Jacques René Mesrine was born in Clichy, France in a middle-class family. He was expelled from two schools due to aggressive behavior. He was briefly married 1955-1956 and served in the French Army during Algerian War of Independence. In 1959 he returned to France.
Mesrine was arrested for the first time in 1962 with three accomplices before an attempt to rob a bank. He had been a professional criminal for years at that time. He was sentenced for 18 months in prison and was released 1963. He got a job in an architectural design company but was fired in the next downsizing in 1964. He went back to his old tricks.
In 1966 Mesrine opened a restaurant in Canary Islands but by November 1967 he was robbing a hotel in Chamonix. February 1968 he fled to Canada with his mistress and worked briefly as a chauffeur. After an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt they fled to USA but were arrested in Arkansas and extradited back to Canada.
Mesrine was sentenced to ten years in prison for kidnapping but escaped in 1972 with five others. He began to rob banks in Montreal, two at the same day, as was his style - with an accomplice Jean-Paul Mercier. On the 3rd of September they failed in an attempt to help three others to escape from the same prison they had been in. A week later they murdered two forest rangers. By the end of the year they moved to Venezuela with two mistresses in tow. Mercier later returned to Canada.
In 1972 Mesrine was back in France and robbing banks. March 1973 Mesrine was briefly arrested but he fled during the sentencing in court, taking a judge as a hostage. Four months later he was arrested again from his new apartment in Paris. When he was locked in La Santé jail, he wrote L'Instinct de Mort ("The Death Instinct"), an autobiography of sorts and had it smuggled out. May 8, 1978 he escaped with three other convicts, though the police had shot one of them. The escape was a scandal in France.
Mesrine made burglaries, jewelry shop and bank robberies, kidnappings and arms smuggling. He also killed many people, including noncooperative pimps – he boasted about 39 murders in total. He was good with disguises, earning him a nickname of "The Man of a Hundred faces". Some claim that French right-wing terrorist group OAS supplied him with false ID papers.
Some of the press seemed to have regarded him as a romantic rogue at the time. He even gave press interviews where he tried to convince people that his kidnapping and robberies were politically motivated. He was very interested about his own publicity - he almost killed French journalist Jacques Tillier because he did not like his articles about him [03-08-17 precision from a reader: Tillier was a former Directorate of Territorial Security cop and wrote slanderous articles in the far-right newspaper 'Minute'].
The French Minister of the Interior had had enough and forced police departments to unify their efforts to track Mesrine down. On November 2, 1979 they had found out where he lived and made their move. At Porte de Clignancourt, on the limits of the city of Paris, a truck loaded with armed policemen veered before his BMW and police sharpshooters shot 19 rounds through the windshield. French police announced the operation as a success and president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing congratulated the police. Afterwards there were complaints that Mesrine was not given any warning, that the police did not act in self-defense, and thus that Mesrine was assassinated by the police.