Dupont de Ligonnès Family Murder from 2011 … remains unsolved … UPDATE

In 2011 the murder of a woman and her four teenage children – and of the family’s two Labradors – shook France. The woman’s husband, father of three of the children, was nowhere to be found. Today, almost seven years ago, he, the presumed killer, is still nowhere to be found which makes the case […]

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes

In 2011 the murder of a woman and her four teenage children – and of the family’s two Labradors – shook France. The woman’s husband, father of three of the children, was nowhere to be found.

Today, almost seven years ago, he, the presumed killer, is still nowhere to be found which makes the case France’s most famous unresolved family killing.

I reported the case, and you can read below what I wrote. When you have finished reading it, you will find an UPDATE at the bottom.

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It seems a most idyllic scene.

It is the spring of 2011.

The winter was not exceptionally cold, yet in the first days of April, the people of the town of Nantes in France’s Loire valley, famous for its castles and fine wines, are out in their gardens clearing away fallen leaves and digging beds for seeds which would bloom in the summer.

It was there from Nantes on the estuary of the River Loire that the ships used to sail to Africa to pick up slaves to labour in the New World, but now in the 21st century, the slave ships have long disappeared, the town possesses the hushed charm of the upper middle-class. The river curves its way through the town, its banks, where once slave traders were doing their bargaining, now shady promenades behind which stand old stone houses with wrought-iron balconies and dormer windows from which hang boxes filled with red geraniums.

On Thursday, April 7, the sun shining and the temperature at 25 degrees Celcius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), there is much activity uptown at No. 55 Boulevard Robert-Schuman, a narrow two-storey with two windows on the ground floor, two on the first, one of them behind a wrought-iron balcony, and two dormer windows; all the windows shuttered. Neighbours see the man of the house, dark-haired, bespectacled Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, 50, dressed in shorts, t-shirt and sneakers, walk to and fro between the family home and his dark four-door Citroën C5 parked alongside the curb.  Each time he steps through the house’s front door he is carrying gym bags or carrier bags with the logos of local supermarket stores. The bags are chock-full. He arranges them in the trunk of the car because the rear seat is already fully packed and according to the law the rear window must remain clear.

There is no sign of the woman of the house, grey-haired Agnès, the 48-year-old wife of the busy man. She might though have gone to the school where she works as supervisor, or she might have gone to give another of her catechism classes at a nearby Catholic private school.

  The neighbours know that the couple has four children. The children –Arthur, 20, Thomas, 18, Anne, 16, and Benoît, 13 – would be away at their respective private schools: nothing but a private school for the bourgeoisie. Easter school vacation is not to start for another two weeks when the children’s laughter will be heard.

The family’s two black Labradors are also not in sight.

 What the neighbours do not know is that Monsieur Dupont de Ligonnès, or rather the Marquis Dupont de Ligonnès, has also been doing some work in the garden. This was at the back of the house, because the house, like all those on the street, is straight off the street with no front garden.

 The back garden’s not big. To be precise, it is just a strip of sloping lawn –30 metres  (100 feet) long and 8 metres (25 feet) wide. One reaches it by descending a few cement steps from a small – about 4 metres (twelve feet) long and not even that wide – cemented terrace behind a white-painted railing. The terrace is wedged between the steps and a wall on the right that indicates the property’s boundary. It is underneath the terrace, and in front of a small door behind which steps lead to a cellar, that the family leaves things they do not want to get wet should it rain or which they want out of the way: the barbecue grill, their folding ladder, the children’s skateboard and bicycle helmets, an old car jack and a broken transistor radio, the hosepipe, bags of soil bought from the florists but which have not yet been opened, and gardening rubble still to be  taken to the municipal waste ground. Also underneath the terrace is a clipboard which is fastened to the boundary wall. It is a few feet up from the ground and underneath is where the family leaves the two cushions for their two black Labrador dogs as well as the animals’ food and water tins.

 Evening comes. A haze hangs over Boulevard Robert-Schumann which has fallen silent. The street’s inhabitants are indoors preparing dinner as the appetizing odors that drift from the houses testify.

 There is no longer a car parked in front of Number 55 and there are no signs of activity at the house, neither outside nor inside, but then the shutters are still closed, cutting out the rest of the world.

 Such a united couple

Xavier and Agnès were married in 1991.  He was 30 years old, she 28 and the mother of a toddler, Arthur. Xavier, having been raised by his Christian fundamentalist mother, Geneviève, to understand that sex outside marriage was an unpardonable sin in the face of God, had, by marrying a woman with a love child become a sinner through association. However, there had been no protestations from his mother, and Xavier had even adopted his bride’s love child.

 Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès hailed from Versailles, the town of kings. As the ‘de’ of the family’s surname showed, the Dupont de Ligonnès were aristocrats. The first ancestor to have been ennobled was back in the 16th century, the surname then de Molin du Pont de Ligonnès.  A century later the ‘de Molin’ was dropped from the name and another two centuries later the ‘du Pont’ had erroneously been spelled Dupont on official documents and so the family’s name had become Dupont de Ligonnès. The family seat, the 13th century Castle of Ressouches, was in the village of Mende, 611 km (380 miles) south from Paris in the Languedoc region: a widowed aunt of Xavier still lived there. The castle had come into the possession of the family in the 1880s when it had become the home of ancestor Charles du Pont de Ligonnès, Bishop of Rodez.  The French ministry of culture had declared the castle a National Heritage Site in 1971, a declaration that meant that the building could not be altered, only restored, as it should be preserved as part of the cultural heritage of France.

