In September of 1847, a gruesome triple murder was committed in Brussels, Belgium: three women were bludgeoned to death and their throats sliced during the commission of a robbery of their home. The culprits were determined to be a carpenter named François Rosseel (also spelled Rosseels) and a baker named Guillaume Vandenplas (also spelled Van den Plas or Vandenplace.)
Rosseel was born in Zedelghem in 1819, and Vandenplas born in Vossem in 1821. In 1847 both men were in financial straits, with Vandenplas reportedly contemplating suicide over his condition. Rosseel had been in prison before, where he had met Vandenplas and another man named Sylvestre: he conceived a plan rob the house of his landlady, and invited both men to join in his scheme. Only Vandenplas accepted the offer. (Sylvestre refused, and later reported the invitation to the police; this is how Rosseel and Vandenplas were caught.)
The crime was extremely well known at the time, referred to simply as l'assassinat de la place Saint-Géry. The trial began on February 8th of 1848. They were sentenced on February 12th, and the execution took place at dawn on the 18th. Vandenplas was killed first, followed by Rosseel. Their heads were taken to be examined for phrenological purposes, the results of which can be read here (in French.)
The first reference connecting these men to Antoine Wiertz's experiment of the severed head, is in an 1860s museum catalogue of his work. The way it is written does not quite explicitly name this execution as the one he attended for his magnetic experiment but later sources declare it to have been the one at which his story takes place. Wiertz appears to have been following the newspaper reports of the case, brewing the idea for his experiment as he read of the investigation and the penalty given to the culprits.
Interestingly, I have seen no indication that either Rosseel or Vandenplas was married, which conflicts with certain portions of Wiertz's vision. Could it be that Wiertz did not really make the psychic connection he believed? Or was it a different execution he attended?
|Study of a severed head, by Wiertz. No date.|