Mademoiselle Blanche Monnier was a brown-eyed beauty known for her charming joyous personality and stunning beauty. She was born in Poitiers, France, to a well-to-do bourgeoise family.

Blanche, a 25-year-old French socialite, had amassed quite a collection of love letters from wealthy suitors requesting her hand in marriage by 1876, but it was not to be because Blanche’s heart already belonged to someone else: a penniless lawyer several years her senior.

Blanche’s mother, Madame Louise Monnier, forbade her from marrying a man with no prospects and little to no wealth, so the couple planned to elope. Madame Louise ordered Blanche to end the relationship right away, but she refused because living without her love was like not living at all.

Enraged, widow Madame Louise conferred with her son Marcel, and the two devised a plan that would almost certainly persuade Blanche to marry one of her wealthy suitors instead: they locked her in the attic, locked the door, and refused to let her out until she relented.

Blanche, to their surprise, remained steadfast, firmly ensconced in the attic. Meanwhile, Madame Louise informed the authorities that her daughter had vanished without a trace. The bereaved community speculated over time that the young woman had been the victim of a madman and died in a gruesome manner.

Blanche was assumed dead, and she might as well have been because she was forced to sleep on an insect-infested straw mattress and survive on scraps barely enough to feed a small child. She was denied food for several days. Her only company at night were the rats that scurried around.

Blanche had no way out, unlike the German fairy tale Rapunzel, because the room’s lone window was boarded up and a padlock made the front door impenetrable.

Blanche had been in captivity for nine years when the man she had spent nearly a decade with died unexpectedly, leaving her more hopeless than ever. Despite his death, Madame Louise refused to release her. Blanche would be kept in the attic for the next 16 years.

On May 23, 1901, relief arrived. An anonymous letter arrived at the Paris Attorney General’s office:

“Madame Attorney General: I have the honor of informing you of an extremely serious incident. I’m talking about a spinster who has been locked up in Madame Monnier’s house for the past twenty-five years, half starved and living on a putrid litter — in a word, in her own filth.”

After all, 75-year-old Madame Louise was known as a woman of high morality and standards, with not a cruel bone in her body. Nonetheless, the contents of the letter disturbed the man so much that he decided to investigate the author’s morbid claims. He and several police officers rushed to the Monnier home at 21 rue de la Visitation.

Madame Louise sat calmly in the living room, dressed in a black and white gown, paying no attention to the men pounding on the front door. They had no choice but to break in and rush to the attic, where they were met with an obnoxious stench. They smashed the padlock and gagged as they walked into a real-life House of Horrors.

Blanche was found near death, lying on a bug-infested straw mattress surrounded by moldy rotten bread and oyster shells. She was rushed to Hôtel Dieu Hospital, wrapped in a blanket, weighing only 55 pounds.

Blanche couldn’t face the light or stand on her own after spending half her life in the dark attic. When she took her first breath of fresh air in a quarter-century, the poor lady exclaimed, “Ah, how lovely it is.”

Madame Louise and her son were apprehended quickly. The former died of heart failure 15 days later in the prison infirmary. Marcel was left alone to deal with the charges.

Marcel testified in court that his sister had simply gone insane and barricaded herself in the attic in protest of their mother. He insisted that she could have left at any time, but he never did.

Several witnesses testified that they frequently heard the poor woman’s desperate cries for help late at night, contradicting Marcel’s wild claims. One witness recalled Blanche yelling, “What have I done to be locked up?” I do not deserve this heinous torment. God must not exist if he allows his creatures to suffer in this way, and there is no one to come to my rescue!” Eight years ago.

No one dared to help the destitute woman despite hearing her screams for fear of upsetting Madame Louise.

Marcel was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal after he convinced the court that he, too, was an innocent party forced to abide by the rules of their oppressive mother, whom he claimed was the true — and only — mastermind of the sadistic plot to imprison Blanche.

Although Marcel was now free, his acquittal sparked widespread public outrage. His family was forced to seek police protection and go into hiding after receiving several death threats, and his 17-year-old daughter’s impending marriage to a well-respected police officer was quickly canceled as horrifying details of the case made front-page news.

Blanche survived, but she was never the same again. She was diagnosed with a number of illnesses ranging from anorexia to schizophrenia, and she was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Blois, France, where she died 12 years later.

To this day, the author of the anonymous note that restored Blanche’s freedom is unknown. Some believe it was the husband of a housemaid who became sick to his stomach after learning of her captivity, while others believe it was Marcel himself, in order to avoid being held responsible for his sister as Madame Louise’s death approached. Blanche’s savior’s identity will almost certainly remain unknown until the end of time.

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