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‘Looking back now, I can see that he was chipping away at her’ – how ‘toxic’ husband treated Anne Colomines before murder

Renato Gehlen jailed for life for murder of Anne Colomines, but his wife’s family have been leftbereft, Catherine Fegan writes

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Anne Colomines

Anne Colomines

Renato Gehlen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Anne Colomines in 2017

Renato Gehlen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Anne Colomines in 2017

Danielle Gallard, mother of Anne Colomines, outside Dublin Central Criminal Court yesterday. Photo: Collins

Danielle Gallard, mother of Anne Colomines, outside Dublin Central Criminal Court yesterday. Photo: Collins

Sister of Anne Colomines Alexandra, with her daughter Thais. Photo: Collins

Sister of Anne Colomines Alexandra, with her daughter Thais. Photo: Collins

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Anne Colomines

Anne Colomines was in an unhappy marriage and wanted out.

She had met and married her husband Renato Gehlen, a Brazilian national, in 2012. But despite an initial rush of love, cracks soon began to appear in the relationship.

He blamed her when they struggled to conceive, annoyed they had not tried sooner. She felt that he was no longer the man she met, becoming someone who was negative to be around. As much as she tried to make things work, the couple just grew further and further apart. She became down and depressed. He grew colder and more controlling.

“Anne had decided it was time to move on,” her sister Alexandra told the Irish Independent this week.

“I wasn’t personally aware there were problems in the marriage, but she had confided in my mother during her last trip home to France.

"My mother supported her in her plans to leave Renato. Once she heard what Anne was going through, she told her it was better to separate.”

Anne, who had moved to Ireland from France in 2011, had also confided in friends that she had a chance for a fresh start. She had met another man while on holidays in France and wanted to pursue a relationship, but did not want to hurt her husband.

When his wife eventually told him she wanted a divorce, Gehlen harboured hope that their marriage could be saved.

It was only when he discovered that she had fallen in love with another man and they were texting each other hundreds of times a day, that Gehlen knew there was no going back. On October 24, 2017, after meeting a friend for a drink, he wept as he told of his desperation to save his marriage, but his wife would not speak to him. Later that night, he stabbed her to death in the bedroom of their Dublin apartment.

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Danielle Gallard, mother of Anne Colomines, outside Dublin Central Criminal Court yesterday. Photo: Collins

Danielle Gallard, mother of Anne Colomines, outside Dublin Central Criminal Court yesterday. Photo: Collins

Danielle Gallard, mother of Anne Colomines, outside Dublin Central Criminal Court yesterday. Photo: Collins

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A pathologist found four stab wounds to Anne’s body, a 22-centimetre incised wound to her throat and six incisions on her hands that she said were consistent with defensive injuries. One of the stab wounds was 20cm deep and passed through the heart, causing her death.

 

The events of that night, which Gehlen claimed were “50/50 blame on both sides”, displayed the “ultimate in toxic masculinity”, senior counsel Shane Costelloe told the jury in the case.

What had happened that night was the result of a man “who had lost control of his wife and could not handle it... who lost control of his marriage and could not handle the fact it was over”, he said.

Anne was one of three children born to Danielle and Jean-Louis Gallard. She had a brother Francois and a sister, Alexandra. The family lived in Charente-Maritime, on the southwestern coast of France.

“As a child, she was playful and intelligent,” said Alexandra.

“She excelled at school and later went on to university. She was an estate agent in France before she went to Ireland.”

Anne met Gehlen in Ireland in 2011. They were married a year later and planned to have children. She worked as a financial executive at Paypal and had managed to get her husband a job with a company that provided catering at Paypal’s offices.

On the few occasions Alexandra met her sister’s husband, mainly at Christmas and on holidays spent at home, she found him “standoffish and quiet”.

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Renato Gehlen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Anne Colomines in 2017

Renato Gehlen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Anne Colomines in 2017

Renato Gehlen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Anne Colomines in 2017

“He was a very closed person,” she said. “There was a language barrier because he didn’t speak French, but he was also just very reserved.”

