A Loving Wife, a Cheating Husband, and a Torso in a Forest

Jan 9, 2012 - by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

(Photo used by permission of BlueStar Forensic)

Extra-marital affairs are accepted in France. Wives and husband who indulge in them are even admired. It means that a woman, though married and probably a mother, is still attractive and desirable to the male of the species, and that despite marriage and fatherhood a man remains virile. Yet, occasionally, a spouse will cry “Stop!” and when the philandering continues, the result can be foul murder.

by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

On Wednesday, February 25, 2004, early in the morning, Florence Bourgade dialed the telephone number of her sister.

Yves and Florence
Yves and Florence

The sun was shining but it was bitterly cold – just 42° F – in Moigny-sur-École in the Department of Essonne, 36 miles south of Paris, and the 42-year-old’s news was as chilling. Her husband, Yves, 44, had only got back home in the early hours of that morning after a night of drinking and he’s being very abusive verbally and she did not want their children to witness such behavior. Could she therefore send them over for a couple of days? The next-door neighbor would be dropping them off on her way to work. It was the February school vacation.

That call was not the first that Florence made that morning.

Her first call had been at 6:45 a.m. She had called her husband’s employee to say that he would not be in that day.  Her husband was a self-employed mason.  “Yves has blown a fuse. He has left,” she told the man. What she had said in French was Yves a pétée les plombs for which “blowing a fuse” is a polite translation.

At 7 a.m. she had made a second call. She had called her neighbor to ask if she could bring over the children for her to look after for that day. “She wanted me to take the children, but I had to go to work which I told her,” the neighbor would later testify to the police.

Fifteen minutes later Florence had made yet again another call. She had again called her neighbor to ask if she could, on her way to work, drop the children off at her sister’s house. The neighbor had replied that she could do that, yes.

Florence’s sister lived 10 miles away in the town of Barbizon, so, as the neighbor had to go in that direction, dropping the children off would not make her late for work, but, all the same, within 15 minutes she was at the Bourgade house.  The three children, two boys and a girl, aged respectively 12, 10 and 5, were still in bed and were told to get dressed immediately and quickly.

“I understood that Yves was not well,” the neighbor would also later say in her testimony. “I thought of the alcohol.”

She knew that Yves Bourgade drank.  In 2004 there were only about 500 houses in Moigny-sur-École and not even 1,500 people lived there, so it was not easy to hide that a spouse habitually returned home in the early hours of the morning and in an inebriated state.

Florence’s family and friends, although they did not live in the village, were also aware of the drinking. They also knew that Yves was a womanizer. And it had not been necessary to stick their noses into the couple’s life to have known about the women because Yves bragged about his exploits. He even made it his dinner conversation. He did not appear to care that his wife was at the table tending to their guests for whom she had prepared a splendid meal.

The two had been married since 1997 but they had been partners for more than 14 years and Yves had not ever been faithful.

 

Turning a blind eye to adultery

In France, wives – spouses for that matter because women cheat on their husbands too – are open-minded when it comes to adultery. It is a tradition that goes back to when France was still a monarchy and the king’s favorite – his mistress – enjoyed a high regard in the country and had her own “court” in the royal household.

In more recent times there have been many cases of well-publicized adultery.

The former socialist President François Mitterrand (1916-1996) had a long-standing adulterous relationship with a French woman who bore him a daughter. His wife, Danielle (1924-2011) whom he had married in 1944 and who had brought three sons into the world for him, knew of the mistress and daughter and, as far as we know, accepted it. She even allowed the mistress and daughter to attend his funeral and sit with her and her two sons. (The couple’s eldest son died in infancy.)

Mitterrand did keep the mistress and the daughter a secret from the French but in 1995 when the weekly magazine Paris Match informed the nation with a cover story that their president has a mistress and love child, he told a journalist: “Yes, it’s true. And so what? It’s none of the public’s business.” The French then proved as tolerant as his wife, because they did not bat an eyelid on learning that they, as tax payers, had financially supported the mistress and the love child because the state had provided them with a Paris apartment and police protection.

