Once upon a time, there were five Zemour brothers. Known as the "Z" gang, they gained notoriety in the 1960s and '70s as "godfathers" of the Paris underworld. Today only one brother is left to tell the tale.
This morning the remains of brother No. 4, Gilbert, were laid to rest next to those of three senior members of the clan. Shot to death last week as he walked his four French poodles near the Eiffel Tower, Gilbert fell on a trail of violent death that the Zemours followed from North Africa to Europe to the United States.
Among the 50 or so people who attended Gilbert's burial at a Jewish cemetery in Paris was the surviving brother, 55-year-old Andre, who recently left the French island of Martinique for an undisclosed destination. Surrounded by bodyguards in dark glasses, he seemed rather nervous as he glanced around at the several dozen photographers clicking away with their cameras.
A rabbi who spoke at the funeral described Gilbert as a good family man, the loving father of two children. He did not mention Gilbert's career.
The saga of the rise and fall of the Zemours, who fled to France to escape the war in Algeria in the late 1950s, reads like a script for a "B" movie--which in fact it became as "Le Grand Pardon." One by one, the brothers took over leadership of the gang, which, the police said, specialized in gambling, protection rackets, and prostitution.
One by one, they were bumped off.
The first of the "Z"s to arrive in Paris was Roland. He tried to set up a prostitution ring and was killed by a rival pimp in 1957, not far from the Champs Elysees. Despite this, the other Zemours chose France as a refuge in 1959.
In the '60s, the Zemours prospered. Using the garment trade as a base for their operations, they offered "protection" to Jewish shopkeepers, first in Montmartre and then in the rest of Paris. When gang warfare for control of gambling in the city broke out, they emerged on top. In the process, however, they became a subject of interest to the police.
Brother No. 2, William, was shot to death by Paris police in February 1975 during a raid on a Left Bank bar. He had gone there to discuss a cease-fire with rivals, a clan of Sicilians, after 16 gangland killings in less than a year.
That left brother No. 3, Edgar, as head of the gang. The most flamboyant of the five, he was called "Dapper Eddie" and was known for his fashionable clothes, expensive cars and string of girlfriends. He took care to cultivate this image.
When "Le Grand Pardon" came out several years ago, "Dapper Eddie" seemed to enjoy the publicity. But in an interview with the magazine Le Point, he criticized the film for several "inaccuracies," including a scene in which a gang member has the audacity to talk to his boss about girls.
"Impossible," insisted Eddie. "With a real boss, he would have been dead even before he opened his mouth."
Asked about the possibility of gang warfare breaking out afresh, he replied: "You know, I've been to too many funerals. I want to go to marriages now."
Edgar's own funeral took place in April. He was shot to death by a sniper at his fashionable home in Miami, and his body was returned to France for burial next to his brothers.
Soon after Edgar's funeral, Gilbert gave an interview to the magazine Paris Match in which he rashly promised to investigate the murder himself. "I will do what I have to do," he said. Some investigators believe that comment might have been his death warrant.
Despite the gossip that has surrounded them, none of the "Z" brothers spent more than short periods in prison for relatively minor crimes such as carrying weapons or procuring. They all denied involvement in the drug business and, on that score at least, police tend to believe them.
Gilbert, who spent much of the past decade fighting a legal battle against the police for killing his brother William, insisted that the family did not deserve its reputation.
"There was no Zemour clan," he told Paris Match. "It was simply an invention of police and journalists."