Orvault is the kind of town where nothing newsworthy – good or bad – happens. There is never any rioting of which there are much in France these days; no street marches of which there are also many in France currently; no acts of terrorism with the dead and wounded lying in […]
Orvault is the kind of town where nothing newsworthy – good or bad – happens. There is never any rioting of which there are much in France these days; no street marches of which there are also many in France currently; no acts of terrorism with the dead and wounded lying in pools of blood.
And no murders.
That, though, has changed.
At the moment, this town, 5.5 miles (7 kms) from the city of Nantes and 212 miles (342 kms) north-east of Paris, with approximately 19,000 inhabitants, most of them between 45 and 59 years of age who are still professionally active with an annual income of roughly 33,000 Euro ($34,800 / £28,700) has had four of its inhabitants most brutally slaughtered with a crowbar.
The unfortunate victims are: Pascal Troadec, 49, and his wife Brigitte also 49, and their son Sebastien, 21, and daughter Charlotte, 18.
On Thursday, February 23, a sister of Brigitte Troadec (*Hélène H.) contacted the Orvault Gendarmerie (militarized police which keep law and order in the countryside and in towns of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants) to report that since Thursday, February 16, neither she nor her sister (*Marline V.) or their mother (*Jacqueline T.) has succeeded in getting in touch with the Troadecs. They did not answer their phones and they have not been active on the Internet which was very odd especially as Sebastien and Charlotte were very active on-line. The two women as well as their mother live in the town of Landerneau, some 180 miles (290 kms) north of Orvault, each in a comfortable house. The last time they had seen the Troadecs, as the police heard from them, was at Christmas, which the family had spent with them, as they have done for years.
The Orvault Gendarmerie called in the cops from police headquarters in Nantes, and they, accustomed to ‘missing person’ calls from worried relatives or friends, neighbours or colleagues, called in at the workplaces of the Troadec couple. Pascal, an electrician, worked in Orvault for a company making neon signs, and Brigitte was a clerk in the revenue office in Nantes. As the police would learn, the two were on vacation. It was the two-week winter school break and as Sebastien and Charlotte were home from their respective colleges in nearby towns, the couple wanted to spend the time at home with them. Similarly, the absence of Sebastien and Charlotte at their college lodgings, had not caused alarm.
Next, the police set off for the Troadec house in Orvault.
The house at No. 24 Rue d’Auteuil is a white two-storey behind a low wall and a narrow strip of garden, a larger, leafy garden at the back of the house. There are two windows on the upper floor and one on the ground floor. On the police’s arrival, the shutters, white like the house, on the upper floor were half-way down, but that of the ground floor was firmly closed. So were the white door of the two-vehicle garage. And indeed, the house’s front door.
Also, outside the house, on Rue d’Auteuil, were parked two cars: an Audi A4 and a BMW. The two vehicles, both recent models and not exactly inexpensive, and the house probably worth around 400,000 Euro ($424,000 / £345,200), this was not a family living on the breadline.
The police knocked on the front door – here in France, police never ring a doorbell in case there could be a gas leak inside the property and an electrical spark from the bell would start a fire – and walked around the house calling out to the family, but there was no response. Not even a dog was barking inside. They thought they heard a cat meow.
It was obviously time to get into that house. This, the police did through a small window at the back. The locked back door having been opened next, a frantic cat ran past the police, out into the garden.
In the house, there was no sign of the Troadecs: alive or dead.
This was what the police found in the house:
In the kitchen, beside the sink stood a washed glass and cup. In the fridge, there were several yoghurts of which the use-by date of February 14 had passed. Also in the fridge were some sushi bought on February 16 and of which the use-by date was the 17th, and steaks of which the use-by date had also passed.
In both bathrooms (one on each floor) there were no toothbrushes and no tubes of toothpaste, to the police, always a sure sign that someone has set off – gone on holiday, or is lying dead somewhere.
In the laundry room washed sheets were hanging up to dry, and the drum of the washing-machine was loaded with more sheets. And still more sheets where draped over the table and chairs in the dining room. There were, on the contrary, no sheets on the beds in the three bedrooms. (The parents’ bedroom was on the upper floor and the bedrooms of the two children were on the ground floor, that of Charlotte in the rear part of the house and overlooking the garden, and that of Sebastien in the front part of the house and overlooking the street.)
Charlotte’s bedroom was tidy, but a wristwatch lying under the bare bed was broken and covered in some dark substance. The wristwatch would be identified later as that of Brigitte Troadec.