As time went on, she noticed a change in her sister, both physically and emotionally.

“Looking back now, I can see that he was chipping away at her,” she said.

“She went from someone who was smiling and happy all the time to someone who was quite sad and quiet. She used to wear bright, vibrant clothes, but then she started dressing in black. He was telling her what to wear.”

Anne had discovered a medical problem that meant it would be difficult for her to get pregnant. She confided in friends that Gehlen was unsupportive and blamed her for their difficulties in having a baby. It was during a trip back home in the summer of 2017 that she met her new boyfriend.

She was in love and planned to move her husband out of their apartment to make way for her new partner. But having told her husband she wanted a divorce, Anne also tried to ease the transition. She tried to sort out his visa so he would be able to stay in Ireland and she looked for suitable accommodation for him.

Gehlen, determined not to agree to his wife leaving him, resisted her attempts at an amicable parting.

In message after message in the weeks before he murdered her, he told Anne that he loved her and begged her to take him back, not to ignore him, not to give up on him and not to hurt him. Nine days before she died, several types of spyware used to discover usernames and passwords previously inputted on a computer were downloaded into Anne’s laptop.

Back in France, Anne’s nearest and dearest urged her to leave him.

“A few days before she was killed, I called Anne and so did her friends,” said Alexandra.

“We told her to get out of the apartment. By then we knew what was going on and we thought she should just leave. She said that he was a good guy and that there was nothing to be worried about. That’s why I know she had no idea he could be so dangerous, because if she had known she would have left then.”

On the night she was murdered, Anne exchanged 296 Facebook messages with her French lover. The final message was sent by her at 11.06pm. Seven minutes later, Gehlen called a friend and told him: “Sorry, I killed Anne and now I’m going to kill myself.”

Two days after Anne’s horrific murder, It fell to Alexandra to identify her sister’s remains.

“She was unrecognisable behind the glass,” she recalled.

“It was a total shock seeing her like that, like the whole world had stopped turning. Then I had to pick out a dress for my sister to wear and a coffin for her remains to be placed in.”

Together with her mother, Alexandra attended every day of Gehlen’s murder trial.

The details that emerged, including the horrific injuries Anne sustained, as well as the ludicrous excuses Gehlen offered in a vain attempt to escape justice, left both women heartbroken.

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Sister of Anne Colomines Alexandra, with her daughter Thais. Photo: Collins

Sister of Anne Colomines Alexandra, with her daughter Thais. Photo: Collins

Sister of Anne Colomines Alexandra, with her daughter Thais. Photo: Collins

“We never accepted his version of events,” said Alexandra.

“None of it was the truth.”

In the end, the jury rejected the killer’s claim that she had injured herself during a row. Yesterday, Gehlen (39) received the mandatory life sentence for the murder of his wife. Before he was led away, victim impact statements from Anne’s family were read out in court.

Anne’s mother, Danielle, said that “life has lost all meaning” and that it destroys her that she will never see her daughter again.

She described Anne as an “intelligent, beautiful and generous” woman who she cannot imagine living without.

“The role of a mother is not to bury their child,” she said, and that it is a “sorrow we cannot overcome”.

“My little Anne, forgive me for not protecting you,” Ms Gallard said, adding that she will have to live with her “scream of panic and pain”.

Anne’s father Jean-Louis Gallard, who is very seriously ill, said that the murder of his daughter was a huge shock, both physical and mental, which left his heart torn.

Mr Gallard said it is an ordeal for him that he will no longer hear her laughter, or to share her sorrows and happiness.

Anne’s sister, Alexandra, who represented her family yesterday in court, told the Irish Independent that all her sister ever wanted was to be happy.

“She wanted the marriage to work, but it didn’t,” she said.

“For trying to leave, she paid the ultimate price. Renato Gehlen has never shown any remorse for what he did, or offered his condolences or apology.

“It’s something that is important to my mother. For me, it’s not something I want or need because there is nothing he can say that can make up for what he has done.” 

Helplines: If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, click here for more information


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