February 9, 2009
Courtroom sketch of Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul
The murder trial of Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul drew together the Paris smart set, the horse-racing fraternity, the underworld and the Roman Catholic Church. It was a case of lies, cynicism, make-believe and manipulation and as such has gone down in French legal history as one of the most enigmatic.
As the murder trial of 70-year-old Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul opened in Paris on March 2, 1994, the question on everyone's lips was not, "Is she guilty?" but, "Which role is she going to play?"
During her life, Madame Cons-Boutboul (pronounced Conz-Booble) had acted out a range of parts – both fact and fiction– worthy of a Hollywood star: the discreet landlady of apartments in the chic quarters of Paris; the religious bigot; the lawyer who had swindled a missionary society; devoted mother of a champion jockey; secret agent of the Vatican; doting grandmother of little Adrien; a hypochondriac riddled with imaginary cancers.
So, which was it to be: the Machiavellian fraudster, the bogus widow or the innocent victim of a fiendish plot? The list of possibilities was long: Her whole existence seemed in retrospect to have been constructed on deceit, fantasy and self-seeking to the extent that is was difficult to separate truth from fancy, reality from self-delusion.