BRETIGNY-sur-Orge, PARIS – FRANCE.
To the outside world, David Bisson didn’t exist, a boy the world almost forgot about entirely. Until his escape there was almost no evidence he had ever been born. When he was discovered after eight years of being locked away, he became known in the French press as “The Cupboard Boy.”
Lead up to Crime
Françoise Bisson was born into a large family. Her mother was a peasant woman, and her father a hopeless alcoholic who left early on. She always had a guarded personality, impenetrable, someone who never quite understood their place in the world and unprepared to let the world in. Her temper saw her fight constantly with her mother, and at age 14 Françoise left home to start a new life in Paris.
While working as a train stewardess on the sleeper cars, she met a singer and soon became pregnant. He would abandon her, leaving her with only six hundred francs and herself to rely on. She didn’t stop working while expecting. On May 29, 1970, she hopped off the train in the French town of Angers, went to the hospital and gave birth to David. She left him with a maternity nurse and went back to work.
David spent the first four years of his life in a series of foster homes, where he fondly remembers seaside trips and a kindly old woman. One day his mother came to collect him. She had since settled in with a new man — who David assumed was his father — and had given birth to a second son. David put up a fight as she tried to remove him from foster care. He had no previous memory of her, and felt an instant fearful sense of mistrust.
The reunited family lived in a small third-floor apartment in Neuilly-sur-Marne, France, all sleeping in the same room. During the first year Françoise stayed at home to look after her new baby, and during this time David’s beatings began. The beatings would often relate to food, as David had trouble swallowing. He also held a continual silence towards his mother, rarely speaking to her. Françoise’s hair-trigger temper saw him punished often, forced to kneel on a metal bar for hours with his nose against the wall. She hit him for no reason, removed his bed, and locked him in a bathroom for days on end.
David told a girl at a child-minder’s house about the abuse happening at home. He never saw the child-minder or her daughter again. At four-and-a-half-years-old his mother bound his hands and feet, and locked him in the dark bathroom.
David Bisson was chained to a pipe between the sink and the toilet. The shutters were closed, the door locked, and he lost all contact with the outside world. He experienced almost daily beatings at the hands of his mother, mad with a volatile rage, which his stepfather, Claude Bedside, ignored. He was fed leftovers and fruit. On weekends he would be untied as the family went away on holidays, leaving him behind.
His family continued to use the bathroom as usual, while David faced the wall, chained. He remained perfectly still as they went about their daily ablutions, Françoise and Claude even had sex in the bathroom on one occasion, pretending he wasn’t there.
David received cold baths and wore little clothing. His half-brother, Laurent, was showered in gifts, took hot bubble baths, and played with toys. Laurent went to school, had friends over to play and celebrated birthdays and Christmases with the family, all while David remained chained to the pipe.
Françoise constantly argued with Claude, but she saved the worst for David. With his hands and feet bound, she lowered him head first into the bath or the flushing toilet. She set his hair on fire, and plunged his hands into boiling water, causing third-degree burns that would leave his fingers webbed. She burnt him with cigarettes, and forced him to eat his own vomit when he couldn’t keep his food down. David hid apple seeds behind the toilet, pretending they were cars as he played with them on the side of the bath. When his mother found them she beat him with a stiletto until his skull was exposed.
A fire broke out in the building and it was evacuated. David was left chained inside the apartment as his family fled. Fire fighters put out the flames, but David was not discovered.
On a rare occasion when Claude had friends over, Françoise considered hiding David in the basement, but instead took him for a walk. It was a brief interval. He remembers laughing with her, and seeing cars and planes. That night the beatings resumed.
At age nine he was moved from the bathroom and chained to his parent’s bed. He was forced to remain kneeling at the end of their bed, to scared to sleep even while they did. They hid him under the mattress while they had sex above.
David made an escape in August 1980 by scaling down wall from the third floor. As he was climbing out the window he heard a key turn in the front door. He fell and crashed through a garage roof. He was spotted by neighbours and taken to the police. After a month in hospital he was returned home.
The family moved to Bretigny-sur-Orge in July 1981, transporting David in the car under blankets. He was locked in a dark cupboard and forgotten about. He spent up to four days without food at a time. While David was locked in the cupboard he would listen to children playing in the nearby playground. “I often thought of death, but I didn’t want to die.” He remained hidden there for a year, until one summer day Françoise forgot to lock the apartment door.
On August 19, 1982, David stepped out of the cupboard, and dressed himself in a jacket and large tennis shoes. He collected loose change, opened the door, and walked outside. He planned to go to his grandma’s house, not realising she lived two hundred kilometres (125 miles) away.
He wandered the streets, terrified at the sound of every car, thinking it might be his parents. He hid in a garden, curled up under some bushes.
“Is he dead? What’s going on?” a group of people wondered.
“Don’t send me back home . . .” said David.
After years of silence, David began to tell his story, about the bathroom, the cupboard, and the abuse at the hands of his mother. He was taken to the police station, then to the hospital. It was only because of the work of a young constable that the truth was discovered. David did not exist on public records. Neighbours did not know of his existence, even though they knew of his half-brother who also lived in the house. He was a boy everyone had forgotten about.
David appeared to have the body of a six year old, even though he was now 12. Soon the media arrived and David’s story awakened the attention of France. He received public donations of toys.
Laurent was on holiday when David escaped. Both boys were placed in homes by Social Services. His parents were arrested.
David was 15 when his parents went to trial in 1985. When Françoise saw her son, she kissed him. Laurent pleaded with David to write a letter to the judge so the court would show leniency towards their parents. David obliged and their parents received a lighter sentence, but Laurent soon all but forgot he had a brother and abandoned David.
A year after his escape David saw Françoise in prison, she refused to see a psychiatrist, and at trial never admitted to her actions.
Françoise and Claude were jailed for seven years, and broke up while in prison. Françoise was released early towards the end of 1987.
David went to school, but remained self-conscious about his disfigured hands. He went through a rebellious phase and expressed bouts of violence. He stayed in homes until he was 20 and gained employment in restaurants.
David was always fond of his grandmother, but during an argument she yelled: “But you’re nothing but a bastard.” It was the same thing she thought of his mother, her own daughter. He didn’t see her after that.
When David felt comfortable he asked his mother about her past — their past. Keeping true to her usual closed-off nature, she move house without telling anyone, never answering his questions. David learned to forgive her. He married and had two children. He enjoys life’s little freedoms. In the past he has occasionally spoken to French media and advocates for other abused children.
The dark brings back memories of his time locked away, so he sleeps with the light on, and can’t stand to be locked away. Françoise Bisson has since died. David Bisson now shuns all media attention and dislikes travelling in public. He is considered disabled because of his experience, but enjoys his life of freedom.
David lives in Paris, a thin figure with deep blue eyes. His memoir is titled L’Enfant Derriere La Porte – The Boy Behind the Door. The book is now out of print, but can be found on seller sites for rare books. The French edition is on Amazon.co.uk.
By David Phoebe