Sebastien’s bedroom was in disorder. Dirty clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and so did a pair of socks which was drenched in a dark substance. Also, lying on the floor was a cell-phone and a hands-free cell-phone kit, both later to be identified as Sebastien’s. These were also covered in a dark substance.
Outside in the letter-box the police found the house’s keys. The keys of the Audi and the BMW were on a bedside table in the parents’ bedroom.
What convinced the police most that they were on to a massacre of a family was that throughout the house and in the garage more items were covered in some dark substance. Even a rookie cop would have known that such a dark substance was blood. An effort had been made to wash away the blood though. The police therefore sprayed the house and the garage with BLUESTAR™, a Monaco-manufactured reagent which reveals blood stains, invisible to the naked eye, in fluorescent blue, which happened throughout the property.
Forensics however needed to confirm that the dark substances were blood, and this it did.
Accordingly, what was on Brigitte Troadec’s broken wristwatch was blood, and what was on Sebastien’s cell-phone and hands-free cell-phone kit was blood, and what was on his socks was blood. Forensics also found blood on the mattress in Pascal and Brigitte Troadec’s bedroom, and on the staircase, and in the garage.
Next, DNA was taken from the blood and from the fluorescent blue patches revealed by the spraying of the BLUESTAR™. The DNA profiles would identify the blood as that of the Troadec couple and of Sebastien. There was though no blood belonging to Charlotte. Or so the police thought.
Analyses also identified someone else’s DNA on furniture throughout the house and in the garage. They had no record of this DNA.
By now, seven days having gone by since the family’s last sign of life, the French media had no doubts as to the fate of the three whose blood had been found in the house and in the garage.
Accordingly, no-one in France was surprised when on Friday, March 3, Nantes prosecutor, Pierre Sennès, 56, said in a televised press conference that no human being having lost such a large amount of blood as the three Troadecs, could have survived. Could still be alive. He said that the injuries had been the result of great violence. As he would also stipulate, the investigators still did not know why there was no blood of the 18-year-old Charlotte in the house. Also, that a new grey Peugeot 308 belonging to the 21-year-old Sebastien was missing, and so were the computers of the four Troadecs.
He would also reveal that the family’s cell-phones had all gone dead on the night of Thursday, February 16. The last cell to have gone dead, which was at 3.15 a.m. on February 17, was the blood-soaked one belonging to Sebastien.
Journalists, in speaking to the colleagues of Pascal and Brigitte, learned that both were liked and considered efficient in their work, but speaking to the neighbours, the journalists learned that often in the evenings the two adults shouted at one another. The neighbours also said that the couple were people who kept to themselves.
What was learned of Charlotte from her friends was that she was a nice girl with no enemies.
Sebastien though appeared to have been a young man with a problem, and the problem was his father. He posted on Internet social sites that his parents were always arguing and that they drank. He had also manifested violent behaviour in his social-site posts. In 2012, his posts had even resulted in a run-in with the police because he had posted threats against his college, and apprehended, he had been sentenced to a few days of community work. In 2014, he had posted a photo of himself holding a knife over his eyes and he had written, in reply to a question of where he would be in 30 years, “In 30 years, I would have been dead for 27 years.” As the weekly true-crime French magazine, Le Nouveau Detective, calculated in its March 8 issue, “2014+30=2044, 2044-27= 2017.” In other words, he was to die in 2017.
The young man’s last connection to the Internet was on his smartphone at 11.30 p.m. on Thursday, February 16, the day of the family’s disappearance. Chatting to a girl whom he had never met personally, he asked her if she has ever been fed-up with everything, and when she replied in the confirmative, he had written, “Ah … Me … I think that is happening to me now.”
Could he have been the killer? Could he have put the bodies of his parents in his Peugeot and driven off into the night? If so, then how come his blood was found in the house and the garage? Therefore, could Charlotte, whose blood was not found in the house or the garage, have been the killer? Could she have had assistance, and could it have been the person whose DNA was also found in the house? The closest Troadec family members having had to undergo DNA testing, the police knew that the DNA was that of the brother-in-law of Pascal Troadec, a Hubert Caouissin, 46 years old.
On Saturday, February 25, the police summoned for questioning Hubert Caouissin and his common-law wife, Lydie Troadec, 47, sister of Pascal Troadec. In France, a common-law wife is legally classified as a ‘concubine’.
