Crime of Passion
A France international, a champion cyclist, a gun and a deadly affair
The first full international match between France and England was played on 15 May 1923 at the Stade Pershing in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris. It was an interesting game, attended by an impressive 30,000 spectators, despite driving rain and hail. France had beaten an England Amateurs team at this same venue in 1921, but a similar result was not expected against the full England side.
The French team was all amateur, drawn from the regional Paris league, and its best player, Paul Nicolas of Red Star Paris, was out injured. The England team, captained by Charlie Buchan, was mostly professional but included three amateurs and six debutants. An injury to the forward Frank Hartley meant England played much of the match with 10 men. Nevertheless, the English dominated throughout and won 4-1, thanks in part to an early own goal from the French defender Pierre Mony – the footballer who got away with murder.
Fast-forward exactly five years, to the night of 15 May 1928. It was 11pm, and Pierre Mony was closing up the restaurant he owned in Boulogne-sur-Mer before going drinking with friends. By then 32 years old, Mony was well-known across the Pas-de-Calais region as the star player of US Boulogne, and remained familiar to football fans throughout the country as a former international. Mony was heading around the corner from his Phénix restaurant, on Rue Victor Hugo, to Popes bar, on the busy Rue Coquelin. But before he left he took out a revolver, loaded it and placed it in his jacket pocket.
Parked in the street outside Popes bar was a Talbot convertible belonging to Mony’s friend, the champion cyclist and Grand Prix motor-racing driver Jean Delpierre. Mony found Delpierre inside the bar, sitting with friends at the counter. Mony said hello and the men ordered drinks and clinked glasses. They laughed and sang together until the bar closed at 1am. Then they decided to go elsewhere for “one last bottle”.
Mony, Delpierre and a third man, Maurice Dagbert, climbed into Delpierre’s car and drove the short distance to the Hotel de la Paix. It was 1.15am, and the hotel doors were closed, so the men rang the bell and stood on the pavement “chatting cheerfully” as they waited to be let in. Dagbert would later say there was absolutely no indication that anything unusual might happen. But, suddenly, Mony pulled the revolver out of his pocket, pointed it at Delpierre and shot his friend four times from close range.
The first bullet pierced Delpierre’s hat, the second hit him in the left arm, the third struck his thigh and the fourth punctured his abdomen. Terribly wounded, Delpierre stumbled into a nearby café, where his bleeding was stemmed with bandages. By the time a doctor arrived, Delpierre was in a dire condition. He was immediately transferred to the Saint-Louis hospital for emergency surgery. Meanwhile, Mony had fled, hurrying to the town’s port, where he threw his jacket and the revolver into the sea.
Pierre Mony was born in Paris in 1886 and came to Boulogne during the First World War as a pilot in the pioneering French air force, the Aéronautique Militaire. Described by his squadron leader as “exceptional”, he was awarded the Médaille militaire for bravery. After the war, Mony studied law, although football was a major distraction.
He played for US Boulogne as one of two full-backs (the only defenders in what was typically a 2-3-5 formation) alongside his younger brother Alexis. Pierre’s cigarette-card portraits from the time show a handsome, clean-shaven chap, with the ubiquitous 1920s slicked-back hairstyle. After Pierre played for a North representative team in a match against a Paris XI, the brothers came to the attention of the national selection committee.
Both Pierre and Alexis made their international debuts against Italy in Milan in January 1920. The sports newspaper La Vie Sportive regarded the selection of the Mony brothers as a sensible choice, saying they played “perfectly” together and were the best defensive pairing around. However, the paper soon had cause to revise that opinion.
In a “mediocre display” France lost 9-4. The Mony brothers (and the goalkeeper Maurice Cottenet) were severely criticised by the French press and spectators. Paris Soir said the Mony brothers had played so poorly that their international careers might be over. Alexis was never chosen to play for his country again. Pierre was selected for the France squad coached by Fred Pentland at the 1920 Olympics, but didn’t get a game.
In 1921, Pierre Mony moved to CASG Paris. CASG won the Coupe de Paris in 1922 and reached the latter stages of the Coupe de France. Mony played well and was recalled to the national team, although Paris Soir suggested this reflected the selection committee’s bias towards Paris-based players, saying, “Would he have regained the committee’s confidence if he had remained quietly in Boulogne-sur-Mer?”
With Mony back in the side, France lost 3-0 to Spain, 4-1 to Belgium, 8-1 to the Netherlands and then, following Mony’s own goal, 4-1 to England. His international record was not impressive: played five; lost five; conceded 28. Mony didn’t play for his country again. He left Paris and returned to Boulogne, first with OSC Boulogne and in 1926 back to US Boulogne. In that same year, he took over the Phénix restaurant on Rue Victor Hugo.
After shooting Delpierre, Mony walked to a friend’s house and asked to be driven to Calais where his wife, Paule, and their daughter were staying with his in-laws. Mony waited in the street outside the in-laws’ house until 6am, then went inside, kissed his daughter and left.