Mitterrand’s predecessor, Giscard d’Estaing, who was head of state from 1974-1981, was also often in the news over his extramarital affairs. As the daily Le Monde reported in 1974 when Giscard (he was generally known by his first name) was going to spend the night with a woman, he would leave a sealed envelope at the presidential Élysée Palace so that his aides would know where to find him in case of an emergency. One morning at six, driving from a woman’s apartment in Paris’s Latin Quarter, he collided with a truck collecting the garbage bins the French put out on the sidewalks during the night. He was not injured and the police were not summoned to the scene.

In 2009 he, then 83 years old, wrote a novel La Princess et le President (The Princess and the President) published by Fallois-Xo which told the story of the secret and passionate love affair of a French president and a Welsh princess who was very unhappy in her marriage.  The daily rightwing Le Figaro, in reviewing the novel, wrote that the book rose above the level of a romantic work because of the wealth of detail about the palaces where the two met to make love.

Naturally, there was much speculation at the time of publication that the two protagonists in the novel were Giscard and Diana Princess of Wales and that he had finally decided to reveal that he had been the Princess’s lover while he was head of state. Asked on television chat shows whether this had been so, he would neither admit nor deny it. His grin was wide. The British media dismissed the book as “an old man’s fantasy.”

A French president – the married Félix Faure – had even suffered a fatal stroke in the arms of his mistress in 1899, the fourth year of his seven-year mandate. Aides rushed to his private drawing room in the Élysée Palace on hearing a woman’s screams. They found the 58-year-old Faure unconscious on a sofa, his hands gripping the hair of the 30-year-old Parisian socialite Marguerite Steinheil. He had suffered a stroke while Steinheil was performing oral sex on him. (Steinheil would later be charged with the murder of her husband and mother-in-law but was found not guilty. She died in England, the wife of an English nobleman.)

The latest case of a Frenchman’s adultery is that of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known as DSK.  Despite that there had been many rumors and many media hints that DSK was a womanizer, the French were still ready to elect him as their president in next May’s (2012) presidential election.

Therefore, Florence, sitting calmly at the dinner table while Yves recounted his sexual exploits to their guests, was not all that extraordinary.

 

Charming and attractive couple

Yves and Florence Bourgade were both attractive.

In 2004, Yves, his hair still black, looked like a man in his early thirties.

Florence, having had three pregnancies, was a little broad around the waist and had a shadow of a double chin, but she had lost none of the vivaciousness of her youth when as Miss Florence Féderlé, she had caught Yves’s eye. She still often combed her long dark hair into a chignon as she did at that time, and also as then, she kept her eyebrows perfectly curved. And despite her husband’s nocturnal activities, she was never dour.

The couple loved to have fun. They had vacations at the seaside and they often entertained. Florence made sure that there was an abundance of food and drink at their parties. There would be much laughter and everyone had something to say, and being French, several would even speak at the same time.

Then Yves would start off about his newest conquest, and Florence would listen but not comment. Often Yves’s stories were embarrassing the guests, but they knew him as a fêtard – a reveler. And, he was charming, and one forgives a charming man for a lot of wrongdoings. He, cheating on his wife, did not therefore make him an unlikeable man.

The guests, or some of them, also knew that Yves and Florence were experiencing serious financial problems. The house they were living in they rented. It was a fairly large two-story house of grey brick and a grey tiled roof and there was a swimming pool in the garden. Yet, the house they had moved from two years previously was much larger and smarter. And they were the proprietors of that one. They had to sell the house though because of debt which Florence believed they had run up because of Yves’s drinking and womanizing. As someone who loved elegant clothes and to spoil their children with gifts, she made no secret of the fact that she hated their shortage of money, and as family and friends noticed she had become very quiet. It was not the morose silence of depression, but rather as if she no longer cared about life – her life. Whereas she used to be talkative, she would sit in a corner and take no part in the conversation.

What the family and friends might not have known was that she had asked the family physician for something to help her sleep. He had prescribed the non-benzodiazepine Zopiclone. (The drug which can be obtained only with a prescription was first marketed in 1986 by Rhône-Poulenc S.A. In 2005 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed it under Schedule IV as there was evidence that it had addictive properties similar to benzodiazepines. Its brand name in the UK is Zimovane and Imovane in Canada.)