The Caouissin couple, parents of an eight-year-old boy, had a rather odd way of life in that they were no longer in a relationship, but were still living under the same roof. In fact, under the same two roofs. The first being a not very small two-storey house in the village of Plouguerneau on the Brittany coast, 193 miles (311 kms) from the murder house in Orvault. The second was a dilapidated farm, in an area named La Stang, outside the village of Pont-de-Buis, 43 miles (70 kms) from Plouguerneau. Hubert Caouissin, an engineer with the French company DCNS (Direction des Constructions et Armes Navals) specialising in naval defense systems, based in the port city of Brest, had bought the farm of 79 acres (32 hectares) in 2015 for 220,000 Euros ($232,670 / £190,760). Suffering from a depression and off ill from work, he had made no effort to cultivate the land, or to repair the dilapidated stone house which stood surrounded by what appeared a marshy forest. He had also made no effort to befriend the farmers in the neighbourhood. Lydie Troadic herself had been ill with breast cancer but had made a recovery.
It was the police from police headquarters in Brest who took the couple in. Both, interrogated separately, told the police that they had not had any contact with the Troadecs for some time because they did not like them, and neither of them had been to the Rue d’Auteuil house recently. But, as they said, having been to the house, it would not be odd for their DNA to be present in the property.
Not liking someone, not being a crime, the Brest police let the two go.
Four days later, on Wednesday, March 1, a young girl jogging in a wood some 25 miles (41 kms) from the Plouguerneau house where Hubert and Lydie lived, found a pair of jeans, neatly-folded lying beside a pond. The fact that the jeans looked new and had not been just discarded but had obviously been placed in a prominent place with the purpose of it being found, the jogger looked in the pockets of the jeans, and found a credit card, a French health insurance card and a shop fidelity card. All three were in the name of a Charlotte Troadec. The jogger, recognising the name, instantly summoned the police on her cell-phone to the spot.
Immediately, dozens of police with dogs began to search the wood, and police divers were seen on television news repeatedly diving into the pond. Overhead a police helicopter circled.
There was no sign of the girl, but the police found an abandoned washed sheet nearby, as well as two old comic books in which Pascal Troadec, then still a schoolboy, had written his name in large uncertain lettering.
The media presumed that the Troadec girl was alive: maybe the murderer was holding her captive. Or might he have killed her later and her body was at the bottom of the pond on the farm with those of her parents and brother?
The next day, Thursday, March 2, a woman living in the port town of Saint-Nazaire, also in the region, phoned the police to report that for some days already – she thought from Saturday, February 25 – a grey Peugeot 308 has been parked on the square her house overlooks. The police, wanting to know why she had waited days to phone them, she said that the media had reported that the missing car was a Peugeot 208. So, the media had.
The police were sure that the pair of jeans, the washed sheet and the two comic books had been left so prominently in the wood, and the car had been left so prominently on the square in Saint-Nazaire, because someone, obviously, the killer, wanted those items to be found to make the police believe that the family was still alive and had left France by boat from Saint-Nazaire.
The next day, Friday, March 3, the police knew that the car found on the square in Saint-Nazaire was indeed that of Sebastien Troadec, and despite that the vehicle had been washed inside and outside, Forensics had found blood in the trunk as well as on the seats of the car of which the floor mats were missing. They also knew that DNA testing had identified the blood as that of the Troadec couple and of their two children. And that Forensics had also found another DNA in the car. It was the DNA of Hubert Caouissin. Forensics had also found his DNA on the glass which stood beside the sink in the Troadec’s house. Therefore, his claim and that of Lydie that they had not been in that house for years, was not true. They, or he, had been in that house very recently. Like on the night of the murder.
At 8 p.m. that night the Brest police again took Hubert and Lydie in for questioning. They drove them to the town of Nantes as the police of Nantes, the nearest large town to Orvault where the murders had taken place, would be in charge of the case.
Again questioned separately, the two admitted that they had had, in the past, many fall-outs with the Troadecs. Or rather, with Pascal. He was arrogant, a braggart, they said, and he was also violent, as he had often hit out at Hubert. He was also jealous of the good position Hubert held with the DCNS, earning a huge salary.
Their fall-outs had been about money. To be precise, about a treasure trove of gold ingots and gold coins worth millions which Pascal and Lydie’s father had come across in 2006 while he, a builder, was renovating a building. Old man Troadec, instead of declaring the find to the police and handing it over to the State, as French law required, had hidden it in his garage. On the old man’s death in 2009, his widow, ill and in hospital, Pascal had gone to the house and had helped himself to the gold, some 110 lbs (50 kilograms) of it. From then on, as the police were told, he and his wife had lived the life of millionaires, buying cars, enrolling the two children in schools and colleges for the wealthy, and holidaying all over Europe. (An ingot weights 28 lbs (12.4 kilograms.)