Bishop of Rodez

 Xavier, obsessively jotting down his thoughts on paper, wrote of his childhood spent in the family’s apartment in a building close to the Chateau of Versailles, that until the age of 10 it was “beautiful and carefree” and that he was happy but that he was surrounded by more women than men: his grandmother, his mother and his two sisters. His father, Hubert, legally the Marquis Dupont de Ligonnès, a womaniser, was not always present and then when his son was 18 he left the family altogether and settled in Africa. Of what his life was like from that time on Xavier would write: “I am both the king of the house and the little boy in whom is instilled respect for women”.

He would also write that those were years dominated by faith and religion. So that he would not, like other teenagers, take drugs and fool around with girls, his grandmother and mother, one as strictly Christian fundamentalist as the other, chose the girls he could be friendly with and who would be worth of becoming his wife one future day. The two women had begun to do this when he was ten and did not stop until he was twenty years old. In those ten years the two had found just three girls suitable as his wife. So ridiculous did he find this that when he wrote about it, he ended the sentence with an exclamation mark: “Three in ten years!” He was, as the two women drilled into him, not to “go to bed before the wedding”.

Something that the two women drilled into Xavier was that the Day of Judgment was nigh, and he had to prepare for it. Preparation meant that he should eat only natural foods, should not drink alcohol, and above all he must not forget the rule about abstaining from sex outside marriage.

Having already been forced from his first years to, on a daily basis, attend the first mass of the day with the two women, something he resented because of having to get out of bed so early in the morning, he also later when in his teens attended evening prayer gatherings held in the family apartment. His mother had founded a prayer group in 1964 which she called “Philadelphie” and of which she strictly controlled its membership. Claiming she was an automatist – someone who receives messages from those who have departed and now inhabit the spirit world – she feverishly wrote down messages she said were entrusted to her by the Holy Virgin and even by Jesus Christ.  Her automatic writing had begun in 1971 and in 1973 the messages were printed in a document titled A Message of Love and Mercy – a Book of Redemption (Message d’Amour et de Miséricorde – Oeuvre de Rédemption) of which 11,000 copies were printed and distributed among the Catholic devout.  (Note: Philadelphie has no connection with the Church of Philadelphia.)

Xavier would jot down: “From the age of eleven I’d been persuaded, like a good Christian, that Christ was to return to rule as Christ the King before the World was to end. Only thing was, in my case, I believed that Christ’s return was imminent as my mother told us it was because she was supposed to be bringing us God’s Word.” (In 1995, Xavier married and a father, Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnès would tell him and the members of ‘Philadelphie’ that the end of the world was programmed for that coming month of June. When that June came Xavier and Agnès and the three eldest children then already born, had joined Mrs Dupont de Ligonnès and her followers at a house in the French town of Rennes to await the Apocalypse, but the World had not ended. One of those at the house could not take the strain and had to be admitted to a mental health ward in the town.)

However, Xavier did not totally adhere to his mother and grandmother’s teachings and strict Code of Life. Like any teenager he managed to break free and go to car rallies and rock concerts.  He even made good use of the Sunday masses he was forced to attend, and at which he dutifully served Mass, by chatting up girls when the attention of his two female  overseers and the parish priests were distracted.

Hubert, before he set off for Africa, also contributed to his son’s escape from the vigilant eyes of the two women by buying him a pale blue Triumph Spitfire sports car for his 18th birthday. The car came in handy during school vacation time; having an aunt who lived on the Riviera, he and a friend drove down to Saint-Tropez, Mecca of the beautiful, wealthy and famous, and there the Triumph was a perfect bait to catch the attention of girls.

Back in Versailles, one such girl was the 16-year-old Agnès.

Agnès Hodanger was not an aristocrat, but she hailed from the Paris upper middle-class community of Neuily-sur-Seine. Dark and curvaceous, she smoked, and as a friend would say of her, “she laughed a lot and loved life.”

She also loved Xavier, or Xav, as everyone called him.

However, Xavier was not yet thinking of marriage. Military service, introduced in the 1798 French Revolution, was compulsory in France for men from the age of 18 until the age of 22 for a period of service of one year, and first he had to get that out of the way.  (Obligatory military service was suspended in 1996.)

A young man reaching the age of 18 may delay the commencement of his service because of studies, but Hubert Dupont de Ligonnès – despite that he was supporting his estranged wife financially – would not pay for his son to attend university, perhaps because he knew his son did not excel as a scholar, so on reaching 18, Xavier donned a uniform. He took to life in the army and at the end of his service he enlisted into the Air Force, from which he would however resign in 1983, aged 22, without having achieved the rank of an officer.

He had a passion and that passion was the United States of America and things American like country music, and he just had to go there. First though he had to augment his bank balance, so he had to get a job. Drifting from one job to another he moved around France, never staying for long in a town. Each time it was a job for which one did not need certificates or diplomas.

Saving for his trip to the United States did not however stop him from dressing smartly – his friends were amazed at his tinted Ray Ban shades which they considered a luxury and beyond their financial means – and travelling around Europe, once going to Hanover to visit a German girlfriend he had told his friends was named Claudia.  He did not know German but Claudia, who had lived in Paris once, was fluent in French.

Finally, having learned English, he set off for the United States and with a backpack he went around the country.

In 1990, the 29-year-old Xavier having lived the dream, but not quite as fully as he had wished, and still wanting to return soon to the wonderful United States of America, arrived back in France, and strapped for cash, he returned to Versailles and moved back in with his mother.

Versailles, although classified as a city, was small – not even 80,000 people lived there then, and today not even 90,000 – and there were not all that many clubs or bars for young people to hang around in, so the paths of Xavier and Agnès soon crossed again. Agnès, despite having the reputation as being “quite pious” did not practice abstention from pre-marital sex, and had become the mother of the toddler Arthur.  Her single parenthood did not appall Xavier and he married her and adopted little dark-haired, dark-eyed Arthur.

