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Jean Lanfray

(The Absinthe Murders)

Jean Lanfray (Circa 1873 – February 26, 1906) was a Swiss laborer convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two children in a drunken rage on the afternoon of August 28, 1905, in Commugny, Switzerland. It was later revealed by police that he had drunk an excessive amount of wine and hard liquors that morning, along with two ounces of absinthe. However, due to the moral panic against absinthe in Europe at that time, his murders were blamed solely on the influence of absinthe, leading to a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland. The petition received 82,000 signatures and absinthe was banned in Vaud. In 1908, a constitutional referendum led to absinthe being banned in all of Switzerland, and absinthe was banned in most European countries and the US in the years to follow.

On the day of the murder, Lanfray consumed seven glasses of wine, six glasses of cognac, one coffee laced with brandy, two crème de menthes, and two glasses of absinthe after eating a sandwich--this guy could drink. He returned home drunk with his father, and drank another coffee with brandy. He then got into an argument with his wife, and asked his wife to polish his shoes for him. When she refused and provoked him, Lanfray retrieved his rifle, an old Vetterli long-barrel, and shot her in the head. His father ran out of the house to get the police. He then shot and killed his two young daughters. He then shot himself in the jaw and passed out.

The police found him and took him to the hospital, he eventually recovered and was put on trial for murder.

The trial started on February 23, 1906 and ended that same day. His attorney argued that the two ounces of absinthe he consumed prior to the murders were solely to blame for his actions. Dr. Albert Mahaim, a leading Swiss psychologist, testified that Lanfray suffered from "a classic case of absinthe madness". The prosecutor, Alfred Obrist, argued that the two ounces of absinthe he had ingested were minor in relation to the large amounts of other alcoholic beverages he had consumed that day.

Lanfray was eventually found guilty of murder and received thirty years in prison. Three days after the trial he committed suicide in prison by hanging himself.

The Lanfray case received an astonishing amount of coverage, especially by Europe's temperance movement. It set off a moral panic against absinthe in Switzerland and other countries. A petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland received 82,000 signatures and on May 15, 1906, the Vaud legislature voted to ban absinthe.

Following pressure from cafe owners and absinthe manufacturers, a referendum to reverse this decision was launched, but failed 23,062 to 16,025. On February 2, 1907, the Grand Conseil voted to ban the retail sale of absinthe, including its imitations.

Finally, on July 5, 1908, Article 32 to the Swiss Constitution was proposed, which would prohibit manufacturing or possession of absinthe in Switzerland. The article was added following a referendum, in which it won by 241,078 to 139,699 votes, and would be effective October 7, 1910. Eventually, similar incidents led to bans on absinthe in every European country (except the United Kingdom and Spain) as well as the United States.


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