For stamp collectors in France, the year 1937 began with growing excitement over the country’s largest stamp event in a decade, the Exposition Philatélique Internationale to be held in Paris, June 18-27.
France’s first stamp of the year was released in January, to publicize the International Ski Meet in the commune of Chamonix-Mount Blanc. Skiers from 17 nations competed on the alpine slopes that played host to the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
Much of France was in mourning that year. Late in 1936, beloved aviator Jean Mermoz was lost on a flight off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. He had radioed in reporting engine problems with his Latécoère 300 Croix-du-Sud, and the wreckage was never found.
Mermoz was an air mail pilot, who flew for La Compagnie Générale Aéropostale. A set of two stamps was released to honor him.
In Paris, a street that connects the Champs Elysées and rue Saint-Honoré has been named after him.
This street is not far Le Grand Palais, site of the 1937 PEXIP stamp show. Collectors who had a ticket and attended were able to buy a special souvenir sheet, on sale only at the show’s post office, where all the mail processed was given a special hexagonal cancel.
The 1937 PEXIP souvenir sheet contains four stamps with the classic Ceres design of the first French stamps, released in 1849-50. The design was modified and brought back again in 1938.
But the excitement in Paris that summer over the nation’s largest stamp show in a decade was overshadowed by a bizarre murder.
Just a few weeks before the show opened, passengers who boarded a Métro train in the Porte Dorée saw a woman slumped in her seat, leaning against the window. In her neck was an eight-inch stiletto, buried to its hilt.
Nobody witnessed the murder of Laetitia Toureaux, an Italian immigrant later described as both beautiful and elusive. Nobody was seen leaving the train.
It was the first ever murder on the Paris Métro, and while speculation abounds, the case has never been solved.
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