Papillon: Escape Artist or Con Man?
Of all the prisoners who did hard time on Île du Diable (Devil's Island), only Alfred Dreyfus, the Frenchman wrongly convicted of treason in 1894, achieved anything near the fame of Henry Charrière, who became known – or notorious – for his epic tale of nine remarkable escapes from French Guiana's infamous prison camps. Nicknamed Papillon (Butterfly) for a tattoo on his chest, Charrière claims in his autobiography that after being wrongly convicted of murder he escaped from the Îles du Salut by floating toward the mainland on a sack full of coconuts and braving harsh malarial jungles to flee eastward. Fashioning himself into an international man of mystery living among native villagers, he eventually became a Venezuelan citizen and was portrayed by Steve McQueen in a Hollywood version of his life. His published story is widely believed to be a compilation of his own adventures and stories he heard about other convicts' escapades while he was in prison.