That night, the police locked the two into cells, and first thing on Saturday began questioning them again, and that night they were again locked into cell. *Jacqueline T, Lydie’s mother, was looking after the couple’s eight-year-old son. The 77-year-old was distraught and had just one thought in her head. She wanted no protect the boy. Having already lost her son, daughter-in-law and two grand-children, and her daughter being in jail and bound to remain there for years, she did not want any harm to come to that grandson of hers.
On Sunday afternoon, the couple facing yet another night in custody, Hubert Caouissin suddenly cracked. He began confessing that he had indeed killed the Troadec couple and their two children. But, he had killed them in self-defense.
The police, hardened as they were, all the same listened in shock to what he was to tell them.
He said that on the evening of Thursday, February 16, he had driven the hundred or so miles from his Le Stang farm to the Troadecs’ house in Orvault. He was not planning to visit them, no. He wanted to know what they were doing, so he was going to spy on them. He took a stethoscope with him which he fixed to a ground-floor window hoping that if he put an ear to it he would be hearing what was being said inside the house. At 11 p.m. the family having gone to bed, and he having decided that he wanted to get hold of the house’s keys to have access to the property when the Troadecs were absent, he forced the garage door and from there he entered the house. The house being dark, he stumbled and the noise woke up the Troadec couple. Pascal, carrying a crowbar, came down the stairs and an argument followed, Pascal hitting out at him with the crowbar. To defend himself, said he, he grabbed hold of the crowbar and began hitting Pascal. The latter soon being in a heap on the floor, he next had to defend himself against a violent Brigitte who had also descended from the upper floor. Having also knocked her down with the crowbar, he next had to defend himself against Sebastien and Charlotte. Again, he had used the crowbar to do so.
After the attack, having made sure that the four were dead and not able to summon help or the police, he left the house and drove back to his farm.
On arrival, he told Lydie what had taken place at her brother’s house, and he also took their son aside and told the boy how he had had to defend himself. He also told the boy that he would be hearing that his father was a monster, but he was not to believe it.
That night, he drove back to the Troadec’s house in Orvault and cleaned it up. Content that he had removed all traces of blood, he carried the bodies down to the garage and loaded them into the Peugeot 308. He then drove the vehicle back to his farm.
At the farm, he spent several days beheading and dismembering the bodies with a metal cutter and an axe. Next, he made a fire in the old stone farmhouse’s large fireplace to burn the pieces. Not all the bones would burn though, so those which did not, he buried or dropped into the many ponds on the property, or he threw them into the many rivers around his farm knowing that the bones would be carried out to see. He also scattered some of the smaller bones across the farm, as he did the ash.
Lydie, he said, had taken no part in the killing, nor, in getting rid of the bodies.
Much of what Hubert Caouissin had told the police had however not made sense.
For example, someone would have had to accompany him to the murder house on his return to it on the night after the killing, and would have had to drive his car back to the farm because he had left the house in the Peugeot 308 loaded with the bodies.
Through further interrogation of him, the police learned that it was Lydie who had driven him to the murder house on his return to it, and that she had stood watch outside while he cleaned up the blood and loaded the bodies into the Peugeot 308, the two having communicated by walkie-talkie – he inside the house, she outside. He, an engineer, knew that whereas a cell-phone communication was traceable, that between two walkie-talkies were not.
He also told the police that, tired because of the cleaning of the house, he had had to lie down before he could drive back to his farm. He had chosen to do so in the bedroom of Sebastien, and there on the dead boy’s bed, he had slept for four hours.
Once, back on the farm, he, having carried the bodies from the Peugeot 308, and having cleaned that vehicle as well, he had driven the car from the farm to the nearby port town of Saint-Nazaire to abandon the vehicle on a prominent square.
Having Hubert’s confession, the police charged him with first-degree murder and incarcerated him in the Nantes jail.
Lydie, the police believing that she had not participated in the killing of her brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, was charged with the concealment of a crime. Like Hubert, she was locked up in the Nantes jail.
The time had arrived for the police to search the Le Stang farm, and on a rainy and foggy morning, journalists and press photographers gathering in the distance, the police with dogs and divers and even anthropologists able to identify bones as human, began their search. A helicopter again circled noisily overhead.
At the end of the first day of the search – Wednesday, March 8 – the media reported that the day had not been a successful one for the police as no human remains had been found: not in the farmhouse, nor on the farm or in the nearby rivers. Hubert Caouissin, it was reported, was unable to remember the exact places where he had discarded the remains. As for the human ash, as it had been a rainy day, the ash had washed into the muddy earth.