At 6.15, he went to Calais police station and asked to see the commissioner, saying he had “done a bad thing”. The officer on duty told Mony that the commissioner would not come into work before 8am. So Mony took a train back to Boulogne, walked into Boulogne police station, and told them, “Here I am.”
Mony was said to be overcome with emotion as he was questioned. He explained that he suspected Delpierre of having an affair with his wife. As his closest friend, Delpierre spent a lot of time at Mony’s restaurant and was often left alone with Paule. Delpierre and Paule went on outings together and had recently taken a trip to Nice. After the trip, Paule asked Mony for a divorce and took their daughter to Calais. Mony became very depressed – and plotted revenge. He admitted to buying the revolver with the intention of using it. He was charged with the attempted murder, with premeditation, of his supposed best friend.
Jean Delpierre was 10 years older than Mony and was best known locally as a cyclist. He was regarded as the “champion of the north”, having won the equivalent of the Tour du Nord. But he was also a motor-racing driver, selected by Peugeot to race in the 1913 French Grand Prix at Amiens. Delpierre was photographed sitting in Peugeot’s EX3 car ahead of the race. He was moustachioed, with centre-parted hair, and wore a slight – perhaps nervous – smile. Unfortunately, Delpierre crashed the EX3 into a ditch during his first lap and was forced to retire. This indignity, plus the onset of war, put an end to his sporting career. He became a forwarding agent involved in the transportation of horses and spent his evenings drinking in the bars of Boulogne.
Now lying in Saint-Louis hospital, Delpierre was in a critical condition. He had undergone major abdominal surgery and was suffering from peritonitis. Delpierre died on the following day, May 17, at 5pm. Mony, on hearing the news, expressed his “keenest sorrow”. The charge was upgraded to murder.
Pierre Mony was tried on 2 October 1928 in Arras, in a cramped civil court, as the criminal court had been damaged during the war and had not yet been repaired. The public gallery was packed with a smartly dressed crowd that was said to include every sportsman from Boulogne to Calais, all of whom “wore nervous masks”. Journalists from Paris fought with local reporters over the eight available press seats.
The President of the Court advised the gallery that it was likely to hear some scandalous details and invited the “good company of ladies” present to leave the room. All but one of the ladies remained in their seats.
When Mony entered the courtroom, after five months in prison, those who knew him were shocked by his aged and emaciated appearance. He wore an expression of terror on his face and stared straight ahead, “as if under a dizzy spell”.
When he eventually spoke, Mony told the court, in faltering words, that he regretted his “act of madness” which had been driven by jealousy. His restaurant was frequented by a group of friends who were often “over familiar” with Paule. “It offended me greatly,” said Mony.
Mony had taken the revolver with the intention of confronting Delpierre. But why, the court asked, had Mony ended up drinking, laughing – and even singing – with him? The song the men had sung, it was explained, was “Manon”, from the comic opera of the same name about a deceived husband and an unfaithful wife. Restaurant regulars had nicknamed Paule Mony “Manon”.
“I sang bitterly, because they were mocking me,” said Mony, “I was well aware of that.” Later that night, as the men stood outside the Hotel de la Paix, Delpierre made a jibe about “Manon”. It was this final insult that caused Mony to fire the revolver. “I saw red,” said Mony. “Yes, I saw red.”
The court called 18 witnesses, the most anticipated of whom was Paule Mony. Many of those in the gallery showed great sympathy for Pierre and hostility towards Paule. The press also seemed happy to cast Paule as the villain of the piece, with L’Echo describing her as “the real culprit”. “Will she show any pity for the man who died because of her,” the paper wondered, “or for the man who, after all, killed out of love for her?”
Taking the stand, a tearful Paule denied having an affair with Delpierre. “I’ve been besmirched!” she said. “It’s shameful!” Paule described her husband as “an immoral, lazy, brutal man.” She admitted she had taken the trip to Nice with Delpierre, but said that was because her husband neglected her. “He left me free to follow my own inclinations and I let him follow his, that’s all!”
It was noted by the President of the Court that, while Paule may have had a weakness for other men, Pierre had a similar predilection for other women. Several witnesses testified to his apparent infidelities. But the sympathy in the courtroom remained with Pierre.
The closing arguments included a lengthy and “stirring” defence speech. At 2.35am, 14 hours after the trial had begun, the members of the jury were sent out to deliberate. They returned shortly afterwards and, when asked if Pierre Mony was guilty of murder, replied, “Non”.
Mony was acquitted. The crowd, which had stayed until the end, cheered. Mony, the colour draining from his face, collapsed onto the desk in front of him, seemingly unable to believe the outcome.
The footballer had got away with murder, but his reputation was in pieces. Newspaper columnists said Mony’s sporting fame had been allowed to obscure the brutality of Delpierre’s killing.
“He enjoyed the sunny glory of football stadiums and realised the dreams of thousands of teenagers,” said Le Journal. “Handsome, brave and rich, Mony seemed to have a happy life. And then he killed his ‘best friend’. All was lost in a foolish act and Pierre Mony is a ruined man.”
Thanks to Julie Abrami for assistance with translation of sources.