She consulted the physician on the day before she sent the children to her sister’s house. Once she had the prescription she immediately called in at the pharmacy for the drug.

 

Florence’s story

Florence
Florence

Towards the end of the day, Florence again called her sister. Her news was that Yves has gone.  He left her and the children for a 25-year-old woman.  She did not know anything about the woman – Yves did not fill her in – but at four o’clock a grey Renault Scenic pulled up outside the house, and Yves, having thrown some clothes into a black plastic bin liner, rushed over to the car which then immediately drove off. She was not able to see into the car so she did not know who was behind the wheel. She spoke calmly as if she could not care less.

By then the children had told their aunt that they were awakened “during the night” because their mom and dad were arguing very loudly. Their dad had again been out drinking which had made their mom angry.

The following day Florence also told Yves’s sister that her brother has gone off with a 25-year-old woman. Her voice again portrayed no emotion which was in stark contrast to how her sister-in-law felt; she wanted her to start looking for Yves and to get him to return home.

Late in the afternoon of the next day, Thursday, February 26, there having been no news or calls from Yves, and his family worried that he might be in some kind of trouble, they urged Florence to go to the gendarmes. That she did. She reported that he had abandoned the marital home. Under Article 227-3 of the French Penal Code, a man, abandoning a spouse or a woman with whom he has been living in concubinage (the legal term in France when a man and woman are living together as spouses) and fathered children by her who were still minors (under the age of 16) is committing a punishable crime with a two-year imprisonment and a €15,000 ($20,000) fine. (In France a love child has the same rights as a child born in wedlock.)

After she’d been to the gendarmes, Florence collected her children from her sister’s house and drove them home.

In France, when the disappearance of a child is reported to the police they instantly launch a missing child alert – the Alerte Enlevement. Television networks, radio stations, cell phone operators, newspaper and news agency websites immediately flash a photo of the child and details of the disappearance over the airwaves. Simultaneously, alerts are flashed on highway signs. (Alerte Enlevement is based on the United State’s AMBER Alert Program.) In some cases, INTERPOL’s 24-hour Command and Co-ordination Center at its General Secretariat headquarters in the French city of Lyons would even issue an international Yellow Notice Missing Persons Alert.

When an adult disappears and there is no evidence of foul play – for example blood is found in the missing person’s home, car or workplace – the police only launch an investigation if that person has given no sign of life for two months. Therefore, the police registered Yves as having abandoned his wife and children in order to prosecute him in two months’ time, if necessary, under Article 227-3.

They asked Florence to let them know if he should return home or contact her.

 

A nauseating smell

It was not the kind of weather to be out on a bicycle. And what was more, to be cycling through a forest.

It was Friday, February 27 – 48 hours since Yves had left home – and a heavy fog hung over the Grands Avaux Forest.  It was also cold, the temperature having dropped to 21° F in the previous 48 hours.

The 450-acre Grands Avaux Forest is six miles north of Moigny-sur-École and the comfortable home of the Bourgade couple and their three children. 

The cyclist, accustomed to the forest’s aromatic chestnut, oak, acacias and flame trees, suddenly became aware of a foul smell. He allowed his nose to lead him to a canvas-covered bundle in a clearing for vehicles. Controlling his curiosity, he did not lift the canvas but called the gendarmerie. (In France the gendarmerie which falls under the Ministry of Defense police the countryside and communities of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants.) Several gendarmes arrived on the scene and quickly established that the canvas concealed a badly-burned body which lay on another canvas. The body was headless and without hands and feet. The feet had been severed at about two inches above the ankle joint.

The national police moved in to assist the gendarmerie which is the norm in major crime cases. They closed off the area, took photographs and collected whatever lay about which included a cigarette butt which they found underneath the body. They sealed all in security pouches to prevent contamination and to ensure that no one could tamper with the items as all would be used as evidence in an eventual murder trial.

