as the rare victims whose bodies had really been completely, or partly, eaten. These misdeeds can legitimately be attributed to enraged, or simply hungry, wolves. At the time, numerous wolves lived in the Massif Central. One hundred and fifty of them had been killed during the hunts organized to exterminate the Beast.
The adventure of the children of Chanaleilles must be put into this category. Andre Portefaix, four other boys and two girls, aged from eight to twelve years, were attacked on 12 January 1765. Here is the story according to a document in the departmental archives of Herault.
“They only saw the beast when it was close to them; they quickly grouped, took the covers off their small weapons, made the sign of the cross, and arranged themselves in defence. Portefaix who was their leader placed himself at the front with Couston and Pie who were the strongest, he put the girls in the second row, behind the Pannefieu and Veyrier boys who were the youngest of the group. The beast came to them and circled them several times, they were themselves turning beside it. It grabbed Joseph Pannefieu’s cheek, one of the smallest who was at the back; the three biggest rushed at it, stabbing at it several times, they were never able to pierce its skin. However, by continuing their efforts, they got it to let go; it retreated two paces taking with it part of Joseph’s right cheek which it ate in front of them, then it attacked them once more with more fury and, circling them again, it first pushed over the youngest of these children who was Jean Veyrier with its muzzle. Portefaix, Couston and Pie made it move away. It came back onto this child and wounded him by biting his lips. They chased it away again, it rushed onto him a third time, grabbed him by the arm with its mouth and dragged him away. The whole group ran after it, encouraged by Portefaix who, seeing that they couldn’t catch up with it, made Couston pass onto one side, and passed himself onto the other side so as to make the beast take a path through the bog which was fifty paces away from them. This was successful, the beast getting bogged down to the point of stopping its flight and the children being able to catch up with it. One of them who had behaved very well at the beginning of the combat had lost courage when he saw the blood flowing from Joseph’s cheek… He had first suggested to the others that they flee and let the beast eat the boy it had taken, but Portefaix running at their head called out to them that they must rescue their friend or perish with him and they all followed him, even the one who had had part of his cheek taken off. When they reached the beast he told them that they should attack its head and in particular its eyes or its mouth which was continually open. They gave it several blows but they were never able to reach its eyes. The beast was still holding the child it had taken under its paw during the combat, but it never had time to bite him being occupied in eluding the blows they were trying to give him. It seized with its teeth young Portefaix’s weapon which was bent. At the last blow that he gave it, it jumped backward, leaving the little Veyrier in the bog. Portefaix placed himself between it and him so that it couldn’t retake this child who got up behind Portefaix and hung onto his jacket. The beast retreated onto a mound, the children were able to follow it there and chased it away.”
So, the Beast ran away, as would an ordinary wolf. Portefaix’s exploits will be largely publicised, to the point that they were brought to the attention of the army, which signed him up with a cadet officer scholarship.
There also appear to have been a few Beast impersonators. People covered in wolf skins poking their heads through windows and growling, while women gathered around the fire talked about the Beast’s latest exploits, or a mother threatened her children with it, is an easy way to frighten people. This could also explain those human gestures and laughing which have been reported, as well as Pierre Blanc seeing the Beast “buttoned”.
As well as Beast impersonators, there were also fake victims. The sum of 9,400 pounds had been promised to whomever killed the animal, but indemnities were also accorded to its victims. To have the right to receive these indemnities, some peasants didn’t hesitate to fake wounds. Some were found out, but how many others weren’t?
There remain the atrociously mutilated bodies that an ordinary wolf would never have done in that way. Professor Puech attributes them to a human being, a sadistic madman, like Jack the Ripper, Vacher, or the Dusseldorf Vampire.
Dr Cabanes makes the following remarks:
“These sadists only have a sex life by associating sexual pleasure with acts of cruelty or violence. If some of these perverts are able to satisfy themselves simply through imagination by the evocation or the creation of mental, spoken, written or painted scenes of cruelty, if a few of them keep themselves to real, but light, violence, a lot of them need blood. These are the blood-letters capable of the most horrible deeds, such as assassinations by throat-slitting, disembowelment, gutting, dismemberment, removal of genital organs; there are also vampires who increase their pleasure by sucking the blood from the wounds they have made or by eating their victims’ flesh.”
Professor Puech was unable to find forensic evidence to back up this assertion because no serious autopsy had been performed on a victim. However, even if proof is lacking for the thesis of a “sadistic madman”, certain facts corroborate this. Dr Cabanes lists them as follows:
“The Beast rarely ate its victims, which is contrary to the habits of carnivorous animals. Even the most ferocious of them do not kill for the sake of killing, but only for food or in self-defence.
“The victims were almost always women and children. These are the usual victims of sadistic madmen. An animal, spurred on by such murderous instincts, would never have made such a distinction.
“Some victims had had their heads cut off. The cut through the neck was so clean that it could have been done by razor blades. Agnes Mourgues, aged twelve years, had had, according to Canon Ollier, priest of Lorcieres, who officiated at her funeral, her head cut off, the front of her ”breasts” eaten, a few “openings in her lower abdomen”, and her clothes were so shredded that she seemed as naked as the day that she was born. As for a twenty year old girl found in grassland near Saint-Alban, the monster had drunk all her blood and ripped out her organs.”
Although these cases were not the only ones, Dr Cabanes tells us that they had appeared sufficient for Puech to establish an analogy between the misdeeds attributed to the Gevaudan Beast and those committed by “degenerate sadists, blood-letters or vampires”.
One last fact: the remains of a woman named Chabannes who was found buried. Dr Cabanes declares that only humans try to hide the traces of their misdeeds.
He goes on to say “the hypothesis of the sadistic madman accepted, a lot of particularities, at first disconcerting, find their explanation. We can then understand why the numerous poisoned baits, strewn around everywhere, had been ignored by the Beast; why the Beast never approached sheep enclosures, as a priest of the place where it operated had noticed; why similar accidents were reported simultaneously in Auvergne and in Picardie: which leads us to believe that the bloody sadist had imitators.
“The argument is based on solid facts but it doesn’t completely convince us. It doesn’t explain why, for example, when Mr Jean Chastel fires “with his gun loaded with two blessed bullets” on the Beast, the real one, according to the local peasants, who had all rushed to see it, and it didn’t move because it was dead, then why, we repeat, from this moment, did the murders stop, and why was the animal, who had, up until then, ravaged the country, never heard of again?
“Simple coincidence? Perhaps. If there still remains a question as to the nature of the animal.
“Perhaps the monster was everything at once: a pack of wolves, impersonators, and above all, one or more sadistic madmen? From this combination was born a fearsome Beast, a monster who has entered into legend and who continued to frighten the population retrospectively, many decades later.”