Michel Fourniret, Serial Killer.
By Rachael Bell.
In May 2004, just as Belgium magistrates were wrapping up the high-profile pedophile murder case involving the notorious Marc Dutroux , a new pedophile murder case garnered international attention. Belgian prosecutors revealed that French carpenter and known pedophile Michel Fourniret , 62, confessed to murdering six people. Fourniret claimed that his victims were not exclusively children but also included young women and a man.
On June 30 Expatica.com wrote, " Fourniret's confession came shortly after his wife Monique Olivier denounced her husband to police, saying he was responsible for � nine murders in France and Belgium." The article further stated that Olivier came forward after seeing convicted pedophile Marc Dutroux's wife get sentenced to 30 years in prison for "trying to cover up her murderer husband's crimes."
At the time Fourniret confessed to the murders, he was already serving time in a Belgian jail for trying to abduct a 13-year-old Congolese girl. During his confession to police, he admitted to murdering Marie-Ascension Kirombo , 13, Elisabeth Brichet , 12, Natacha Danais , 13, Isabelle Laville , 17, Jeanne-Marie Desramault , 22, and Farida Hellegouache , age unknown. On July 1, 2004, Expatica.com wrote that Fourniret had denied the three other murders his wife claimed he committed, which included Celine Saison, 18, and Manyana Thumpong , 13, who disappeared repsectivley in the French Ardennes in May 2000 and in 2001 and were later found in unmarked graves. Another victim that Olivier claims her husband murdered although he denied it, is the couple's former au pair who remains unidentified but is believed to have been 16 and of Belgian origin. Olivier claimed that she "came home to find her husband and the babysitter naked and that he strangled the young girl to silence her."
French Ardennes on map.
Olivier told police that she was not involved in any of the crimes, although she was aware of them. Expatica.com reported that when her husband told her he was "going out to hunt," she "knew it meant he was looking for another victim." Fourniret allegedly would drive around � looking for potential victims. When he would spot a vulnerable woman or young girl he would lure her to his car, rape and then later kill her.
Even though Olivier claimed to have not been involved in the abductions and murders, police believed that she played a vital role. An article in The Independent by John Lichfield reported that Olivier "later accompanied by her baby son, Selim , were often used as bait to put potential victims at ease." Once the victims were abducted, Lichfield said that Fourniret would order Olivier to watch him rape and kill them. � Olivier was eventually arrested for assisting in the kidnappings and failing to help the victims.
On July 1, 2004, Fourniret finally admitted to police that he murdered Celine Saison and Manyana Thumpong , although he continued to deny the murder of his former au pair. Moreover, he claimed to have robbed and shot an unidentified man at a French highway rest stop. His confessions brought the total number of confirmed victims to nine. Police suspected that Fourniret was likely responsible for many more deaths not only in Belgium and France but also in other European countries.
Expatica.com reported that from early on in the investigation, Dutch police revealed that they were trying to establish a link between Fourniret and several unsolved disappearances and murders in the province of Limburg. The cases bore many similarities to those in which Fourniret was known to have been involved. Moreover, he was known to have visited the area around the times of the disappearances and murders.
Police in Denmark, Germany and Austria are also conducting investigations into Fourniret , who is believed to have possibly murdered young girls and women in their countries. So far there is no evidence tying him to these particular � crimes.
Several years before his 2003 arrest by Belgian police, French authorities already had a long criminal file on Fourniret . Expatica.com pointed out in a July 1, 2004, article that in 1987, a French court sentenced him to seven years in prison "for rape and indecent assault on minors." However, he was free after serving only two years for good behavior and because "of the length of time he had spent in custody."
AP's Paul Ames reported that following his release Fourniret moved to Belgium and took a temporary job in a school lunchroom. Over the years, he worked at a series of other jobs, yet was unable to hold a position for long. It is not unusual for a serial killer to have difficulty keeping a job. Searching for victims � often takes precedence over the routine of every day work.
Lichfield reported that Fourniret had "a string of convictions for sexual assault and rape" dating back to the 1960s. Moreover, a July 6, 2004, Exaptica.com article suggested that he had been arrested, possibly for sexual offenses, on four separate occasions between 1996 and 2001 and released each time due to lack of evidence. Lichfield also stated that Fourniret confessed to murdering women and girls "between 1987 and 1990 and in more recent years," yet denied killing anyone between 1990 and 2000.
