Stunned French village digests killing of eight babies

29th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Eight small candles burn on a makeshift altar outside a modest home in this prim French village -- a candle for each of the eight dead babies whose mother is accused of killing them.

"I'm thinking of all the children in the world," said local priest Father Robert Meignotte who placed the candles outside one of the two houses in Villers-au-Tertre where the infants' skeletal remains were found.

"I'm thinking of all the children who didn't ask to be born and were thrown out a few hours later," he said. "You don't just throw children out like that in a big bag. It's incomprehensible."

The priest's shock and disbelief was shared by many in the 620-strong community who remember the alleged murderer, Dominique Cottrez, and her husband as "nice people, discreet, who never caused any trouble."

"We're really in a state of shock," said Catherine, who lives in a house across the road from the couple. "They're people that we like a lot," she said, adding that she had never noticed anything odd about them.

Villers-au-Tertre is a village "where nothing ever happens", said mayor Patrick Mercier.

But on Thursday it was buzzing with police and media teams who rushed here to report France's worst infanticide case in modern history.

Cottrez, a 45-year-old nursing assistant, was charged with the murder of the babies while her husband Pierre-Marie Cottrez, also 45, was released without charge after being questioned by police.

The mother admitted suffocating the newborns and insisted her husband knew nothing about the pregnancies nor the killings, according to an official close to the investigations. She faces life imprisonment.

The pair were arrested on Tuesday and questioned all day Wednesday while police used sniffer dogs to search two addresses after the new owners of a home found the bones of two infants while digging in their garden.

The house previously belonged to the parents of the arrested woman.

Mayor Mercier said he knew Pierre-Marie Cottrez well because he was a long-time elected member of the local council, where he was active on the village festival committee.

He described him as a "respectable" man who appeared to have a solid marriage.

But he said the councillor's wife was a more withdrawn person, "a person who went out very, very little," and who rarely took part in village life.

He said she had a weight problem which might be the reason why any pregnancies had passed unnoticed.

The Cottrez couple had lived in the village for 15 years and had two grown-up daughters who have children themselves, local residents said.

A woman who lived near the couple's former home in the village -- one of the two spots where the skeletal remains of the babies were found -- said: "I think there was a lot of suffering behind all this."

She added that Dominique Cottrez came regularly to nurse her father and that she had always found her to be "a very smiley, very nice lady."

"I just don't get it," she said.

© 2010 AFP

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