The pouches were taken to a police laboratory and in the coming days a DNA profile would be looked for on every object. The body too, which was taken to the police mortuary, would undergo DNA tests. The tests, the cops hoped, would put an identity to it.

An autopsy would also be carried out to determine the cause of death.

The gruesome discovery merited just a couple of paragraphs in the next day’s papers and television did not mention it at all. Corpses, some of them headless, did have the habit of turning up in France’s woods, rivers or canals.

 

Getting on with her life

Yves’s family urged Florence to launch a search for him herself. She refused. She told them that she would deal with his abandonment of the marital home in her own way.

She telephoned Yves’s employee and told him that she has closed the business. She sold the clothes Yves had left behind. She sold whatever was in the house which he had bought, and which she did not particularly like. He loved automobiles and had several and she sold those too. She sold the pickup he used in his business. She sold some of the furniture. She sold the mattress of their double bed. Or, she said she had sold those things when the family noticed that they were no longer at the house.

She also cancelled Yves’s cell phone subscription. His sister thought that while he had a cell phone subscription they had a way of contacting him.  He had not replied to the messages they had left on his cell though.

Yves’s family again asked her to try to find him. She again refused. They decided to do so themselves; they placed missing person messages on the Internet. Florence, hearing of this, was furious, and the bad feeling between her and Yves’s family intensified. She would have, she told them, phrased the message differently. She also told them that she had sold Yves’s belongings because she needed the money; she had three children to feed and she also had to pay the debts Yves had left behind.

Meanwhile, the police were still none the wiser as to the identity of the headless, handless and footless body. The autopsy did reveal that he had a fractured vertebrae and a ruptured liver which had been caused by a violent blow or blows to the body. He also had consumed a massive amount of a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic sleeping pill. It was Zopiclone.  (The standard prescribed dosage of the drug is 5-7.5mg at bedtime and the taker will usually fall asleep within 20 minutes. The drug’s fatal dosage has not been made public, but according to the World Health Organization the lowest recorded fatal dose in a suicide was 90mg.)

There was no alcohol in the remains. The stomach however contained a cereal.

 The damage caused by the burning of the body made it impossible to determine the cause or date of death. 

 

The investigation

In May – almost three months having passed since the body was found – the police received the DNA results. It did not match DNA profiles they had on record. DNA had also been found on the cigarette butt; it was that of a woman. Checking missing person reports for the region, they decided to have a word with Florence. They went around to the house and after having asked her a few questions, they asked her to accompany them to their station house for further questioning.

“Did you murder your husband?” they asked her outright.

“No,” she replied. “I have neither the physical or emotional strength to murder.”

The police needed her DNA profile and got it by taking a buccal swab from inside her mouth.  With no legal reason to keep her, they allowed her to go home.

Yves’s DNA profile was also needed and his family stepped in to assist and allowed the police to take buccal swabs from them. In replying to questions from the police they did not hide their displeasure at how Florence had been getting rid of Yves’s possessions. What if he returned home, they wanted to know, what will he wear? She had even closed his business, and, they told the police, she was going to move from the house and from the region. She had already removed the floor-to-floor carpeting in the bedroom.  Her reason, as she had explained to them, was that the house’s proprietor was going to put down a new carpet for when new tenants moved in. And she had washed down the floors and the walls, and the kitchen, bathroom and the toilet.

The DNA profile of the Grands Avaux body matched the DNA profiles of Yves’s family. The results for the DNA which was found on the cigarette matched that of Florence.

The police, wanting to get to Florence before she moved, arrested her on Tuesday, June 1. They informed her that they were holding her on suspicion of having murdered her husband and after having informed her of her right to remain silent and that anything that she might say could be used as evidence against her in an eventual trial, they incarcerated her in the women’s section of Fresnes Prison, half-way between Moigny-sur-École and Paris. She hired a lawyer: Maître Joseph Cohen-Sabban from Paris. (In France a lawyer is addressed as maître.)

