Saturday, November 11, 2017
Dupont de Ligonnès murders and disappearance
The Dupont de Ligonnès murders and disappearance involved the murder of five members of the same family in Nantes, in the département of Loire-Atlantique in north-western France, followed by the disappearance of the father of the family. Agnès Dupont de Ligonnès and her four children were murdered in early April 2011. Their bodies were found on 21 April 2011 at their home in Nantes. The father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, disappeared at the same time and is considered the prime suspect in their murders. He is the subject of an international arrest warrant. The family: The Dupont de Ligonnès family is an old French aristocratic family originally from Annonay in the Vivarais region in south-eastern France. Family members include Édouard du Pont de Ligonnès (1797-1877), who married Sophie de Lamartine, sister of the poet Alphonse de Lamartine and whose youngest son, Charles du Pont de Ligonnès, became the Bishop of Rodez. In 2011, Xavier and Agnès lived at 55 boulevard Robert-Schuman in Nantes, in a modest house in the western suburbs of the city. The parents- Xavier, the father: Xavier Pierre Marie Dupont de Ligonnès (born 9 January 1961 in Versailles) the son of Bernard-Hubert Dupont de Ligonnès (7 November 1931 - 20 January 2011). Xavier's father was an engineer with a degree from the École nationale supérieure de mécanique et d'aérotechnique in Poitiers, and his mother was Geneviève Thérèse Maître. Xavier's professional activities were very vague, but he is described as a salesman by a source close to the inquiry. He created several businesses, with limited success: -SELREF, a company with a secretive and ambiguously defined purpose, based in Pornic, where he was employed as a manager. The company's 2006 accounts, accessible through a public commercial website, only show the bare minimum information, and the last data pertaining to the company was filed with the French Register of Commerce on 24 February 2004. He hired six salespeople in 2003 and released them all shortly after. -The Route des Commerciaux ("Salesmen's Road", registered at the same address as SELREF), -a hotel and restaurant guide for travelling salesmen; Carte Crystal ("Crystal Card", registered at the family's home address on boulevard Robert-Schuman), a "project for creating a loyalty system for restaurant guests"; -and Federation française de commerciaux ("Federation of French Salesmen", also registered at the family's home address and whose incorporating documents were filed in April 2004) had a stated purpose of "centralising necessary information for business education professionals, regardless of their status". The authorities consider him the main witness and the prime suspect in the murder of his wife and four children. After their bodies were discovered buried in the garden of the family home, the police set about searching for him, but he has never been found. According to the prosecutor, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès's relatives say he wrote a letter to them explaining that he and his family would be absent as "he was a sort of United States secret agent and had to return to the U.S. as part of a witness protection programme to work on a drugs case." Agnès, the mother: Agnès Hodanger was born on 9 November 1962 in Neuilly-sur-Seine in the suburbs of Paris. She was an assistant at Blanche-de-Castille Catholic School in Nantes, where part of her duties involved teaching catechism. She was described as being very religious, regularly attending mass with her children. Parishioners described her as being kind but strict with her children. She was 48 years old at the time of her death. In 2004, seven years before the murder, she wrote prolifically on the French online medical forum Doctissimo. Agnès described the difficulties faced by her and her husband and stated that her husband had commented to her that a group death as a family would not be a catastrophe. The children- Arthur: Arthur Nicolas Dupont de Ligonnès was born on 7 July 1990 to another father, but was recognised by Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès as being his son when he married Agnès when Arthur was two years old. He gained a baccaleuréat in Science, Industrial Technology and Sustainable Development at the age of 20. He was studying for a technical diploma in IT at the Saint-Gabriel private college in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in the Vendée department, an hour's drive from Nantes. He was also employed as a waiter at a pizzeria in Nantes. He was 20 years old at the time of his death. Thomas: Thomas Dupont de Ligonnès was born on 28 August 1992 in Draguignan, in the south of France. He gained a baccalauréat in Literature when he was 17. He was passionate about music and studied it at the Catholic University of the West in Angers. He lived in the Saint-Aubin hall of residence and was described as an "ordinary boy who was often accompanied by his family to drop him off and pick him up", while several of his classmates remember him as "very discreet". He was 18 years old at the time of his death. Anne: Anne Dupont de Ligonnès was born on 2 August 1994 in Draguignan. She was in the 11th grade following an academic curriculum in Science, and was described by her friends and relatives as a girl who shared her mother's religious beliefs and was considerate and approachable. Her friends became concerned when she was regularly offline and did not answer calls. Anne was 16 years old at the time of her death. Benoît: Benoît Dupont de Ligonnès was born on 29 May 1997, Xavier and Agnès's youngest child. According to his friends and secondary-school classmates, he was popular and many girls fancied him. He was an altar server at Saint-Félix Church in Nantes. He was 13 years old at the time of his death. Timeline of events: Hunt for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès: On 29 April, a search was carried out in Var. On 10 May, an international arrest warrant was issued for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. On 23 June, caving experts searched 40 natural caves in a 15-kilometre (10-mile) radius around Roquebrune-sur-Argens. Media coverage and "cyber-investigation": Following the disappearance of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, and based on elements of the police investigation reported by the media, "hundreds of French Internet users, fascinated by this curious crime, became improvised cyber-investigators and gained great excitement from recreating every digital trace left by Agnès and Xavier" on Facebook. According to an AFP press release in Le Monde, "administrators of a Catholic website, classified as fundamentalist by the episcopacy, confirmed that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was a member of their forum, where in 2010 he asked about the meaning of "sacrifice" and he recently became "aggressive"". Xavier was involved in various theological discussions under several different online identities on the Christian forum La Cité catholique. He was eventually banned from the forum. According to a source close to Xavier, he "never stepped foot inside a church". A study published by Bernard Blandre in Mouvements Religieux ("Religious