Security tight at Burgundy serial murder trial

2nd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

AUXERRE, France, Nov 3 (AFP) - A 70-year-old former bus driver and convicted sex-attacker went on trial in France Wednesday as one of the country's most controversial multiple murder mysteries finally came to court more than a quarter of a century after the events.

AUXERRE, France, Nov 3 (AFP) - A 70-year-old former bus driver and convicted sex-attacker went on trial in France Wednesday as one of the country's most controversial multiple murder mysteries finally came to court more than a quarter of a century after the events.

Emile Louis, who is already serving a jail term for sexual abuse of his wife and step-daughter, is accused of the murders of seven mentally-disabled young women who went missing in northern Burgundy in the late 1970s.

Despite being linked from an early stage with the disappearances, Louis escaped investigation because of a series of disastrous institutional failings, and the case - known as the "Disappeared of the Yonne" - has taken on the dimensions of a major judicial scandal.

It was only in December 2000 that Louis confessed to the killings, leading police to two shallow graves on a riverbank. However he has since retracted his confession and claims to be the victim of a conspiracy.

Because of the enormous public interest in the affair, security was tight around the courthouse in the mediaeval town of Auxerre - the capital of the Yonne department about 160 kilometres (100 miles) south east of Paris.

A special pressroom with video-link was set up to accommodate the scores of journalists sent to cover the trial, which is expected to last four weeks.

Louis - a white-haired and jowly figure wearing an open-neck shirt - was brought into the courtroom by police and confirmed his identity to the presiding judge. In a quavering voice he denied the charges against him. "I contest all the allegations, your honour," he said.

Families of the young women are hoping the trial will be a chance for Louis to speak for the first time about the fate of the victims, but also for a critical examination of the defects of the educational, police and justice systems.

The seven, aged between 15 and 25, were all in the care of the social services in Auxerre when they disappeared between 1975 and 1979.

Louis, who ferried outpatients to a home for the disabled, knew all the young women personally. However despite the persistence of a gendarme - Christian Jambert - who believed that Louis was the link, initial investigations were never followed up.

Meanwhile the social services department recorded all the young women as "fugitives" which meant there was no internal enquiry, and it was only thanks to the constant pressure of the victims' families over the next 15 years that the affair was kept alive.

Suspicions that a high-level cover-up might have protected Louis were aroused by the mystery surrounding the 1997 death of the policeman Jambert, who spent the last years of his life obsessively pursuing evidence against the former bus-driver.

Though Jambert was officially stated to have committed suicide, his body was disinterred earlier this year and an autopsy found that his skull bore two bullet-wounds which could not have been self-inflicted. However that conclusion has itself now been challenged and a new examination is pending.

Another troubling element was the discovery in December 2001 that files on between 60 and 100 criminal investigations launched between 1958 and 1982 - many of them into other missing women - had disappeared from the courthouse in Auxerre.

Louis moved to the south of France where in March this year he was convicted of sexual abuse against family-members. Despite Louis's directions given in 2000, none of the other five bodies has been discovered.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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