Friday 18 January 2019

'Ogre of Ardennes' gets life for serial murders

Michel Fourniret was sentenced to life in prison in 2008
Michel Fourniret was sentenced to life in prison in 2008

Thierry Leveque in Charleville-Mezieres

Self-confessed killer Michel Fourniret and his wife Monique Olivier were sentenced to life in prison yesterday in one of the worst serial murder cases in recent French history.

The couple showed no reaction after the court in northern France found Fourniret, dubbed the "Ogre of the Ardennes", guilty of killing and raping or attempting to rape seven women and girls aged between 12 and 22 from 1987.

The case, among the most gruesome seen in France since the Second World War, helped lead to a shake-up in the way French police investigate serial murders, including better co-ordination between different authorities.

Fourniret (66) will be able to seek a reduced sentence, according to very strict conditions,

but only after serving 30 years in jail. Given his age, he is unlikely to ever walk free.

Olivier (59) must spend at least 28 years in jail for the part she played in some of the murders and a rape, the court said.

Fourniret, who admitted to his crimes, operated mostly in the heavily wooded Ardennes region of northern France and in Belgium.

His wife was accused of helping him to select his victims, capture them and hide their bodies.

The emotionally charged trial, which has seen harrowing details splashed all over the newspapers and shocked the country, has raised serious questions over the functioning of the country's judicial system.

The couple, linked by what prosecutors called a "criminal pact", became acquainted after Fourniret placed an advertisement for someone to write to while serving a prison sentence for sex crimes in the 1980s. He has a long history of rape.

A series of mishaps and lost opportunities to catch the criminals included the failure to launch an inquiry into the disappearance of the couple's first victim in 1987, Isabelle Laville, despite the police lodging a kidnap report.

At the time, Fourniret, who had just been released from prison and was technically on probation, was living just a few kilometres away from the place Laville disappeared.

"There was a lost opportunity to identify the Fournirets," said Alain Behr, a lawyer for Laville's family.

The system also failed to revoke a decision to discharge Fourniret following appearances for numerous offenses in the 1990s, allowing the couple to continue carrying out their crimes over 16 years.

Psychologists who examined the couple have said they were not insane and were slightly above average in intelligence. The specialists concluded that the self-obsessed, authoritative Fourniret took a sadistic pleasure in rape and murder.

In addition to the murders for which he has been sentenced, Fourniret is suspected by police of a number of other killings, including that of 20-year-old Briton Joanna Parrish in 1990, raising the spectre of further possible trials.

Fourniret, who has said he was fascinated by virgins, was arrested in Belgium in 2003 after one of his prospective victims escaped and called the police. Fourniret stalked the women to satisfy his perverted desire to prey on virgins. Olivier worked with him to allay the victims' suspicions.

The verdicts close a two-month trial that riveted France and neighbouring Belgium, where one of the victims was killed.

The young women aged 12 to 21 were either strangled, shot or stabbed with a screwdriver between 1987 and 2001.

Fourniret still faces charges in three other cases, including the murder of Joanna, a 20-year-old who worked as a teaching assistant in the central French city of Auxerre. She disappeared from the town centre during the early evening of May 16, 1990. Her naked body was found the next morning, floating in a river five miles from the town.

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