Police check 'mystery woman' in missing twins hunt
French police were checking Saturday a report of a mystery woman who was seen with missing Swiss six-year-old twins and their father in Corsica before he committed suicide, as the girls mother said she had still not "lost hope."
An investigator said they were "taking seriously" the account of Olga Orneck, a resident of the small ferry port of Propriano, who described to AFP how the four had attracted her attention on the morning of February 1 as she went to buy her newspaper.
"I noticed them because Propriano is a small village where strangers are spotted immediately, especially at this time of year," she said in a telephone interview.
Orneck said the girls wore pink track-suits and parkas and were eating croissants or chocolate pastries. One had spectacles and a pink and white hat.
"The woman was aged 45-50 with brown hair and was wearing a black three-quarter-length coat and white trousers," she said. "She wasn't from Propriano or I'd have recognised her."
Orneck said both the woman and the man, whom she identified as Matthias Schepp immediately from a photograph afterwards, were eating croissants and chatting as if they knew each other well.
Orneck contacted the police in response to an appeal for witnesses after Schepp threw himself under a train in southern Italy two days later, having written to his estranged wife saying he had also killed the girls.
She was "100 percent certain" it was Schepp she had seen and "95 percent certain" the girls were his daughters Alissia and Livia, she said.
The mother of the two girls meanwhile said she had still "not lost hope" of finding her children.
"I am destroyed, desperate, but I must continue to be strong. I will do everything necessary to find Livia and Alessia or at least to discover the truth," ANSA news agency quoted Irina Lucidi as saying.
"Time is passing, anguish is growing, but despite everything I have not lost hope and I hope to once again see my girls," she said.
Earlier Saturday, police said they hoped Lucidi could help them in the hunt on Corsica, while their Italian colleagues searched for the GPS from their dead father's car.
"The mother's presence will enable us to visit all the places the family went on holiday a few years ago," a police investigator told AFP.
He did not say if police had approached Lucidi, who pleaded Friday for the hunt to continue, more than two weeks after Schepp failed to return Livia and Alessia to their Swiss home on January 30.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, Schepp said in his last letter to his wife, postmarked the day of his death in the Puglia town of Cerignola, "I will be the last to die. I have already killed the girls. They did not suffer and now they are resting in a tranquil place.
"You will not see them again."
French police, who were being joined by Swiss colleagues on Saturday, say he had returned alone from Corsica, which he knew both from holidays and his work with a tobacco company.
They have been scouring the island between Propriano in the southwest, where Schepp arrived with the twins, and Bastia in the northeast, from where he left.
Meanwhile, Italian police were concentrating their hunt on a canal not far from the station at Cerignola, in Puglia, where Schepp committed suicide.
ANSA said they were acting on the assumption that Schepp threw away the satellite navigator from his car before he killed himself. If found, it could enable them to retrace his route since he left the Swiss village of St-Sulpice on January 28.
"My heart of a mother feels that my daughters are alive. I beg you, continue to search for Livia and Alessia. Keep looking, it can't be that my little twins are dead," ANSA quoted their mother, who is of Italian origin, as saying on Friday.
Lucidi's family have said Schepp, 43, suffered from a split personality.
Swiss newspaper 24 Heures reported that he had been receiving psychiatric counselling, although there were no signs he presented a danger for his daughters. By all accounts he was regarded as a loving and doting father before his fateful trip.
© 2011 AFP