France launches international search alert for murder father

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French authorities issued an international search alert Saturday for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, suspected of murdering his wife and four children before going on the run.

The 50-year-old businessman is being hunted by police after the bodies of his family were found buried under the garden patio of the family home in the Brittany city of Nantes on Thursday.

Autopsies carried out Friday showed that they had been "methodically" shot by a .22 calibre firearm similar to one recently inherited by Dupont de Ligonnes.

Wife Agnes 49, daughter Anne, 16, and three sons aged 13 to 20 were apparently shot dead in their sleep and tests are under way to see if they were drugged beforehand.

The missing man was last seen on April 15, when he left a budget hotel at Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the Var region on France's Mediterranean coast, abandoning one of the family cars in the car park.

Nantes prosecutor Xavier Ronsin, who announced the international alert, said Dupont de Ligonnes had severe money troubles, with debts of at least 50,000 euros ($57,000) and declared income of just 4,000 euros.

But on April 12 he had stayed at a luxury hotel also in the south of France, where staff remembered him as being very relaxed, the manageress said Saturday.

"He was very well dressed and didn't appear to have a care in the world," Sylvie Boucher at the five-star Auberge de Cassagne near Avignon told AFP, adding: "It is very surprising."

Arriving around 6:30 pm, "he filled out the form in the name of Xavier Laurent (his two first names) and gave his address in Nantes," Boucher said.

"He took a prestige suite, it was the only one we had free. He even got a special rate of around 220 euros because he said he was a member of a business federation and in the area for work."

Afterwards he dined alone, ordering half a bottle of burgundy, she added.

"People on their own always stand out a bit more than others, but he stood out because he chatted a lot with the staff. He was very nice with everybody," she said. "He showed no signs of worry, on the contrary he appeared very relaxed."

The family lived in the village of Lorgues in the Var region before moving north to Brittany, and police are trying to determine whether there is a link with the disappearance of a 50-year-old woman from the same village on April 14.

Inquiries have revealed that Dupont de Ligonnes had earlier bought ammunition for the gun, as well as quicklime and sacking like that used to wrap the bodies.

He had also carried out shooting practice at a local rifle club, its president Alain Neutre said Saturday, coming four times in the last week of March.

Club coach Benoit Herault said he had started with a .22 pistol but from February he had brought a carbine of the same calibre with a 10-round magazine, which he said he had inherited from his father.

His older sons, 20-year-old Arthur and 18-year-old Thomas, had also begun shooting lessons, while 13-year-old Benoit had been due to follow, Herault said.

On April 1, the last time Dupont de Ligonnes came to the club, "He told me his sons could not make the appointment fixed for April 9, without giving a reason," Herault said.

The coach said Dupont de Ligonnes had asked him about using a silencer, adding, "I told him it was pointless on a shooting range."

"I saw him firing his rifle with a silencer once," Herault said, before adding grimly, referring to the murders, "Anyway, to do what was done, no training was needed."

Local people meanwhile have begun leaving messages and flowers at the family home in Nantes, hanging them on a metal barrier placed outside.

© 2011 AFP

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