Movements") and later put online states that if Xavier is the murderer, his motives were not religious. Lines of enquiry: The investigation has been running since 2011 and has led to more than 800 tips, as well as searches that have led to dead ends. His friends: -Before his disappearance, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès attempted to regain contact with several old friends. The police in Nantes, under the orders of Judge Robert Tchailian, spent more than two years looking for Claudia, a German woman whom Xavier almost married in the early 1980s, and with whom he had kept in contact. -On 27 February 2013, German police had planned to launch an appeal for witnesses on the German programme Aktenzeichen XY ungelöst ("Reference Number XY Unsolved") on the German public channel ZDF. This appeal was abandoned when Xavier's sister and brother-in-law noticed that the file included their email addresses, contrary to Germany's very strict privacy laws. According to French prosecutor Brigitte Lamy, information from Germany was handed to French investigators on 16 April 2013 but "added nothing to the file". American investigation: Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès created Netsurf Concept LLC, a company which was catalogued onto the commercial register in Florida, United States. His advisor was Gérard Corona, a French immigrant and manager of the company Strategy Netcom, which was founded in 1998. Corona specialises in assisting foreigners with administrative and legal procedures in the United States. He also helps his clients to open foreign bank accounts and to obtain anonymous bank cards allowing them to withdraw money anywhere in the world without leaving a trace. It has been theorised that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès could have used these services in order to disappear. Searches in the Massif des Maures: On 9 April 2013, an operation was conducted to find the body of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. This led to a major search effort. Investigators, assisted by cave divers, searched the old Pic Martin lead mines in Cannet-des-Maures in Var. It was here that Jacques Massié and his family were found murdered in 1981. On 2 May 2013, a search was carried out by 50 police officers and firefighters from a unit specialising in searching in dangerous and hard-to-access locations. The search proved fruitless. Investigators' conclusions: Prosecutor Brigitte Lamy has not reconsidered Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès's status as a suspect and leans towards the belief that he committed suicide. If his body is found and there is no other suspect, the investigation will be closed "by default". In June 2013, a body was found 20 kilometres (12 miles) from where Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was last seen. An autopsy was carried out and did not completely exclude the possibility of the body being that of Xavier. The prosecutor in Draguignan, Danielle Drouy-Ayral, stated "at this moment in time, it is not the body of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès", without providing any more details to explain this declaration. Bones discovered: On the evening of Tuesday 28 April 2015, a walker discovered bones in a forest in Bagnols-en-Forêt, near Fréjus on the south coast of France, close to where Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was last seen. The police made a link with Xavier's disappearance and analysed what appeared to be a survival camp where other objects were discovered, including an empty wallet, a lighter, a pair of glasses, a sleeping bag, a magazine and a bill dating from 2011. A medical pin was also allegedly found in the unknown decedent's forearm. However, as far as the police are aware, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès did not wear a medical pin in his forearm, even though it is not impossible that he may have been operated on after his disappearance. The magazine that was found seems to date from 2010, preceding Xavier's disappearance in 2011. On 1 May 2015, the RTL.fr website reported that "DNA obtained from the personal effects around the body discovered on the evening of 28 April in Bagnols-en-Forêt is not that of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, but that of another man whose identity is currently unknown." Note sent to journalist: In mid-July 2015, a Nantes journalist received a photograph, on the back of which is a handwritten note "I'm still alive". The picture shows two of the Dupont de Ligonnès children – Arthur, the oldest and Benoît, the youngest – sitting at a kitchen table. It is not known who took and who sent the picture. Challenges to the official theory- Emigration theory: Even though Christine de Ligonnès initially doubted the authenticity of the letter of 11 April 2011 (while still claiming her brother's innocence), she began stating to the media in March 2012 that "basically, Xavier and his family left for the United States because their safety was threatened in France. The bodies found under the patio can't be those of Agnès and the children." She believes that "the information leaked to the media originates from sources with an interest in making the family disappear". In 2013, in the blog that she created with her husband, Bertram de Verdun, she mentions an email that her brother wrote to two friends in July 2010. He wrote of "accidents" which may befall his family, and ended with the words: "So I hope that, even after a police investigation, my parents, brothers and sisters will never be led to believe that I intentionally caused these accidents (even if the evidence is strong)." The family's lawyer's views on the investigation: According to Mr Goldstein (the lawyer for Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnes, the suspect's mother; Christine, his sister; and Bertram de Verdun, Christine's husband), "we don't even know when the victims were killed. The autopsy points to a death between 10 and 21 days before their discovery. Such imprecision is truly astonishing.In reality, nothing is certain in this affair, other than the fact that some bodies were found at 55 boulevard Schuman. Investigations were carried out, but all that they have allowed us to ascertain is that the bodies share the same DNA. No analysis has compared this common DNA with that of Agnès Hodanger. Furthermore, my client confirms that the bodies' heights and weights do not correspond to the known dimensions of the family members. In my opinion, this constitutes negligence during the autopsy. But the autopsy allows Christine and Geneviève to step into the breach. What I also know is that one man alone cannot dig that hole under the patio, even a man blinded by rage and hatred: 2.5 cubic metres of earth were displaced. The affair is based around the idea that Xavier Dupont killed his family before burying them. No other line of inquiry has been explored. I don't know who killed this family. Nothing about their lives helps me understand what could have led them to this situation. That is the conclusion of my clients. Since no one could have killed them, the fact is that they are not dead." Televised documentaries: At least five documentaries and special reports exploring the case have been aired on French television.