French mother confesses to eight baby murders

A French mother on Thursday admitted killing eight newborn babies, investigators said, as a shocked nation struggled to digest the latest grisly tragedy of village life.

Dominique Cottrez, a nursing assistant in her 40s, was charged with the murder of the babies and her husband, Pierre-Marie Cottrez, with failure to report a crime and illegally hiding corpses.

The mother admitted suffocating the infants and insisted her husband knew nothing about the pregnancies or the killings, according to an official close to the investigations. She faces life imprisonment.

Her husband denied any knowledge of the deaths, the official said.

Stunned residents of the pair’s quiet village of Villers-au-Tertre, in northern France, put flowers and candles outside the two houses where police had found the skeletal remains over the previous few days.


Prosecutors described it as the worst case of infanticide in recent French history, following a string of similar cases in which isolated and troubled mothers disposed of their newborns.

The suspects were brought before a magistrate in the nearby town of Douai to hear the charges. They were remanded in custody and prosecutors promised to hold a news conference to explain the charges.

‘He’s a respectable man’
Pierre-Marie Cottrez worked as a carpenter and was a respected member of the council in Villers-au-Tertre, a 620-strong community.

“He’s on his third term in office. He used to volunteer in the community. He’s a respectable man,” local mayor Patrick Mercier told reporters.

Mercier said the councillor’s wife was a more withdrawn person who rarely took part in village life. He said she had a weight problem, which might be the reason why any pregnancies had passed unnoticed.

“No one was aware of anything at all,” said the shocked mayor.

The pair were arrested on Tuesday and questioned all day on Wednesday while police used sniffer dogs to search two addresses after the new owners of a home found the bones of two infants while digging in their garden.

The house previously belonged to the parents of the arrested woman.

Search teams then headed on to the couple’s current home in another part of the village, where six more sets of remains were found, a local councillor told reporters.

‘I’m still in shock’
Gendarmes were deployed outside one of the houses where the babies’ bodies were found, and sealed off the entrance to the macabre scene with plastic sheeting.

“I’m thinking of all the children in the world. I’m thinking of all the children who didn’t ask to be born and were thrown out a few hours later,” said local priest Father Robert Meignotte.

“I’m very upset. I baptise five children every Sunday in the 17 villages of the parish. You don’t just throw children out like that in a big bag. It’s incomprehensible,” he said.

“I’m still in shock,” said a former mayor of Villers-au-Tertre, Daniel Collignon, describing the village as a very calm and rural place.

Neighbours reacted with astonishment. “They are normal people, who even have a role in the community,” said one. “It’s incredible.”

Another neighbour, a man in his 50s, added: “These are attractive, helpful, polite and courteous people, who did nothing to make you think them capable of anything abnormal.

The couple had lived in the village for 15 years and had two grown-up daughters who have children themselves, local residents said.

String of similar cases in France
The incident is the latest in a string of similar cases in France.

Earlier this year a mother was convicted of killing six of her newborn children and hiding them in the cellar of her house in north-western France.

Another notorious recent case was Veronique Courjault, who in June 2009 was jailed for eight years by a court in Tours, central France. She admitted to having smothered two baby boys born in secret at her expatriate home in South Korea in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999, and hidden them in a freezer.

She was freed in May 2010, having served four years in jail after the time she spent in remand since her arrest. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Time is not on our side in Libya

Simmering tensions could see the country partitioned between east and west

South Africa has the legislation but not enough action against gender-based violence

The long list of committees and programmes addressing the issue look good on paper. In terms of achievements, however, none of them can be ticked off as successful

Paris throws off mask to party like the virus never was

Social distancing and face masks were largely forgotten as thousands of French people danced and partied well into Monday in the first big blow out since the coronavirus lockdown

The statue of Louis XVI should remain forever handless

A statue of the French king in Louisville, Kentucky was damaged during the protests against police killings. It should not be repaired

Rwanda: Capturing a genocide financier

A Kenyan investigative journalist reflects on the capture of a genocidaire in Paris after 26 years on the run and its significance to the families of the victims left in his wake

Inequality manifests in stimulus

Structural forces mean emerging economies can’t offer the necessary Covid-19 fiscal-relief packages
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday