Family of missing Swiss twins fear for worst
The uncle of Swiss twin girls who have been missing for a week said Tuesday the family feared "for the worst" after they received money the father posted before he committed suicide in Italy.
Matthias Schepp threw himself under a train in southeastern Italy last Thursday, having failed to return six-year-olds Alessia and Livia to his estranged wife on January 30 in the village of St-Sulpice, on the shores of Lake Geneva.
"We fear for the worst but so long as there is no proof we remain hopeful, even if it's slender," Valerio Lucidi said as a three-nation search increasingly focused on Switzerland and the final weekend the children spent with their father.
"We received several letters from Italy, from the village where he committed suicide, with all the money he took out in Marseille," he told journalists outside the mother's home.
Lucidi said that although the envelopes bore Schepp's handwriting, there was no explanation with the 5,000 euros (6,800 dollars).
"It worries us because the theory that he might have paid someone to keep the children doesn't hold any more."
"The fact that he sent back the money is worrying," he added, speaking on behalf of the family.
The 43-year-old and the mother of the twins, Irina Lucidi, who is Italian, were reportedly going through a fraught separation, with shared custody of the children.
Valerio Lucidi said the couple, reportedly both employees of tobacco giant Philip Morris, had exchanged text messages on the afternoon and evening of January 30, when Schepp said he would return the girls directly to school the following morning.
The affair has sparked a hunt by police in Switzerland, France and Italy since last week in an increasingly desperate attempt to find clues of the whereabouts of the young daughters.
Although the father was sighted by witnesses as he drove more than 500 kilometres to the French Mediterannean port of Marseille, where he bought tickets for a ferry crossing to Corsica, police said no one had reported seeing the blonde girls.
The twins were last seen on January 30 close to Schepp's residence.
Swiss police were keeping up an active search on Tuesday for Alessia and Livia around the lakeside suburb of Lausanne and further afield.
"The search is continuing. There are still operations underway with police officers, dogs and a helicopter," Vaud regional police spokesman Jean-Christophe Sauterel told AFP.
Sauterel said the helicopter was scouring Lake Geneva along a stretch reaching down to Geneva.
"We are still searching the boats that might have been used," Sauterel added, without giving further details on police lines of inquiry.
Schepp, a Canadian-born Swiss citizen, was known to be a sailing enthusiast.
Valerio Lucidi described his brother-in-law's flight by car as "complete madness".
Investigators had pointed to the difference betweeen the amount of money the father withdrew in Marseille and "a few hundred euros" found on his body in the Italian village of Cerignola.
The discrepancy had raised slender hopes that he might have paid someone to take care of the daughters.
Lucidi revealed that the twins' passports and identity cards were still with their mother, while Swiss media reported that her car, which he was driving, did not have children's seats in it when it was found by Italian police in Cerignola.
© 2011 AFP