Married, and with a little son to love and care for, Xavier and Agnès left Versailles in search of a way to earn money. They went south where the weather was more temperate than in the north, living here and there or wherever Xavier got a job: those were again low-skilled. Agnès meanwhile gave birth to Thomas in 1993, Anne in 1995 and Benoît in 1998.

In 2003 the couple and their four children arrived in Nantes. They rented the 1,300 square- feet house at No. 55 Boulevard Schubert from a widow at a rent of $2,000 monthly.

Xavier was still dreaming of the Unitetd States where he wanted to buy plots of land in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California on which to open inns offering accommodation and meals to truckers. That dream did not however stop him from having yet another: visiting and even living in Australia. Meanwhile, he and Agnès became, in their minds, a little closer to the United States: they joined a local square-dancing club.

Such good dancers did Xavier and Agnès become that they became teachers at the club. That however was just a pleasurable pastime and not employment, and Xavier, drawing unemployment benefits, had to find something to do to provide for his family.

In 2005 he started his own business – SELREF – operating exclusively on the Internet. He registered it as a Pty. Ltd. – a private company limited by shares held only by the owner or with a member of his or her family and which were not transferable. (A SARL – Société à responsabilité limitée.)

Registered not in Nantes, but in the town of Pornic, 59 km (37 miles) away, SELREF was a restaurant, hotel and conference hall verification service which he offered those who enrolled with him. Unlike other such services offered on the Internet and catering for all travellers, his clients would be exclusively businessmen. What he would sell them would be an estimation of the services that would be provided for a lunch, dinner, reception or a conference at an intended venue. He and his team of agents posing as guests using fake identities would travel far and wide across France verifying each venue. The truth was that SELREF did not have any agents: Xavier was to do everything himself.

That year of 2005 Xavier did not do so well.  The business raked in just $8,000 (€6,000). This was the amount he declared to the French National Commerce and Business Register (Registre National du Commerce et des Sociétés). Two years later, in 2007, he declared an income of $115,000 (€86,200). The truth however was that the company had also generated huge debts: it was costly travelling around France and staying in top hotels and dining in top restaurants which was what he had to do.

Agnès, whose school reports had described her as poor in French and mathematics, had first worked as babysitter, then she had become the supervisor at the Catholic private school: neighbours thought that she was a teacher. There was no payment for the teaching of the catechism.

In 2009 the couple declared a joint income of $7,100 (€5,351) to the tax man. In 2010 their joint income had somewhat increased but only to $23,500 (€17,658).

Such an income for a family of six put them close to the poverty line, but to neighbours and friends the couple was still affluent. All four of the children attended private Catholic schools, the family took vacations and there were four cars to the household. There was the Citroën C5, a black Volkswagen roadster, an old station wagon which was Arthur’s and a very old Renault Clio. And then, of course, Xavier was a business executive, a man with his own business travelling all over, and as he told the neighbours, often his work took him to the United Sates.

What the friends and neighbours did not know was that Agnès had become disillusioned with her marriage and in 2005 she had become close to another man, her husband’s best friend, though their “affair” did not develop further than long telephone calls and text messages. Xavier and Agnès had even split for four months from July to October of that year because Xavier had overheard one his wife’s telephone calls to his best friend.  At the same time Agnès was suspecting that her husband’s frequent absences from home were because he was with other women, especially his old flame, the German Claudia, with whom he had told her he had remade contact.  That October when the two were reconciled, they wrote a very long open letter to family and friends: she did a mea culpa and praised him for being such a wonderful husband to her and he wrote that he wanted to wipe out the negative image they have of him because of what she’d been saying about him.

In 2009, the state of their marriage, not having improved, Agnès, still the disillusioned wife began writing on online feminine forums, baring her soul to the other members. Writing under the user names Agnesses and Scorpios, she wrote that her husband was a workaholic and most of the time his work took him away from home and then when he returned home he locked himself up in their house’s basement which he had turned into an office and where he kept his computer and files. The rare times that he was with the family he was very difficult to live with: he was, she wrote, “macho and cold”.  He was also “old hat” in that a man was head of the family: “He gave the orders and one had to obey without asking questions or understanding. Period!”

On another day she wrote, “I am deprived of everything: tenderness, love, friends and sex … everything …” And also, “He is too harsh, too insensitive, too rigid, too militaristic. There is no tenderness, no affection, no sex.” She could not discuss his behaviour with him because he considered such a discussion as an attack on him, she claimed.

Agnès also complained about money, or rather, the lack of money.  She wrote that the household was having huge problems with “dough” (fric in French). “It’s been hell … since he started his business four years ago with MY money, and it drags, it drags, it drags … it’s too hard!!!!!!!” Her mother had passed away and having inherited $105,000 (€85,000) from her she had handed the money over to her husband to start his business.

She would write in another post that Xavier was saying things like “If we all die all at once, everything would be over.”

She had a consolation though: God.

In an email to a Facebook “friend” she wrote that for eight years she had been shrouded in darkness as far as belief was concerned. She thought that we’d been misled, and that God did not exist.  “After all,” she wrote, “what could be better than nothing after death and we can live as we wish here on earth.” However, God had brought her back to Him. “Alas, not so my husband,” she added. Also, not all of their four children. She wrote: “My two eldest (18 and 20) the second whose life I had devoted to the Holy Virgin, do not believe at all. The youngest two of 13 and 16, yes, and they accompany me to Mass on Sundays and are members of a prayer group at their school.”

As part of her attempt to regain her faith, she had even become involved with a local Catholic guru. She had paid over to the man about $4,000 for his spiritual guidance and to exorcize the “demons” who were making her life a hell. One such demon was the jewellery her mother-in-law had given her as gifts. Xavier hearing that she had paid such a large amount of money over to the guru was furious and went to the guru to get the money back: he did not.  He, having broken free from the faith his mother and grandmother had forced on him, found his wife’s religious fervour alarming. In 2006, he wrote of having realized when he was 35 years old that his mother had created a non-existent and imaginary world.  “I lived in an imaginary world with imaginary characters,” he wrote.

