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Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 21:38 GMT
France's gentleman criminal bows out

Traction avant Citroen Rene and his gang drove a black Citroen


By Stephen Jessel in Paris

One of France's most legendary criminals of the post-war era, Rene Girier - known as Rene "la Canne" or Rene the Walking-Stick - has died at the age of 80.

One of France's best-known and best-loved criminals, he started his career young in the 1930s.

During World War Two he found himself in Germany, where his criminal activities attracted the attentions of the Gestapo, who sent him to a concentration camp.

On the way there he escaped but was wounded in the leg. For the rest of his life he limped and used a walking-stick.

Robbing the rich

After the war, he and his fellow criminals - among them "Mad Pierrot" - with their favourite black Citroen, robbed banks, jewellers and armoured vans almost at will, defying the police.


Princess Charlotte of Monaco Princess Charlotte took Rene Girier under her wing
His fellow criminals used weapons but he did not, and he always said he was a kind of Robin Hood figure, robbing only the rich.

He was caught repeatedly, though he often avoided a conviction by pleading insanity.

When he was convicted and sent to prison, he usually escaped - a total of 11 times.

Eventually he was captured by an old police foe who confessed to a certain affection for him, and at that point Princess Charlotte of Monaco took him under her wing and won his release.

Rene became her chauffeur - but the relationship cooled.

Still, he kept his word to her that he had given up crime and moved to the northern French town of Reims where he passed the last years of his life in blameless obscurity.

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