French police probe missing family after macabre find
French police launched a murder and kidnap probe on Thursday after officers investigating the odd disappearance of an apparently ordinary middle class family found a severed leg then a body.
A 50-year-old business manager, his 49-year-old school assistant wife and their children -- boys aged 21, 18 and 13 and a girl aged 16 -- went missing from their home in the western town of Nantes earlier this month.
Before the family's disappearance, the father, identified in an appeal for information as Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, told acquaintances that he was a secret agent and was leaving to join a witness protection scheme.
Police probing the disappearance found a section of human leg in the garden of the grey stone two-story house on Thursday morning and the rest of the body later in the day, said Nantes prosecutor Xavier Ronsin.
"So the investigation of a worrying disappearance has become one for kidnap and murder," he said, briefing reporters in the city, adding that there was no sign of violence in the house itself.
Ronsin said the father's tales of espionage were "self-contradictory ravings", adding that the family had settled their children's private school fees, claiming they were planning to emigrate to Australia.
Investigators said, however, that they could find no records suggesting the family had made major bank transactions or passed through a port or airport.
In Nantes, local people described a quiet and respected Catholic bourgeois family with no history of odd or criminal behaviour.
The father sold advertising space, while his wife Agnes volunteered for church activities and taught the Catholic catechism to school children.
"I saw her at the diocese. She was a very good woman, very involved," said neighbour Florent Chotard, adding that he had never heard of anyone having a problem with the family.
Near the family home, a middle class townhouse on a main Nantes boulevard, was parked a black Volkswagen Golf that neighbours said belonged to Agnes.
Someone had scrawled with his or her finger in the dusting of pollen on the car bonnet: "You had no right. We miss you. PK."
A small white piece of cardboard was taped over the family letter box reading: "Please return mail to sender. Thank you."
The couple were originally from the wealthy Paris suburb of Versailles. Their sons Tomas, 21, and Arthur, 18, were students, while Anne, 16, and 13-year-old Benoit attended the Perverie Sacre Coeur private high school.
Perverie headmaster Olivier Bouissou said that when he had received word the family were leaving for Australia he had thought they were "moving not disappearing", adding that the children had not been problem pupils.
"When we got the letter it was with a cheque that covered the entire rest of the school year," he told AFP.
Police had sealed off the house and were conducting a painstaking forensic examination behind a screen of black plastic sheeting on Thursday.
© 2011 AFP