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11 March 2012

Amelia Gourlay (183? - 1871) soldier, thief, murderer.

Georges Michande was a soldier with the Chasseurs d’Afrique in the early 1860s. He was noted as a barrack-room entertainer, and also as a thief. He was also fluent in Arabic. Eventually he strangled a sergeant and disappeared with the regimental pay. It was assumed that he perished in the desert, but there was a rumour that he seduced an Algerian dancing girl, murdered her and took her clothes. As a dancing girl Michande proceeded to Algiers, and from there to France. In Paris Michande became Amelia Gourlay and made a living as a singer.

In 1865, Jacques Letoard, a young bank clerk stole a large amount of money which he converted to £1,000 (£75,000 in modern money) and back again to Francs so that it could not be traced. During a taxi ride his tall, fair female companion popped out to enter a café. She never came back and the driver discovered that M. Letoard was dead, strangled.

Two years later, an elderly Italian named Corso arrived at a hotel in Lyons with a tall dark lady. The next morning the gentleman was found strangled, and the lady and his money had disappeared.

In May 1870, some weeks before the outbreak of war, Amelia was arrested on suspicion of soliciting. As she was unable to give a satisfactory account of herself, more enquiries were made and eventually she was identified as George Michande. The woman sought after the deaths of Letoard and Corso was not found in that Amelia had reverted to her male persona. Despite the disruptions caused by the Prussian siege and occupation, she was obliged to revert again to being Michande and was executed by guillotine.
  • “George Michande. The Miscreant who lived as a Woman in order to Rob and Murder”. London Life, March 4th, 1916: 6. Reprinted in Peter Farrer. Cross Dressing between the Wars: Selections from London Life, 1923-1933. Garston: Karn, 2000: 236-8.

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