Michel Fourniret in custody.
Fourniret claimed that during his alleged "active" periods, which added up to five years in total, he murdered 2 girls a year. If his story is correct then his total number of victims would be 10, which is 2 more than what he confessed to. Conversely, police believe that he murdered 2 girls a year over a 15-year period, which would bring the number of victims to approximately 30. The exact number of women he murdered may never be known, but some believe that there could have been up to 40 or more victims.
According to Lichfield , Fourniret targeted mostly virgins. He � claimed that when Fourniret went hunting and knew he would bring back a girl or woman, he would dig a three-meter deep grave in advance. Some of the graves were dug on his property in the French Ardennes, which he bought shortly after his release from prison. The money he used to buy the property was allegedly stolen from one of his victims.
Fourniret's château. Police searching the area for bodies.
While Fourniret was serving time in a French prison, he met fellow inmate Pierre Hellegouache . Paul Ames claimed that Pierre was involved in the "far-left militant group Action Directe , which was responsible for a series of bomb attacks in France during the 1980s." On July 3, 2004 Expatica.com reported that Fourniret learned that the group's "war chest" of some $30,000 worth of gold coins was being held by Pierre's wife, Farida . When Fourniret was released from jail, he tracked Farida down, stole the cache of money and then murdered her. Ames stated that the money was used to buy 32 acres of land in Donchery which housed an 18th century castle. Shortly after his confession, Fourniret and his wife led police on a search of his property to look for some of the bodies he buried there.
On July 3, 2004 Fourniret and Olivier led police to two separate areas of ground on the couple's property where 12-year-old Elisabeth Brichet and French student Jeanne-Marie Desramault were buried. According to Associated Press' Verena von Derschau's , both young women had gone missing in 1989. After a brief search, police located and unearthed their partially preserved remains. An Expatica.com article stated that, "when the bodies were disinterred, Fourniret showed no emotion."
It is unclear whether there are other victims buried in the area. Yet, on July 6, 2004 Expatica.com suggested that Fourniret confessed to throwing the body of 17-year-old Isabelle Laville into a well. The well is thought to be located on or near to the property. Lichfield reported that Olivier and Fourniret abducted Laville as she was walking home from school in Auxerre, France, before being raped and murdered.
Olivier also informed police where to find the body of the couple's former au pair, which she said was located in the garden of their previous house in southern Belgium, near the French border. However, a search of the two areas that Olivier identified revealed no bodies. Even though investigators were frustrated, they said they would continue to search for the girl's body at a later period, when more details to her exact location are known. If the girl's body � is ever found, it would bring the total number of Fourniret's known victims to 10. Despite the lack of evidence, Fourniret has been charged with her murder.
Police at Michel Fourniret's home.
Many of the families of the murder victims are angered that Fourniret was not caught earlier. They believe that had he served his entire seven-year sentence, there would have been far fewer murders. Moreover, had they been alerted to the fact that a pedophile rapist lived in their region they would have had the chance to take precautionary measures that could have possibly prevented the deaths of their loved ones.
Expatica.com quoted French prosecutor Yves Charpenel in a July 8, 2004, article saying that at the time Fourniret was released from prison "there were no laws to ensure the traceability of sexual offenders, so in my view there were no failures of the system, given the judicial context at the time." Since then new laws have been passed which make it obligatory to follow-up on sexual delinquents and a national registry of sexual offenders will likely be instated in late 2004. However, what is also of great importance is establishing better communication and co-operation among EU police forces so that criminals who commit cross-border crimes can be more easily tracked and prevented from committing more crimes.
On August 3, 2004, Expatica.com reported France recently issued a European arrest warrant asking Belgium to hand Fourniret over to French authorities because � the vast majority of his crimes were committed in their country. Yet, Belgium refused to give Fourniret over until they were finished questioning him over the murders committed in their region. French authorities were then forced to go to the prison in Nivelles , Belgium, to interview the man whom many refer to as the "Ogre of the Ardennes." One of the cases investigators were anxious to question Fourniret about was that involving the murder of a young girl named Joanna fourteen years earlier.