 Xavier, however, while his wife opened her heart and bared her soul to a guru and to complete strangers online, also opened his heart and bared his soul, but he did that by writing letters and emails to family members and friends or writing notes to himself, saving all his writings on the Internet. He did not though write about his sex life with his wife, but about his philosophy of life and his money problems.

He wrote to a family member: “In fact, out of a hundred people, ten are homosexual, twenty frigid, thirty sexually obsessed and so on, while about ten are well balanced. We cannot therefore say that being well balanced is the norm. Quite on the contrary.”

 One person he discussed his finances with in emails was a wealthy businesswoman who had been a sweetheart when he was in his late teens and with whom he had renewed contact and was having an affair with, and from whom he had borrowed $65,000.  Having been unable to repay that loan, he emailed her to ask if he could have another loan of $33,000.

He wrote that he did not want her to look on him as a manipulator, a con artist, liar or crook, or hypocrite. The new loan was needed for a new business he had set up – TRAVELLING SALESMEN ROAD – La Route des Commerciaux – which like SELREF operated on the Internet. Unlike SELREF, the new business catered for anyone who was often on the road: truckers, travelling salesmen and their employers, who would become members of a club, the Crystal Club. They would receive a booklet of vouchers, each voucher, when scratched, revealing the amount they could spend on a meal at any of the restaurants which also had to join the club.

The Crystal Club, having won few adherents, was failing.

After the lover refused to lend him more money and demanded that the first loan be repaid, Xavier sent her another email. He wrote that he was at the end of his rope as he was also three months behind with the rent of the house and had only $650 (€500) for the family’s food for that month.  He was also behind with his taxes, the state wanting a large sum from him.

In a following email to her he wrote that he was unable to find someone who would loan him the $33,000. “I can no longer sleep and every night I have the most morbid ideas: to set light to the house after having fed everyone sleeping pills, then to drive straight into a truck so that Agnès can get the $785,000 (€600,000) life insurance money,” he wrote.

The lover, probably having noticed the contradiction in what she had considered a threat – if Agnès and the four children were sedated with the sleeping pills Xavier had fed them, they would have died in the fire – still did not give him the second loan. Instead, she broke off with him and what was more at the beginning of 2011 she began legal proceedings against him to retrieve her money.

The first action the woman’s legal counsel took was to order a bailiff to the Dupont de Ligonèss house for valuation with the aim to seize possessions the sale of which would cover the outstanding loan.

Duly, the bailiff wrote to Xavier announcing that he would be at the house on the morning of Friday, April 8 for the valuation.

Xavier did not reply to the letter, but this did not stop the bailiff from turning up at the house on that Friday morning – the day after the neighbours had watched Xavier load his car.

The bailiff found the house silent and the shutters closed, and a note pasted to the wall beside the front door: “Mail to be returned to their senders. Thank you.” Courriers à retourer à leurs expéditeurs. Merci.

Farewell letters signed Xav

Four days before Xavier’s very busy Thursday – on Monday, April 4 – the secretary at the Catholic private school where Agnès worked as supervisor received a telephone call. It was Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès on the line. He said that his wife won’t be in that day: she was ill with gastro-enteritis.

Also, that morning Xavier telephoned the private Saint-Gabriel Catholic College in the town of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvres, 80 km (fifty miles) from Nantes, where Arthur was studying for a diploma in international commerce. He said that Arthur had an accident on his scooter and has been hospitalized.  Arthur was a boarder but each Friday he returned home for the weekend – that Monday he should have been back at the college. A few days later the owner of a pizza bar in Nantes where Arthur worked on weekends, would receive a handwritten letter written and signed by Arthur and bearing the date of that Monday. Arthur wrote that he would not be working at the pizza bar anymore because the family was moving to Australia as his father has been transferred there. He said that he need not be paid for the work of the previous month.

Xavier also that morning telephoned the schools of the other three children. They were ill and would be absent for a few days he said.

The next day –Tuesday, April 5 – anxious school friends, having sent text messages to the Dupont de Ligonnès children without having received a reply, went to Boulevard Robert-Schuman and found a note pasted to the door: no one was to ring the bell because there were ill people in the house and they should not be disturbed. Looking up at the silent house, they saw a light on in one of the upstairs windows.

Friday, April 8, one of those friends received a text message from the ‘ill’ Alice. She confirmed that she was ill and wrote: “Do not count on me for several days.” Also, that day, two friends of Arthur received similar text messages sent to them by Agnès. “Hi,” the text began, “Don’t worry. Art has gone with his dad to the Paris region to help with a moving. He forgot his cell and my husband has forgotten his battery charger. We told the school he fell off his scooter. He’ll be back on Saturday working at the pizza bar. Have a nice day.”

That day the school where Agnès worked also received a text message. The sender was Xavier. He wrote to the principal that Agnès has been hospitalized.

Between April 9 and 11 a series of letters bearing the date April 6 and signed “Xav” arrived in the mail at the homes of Agnès’ three brothers, Xavier’s mother and his two sisters, as well as at the children’s schools and the school where Agnès worked, as well as at the homes of friends of the Dupont de Ligonnès and Hodanger families.

The letters to the schools were handwritten. Xavier wrote that he had been transferred to Australia as a matter of urgency and his wife and children had made the move with him.

The letters to the two respective families were typed and read: “Hello everybody! Mega surprise: we have left for the USA in all urgency and because of very special reasons which we will explain below.”

Four pages followed.

He wrote that he was writing to them because the family had been prohibited for security reasons from communicating other than by letter. That was how it would remain for several years.

He continued: “When you read this letter we will no longer be in France and we will not be able to return for a yet undetermined time (several years).”