In the interrogations that followed, always in the presence of her lawyer, as French law requires, Florence admitted to the police that she was going to move. She planned, she said, to settle some 150 miles south from Moigny-sur-École. She had cleaned the house, yes: She did not want to leave a dirty house so that the proprietor had the expense of having to have it cleaned. She had removed the bedroom carpet, yes. The carpet was dirty and the proprietor was going to redecorate the house anyway. Questioned about the time that Yves had left on Wednesday, February 25, she said that it was at ten in the morning. The police already knew that she had told her sister and parents that he had left at two in the afternoon, but that she had told Yves’s sister that it was at four in the afternoon.

The police wanted to know what she had done with the carpet she had removed from the bedroom. She had disposed of it, she replied. Where did she dump it? Where one should leave large objects one no longer needed – the municipal rubbish dump. The police went to the rubbish dump but there was no carpet there. They also went through the rubbish hoping to find the mattress from the couple’s double bed because Florence had changed her story saying that she had also disposed of the mattress at the dump, but there was also no mattress there. Municipalities regularly clear out such rubbish dumps and what can not be recycled are incinerated.

Who did she sell Yves’s belongings to?  She could not remember, she said. She could also not remember what exactly she had sold, and she pointed out that he had taken some things with him.  She had also given things to beggars. She could not provide invoices or receipts, but this did not surprise the police because in France black market trading is an every day occurrence: transactions are in cash which makes it financially attractive to both the seller and the buyer because it eliminates Value Added Tax (VAT) charges. Even cars are sold on the black market to be shipped to the former East European countries or to North Africa.

Did she smoke? Yes, she said, she smoked.

Was she taking any kind of medication? Occasionally, like everybody else, she did, yes, she said. By then the police knew that Zopiclone had been prescribed for her, and that she had collected the drug from the pharmacy on the day before Yves had left.

A police officer trained in dealing with children meanwhile questioned the three Bourgade children who had gone to live with their mother’s sister. The girl spoke of how her father had once smashed a door during an argument with her mom. The eldest child, a boy, told the police that his father’s masonry tools were not at the house on their return from their aunt’s place. What were those tools? He said that they were a handheld drill, an electric chain saw and a buff wheel.  He had not seen the tools since.

Florence, questioned about the tools, said that she did not know what had happened to them. Yes, they were not at the house, but “Yves must have taken the tools with him.”

Asked to explain the discrepancy about the time that Yves had left the house, she said with the same calm as during all of the previous interrogations, “I was under shock. He had just told me that he was leaving me for a 25-year-old woman.”

The police had looked for the 25-year-old but found no evidence that Yves was having an affair at the time of his murder. His cell phone was missing but from the list of calls, text messages and voice mails the number had made or received according to a record supplied by the cell provider, not one pointed to him having been in an affair and planning to go off with the lover.

 

Looking for evidence of murder in the house

The police, not having found evidence of a lover, and unable to link Yves with a crime gang or with an enemy or enemies who would have wanted him dead, had no other suspect than Florence. They believed that she had killed him in the family home on that February morning, the children out of the way.

Their scenario of the murder was that Florence had drugged Yves by putting the Zopiclone prescribed for her in a bowl of cereal she gave him to eat, and when he was asleep, perhaps even unconscious from an overdose of the drug, she beat him to death and then cut him up with his own electric chain saw. She had obviously severed the head and hands to make identification impossible; without teeth to compare with his dental record and without hands to provide fingerprints which could be matched with prints at the family home, identification of the torso would have been impossible. She had severed the feet, cutting the ankles away too, because Yves had had a minor accident with one of his working tools and had a wound covered with a plaster on his right ankle. As the two families and the couple’s friends knew about the wound, it would have identified the body in the wood as that of Yves. She had then driven the body to the forest and set it alight to destroy it further or perhaps hoping that it would burn to ashes. No doubt nervous, she must have been smoking while working on the body and did not notice that a butt had fallen from an ashtray and stuck to the canvas she was wrapping around the body. They had no idea about what she had done with Yves’s head, hands and feet.

However, the police had to prove their theory and, Florence having thrown away the bedroom carpet and having, as she said, sold the mattress that was on their bed, and having cleaned the house so thoroughly that not a speck of dust, not to mention a drop of blood, was in sight, they needed assistance.