On the morning of May 17, 1990, Patrice Bardot, an unemployed garbage collector, traveled from his home in the French village of Mon � teau to the nearby Yonne River for a day of fishing. Not long after he arrived he noticed something floating in the water. Initially, he believed it was a bobbing barrel, but as he drew nearer he was shocked to � see it was a nude human body.
Bardot immediately flagged down a woman jogging on a nearby path and alerted her of the gruesome find. The jogger then ran to a cafe where the police were called. The authorities soon arrived and conducted what would later be considered a terribly bungled investigation.
The police cornered off a small section of land close to where the body was found and began searching for clues. However, investigators ignored a large portion of the surrounding area, most of which had been trampled by police, emergency personnel, onlookers and vehicles. According to an Expatica.com article by Graham Tearse , the secured area was "released to the public just several hours later" and the following day it was further trampled by children on a field trip. Had there been any evidence, it was likely lost from the contamination of the crime scene.
The body was withdrawn from the river and taken to a nearby hospital for identification and autopsy. The woman was identified as 20-year-old Joanna Parrish, who was from Gloucestershire, England. Joanna was enrolled in a modern languages work/study program at Leeds University and took a position as an assistant English teacher at a secondary school in the nearby town of Auxerre . She was working on a bachelor's degree in modern languages at Leeds University. At the time of her death she was only one week away from completing her posting.
An autopsy revealed that Joanna had been drugged, tied up, raped, beaten and strangled before being dumped into the river. It was suspected that her body had been in the water only several hours prior to it being found. Even though the body was discarded in broad daylight, police were unable to find any witnesses. They believed that whoever murdered Joanna was probably familiar with the area and could have even resided in the immediate vicinity. Yet, police were unable to produce any suspects.
According to Tearse , Joanna had a friend named Janet visiting from Canada around the time of her death. Janet claimed that Joanna placed an advertisement in a local newspaper offering English lessons. She planned to use the money to fund a holiday trip with her fianc � .
Investigators learned that a local man responded to Joanna's ad by phone and was interested in hiring her to teach his teenage son. They made arrangements to meet at 7 p.m. on May 16 at the town square in Auxerre . Tearse suggested that on that day, Janet joined Joanna on her trip into town and they walked around for a while before they separated at about 6:30 p.m.
Joanna went to meet the man at the town square. It was the last time Janet ever saw her again. Tearse said that Joanna never told Janet the name of the man she was planning to meet.
Several weeks after her body was discovered, Joanna was buried in Gloucestershire. Her parents, Roger and Pauline, went to Auxerre and hired a lawyer to assist them in gaining access to information � about the � case from the magistrate and the police detectives. They wanted to closely follow the investigation, hoping that it would eventually lead to the apprehension of their daughter's murderer. Their expectations were quickly shattered when they realized how inadequately the case was being handled.
Map: France with Burgundy shown.
At the time, Roger and Pauline didn't know that their daughter's murder was not an isolated case. In fact, there were many unsolved murders and disappearances in the Burgundy region, most of which were grossly mismanaged, completely ignored and even discarded. Many suspected that high-level officials were trying to cover up the fact that Burgundy had an unusually high murder rate for such a tiny province. It was something that could not be hidden for long.
The investigation into Joanna's death was bungled from the beginning. The crime scene was turned into a forensic disaster. Moreover, much of the information gathered during the investigation was kept from Joanna's family, who desperately tried to learn what advances were being made in the case.
Tearse suggested that during a British inquest into Joanna's murder, critical evidence was discovered that was ignored or overlooked by French coroners. He claimed that a second autopsy, conducted by the British, revealed several bite marks on Joanna's body. From a forensic standpoint, bite marks are vital clues that can reveal information about the killer because teeth, bite and jaw formations are individually unique and can be easily matched. The revelation shocked Joanna's parents who couldn't comprehend how something so obvious and important could have gone unnoticed.
Joanna (right) with parents, Burgundy.
During the autopsy, medical examiners were able to obtain sperm samples. It took two years for the samples to be analyzed, but the results led to a genetic print. The DNA evidence was one of the biggest clues in the investigation and Roger and Pauline hoped that it would lead investigators to the killer. However, they were not so fortunate.
