Tuesday 20 March 2018

Bizarre case of a missing dad and murdered family

The bodies of a mother and her four children, who had been missing since early April, have been found at their French home, writes Aoife Drew

LIVING away from Ireland, I enjoy catching up on missed Irish TV on the internet. I recently watched the very moving documentary on the Monageer tragedy about the Dunne family whose four bodies, including those of their two very young daughters, were found in their Co Wexford house in 2007. A horror story with some echoes of Monageer has just been unearthed in France, leaving people reeling.

The Dupont de Ligonnes family, from near Nantes in north-west France, had seemed to mysteriously disappear early in April. The couple and their four children -- Benoit, 13, Anne, 16, Thomas, 18, and Arthur, 21 -- left behind "strange and contradictory" messages, according to the state prosecutor.

The shutters of their rented home were closed, the cars gone from the driveway and their two dogs nowhere to be found. On their letterbox, there was a sign "return letters to senders, thanks". Their mobile phones were all switched off -- thus impossible to trace -- and no telephone call, or internet connection had been made from the house since April 4. Their bank accounts were closed.

Last week, police finally found the bodies of the mother, Agnès Dupont de Ligonnes, 49, and her four children (three boys and a girl) at the family home.

The bodies were carefully buried in the garden in jute sacks and covered with lime.

According to the first reports, all were shot with a gun, and one of the children received a bullet to the head. The family's two dogs were also found dead. French police are looking for the father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, as the prime suspect.

There were some signs leading up to the incident hinting all was not as it should be. A letter sent by the father explained to their relatives and friends that he was a secret agent for the US government and he immediately had to leave France for an important case, linked to drugs.

At the school which the two youngest children attended, the principal received a bizarre letter. It informed him of the family's imminent departure to Australia, due to an "urgent professional transfer", as well as a cheque for any fees owed. In truth, 50-year-old Xavier had left his rather less exciting job as owner and sole employee of Selref, an internet advertising company (which was pretty unprofitable, according to newspaper Le Parisien) based in the nearby town of Pornic, for no apparent reason.

His wife's employer (she was a religion teacher in a nearby private school) received a call from her husband saying that Agnes had a bad tummy bug and would be absent for two days. A few days later, her boss received an SMS from Agnès's mobile indicating she was hospitalised and could not take calls during her stay. The following week, he received a resignation letter in which Agnes stated she was following her husband to Australia.

A neighbour spotted Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes going back and forth from the house carrying large, heavy bags to the boot of his car around the time of the deaths. And it has been revealed that a few days before the family disappeared, Agnès confided to a nun: "pray for me, I'm going to need it".

There was no sign of struggle at the house. It was tidy and clean-- but all the family's clothes had been removed from drawers and wardrobes. Was the father hoping that people would believe his story they were emigrating to Australia?

In any case, the police still cannot locate him. According to Le Parisien, on April 13 he stayed in the Vaucluse area near Avignon in the South of France -- there was activity on his bank account suggesting he was in this area.

Police have also discovered his car in the Riviera town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens.

Why did this horrible drama occur? The family is described by neighbours as "very discreet" and "ordinary". A childhood friend of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes told Le Parisien of his fears that the father, from an ultra-strict Catholic background, may have been gripped by a "mystic frenzy".

However, case inspectors have rubbished this theory -- the murders seem to have been too meticulously prepared -- notably, even the lease on the house had been terminated.

Until Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes is found, nothing is certain, except the devastation of the community and the family's relatives and friends.

Sunday Independent

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