He claimed that as a result of his work he had been approached by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to spy on drug traffickers.  He would therefore have to give evidence in a high-profile trial in the United States. For that reason, he, Agnès and the children were under the protection of the U.S. government.

He gave instructions of what he wanted some of the recipients of the letters to do. A family friend named Cédric had to remove everything from the Boulevard Robert-Schuman house for an auction; he must also sell the cars. One of Agnès’ brothers had to take what furniture he wanted from what used to be those of Agnès’ parents. Another family friend had to arrange the return of the house to its owner, and he also had to get in touch with the children’s friends to tell them what had happened but that they must consider the information as confidential.

The letters all ended with: “The hardest for us will be to get used to our new names!” and “I hug you all!” To some recipients a few personal words had been added about how the rent for April might not have been cleared by this bank and that there was no money in Agnès’ account. With many an LOL between sentences, he also asked one friend to pass his regrets on to another friend for not being able to attend his initiation as a member at the local shooting club that April 9.

The recipients thought the information and the requests the letters bore were strange indeed. No less so one of the recipients, one of Xavier’s two sisters. At 10:37 p.m. of Sunday, April 3, her brother had left her a message on her answerphone. He told her that he, his wife and children had been to watch a movie at the local theatre and had then had dinner at a restaurant. “We just got back,” he said. He asked her to call him back, but if she should receive his message when it was already late into the night, she should send him a text.  “I am now going to see the kids to bed and say goodnight. Speak to you soon, perhaps. Hugs.”

The sister would listen to the message the following morning. She called Xavier back and sister and brother had a long, friendly chat on the phone. The two understood each other well: in the past he had emailed her: “You are very intelligent, as you know and as I know too. And I am also very intelligent, and you know that as well!  Between us we do not need to pretend or manifest false modesty: our brains are working well …” And on another occasion, “My IQ is higher than 150 like those of Thomas and Benoît which means like those of 0.1% of the human race (which is stupid as a whole) and yours should be too.”

A leg under the concrete

On Tuesday, April 12, Xavier’s letters having been read, the recipients began to telephone the landline phone at the Boulevard Robert-Schuman house as well as the family’s cell phones.  The phones kept on ringing. Deciding to email Xavier instead, they learned that the family’s email accounts have been closed. So too the email account for TRAVELING SALESMAN ROAD.

The siblings of Xavier and Agnès having gone to the police to report the family missing, on Wednesday, April 13, four uniformed police went to No. 55 Boulevard Robert-Schuman. They found the notice about returning mail to its senders on the front door. Having knocked several times, the four unlocked the front door and walked through the house and left. The kitchen and bathrooms were spotlessly clean, but they had seen a few objects lying about in the bedrooms, but in their opinion the house was no more untidy than any house where four teenagers lived. They had found nothing in the house that made them believe that foul play had taken place on the premises.

Six days later, on Tuesday, April 19, family and friends still not having received word from the couple and their children, Nantes prosecutor, Xavier Ronsin, launched an investigation into their disappearance, the American embassy in Paris having verified with the States and the DEA having advised that it had never heard of a Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès and he and his family were certainly not in a protection scheme.

Two days later, on Thursday, April 21, just before 10 in the morning, Prosecutor Ronsin having opened a Missing Persons file, several police vehicles drew up in front of the Xavier house. Detectives in possession of a search warrant again knocked at the front door and when it remained closed, they forced the door and went inside. Meanwhile, uniformed police   closed off the street, a street where there had never been any kind of disturbance or trouble before.

On that second visit the police thought that the house was not as tidy as their colleagues had first decided. There were a lot of odds and ends lying about, photographs had been removed from frames and were missing, beds had been stripped and plastic bin-liners full of clothes lay on the floors in the bedrooms.  In cupboards in the bathroom there were several boxes of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication; some had been opened and had pills missing.  In the basement, which had been transformed into an office, documents from files had been removed and were missing, and there was no sign of a computer: a computer had been in the room the police knew because there were a plug and wires for it.

What the state of the house showed was that the family had left in a hurry but there was still no evidence that foul play had been involved.

Then, the attention of a female cop, looking around the small back garden, was drawn to various items – the barbecue grill and so on – which were under the terrace. She looked at the clipboard fastened to the wall on the right of the terrace. The earth under the clipboard was fresh and had not been stamped down as elsewhere in the garden. As she would tell her colleagues her female intuition made her scratch the loose earth. She came to set cement. She tapped a finger against it and felt that it had not hardened totally yet. She dug her nails into it and the cement began to crumble. She continued digging and she felt something soft under her fingers. She swept the wet cement out of the way and she saw a leg: the leg of a human.

 Forensic police, dressed in white protective clothing, boots, gloves and masks arrived at the house. Digging further they found five bodies: two female and three males.  The bodies lay under a thin layer of earth and a white powder: no cop had to be told that the white powder was lime. Each body was wrapped in a pretty coloured sheet or an equally pretty coloured duvet. And tucked under the sheet or duvet was a religious object: either a rosary or a small statue of the Virgin Mary. The older of the females was dressed in a t-shirt, the younger one in a pair of pyjamas and so too was one of the smaller of the males. The other two males wore boxer shorts.

 Also under the earth and lime were the bodies of two black Labradors.

 DNA quickly showed that the five bodies were those of Agnès, Arthur, Thomas, Anne and Benoît.

 Autopsies showed that the five had been shot: the Labradors too had been shot.

 Agnès, Arthur and Anne each had one bullet in the head; Thomas and Benoît each had two bullets in the head and two in the chest.  Analyses of body tissue and fluids showed that the four children had also been drugged with a sleeping medication.  They had been dead for about two weeks.