Tearse said, "investigators refused to call for voluntary DNA tests of the local male population and continued to refuse to make a media appeal for witnesses." It was another blow to the investigation and a major disappointment for Roger and Pauline. Frustrated at the incompetence of police, Joanna's family decided to take measures into their own hands.
Map: Auxerre and Monéteau.
They family offered a reward for information into Joanna's death and handed out leaflets in and around Auxerre and Monéteau. They even appealed to the British government for assistance. Even though they were unsuccessful in getting help from the British government they did manage to get some interesting responses to their leaflets.
Several people offered some information directly concerning Joanna's death. Roger and Pauline eagerly presented the new leads to the French authorities. However, for some unknown reason, the investigators failed to pursue the tips.
The family members of other murdered victims in Burgundy responded to the leaflets. Like Roger and Pauline, they were angered because they also felt as if the investigators were mishandling the cases of their deceased loved ones, including that of Danielle Bernard, 39, Sylvie Baton, 24, and Isabelle Laville, 17 who were murdered near or in Auxerre between 1987 and 1990. Even though years later (2004), Fourniret eventually confessed to Laville's murder, he never admitted to that of Baton, Bernard or Joanna Parrish. At the time, there were no real suspects in the cases or any of the other 13 unsolved murders and disappearances of women in the Auxerre area over the last 30 years.
Roger and Pauline tried to obtain Joanna's case files so they could bring in outside help to assist in the investigation. However, investigators continued to deny them access to the documents. Even though it seemed as if they were battling a lost cause, they refused to give up in their search for evidence.
A Link ?
The Medical-Educational Institute.
Among the 17 girls missing or found murdered were seven pupils from the Medical-Educational Institute, a special needs school for handicapped young women in Auxerre . The girls, 16 to 22 years old, were accounted for in December 2000, when a former bus driver of the school made a startling confession. Emile Louis, 68, admitted to police that he had sex with the seven pupils and then murdered them sometime between 1977 and 1979.
When the girls first began to disappear, the police interviewed Louis because he was known to have a history of sex offenses. However, they did not pursue him for long and eventually he was disregarded as a potential suspect. Eventually, the cases were dropped and the girls were listed as runaways.
Louis continued to drive female pupils to and from school. It is also believed that he continued to rape and kill them indiscriminately. He would not be looked at as a suspect for almost another two decades.
Hugh Schofield's article Mystery of France's Missing Girls suggested that there were similarities between many of the cases. He quoted Corinne Herrmann, a French lawyer and author of the book The Disappeared of the Yonne , stating that the girls were either mentally handicapped, "or like Joanna far from home." Moreover, according to Stuart Jeffries' 2000 article for The Observer , witnesses were able to place Louis near the spots where many of the victims were last seen.
Scene where bodies found.
Louis was caught almost two decades later when his daughter found items in his house belonging to several of the victims. During his confession, Louis told authorities that he buried the girls near the Yonne River. Only the skeletal remains of two girls were ever recovered.
Not long after his admission of guilt, Louis changed his story. He claimed that he was pressured into giving false testimony and that he actually didn't commit the murders. In a January 2002 article in The Guardian by Jon Henley, Louis insisted that "the girls were routinely abused and finally abducted and killed by a nebulous ring of men 'of some standing,' locally and in the region." Not surprisingly, Louis' story was met with skepticism by local investigators.
Louis could not be charged with the murders anyway because under French law it was considered unlawful to convict anyone of a murder 10 years after a crime was committed. According to Jeffries , Louis was instead "convicted for kidnapping, for which there is no statue of limitations." The authorities believed Louis could have been involved in some of the other murder cases, yet there was not enough evidence to convict him.
One thing was for certain: Louis could not have been directly responsible for Joanna's death. At the time of her murder, he was serving a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a minor. Nevertheless, Schofield suggested that a private investigation conducted for 13 years by French police agent Christian Jambert , 56, "clearly established that Louis was linked to all the women." It was believed that he was affiliated with a sex ring operation that prostituted, abused and even murdered many girls in the region, possibly including Joanna. The question was whether Fourniret and his wife might have somehow been involved with either Emile or the sex ring, and if so to what extent? Moreover, could Fourniret have been involved in Joanna's murder?