A team from the police’s forensic department arrived at the house. Dressed in white protective clothing which included gloves and mouth masks, they erected tents in the garden to work from and set out an assortment of equipment – from cotton swabs, tweezers, lifting tape, notebooks,  colored pens and pencils, torches and megaphones to sophisticated infra-red and ultra-violet cameras – which they would be using.

They were also to dust for fingerprints, and to search for blood.  For the latter they were to use a reagent.

 

Luminol

Legend has it that around one thousand years BC a Chinese emperor had a painting on which a glowing bluish-green ox mysteriously appeared each nightfall. The emperor had not revealed how he was able to perform such a miracle, but through the ages men had tried to discover his secret, but it was only in the middle of the 19th century that German scientists succeeded to synthesize a fluorescent chemical by mixing the inorganic compound of hydragine and hydrogen peroxide together. The chemical, which was given the name of luminol – it means “that which emits light” – and the scientific formula of C8H7N3O2,was then synthesized into a yellow-white powder. But no one had any use for it. Not even when, in 1928, the German scientist H.O. Albrecht discovered by accident that by adding an oxidizing agent to the powder the liquid that formed gave blood luminescence – the blood gave off a bluish-green glow in the dark just like the Chinese emperor’s ox.

Albrecht’s discovery would remain unused until 1937 when another German, the forensic scientist Walter Specht, discovered that when he sprayed a mixture of luminol and hydrogen peroxide onto blood, the iron atom present in blood’s hemoglobin initiated a chemi-luminescent reaction; the blood emitted a blue-green glow. He tested it on different surfaces and everywhere the presence of blood, even old blood no longer visible to the naked eye, was revealed.

Specht’s mixture was improved on by two American forensic scientists – M. Grodsky and K. Weber – and in 1966 the latter’s formula which was made up of luminol, sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide diluted in distilled water was being used by police departments in the United States.  The formula or reagent was however not perfect as its lifespan was brief and its luminous reaction had to be photographed in total darkness and with a night-vision camera. The reagent also initiated a chemi-luminescent reaction when applied to surfaces which had been washed with a cleaning product that contained bleach. Luminol could therefore not be used as evidence in a murder case; it could only establish that blood or bleach had been spilled at the murder scene.

Reagent BlueStar shows blood on broom used for cleaning up blood at a murder scene
Reagent BlueStar shows blood on broom used for cleaning up blood at a murder scene

In 2000, the Monaco-based company BLUESTAR FORENSIC began to market a new improved reagent also based on luminol.  Their product, BLUESTAR™, devised by Prof Loic Blum of the University of Lyon, did not require total darkness to be visible and could be photographed with an ordinary camera, yet it was more sensitive than other reagents on the market in that it could detect blood in a quantity smaller than the minimum required for a DNA profile. It could also detect very old blood as it did the blood spilled by two Confederate soldiers in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. (The house in which the two soldiers died is today a museum – the Shriver House Museum.)

Furthermore, the sensitivity of BLUESTAR™ made it react differently to blood than to bleach which eliminated any confusion between blood and the bleach component of a cleaning product. For example, the luminescence of blood sprayed with this reagent was blue-green, whereas the luminescence of bleach sprayed with it was grayish-brown, and the reaction was of a much shorter duration on bleach than on blood. The difference between blood and bleach under this particular reagent was, in fact, so marked that the technician spraying with the reagent could tell just by looking at the luminescence what he had in front of him. However, as one hundred percent confirmation would be needed in a murder case that the blood was indeed from a human, the company also began to market a test – Hexagon OBTI – to establish that the blood’s hemoglobin was that of a human and not of another vertebrate. The test was to be done in a laboratory when a DNA profile would also be sought.

Reagent BlueStar shows up blood in a bath
Reagent BlueStar shows up blood in a bath

If Yves had spilled blood in the family home, then despite Florence’s cleaning, BLUESTAR FORENSIC’s  tests would illuminate and identify even the tiniest drop of it.

