Police investigate high-seas murder mystery

24th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

LISBON, Aug 23, 2006 (AFP) - High seas, a dead body and an enigmatic couple: investigators in Portugal were on Wednesday probing a murder mystery that has all the hallmarks of a best-selling thriller after a retired French civil servant was found murdered on his own trimaran.

LISBON, Aug 23, 2006 (AFP) - High seas, a dead body and an enigmatic couple: investigators in Portugal were on Wednesday probing a murder mystery that has all the hallmarks of a best-selling thriller after a retired French civil servant was found murdered on his own trimaran.

Police found the body of Andre le Floc'h, an experienced 61-year-old sailor, bound and weighted with lead, off the southern coast of Portugal on Friday, one day after his two passengers were found by a Spanish cargo ship in a lifeboat in stormy waters.

The pair, who are also French and claim to be brother and sister, were charged with murder after being questioned by a magistrate at a hearing in the southern city of Lagos and are being held in preventative detention.

Identified as Thierry Beille, 51, and Corinne Caspar, 48, the pair told police they tied up the owner of the Belgian-registered Intermezzo because he had tried to rape Caspar.

"We are innocent. He attacked us on the boat. There was a storm and the boat capsized, now they are accusing us," Caspar shouted to reporters in Spanish as police led the pair away to separate prisons.

But investigating police said the autopsy carried out on Monday proved otherwise.

"The autopsy has proved the initial theory that led to the arrest of the two suspects," police said in a statement, adding that they were not ruling any possibilities as there was no obvious motive for the crime.

Sources close to the investigation said the autopsy revealed Floc'h died not from drowning but from blows to the head and neck before the boat capsized some 20 nautical miles south of Cape St Vincent, Europe's south-westernmost point.

Police said they now had elements that revealed what happened "in the hours that preceded the sailor's death as well as the movements of the two suspects".

One theory under investigation is that the pair killed Floc'h, whom they met recently, in an attempt to steal the boat or that they were using the vessel to smuggle drugs or arms, Portuguese media reported.

Caspar stuck by her allegation that Floc'h tried to rape her on the boat when she gave an interview to French television TF1 on Tuesday.

"He became totally crazy. So we tied his hands and feet," she said.

Between 10 to 15 police have been assigned to the investigation, which has gripped the media in both France and Portugal.

Investigators said they were waiting for the trimaran to dry out before they carry out a detailed search inside.

The mystery deepened on Wednesday after the owner of a water taxi said he took the pair, along with another woman in her 40s who spoke French, and a large amount of supplies to the trimaran on August 15, two days before it capsized.

Floc'h welcomed the three aboard his boat, which was docked at the time just off the coast of Portugal's southern province of Algarve near the city of Olhao, Joao Manuel told the Lusa news agency.

Three or four other people were already aboard the Intermezzo, he added.

The nature of the relationship between Caspar and Beille meanwhile is proving to be as much of a mystery as the events surrounding the boat owner's death.

Caspar's uncle told French radio RTL that Beille was her adoptive brother and the two had lived together for the past two years near the southern Spanish city of Alicante.

But her mother Carole denied this in an interview with French daily Le Parisien in which she described Thierry as a "charming and manipulative" man who "could also be very violent".

"He entered our lives 10 years ago and since then he has poisoned our existence. He seems to be in love with her, but I don't know what is going on between them," she said.

Floc'h, who lived in Nantes in western France, remodelled the trimaran and intended to take paying customers on short cruises to supplement his income and finance his passion for sailing, his neighbours have told the French press. He often sailed off the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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