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1979, April: Francina Illeus, aka Ti-Femme

Francina Illeus, aka 'Ti-Femme'
Francina Illeus, circa 1980 [larger version here]

In 1976, thirty-year-old Francina Illeus, a market-woman, entered the Saint Michel de l'Attalaye Hospital, in Haiti, apparently suffering from digestive problems; she was dizzy and weak. The doctors treated her stomach problem then released her... but a few days later, on February 23, she was pronounced dead in her home in Savanee Carée. She was buried in the local cemetery.

        Three years later, in April 1979, Illeus' mother was summoned to the Ennery marketplace, about 9KM south of Savanee Carée, by the women who worked there; a strange, pale and very thin woman had been found squatting in the market, her head bowed down; and Illeus' mother confirmed their suspicians... it was in fact her daughter, Francina Illeus, who had been buried three years earlier.

        The strange woman was also reported to the Americans at the Baptist mission in Passe Reine (about 9km south of Ennery), and the missionary's wife, Jay Ausherman, traveled to Ennery to investigate... and found herself in a unique situation. Illeus' mother and family were refusing to take the returned woman in, and no one else wanted to be responsible for her. Illeus was largely unresponsive, and did not appear able to care for herself; but she did respond to an old nickname, "Ti-Femme" ("small woman"), when Ausherman came to examine her. A local judge, faced with a legally dead person that wasn't wanted by her family or village, agreed to give Ausherman legal custody of the apparent zombie.

        When word of the incident reached Dr. Lemarque Douyon at the Centre de Psychiatrie et Neurologie Mars-Kline in Port-au-Prince, he drove out to Passe Reine to investigate; Douyon had personally investigated all public reports of zombies since 1961, so his interest was keen. Eventually, Illeus was transferred to his clinic in Port-au-Prince so he could both examine her and try to bring her out of whatever mental state she was in. It was clear that she was thin from a lack of food, but she had also showed signs of psychomotor retardation.

        When Illeus was found, her grave had been checked; her coffin was found full of rocks. Douyon checked her death certificate and found it had been filled and signed off by a local official in the area of Savanee Carée, not by a doctor. Whatever she had experienced in the three years she was missing, Illeus was now very much withdrawn and unresponsive, and her memories of the period, when she could be coaxed to talked about it -- only Mrs. Ausherman or Dr. Douyon were able to get her to discuss the topic -- were very limited. She initially found walking difficult, and never fully regained her mental functions.

Why was she Zombified?

       In 1980, anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis was sent to Haiti to try and identify the chemical agent that was suspected of being used to imitate death in people being turned into zombies. Part of this investigation involved him finding out more about some of the people who were believed to be recoved zombies; specifically, he wanted to know why they had been turned into zombies.

        Initially questions regarding Francina Illeus when she was found brought out the idea that she had been zombified by a man whom she had rejected as a husband. Her marriage with him had been arranged by her mother, but Illeus instead had a child with another man; since the proposed husband to be was a bokor, it seemed obvious that he had turned her into a zombie for rejecting him.

        Davis found that the situation was not so simple. The story, as presented, masked the fact that Illeus' mother was terribly angered by her daughter's rejection of the man chosen for her. It also left out that the market she frequented as a market woman was not friendly to her either. Illeus was concidered a thief and was untrusted by everyone in the market; she was also considered very rough and rude, and frequently flew into rages over small matters. Illeus' mother herself was accused of aranging for her to be zombified but the more likely truth is that both her family and the village she worked in as a market-woman probably made the arrangements for her to be made a zombie. After she was zombified, she was given to the husband her family had picked for her. She had three children by him while she was a zombie, and all three died.

        When examined in 1980, it was noted that while she seemed to be alert, she also appeared to have no sense of time. She was slow to respond, could recognize some people she knew before her 'death,' but could not remember her age. Her responses lacked all emotion, and she seemed to have no particular feelings toward her daughter Josiane, born previous to Illeus' 'death'. It's clear that her strange experience had left her emotionally scarred and mentally and physically disabled.