In the investigators’ scenario it meant that on the morning of Thursday April 7 when Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was seen carrying bags from the house to his car, the five were dead already. Whether he was the killer they could not say, but if so, then they thought that the likely scenario was that he had shot his wife dead and then went to the two rooms where the four children slept – Anne alone in a room – the four in a very deep sleep because of the sleeping pills he had fed them and shot them dead too. Or it could be that he had first shot the sleeping children dead and then he had gone to the bedroom to shoot his wife, who, because of the silencer on the rifle, would have been unaware of what had just happened in the children’s bedrooms. The shooting had been done on the Saturday or the Sunday – April 2 or 3 – because on the Monday Arthur would not have been at the house but away at college.

 The discovery of the bodies having changed Prosecutor Ronsin’s Missing Persons investigation to a Preliminary Enquiry Against X for Assassination, he also issued an arrest warrant for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. He was wanted as a witness. (The French Penal Code makes a distinction between ordinary murder – killing in a burst of sudden anger like a crime passionnel when a spouse kills an unfaithful partner – and premeditated murder. The second is called an assassinat – assassination. The other kind of murder is called a meurtre. Until France abolished the death sentence in 1977, as a rule assassination meant the guillotine and murder meant perpète – life imprisonment – though it, too, could have meant a death sentence.)

 Whoever killed Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès’ wife and children, when apprehended, judged and found guilty, faced life behind bars.

 But where was Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, and did he have a firearm and more precisely the calibre used to kill his family? It was a .22 long rifle.

 Indeed, he did.

 In January 2011 – not even three months previously – he had inherited a .22 long rifle from his father.  He did not know how to use a firearm, so he had joined the local shooting club to learn to shoot even having taken Arthur and Thomas along some days to also learn the skill. He had asked his instructor about buying a silencer but was told that to attach a silencer to that particular firearm would not be a good idea because it would interfere with its accuracy. The instructor also told him that the rifle did not need great skill to fire as it had but a feeble kick. He had gone ahead anyway and on Saturday, March 12, he had bought a silencer as well as ammunition from a gun shop in Nantes.

 When he had gone out shopping for a silencer and ammunition, he had also shopped for cleaning material and lime.

 His last shooting session at the club had been on Friday, April 1. He had gone practising at the club each of the three preceding days.

 Investigation

Empty containers of cleaning fluid, scrubbing brushes and a bucket told the police that some cleaning had gone on in the house.  The stove and fridge too had been cleaned: both were empty. The electricity had been switched off at the mains. The tiled floors of the bathrooms and the kitchen were shiny.

Forensic men arrived with the reagent luminol BLUESTAR™ and sprayed the rooms, its walls, floors and furniture as well as all over the bathroom, toilet and kitchen.  If blood had been spilled in the house, the luminescence the product would provide in the dark would reveal that once there had been blood there.

 The scrubbing brushes and bucket and the tiled floor of the kitchen became luminescent and were scraped for residue and the residue was tested in the police laboratory. Yes, the kitchen had been cleaned to get rid of blood. Further tests would reveal that it was both human and animal (the two Labradors) blood.

 The bleach in the cleaning products which had been used did not make it possible to establish a DNA profile for the blood, but the police had sufficient evidence that murder had taken place in the house and that an effort had been made to get rid of blood.

 The media having reported the disappearance of the family with pictures of the five on front pages and on TV news reports, and next the discovery of the bodies of the mother and the four children, there was not a soul in France who did not know what the wanted Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès looked like. Just as there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that he had shot to death his family and was on the run. There was little belief in the story about the DEA having whisked the family to a safehouse somewhere in the United States, yet there were journalists who did all the same speculate that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès might have been a 007 for the CIA.

 What the police did not make public was that on Thursday, April 14 a colosed-circuit TV camera had photographed Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès withdrawing money from a cash distributor in the small town (11,000 inhabitants) of Roquebrune-sur-Argens, 1126 kms (700 miles) southeast from Nantes and 96 kms (60 miles) from France’s border with Italy. He withdrew the paltry sum of $38 (€30) because that was all that was left of his monthly withdrawal allowance. (The monthly withdral allowance has not been made public.)

 The hunt for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was truly on.

 His family told the media that he was innocent. Through the media they asked him to contact them if he were not being held hostage somewhere.

 Agnès’ family, the Hodangers, told the media that they would not pass judgement until their brother-in-law came forward and could explain what was going on.

 On Monday, April 25 – not quite five days since the discovery of the five bodies in the garden and the autopsies – the Hodangers received a burial certificate from the police.  A funeral service was held in the Catholic parish where the family worshipped. Loudspeakers relayed the service to the square outside which was packed with mourners, most of them never having laid eyes on the family, but dabbing at eyes as if they were mourning the passing of loved ones. As the Hodangers requested, journalists stood behind barriers set up at the furthest end of the square when five black hearses slowly drove up, in each a bare light brown coffin, each coffin carrying the ashes of one of the murdered five. (In France funeral parlours discourage wreaths in the event of a cremation.)

The Hodanger family’s first words from within the church were addressed to the children’s friends. They quoted Pope Benedict XVI: “Fear not. Believe in the strength of life and of love.”

 After the service the coffins were driven to the village of Noyers-sur-Serein (770 inhabitants) in the wine-growing region of Burgundy, 563 kms (350 miles) east from Nantes, and where the Hodanger family hailed from. According to tradition in France, the coffins with the ashes were to be laid in the family’s tomb. That ceremony was private.

 They seek him here, they seek him there

While the French doubted the efficiency of their police, the force’s different sectors were hard busy looking for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. The arrest warrant still identified him as a witness but Interpol, on request of the French, had issued an International Arrest Warrant for him on Tuesday, May 10, 2011.

 In charge of the investigation was Nantes’s criminal police – police judiciare, the PJ, under Examining Magistrate Robert Tchalian.  With 15 police this PJ was the smallest unit in France. Examining Magistrate Tchalian would report the findings of his team to Prosecutor Ronsin who would decide whether he had sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès for assassination.

