French cops fail to find missing prostitutes
Police launched a first search for the three women who are believed to be kidnapped by a convicted armed robber, but no to avail.
20 November 2008
SAINT-JULIEN-LE-MONTAGNIER – French police with sniffer dogs scoured land in the wooded hills of Provence on Wednesday, hunting for clues to the fate of three missing prostitutes.
Officers took Patrick Salameh, 51, a convicted armed robber now detained in relation to the disappearance of two women - a Ukrainian and an Algerian - and suspected of kidnapping a third Romanian woman.
An initial search of a rocky hillside outside the village of Saint Julien le Montagnier, on a hill 40 kilometres northeast of Marseille, turned up nothing, but investigators vowed to continue.
"All morning operations were carried out on land belonging to the suspect's family," said Marseille prosecutor Jacques Dallest, who took part in the search along with investigating magistrates. "Nothing was found."
In parallel to the hunt, police forensic scientists tested DNA traces found in Salameh's apartment in Marseille, along with personal effects belonging to two of the missing women.
According to the newspaper Nice-Matin, police also found a truncheon, a knife and surgical gloves in the flat.
"Now, the inquiry is going to expand to take in all the areas frequented by the suspect. More searches will be carried out," Dallest said.
"The search area is large; the Canal de Provence, country estates, woods, houses, everywhere that could shelter a kidnapped person or where bodies could be dumped or buried," he said.
Police announced on Saturday that they had launched a hunt for the missing prostitutes.
Salameh was arrested in Marseille, a major port on the Mediterranean, last week after a 24-year-old Moroccan prostitute told police she had been beaten and raped by him for more than six hours in late September.
She said Salameh had eventually paid her and then let her go. The attacker attempted to make contact with her afterwards, but she refused to meet him, and later contacted police, investigators said.
Salameh appeared before an examining magistrate on Friday and was charged with abducting and illegally detaining two of the missing women, who have not been seen alive since the beginning of October.
One of the prostitutes, a 42-year-old Ukrainian, went missing on October 5-6 from her usual pick-up spot on a boulevard in central Marseille.
A 28-year-old Algerian disappeared two nights later after meeting a client.
Investigators also suspect Salameh of involvement in the disappearance of a 23-year-old Romanian woman who has not been seen since 22 October.
The charges also include "imprisonment to facilitate the crime of rape" and armed violence, in relation to the Moroccan woman's allegations.
Salameh, who served 16 years for armed robbery before his release from a Marseille prison in 2005, has denied all charges.
He is being held in the same prison where he served his previous sentence and has so far refused to speak to detectives, prosecutors said.
Salameh's lawyer Jean-Jacques Campana said his client had been treated by a psychiatrist over the last two and a half years. "He has exercised his right to remain silent," he added.
Gauze has called him an "intelligent man, living with a girlfriend and children." Officers are trying to piece together details of his life since his release from jail.
Salameh worked as a construction foreman and was also a painter who had exhibited work in cafes and galleries. An art association's website described his themes as imprisonment, escape and women.
[AFP / Expatica]