The next day, Thursday, March 9, another rainy and foggy day, the police took Hubert Caouissin, handcuffed, along on their search.
At the end of the day, journalists, having seen Hubert Caouissin for the first time, could report that he was athletically-built and that he had piercing black eyes, and that his hair, also black, was thinning.
On that day, the police were more successful. They found human fragments on the property, some clothing belonging to the murdered family, the four missing computers, and also some expensive jewellery which had also belonged to the murdered family. DNA testing of the fragments identified some as those of the 18-year-old Charlotte Troadec. She had therefore died with her parents and brother in the murder house. Or had she? Might her uncle not have taken her off with him when he left the house, and had raped her? Raped her, perhaps, to spite her parents, and had afterwards killed her.
After a third day of searching – Friday, March 10 – at which Hubert had not been present, Nantes Prosecutor, Pierre Sennès, announced that there would be no further search of the property, but that the investigation would continue. The property, as well as the murder house, were to be sealed. So it was with red tape, and notices warned intruders to keep out.
There were indeed still questions about the case which needed answers.
The biggest riddle was about the gold treasure trove. Had there really been such a treasure trove or had Hubert and Lydie invented that story?
Breaking the family’s silence, *Jacqueline T. 77, mother of the murdered Pascal and the incarcerated Lydie, gave an exclusive telephone interview to the two Paris dailies Le Parisien and Aujourd’hui en France, which the two sister papers published on Thursday, March 9. She confirmed that her late husband had come across a gold treasure trove in 2009, and that, when she was not at home, her son Pascal had helped himself to the gold. She had asked him to share the gold with his sister, but he had refused. She spoke of how he, his wife and two children had lived the high life from then on, and that he had told her that he had opened accounts in Monaco and Andorra for depositing the gold. She admitted that he had always been jealous of Hubert and of Lydie. Once, she said, he had threatened Lydie in a telephone conversation which the latter had recorded and saved to her computer for protection. He had, she added, told her to shut up when she had urged him to share the gold with his sister.
The people in the region began to recount to journalists how indeed several hundred tonnes of the French State’s gold reserves had disappeared during World War Two. World War Two? That war had ended in 1946, so was it probable that some of that missing gold was still about in 2009 for old man Troadec to have found?
Historians did not hesitate to confirm that in May 1940, World War Two raging, German Wehrmacht tanks rolling towards Paris, the French government sure to capitulate to Adolf Hitler, the Banque de France had evacuated 750 tonnes of gold by rail to the port city of Brest to be shipped to safety in North Africa. Loaded on to five vessels of the French navy, the gold was on its way to Dakar, Senegal on June 14, the day the Wehrmacht entered Paris. The gold was eventually transferred to the Sudan, but on arrival, it was found that some of the cases had been opened, the gold had been removed, and the empty cases had then been filled with pieces of metal. Altogether 870 lbs (395 kilograms) of gold were thus missing, and were never found.
The Banque de France confirmed that in May 1940 it had shipped its gold reserves from France to prevent the Germans grabbing it. It also confirmed the disappearance of some of the gold and that it had not been established where the gold had been stolen: on the trains transporting it to Brest, in the port waiting to be loaded onto ships, or after it had been loaded on to the ships, or in Dakar.
Whether old man Troadec’s gold was that of the Banque de France would most probably never be known. The French police would however have to establish whether Pascal had really opened accounts in a bank in Monaco and in Andorra, and whether he had cashed in the gold in either or both of these principalities, or whether he had hidden the gold in the banks’ strong boxes.
French justice is notoriously slow. For this reason, this case will not be heard in front of a court of justice for at least another three years.
Hubert Caouissin, his guilt already established through confession, risks a sentence of life imprisonment. In France, Life means 25 years. However, should Marine le Pen, the extreme-right candidate in France’s May presidential elections be elected France’s next head-of-state, ‘life’ would become exactly that: being locked up in jail until death. Mrs Le Pen had promised the French that she would without doubt change France’s penal code concerning life imprisonment. At the beginning of her campaign for the presidency, she had also said that she would reinstate capital punishment, but she had made no further mention of that.
Lydie Troadec risks between 10 to a dozen years behind bars.
Meanwhile, France’s Social Services would have to decide whether her mother *Jacqueline T. would be allowed to continue to care for Hubert and Lydie’s little boy.
(All names marked with an asterisk indicates that I have changed the name.)
UPDATE: Monday, March 21.
The prosecutor’s office announced on this day that DNA had identified all the fragments of human remains found on Hubert Caouissin’s farm as being from the bodies of the four murdered Troadecs.