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Friday, July 9, 2004
French killer 'hunted virgins'
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French killer 'hunted virgins'
- John Lichfield

Michel Fourniret is a skilful chess player - a man who talks in complex, formal French. He looks like a priest or university professor. He is also, by his own admission, a "hunter of virgins"; a man who "needed" to kill young women twice a year; a man who persuaded his wife to help him entrap girls and young women and then to watch in a mirror while he raped and murdered them. The full extent of the crimes of Fourniret, 62, may take weeks to emerge. In recent days he has admitted nine murders on either side of the French-Belgian border, making him one of France's worst serial killers of recent times. His wife has implicated him in several other killings, including two motivated by money.

Investigators yesterday began to check his possible involvement in a series of other unsolved murders further south in the Auxerre area of northern Burgundy. They include the killing of British student Joanna Parrish in 1990. At least 30 unsolved murder cases are to be re-opened. Because of his Belgian connection - he moved to Belgium in 1991 and was arrested there last year after a failed attempt to abduct a 13-year-old girl - Fourniret has been dubbed "the French Dutroux". This is misleading. In fact, Fourniret appears to have more similarities with the British mass-murderer Fred West. Unlike Marc Dutroux, jailed for life last month for murdering and kidnapping young girls, Fourniret is not - or not just - a paedophile.

His admitted and alleged victims range from young women in their mid-20s to 12-year-old Elisabeth Brichet, from Namur in Belgium. She disappeared without trace in 1989 and her body was found in the grounds of Fourniret's chateau in the French Ardennes last weekend. French and Belgian police, who are likely to pool their investigation on the French side of the border, suspect that Fourniret may be guilty of many more murders.

He denies any killings in the period 1990-2000. "I am very sceptical about that," the chief public prosecutor for the Reims area of France, Yves Charpanel, said. "He boasts that he 'hunted' two girls a year. So far, the numbers don't add up." In his written statement to investigators, leaked to the French press, Fourniret said: "I needed to hunt virgins twice a year. When I knew that I was going hunting and that I would bring something back, I dug the holes in advance - three metres deep." Two killings a year would bring Fourniret's list of victims to over 30.

Fourniret, the son of a steelworker who has never had a steady job, was convicted several times for sexual assault and rape in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite his record, he was freed early from jail after another rape conviction in 1987. According to his confessions to Belgian investigators he started his murder spree immediately, with the help of a woman who had become his pen-pal in jail. Monique Olivier, 55, befriended Fourniret after answering a small ad. She visited him in prison and married him soon after he was freed. According to their separate confessions, the couple began to "hunt" young women together.

In December 1987 Monique Olivier - not yet married to Fourniret - halted her white van to ask directions of 17-year-old Isabelle Laville, a schoolgirl walking home near Auxerre. The unsuspecting girl got into the car. A few hundred metres later, Olivier stopped for a "hitch-hiker" with a jerry-can - Fourniret. According to the couple's confessions, Isabelle was raped and murdered. Her body was never found. According to the same confessions, apparently given coldly and without obvious remorse, Olivier, and later her baby son, Selim, were often used as bait to put potential victims at ease. In 1988 Fabienne Leroy, 20, was persuaded to get into the couple's car at Chalons-en-Champagne, in north-eastern France.

They said their baby was sick. The young woman agreed to lead them to a doctor. She was later found shot to death. It was Monique Fourniret who approached Belgian police two weeks ago and confessed to her involvement in nine of her husband's murders. She had apparently been shocked by the 30-year sentence given to Dutroux's wife for complicity in his crimes. In her written confession, she admits that, on Fourniret's orders, she was sometimes present, watching through a mirror from a nearby room, when her husband raped and murdered his victims. She and her husband have also confessed to crimes of greed. They say he murdered a commercial traveller, on a motorway lay-by near Auxerre, and the wife of a fellow inmate in prison, who knew the whereabouts of a large cache of stolen money.

It was with this money, Fourniret claims, that he bought his small, turreted chateau at Sautou near Sedan in 1989. Even on the basis of the bare facts known so far, Fourniret's career - 16 years of undetected murders by a man with a criminal record for rape - poses a string of embarrassing questions for the French and Belgian police and judicial systems.

Why, despite a long record of sexual crimes, was he let out of jail so soon without any attempt to follow his movements? How could a man with a criminal record and no known resources buy a chateau without anyone asking questions? Serial killers become serial killers because the police fail to catch them. The French and Belgian police were not even aware until Monique Fourniret's confession late last month that a serial killer was operating across their border.

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