What does Harry Whitecliffe, alias Lovach Blume, reveal to his fiancee, Wally von Hammerstein, in the terrible letter which he writes just before committing suicide?  That the Devil exists, and that he has met him.  That he has always been two people, one of them all the more intelligent and gifted as the other is cruel and bloodthirsty.  That he is like the possessed people of ancient times, and that he dies partly because of his love for her:  he knew that he was menaced by the police, he should have left Germany, the way that he had already fled England, after nine murders, because Scotland Yard was on his heels…  If he remained, it was because he loved her, Wally von Hammerstein, who was perhaps the only one who could have saved him from his demons…  He begs her to live in prayer from then on, to redeem his divided soul…

In the middle of the year 1925, a young, gentle, beautiful, blonde girl, whom everything destined for a brilliant and happy existence, buried herself in the Elmersheim monastery to pronounce perpetual vows.  Wally von Hammerstein entered into prayer under the name of Maria of Sorrows, to rescue a tortured soul from Hell.

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This terrible and pathetic story, which took place in the “roaring twenties”, was talked about in Germany for many years.  It is one of the most troubling criminal cases of the XXth Century.  First of all, for its hero, who is a young literary genius.  Doubtless, his gifts can only be explained by his double life.  They are stimulated by the bloodbaths in which he wallows and the totally magical way in which he analyses his case…  Also far from banal, is the mystical conversion of his fiancee, whom nothing predisposed to enter a convent.  It was very contrary to her character, and to the spirit of the time.

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Whitecliffe was the son of a great English family.  But apart from the three high magistrates who opened the famous letter – in spite of the dead man’s last wishes – only Sister Maria of Sorrows and her parents knew Whitecliffe’s true identity.  The three judges and the parents were all dead, when Louis Pauwels wrote this text.  Wally was still locked up in the silence of her convent, and had not divulged anything of this drama from her youth.

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The writer’s German admirers do not appear to have made the connection between Whitecliffe and Blume.  In any case, none of them went to his trial, which, although exceptional, was nevertheless only one of many blood crimes trials, particularly numerous and atrocious in that Germany of poverty and revolt.  Where most values inspired roughly the same amount of respect as the paper money which had to be transported by the cartload whenever anyone went shopping…

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There are other people who have been condemned to death without the public ever knowing their real names.  One of them was executed around 1900.  No-one, including the Tribunal, ever knew who he was.  Leon Treich mentions him in connection with the Whitecliffe-Blume mystery.  He writes:

“A little more than sixty years ago, a man was guillotined in Paris, who was only known by the name which he had given himself, Michel Campi, a name that was certainly false, but no-one was ever able to pierce its enigma.  It is the drama generally known as the Guillaume inconnu case, about which the whole of France became passionate.”

And he adds: 

“Lovach Blume will remain the German Campi.”

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At his trial, Whitecliffe-Blume refused to give any information about where he had lived before the end of 1923.

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The contents of his letter are known from the little revealed by the fiancee and her parents before they burned it.

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In the letter, he explains his dual personality in terms of sorcery.  This is perhaps because of a taste for the romanesque, a literary sensitivity.  But his interpretation is so convincing, it is presented with such consummated art – he shows the effects in his own life – that his young fiancee decides to lock herself up for the rest of her life in a convent whose Rule is particularly severe.

The most singular part of this story is that it is the living illustration of the novel that made Robert Louis Stevenson famous, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  The story is well-known:  thanks to a drug, Dr Jekyll liberates the beast that hides within him.  Famous worldly doctor by day, he becomes an abominable monster at night.

At the end, his nocturnal personality inspires him with such fear and disgust that he commits suicide, confessing his secret to a friend in a letter.

The novel dates from 1886.  It is still very much in fashion when, thirty years later, a young English poet, who has many similarities with the dual character described by Stevenson, slips into the skin of the two-faced Jekyll-Hyde, in real life.

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At this epoch, the mode of capital execution in use in Germany was still decollation by axe.  An execution which has always been reserved for aristocrats.  Is this why it was favoured by the young lord of letters?

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