A Criminal Network.
Initially the authorities ignored Jambert's theories, but an incident in 1984 led them to reconsider the idea that there was indeed a sex ring in the area. That January, a 19-year-old girl was found wandering the streets of Auxerre in a confused state. When the police picked her up and questioned her, she claimed that she was held captive in the basement of a nearby house, where she was sexually abused and tortured.
The girl's testimony led the police to the home of Claude and Monique Dunand , known friends of Emile Louis. Stuart Jeffries � wrote that when � police searched the house, they found another girl in the cellar, "naked and suspended from a ladder by her wrists." � Jeffries claimed that for approximately 15 years, local handicapped girls were lured to the house, locked up, fed dog food and repeatedly raped and tortured by invited guests. However, there was no indication that any of the girls were murdered.
Claude Dunand was eventually convicted of kidnapping and given a life sentence in 1991. His wife Monique received two years for accessory to the crimes. According to Andrew Alderson and Kim Willsher's article ' I Want Justice for Joanna,' Yonne crime reporter Ludovic Berger stated, "Claude Dunand has always said that politicians, industrialists and magistrates were involved but he has refused to name them." The article suggested that a list of at least 50 clients "rumored to include several French 'notables' who paid to torture and abuse" captive girls was discovered by police and handed over to the Auxerre Courthouse. However, the list mysteriously disappeared from a courtroom and has never been found.
It was not the only document that went missing. In fact, there were more than 100 murder and missing person case files from between 1958 and 1982 that vanished from the courthouse. Moreover, the court ledger documenting the investigations also vanished. It became increasingly clear that someone was either trying to cover up the crimes or the Auxerre Courthouse had a serious management problem.
Sex Ring Cover-Up.
City of Auxerre & Yonne River.
Christian Jambert was almost certain he knew who was behind Burgundy's rash of murders and missing person cases, and he was convinced that Louis was one of the primary culprits. Fourniret was never mentioned as a suspect but later there was suspicion that he might have been somehow involved. Jambert kept meticulous notes and diaries concerning the cases, along with the evidence he collected over the years. In 1997, he made preparations to present his findings during a new inquiry. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to reveal what he worked so hard to acquire.
In August of that year, just several days before the inquiries were scheduled to begin, Jambert was found dead in the basement of his Auxerre home. An autopsy revealed that he died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Medical investigators claimed that Jambert had a history of depression. It was believed that his poor mental state prompted him to end his life. His death was listed as a suicide .
By the late 1990s, the mounting scandal in Auxerre gained international attention. People were shocked by the negligence exhibited in the investigations and the fact that more than 100 files, mostly of missing women, had � disappeared from Auxerre's Courthouse. According to Harry de Quetteville's January, 2002 article in The Telegraph , the scandal was "taken so seriously in Paris that Marylise Lebranchu , the French justice minister, ordered a series of internal investigations." Joanna's murder case was one of those selected for re-examination and it was � later linked with the inquiry into the seven girls Louis once claimed to have murdered.
Not surprisingly, Joanna's parents welcomed the decision of a new inquiry. They waited more than a decade for her investigation to be reopened. BBC News Online stated that Roger "was hopeful there would be progress in the investigation and the potential capture of the killer."
Investigators working on the case quickly realized that there was a possibility someone tampered with Joanna's murder file. Witness statements, which were obtained at the time of her murder, were missing from her dossier. Moreover, important DNA evidence taken during the autopsy also disappeared from the file for more than a decade before it was found again.
Seven missing girls.
Many in the community believed that the murder cases were deliberately ignored and the files stolen or destroyed because they implicated high-level officials. Investigators re-examining the cases determined that it was more likely that gross negligence on behalf of local magistrates was to blame for the mishandling of the cases. In all likelihood, it was probably a combination of both theories that prevented anyone from being apprehended for the crimes.
In March 2002, four magistrates from Burgundy faced accusations of gross negligence in the cases of missing and murdered women in their region. The judges included former chief prosecutors Rene Meyer and Jacques Cazals and former deputy prosecutors Daniel Stilinovic and Bertrand Daillie . The men were ordered to appear before a panel of six senior judges, who would review the cases over a three-day period.