Police sprayed the product across the house and it revealed blood on the walls of the couple’s bedroom, on the frame of their double bed, in the tub in the couple’s bathroom as well as on the tiled wall behind the tub, on a fire extinguisher and on the floor of the house’s entrance. The luminescent areas were then scraped for residue and the residue was tested in a laboratory and despite that Florence had used Javelle Water (Eau de Javel) containing sodium hypochlorite and sodium chloride which made it a bleach and disinfectant, the tests showed that a large quantity of human blood had been spilled in the house. The Javelle Water however made it impossible to establish the blood’s DNA profile.

The police also matched the canvas in which Yves’s body was wrapped with canvas found in the house’s garage and which Yves used for his work and with which the couple also covered their swimming pool in the winter.

Based on this accumulation of circumstantial and forensic evidence, the police charged Florence with the assassination of Yves. (In France first degree murder is called an assassination, whereas voluntary manslaughter is called murder.)

She did not react.

 

Judgment

Florence in court
Florence in court

On Monday, January 15, 2007, after 31 months of incarceration in Fleury-Merogis jail the trial of Florence Féderlé (in France a woman retains her maiden name for official purposes) opened at the Court of Justice in Évry, the judicial capital of the Department of Essonne.

Thin and pale, but composed as always, Florence listened to the reading of the indictment. Asked by the judge whether she had anything to say she said: “I loved my husband deeply. I did not kill him.”

She would remain composed even when her eldest son, called as a defense witness, desperately tried not to condemn his mother with his replies.

Even when a statement was read which her late father had made when he knew he was dying, Florence did not show any emotion.  “I think that my daughter has blown a fuse. She became obnoxious, aggressive.  He pushed her to the edge with his multitude of women.  She became mad, like my mother. In the first three months after Yves’s departure, my wife and I already suspected Florence of having killed her husband. She must have panicked, wanted to hide what she had done to protect the children. She would never have confessed. She became impervious to what was going on around her.  But she is my favorite daughter.  She knows that I know what’s going on in her mind.”

On cross-examination by the prosecutor, Florence did not always reply, or rather her reply was, “I have no answer to give.”

When the prosecutor referred to the DNA on the cigarette butt which the police had found under Yves’s body, she called out, “Frame-up!” (In France the accused is allowed to intervene at any time during the hearing.)

About the blood in the house, she said that the inebriated Yves had often been in fights and had come home bleeding.

Looking her distraught mother-in-law in the eye, she said, “I’m accused of a horrible crime, but I did not kill my husband. It’s barbarians, sadists, who did that.”

Four days later, on Thursday, January 18, all the witnesses having been on the stand, the prosecutor asked the jury to give a verdict of guilty of assassination. He said that the many coincidences – the blood in the house, the canvas, the missing tools, the missing carpet, the presence of Zopiclone in the victim’s remains – and the many inconsistencies in Florence’s version of her husband’s disappearance, condemned her. He asked the judge that should the jury find her guilty that he should sentence her to 16 years incarceration.

Florence’s lawyer all the same emphasized in his plea for a not-guilty verdict that the prosecution had no proof against his client. He pointed out that as she had explained in her evidence, Yves had often got into drunken fights in bars and his injuries had bled. She had not manifested any emotion at her husband’s death, yes, but that was “by education” he said.

The jury left the courtroom to deliberate in the presence of the judge and two magistrates who had been present throughout the trial but, in accordance with French law, had taken no part in the procedure.

Three hours later the jurors returned to the court room. Florence was guilty of assassination. The judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison – four years more than the period the prosecutor requested.

Florence’s lawyer lodged an appeal and it was heard in May 2008.

For a week, Florence, as composed as in the past, repeated that she had not killed her husband, and her lawyer in his plea emphasized the doubt that existed in the case. He said that a “specter of judicial error” hung over the case.

After four hours of deliberation the jury upheld the previous guilty verdict, but the judge downgraded the crime from assassination to “voluntary violence which had unintentionally caused death.” He reduced the previous sentence of 20 years to 15. The four years she’d already spent in prison would be deducted.

Today, Florence’s family and children stand by her. They visit her each week. Yves’s family remains heartbroken and sure of their sister-in-law’s guilt.

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