 In Paris the Central Office for the Suppression of Violence against People – the OCRVP – was checking if the wanted man had not fled France. They went through rail, air and shipping files and those of car hire companies.  A task already laborious was made more so because Xavier had used numerous fake identities when booking into hotels or making restaurant reservations for his two businesses. They also alerted the passport offices in case there would be a request for a passport from a male of more or less Xavier’s age and appearance.

 France’s cyber police also went into action. The Central Office for the Fight against Crime in Information Techology and Communication – OCLCTIC – searched for what not only Xavier but the other members of the family as well had left on the Web.  They immediately found the email address of Xavier’s last business and therefore the server the family had used.  Working from there they did indeed learn the family’s Web activities. Xavier had, true to himself, saved his writings on the Web, those included his private thoughts and emails he had sent to his wife and other members of the family, but also emails he had sent women. Among the latter were his emails to the ex-lover, the wealthy businesswoman, from whom he had borrowed money and then wanted to borrow still more.

 The cyber police had however hit a snag: Xavier’s personal writings went up to the end of 2010 only. The police thought that beginning 2011, in other words four months before the shooting of his family, he must have stored his writings on a site with a memory bank hidden from non-subscribers. Up to the time of writing of this article, the OCLCTIC was still searching for such a site.

 The OCLCTIC also checked the family’s cell phones. As Xavier’s had gone silent during the night of April 13/14, the police began going through Internet and phone connections established through 3G in the Nantes region. They knew that their task would be enormous.

Sightings, CCTV footage and radar flashings on highways, showed that on Sunday, April 10 when the Dupont de Ligonnès family, which included Xavier, was still only officially “missing,” he was 80 kms (50 miles) away from Nantes at Arthur’s College at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. He went to the college dormitory and removed all of his adopted son’s possession from the young man’s room. “What one does not do for one’s kids,” he said to another student who came walking along the corridor and looked puzzled at what was going on.

 Afterwards Xavier lunched at a restaurant just outside the town and that night he stayed at a hotel in the town of Puilboreau, 96 kms (60 miles) south.  He had arrived at the hotel at 8 p.m. The next night he spent in a hotel almost 482 kms (300 miles) to the south, in the town of Blagnac. The hotel manager would remember him as “just a client like any other.”

 On Tuesday, April 12, he splurged out and spent the night in a five-star inn 402 kms (250 miles) east in the town of Pontet. He booked in under the name Xavier Laurent and gave his profession as “businessman”.  Chatting to staff, he said that he was in the region in search of “contacts”. They would describe him “a tiny bit flirtatious”. He had dinner in the restaurant and then spent part of the evening in the inn’s cyber café. He was on a Catholic website, most of the time on pages about the secret Catholic institution, Opus Dei.

 He settled the check with his credit card: the amount was €214.59. ($280)

 The following day he was on the Mediterranean coast in the town of La Seyne-sur-Mer, 193 kms (120 miles) south. He booked into a low budget hotel for that night. In his bachelor days the town was one of those he had lived in.

 The next day, April 14, was the one on which he was captured on the CCTV camera of the cash distributor in Roquebrune-sur-Argens 1126 kms (700 miles) away from his Nantes home.

 He spent that night in a hotel on the outskirts of the town and at 10 a.m. of the following day, April 15, he booked out and slowly walked from the hotel. He looked straight into the CCTV camera which was focussed on the inn’s facade, pausing for a couple of seconds. Apart from a backpack, he was carrying a long bag. It was the kind of bag one would put golf clubs in. Or a rifle.

 There was no doubt that the man with the bushy black hair and metal-framed glasses on the inn’s CCTV footage was the same man who was photographed at the cash distributor:  Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.

 The investigators would believe that he had deliberately stared into the camera.

 But what was he saying? “Catch me if you can?” or “Hi guys, here I am, still alive!”  Or perhaps he was saying goodbye because he was going to flee the country. Or commit suicide.

 The Central Directorate of the Judicial Police – Direction Central de la Police Judiciaire: DCP – based in Nanterre outside Paris which coordinated the findings of the different sectors of the police, was certain of just one fact: on April 15 he was still alive and still in France.

Was a family member or a friend sheltering him, or did he commit suicide?

 The police questioned both the Dupont de Ligonnès and the Hodanger families. So too the friends of Xavier and Agnès, and those of the four children. Present and past colleagues of the couple were also questioned, and neighbours and shopkeepers, and the owner of the shooting club and that of the dancing club. The latter told police that Xavier had told her that dancing helped Agnès get over depression. Neighbours spoke of the couple always holding hands. Shopkeepers said that nothing in the couple’s behaviour betrayed that there was a problem in the marriage or financially. The children’s friends spoke of happy children. A long-time friend of Agnès said that she had been pleased with the idea of having become an aristocrat through her marriage to Xavier.

 The police were interested in speaking to the German Claudia, but nowhere in Xavier’s personal writings found on the Web did he mention her surname, or did he give her address. Xavier’s friends from his bachelor days said that he had spoken of her, but never had he introduced them to her so they did not know her surname, or where in Germany she hailed from. One friend however had met Claudia, and what was more he told the police that he had gone with Xavier to Germany once when the two of them had slept at her apartment. She lived in the city of Hanover, and it was in 1983.  He could not remember the address in Hanover nor could he remember Claudia’s surname. (A German TV network scheduled a program for the end of February that year (2013) in which viewers would be asked to phone in if they knew or had known that Claudia, or for Claudia herself to come forward, but the program was cancelled without explanation at the last minute.)

