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03 Feb 2008 09:48
It is a desolate northern French town, not far from the Belgian border. He is an unremarkable, greying, French former electrician.
She is an unexceptional, dowdy housewife.
The trial is of France’s most prolific serial killers of recent times. Fourniret (65) is charged with the murders of seven young women, although investigators believe that he is responsible for many more. Dubbed “The Ogre of the Ardennes”, the prosecutors will claim that he acted for the most part with the active help of his 59-year-old wife.
If the trial is meant to help his victims or their families live with their emotional scars, it may fail.
“I need to go to the court. I need to be in front of him and to show him that he has not won, that he has not broken me,” said Dahina Le Guennan, who was raped by Fourniret at the age of 14. “But those who say a trial helps you come to terms with your loss should know that you never come to terms with a life shattered or a child lost.”
Among the families travelling to Charleville-MéziÃ¨res for the hearings will be the parents of Joanna Parrish, a 20-year-old British student raped and murdered in 1990 near the city of Auxerre. Her killer has never been found but many, including her father, Roger, suspect Fourniret is the culprit. Yet because including the case risked delaying the trial, it was dropped from the indictment.
“The trial would only be the end of it all if we came away entirely convinced that [Fourniret] was guilty of our daughter’s murder,” Parrish said.
The proceedings in Charleville-MéziÃ¨res, expected to last two months, will grip France. Previous appearances in public by the alleged killers during reconstructions of the murders before investigating judges have received saturation media coverage. Last month, Fourniret hit the headlines when he demanded that the jurors at his trial were “virgins when they married”. Massive security precautions will be taken to protect the killer.
“We in France are as fascinated by serial killers as anyone else,” said Alain Hamon, author of two books on the case. “We didn’t speak about this kind of thing in this country for a long time. But now we do. This will be the trial of the year.”
In Charleville-MéziÃ¨res itself, people are worried that the former industrial town, in one of the poorest parts of the country, will become labelled as the place where Fourniret was tried. “The fear is that we will be dubbed the town of the killer for the foreseeable future,” said Crystal LefÃ¨vre, a local reporter.
Fourniret was born in Sedan, 32km from where he will stand trial, to a metalworker and a farmer’s daughter. His childhood was “tough, but not deprived”, according to Hamon. Married at a young age, his first wife left him after his conviction for serious sexual offences. On leaving prison, Fourniret remarried and had three children who remember him as a “terrible, authoritarian father” who on occasion confined them to a dog kennel as a punishment.
Over the next decade, Fourniret committed a series of rapes, including that of Le Guennan. He was again sent to prison, this time for five years. He described to prison authorities how his next acts would be more extreme still, but nothing was done. “You have to kill someone before anyone takes you seriously as a threat,” Le Guennan, whose testimony helped convict Fourniret of rape, said.
In jail, divorced by his second wife, Fourniret met Monique Olivier, a divorcée herself, who wrote to him after seeing a classified ad for pen pals in a magazine. In her letters, Olivier called Fourniret “my beast” and discussed raping virgins, one of the killer’s recurring obsessions. “It is with pleasure that I will execute your orders,” she wrote.
When Fourniret was released in 1987, Olivier picked him up from the prison gate. The couple married, had a child and settled near Auxerre with the vague idea of running a hostel for walkers. Instead, they embarked on a long journey into depraved violence.
Fourniret and his wife have now confessed to the kidnapping and killing of a 17-year-old schoolgirl, Isabelle Laville, in December 1987; 12-year-old Belgian Elisabeth Brichet in 1989; a 13-year-old, Natacha Danais, in 1990; as well as a series of other murders in 2000 and 2001.
In written statements, the pair describe “going hunting” in their car, with Olivier helping to reassure their victims. However, Fourniret denies murdering Joanna Parrish in 1990, despite his wife’s claims to investigators.
Money, too, was a motive for murder. He has told police that he shot a travelling salesman at a motorway service station for his wallet—the man survived—and is alleged to have murdered the girlfriend of his former cellmate, a bank robber, after accompanying her to dig up a cache of money, gold and gems stolen by a gang.
He is accused of using the loot to buy himself a substantial chÃ¢teau near Sedan, which he later sold when threatened by his alleged victim’s boyfriend. Guided by an “enthusiastic and proud” Fourniret, police recently found at least two bodies in its grounds, including the remains of one young woman met on a train and killed in 1989.
According to Le Guennan, it was the sense of power that murder gave Fourniret that provided the main attraction. “It was an exploration of death and power,” she said. “That’s why he killed in so many different ways.”
Some of Fourniret’s victims have been found with marks that indicate that he may have tried to inject air into their bloodstreams before strangling or battering them to death.
Following the sale of the chÃ¢teau, the couple then moved to a small village just across the Belgian border. They kept themselves to themselves and even briefly found work as supervisors in a local primary school.
But their double life continued and eventually Fourniret and his wife made a mistake. A botched attempt to kidnap a 17-year-old in June 2003 led to the identification of their car and eventual arrest. Belgian police trawled records of unsolved sex crimes and came across two killings of local teenage girls. DNA analysis of hair found in Fourniret’s car was a match for one of them. When Olivier confessed, so did her husband, with no trace of remorse.
“He believes he is a superior being,” said Hamon. “In prison, he rewrites the works of great French authors because he believes he could have done it better. When psychological tests gave his wife a higher IQ than him, he was mad with rage.”
Stéphane Bourgoin, a criminologist who has interviewed more than 50 serial killers, believes that there are many other such cases. “You just need to look at the number of young women who disappear,” he said. “There are dozens of men free in France today who have killed more than once.”—guardian.co.uk Â
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