According to a 2002 article by Susan Bell in The Scotsman , accused magistrate Stilinovic admitted that "there were people who allowed information to be stifled." He was further quoted saying "magistrates tampered with procedures on behalf of people they wanted to protect. It is a conspiracy at the very top." However, he maintained his innocence, suggesting that he did not stifle any of the investigations. His peers thought otherwise .
Note from Stilinovic : "Non".
The panel returned a verdict in late March and found Stilinovic guilty of negligence. He received the severest penalty and was dismissed from his position. Cazals was also found guilty and transferred from his prestigious post in Paris. Meyer, who was retired at the time of the inquiry, was stripped of his honorary title after he too was found guilty. Daillie received no punishment.
In August 2002, investigators found new clues during their inquiry into Joanna's murder. They revealed that recently recovered DNA evidence pointed to two men being involved in the rape and murder of Joanna. The BBC News article "Fresh Clues in Joanna Murder Hunt" � claimed new documents were found which indicated that police arrested a suspect in connection with Joanna's murder early in the investigation. Yet, he was released because of lack of evidence.
Investigators continued to follow up on the new leads, hoping that it might result in the arrest of her killers. However, a great deal of time passed since her death and the chances of solving the crime significantly decreased over the years. Regardless, Joanna's family and law enforcement officials re-examining the case refused to give up hope.
In April 2004, more new evidence arose concerning the so-called "suicide" of Jambert . According to Alderson and Willsher's article, Corinne Herrmann received access to Jambert's files while she was conducting research into the case of the Burgundy's missing and murdered girls. She became suspicious of his death and believed he might have been murdered. She just had to prove her theory .
Book Cover: Les Disparues d'Auxerre.
Herrmann, author of Les Disparues D'Auxerre, convinced Jambert's children to exhume their father's body so that another autopsy could be conducted. After several days of examining the remains, the medical investigators made a startling discovery. Alderson and Willsher claimed that Jambert had been shot not once, but twice in the head making it almost impossible for him to have committed suicide.
Herrmann's suspicions were proven correct and she persuaded area magistrates to begin a murder inquiry. It was believed that his murder was directly linked with the investigation on which he was working. Even though investigators interviewed several possible suspects, no one has yet been convicted for the crime.
Joanna's Murder Linked to Fourniret.
In 2005, Monica Olivier was extradited to France and charged with three counts of murder after she confessed that she lured three young women to her house knowing that Fourniret would murder them. Olivier's trial was postponed, as was Fourniret's , who was also extradited to France in January 2006. During Olivier's imprisonment she confessed that Fourniret strangled a young girl to death and dumped her body in a river in the town of Auxerre , France in 1990. She provided details that lead investigators to believe that the murdered victim was none other than Joanna Parrish. Fourniret refused to have had anything to do with the young student's murder.
Not long after Olivier alerted investigators to Fourniret's possible involvement in Joanna's murder, chief state prosecutor Francis Nachbar "identified Fourniret as her (Joanna's) most likely killer," it was reported in the Yorkshire Post. Senior French magistrates promised to investigate the case further to determine if Fourniret was responsible for Joanna's death. According to the BBC, they also agreed to allow British lawyers to question Fourniret and to let British police examine DNA evidence.
However, soon thereafter Nachbar dropped the case so that he could finally begin the twice postponed and long overdue trial of Olivier and Fourniret, it was reported by Thisislondon.com. Joanna's parents were outraged at the decision, especially since it was made before DNA samples could be scientifically compared with Fourniret's DNA samples. Roger Parrish was quoted in the article as saying, "The French justice system is simply a shambles and a charade. How can any civilized society turn its back on the taking of Jo's life and the indescribable suffering we know she endured at the hands of absolute monsters?"
A political and legal struggle between Joanna's parents and French magistrates eventually led to the reversal of the decision. On November 25, it was revealed that the French authorities were planning to charge Fourniret with Joanna's murder. The Mirror.co.uk quoted a judicial source as saying, "He was in the right place...we are waiting for the results of scientific tests before we charge him." The results are expected sometime before the end of 2006. If Fourniret is linked with Joanna's murder, there is a significant chance that he will be investigated for more than a dozen other murders that took place in the Burgandy region from around that time, many of which have been blamed on Emile Louis.