 Fifteen times police with search warrants simultaneously turned up at the homes of the members of the two families as well as those of the friends of Xavier and Agnès.  They gave particular interest to Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnès, mother of Xavier, and in “Philidelphie” her prayer group. The group’s members were among those visited by the police and the hard disks of their computers were seized and their landline phone and cell phone records were studied.  There had been many rumours in Versailles that the members of the prayer group had set up secret hiding places for stocking up food and other essentials in order to survive the Doomsday they were certain were to come because Jesus and the Holy Virgin had told Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnès so. Nowhere did the police find such hiding places.

 The police also visited monasteries in the Versailles and Nantes regions and searched them, and they called on the Catholic guru with whom Agnès had become involved and searched his house.

 However, the missing man remained missing.

 So, was he dead? Had he shot himself?

 Despite that friends told the police that such an act was against Xavier’s character, and that the police knew from experience that someone did not go through such meticulous planning to commit murder to then commit suicide, they still began to search for a body around Roquebrune-sur-Argens where he had looked straight into the CCTV camera and had abandoned his car.  The police called in the Army and it, using helicopters, searched the forests of the region while military speleologist went down into caves in the forests around the town and down into some abandoned lead mines, but no body was found.

 Next, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was being sighted regularly: in Italy, Austria, Germany and in France too.

In 2012 he was sighted in his hometown of Versailles, and in February of 2013 in a hotel in the town of Dieppe 482 kms ( 300 miles) north of Nantes and on the English Channel.  He, or rather a man whom the owner/manager of the hotel thought was Xavier spent two nights in the hotel. The owner/manager called police when the guest left without settling the check. He told the police that the guest not only resembled Xavier physically but had behaved oddly, and that before he had left he had wiped clean the cyber café’s computer he had been on. A smoker, he had emptied the ashtrays in his bedroom. The police immediately sealed the room and took samples for a DNA profile. For two days the country waited to hear whether Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès might be close to arrest, but the police announced that the DNA in the hotel bedroom did not match that of the fugitive.

Next on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, the French investigator, with the assistance of speleologists had started a new search for a body that could be that of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. They searched the very many caves in the Maures Massif region in the Var region of Southern Franc, there where he had last been seen alive and where he was photographed by CCTV cameras outside the hotel where he had spent the night.

What now?

The search for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès continues.

The criminal police’s investigation will also continue, and it will continue for as long as the examining magistrate considers it necessary, but in order for him to do so he must regularly have a fresh lead to justify further investigation.  The case could thus remain open indefinitely unless the State closes it because of inactivity on the part of the judiciary.

Furthermore, even if the body of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès is found, and provided that the judiciary had remained active, the case will not be closed. The reason for this is that the name of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès is not the name on the preliminary enquiry for assassination: it is a preliminary enquiry against X.

The investigation would therefore have to continue until the police have established that Xavier was the murderer, and they should do so without reasonable doubt. Or until they have have established that someone else had shot his family dead.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès is therefore sought still at this stage as a “witness,” but it means that the police of the 190-member states of Interpol are accordingly authorized due to the May 10, 2011 International Arrest Warrant issued for him to arrest him.  This warrant gives France the legal right to indict Xavier Dupond de Ligonnès and to do so even in absentia and to put him on trial also in absentia. (France had already done so with the Kalinka Bamberski Case in 1995.)

It is now for Examining Magistrate Tchalian to decide whether to indict Xavier Dupond de Ligonnès for the murder of his wife and four children and if he does do so then the criminal court of Loire-Atlantique (the region in which Nantes is situated) will convene. The trial in absentia will be held without a jury and the presiding judge, assisted by two magistrates, will pass their verdict.  In such a trial the accused could, by law, be represented by a counsel who would plead his case: the counsel would be chosen by the accused’s family. In the event of a guilty verdict the counsel would not be allowed to appeal.

Should Xavier Dupond de Ligonnès be arrested after he had been put on trial, found guilty and sentenced, all in absentia, then he will be allowed to appeal that sentence and a new trial will be held. (This happened in the Kalinka Bamberski case mentioned above.)

The murder house at No. 55 Boulevard Robert-Schuman remains for sale at the price of $522,000 (€400,000). It is being described as a beautiful stone house. Local estate agents have refused to tell the writer of this article whether the house has found a buyer, but they admitted that it would be difficult to find one among the town’s inhabitants. Said one: “It will have to be someone who does not know what had happened in there. So maybe it would be wiser to demolish it and build something else there. Preferably a shop so that no one need live there.”

In April 2007 Xavier Dupond de Ligonnès had written to a member of his family that he was a realist and disillusioned. “Hell is other people!!” he wrote.

He had added, “LOL!”

No one laughed.

 Still innocent

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès should however still be considered innocent.

In France, under Article 9 of the 1789 ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ and confirmed in 1793, all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty.

-0-

 

UPDATE : Saturday, January 13, 2018

On Tuesday, January 9 at 8.30 a.m. armed police descended on the Saint-Désert Monastery in Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the Var region in Southern France, the town where Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès had last been seen alive.

Saint-Desert Monastery in Roquebrune-sur-Argens

 The monks who had taken a vow of silence stared in bewilderment, and indeed in silence, at their visitors.  

After several minutes and with some difficulty the police from the nearby town of Toulon and others from the faraway Nantes where the Dupont de Ligonnès family had been murdered, succeeded in communicating with the monks.

They had come, they explained, because several worshippers had reported having seen a man physically resembling the missing, and wanted, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, at the monastery.

What was more, he was a monk and had served mass.

Two hours later, the police having thoroughly searched the monastery, the garden and the surrounding woodland and hills, using dogs, as well as a elicopters, left empty-handed.

They had not found the man they had gone to look for.

Indeed, they had found no evidence that had been at the monastery. Not recently. Not since the murder of his family. And had he been there in the far past, then there was no DNA evidence of such a visit.

Therefore the search for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès continues.

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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