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April 12, 2009 (updated Nov. 15, 2010)
French billionaire banker Édouard Stern, wearing a latex bodysuit, was shot dead in his luxury Geneva penthouse by his mistress, Cécile Brossard, for reneging on the $1 million he gave her.
It was the last day of February 2005: Monday, 9:15 p.m.
Geneva, in Switzerland, town of Calvin and strict Calvinism, once known as the "Rome of the Protestants," was already silent for the night. The month had been extremely cold and weather forecasts promised further cold and snow for the month of March. The best place was undoubtedly indoors beside a fireplace in which coals sizzled.
Yet, the automatic doors to the underground parking bay of an elegant, modern apartment building on a street in the city's most expensive area swung open and a gray Mini, a woman behind its wheel, pulled out fast and turned north towards the lake – Lac Leman or Geneva Lake as it is known to English speakers.
The woman was on her way to Montreux, a town at the other end of the 45-mile long crescent-shaped lake (72 kilometers). A few moments earlier, she had stepped from the apartment building's basement elevator. She had hurled two bags – one of black leather and the other a white cloth bag – onto the car's rear seat. Her purse, also of black leather, she had put down on the front passenger's seat. Waiting for the parking bay's automatic doors to open, she had tapped her manicured fingernails against the steering wheel. She was obviously in a hurry to be on her way.
From the moment she had stepped from the elevator, dressed in black and white, her long blond hair casually tied in a ponytail in her neck, and carrying the bags and purse, a surveillance camera had filmed her.
The apartment building at Number 17 Rue Adrien-Lachenal was an extremely secure one. So it had to be or the building's owner and occupier of its penthouse, a penthouse filled with furniture and art work estimated to be worth 100 million Swiss Francs ($88 million; £59 million; €65 million) would not have bought the building.
The man, Édouard Stern, 50, French and divorced, was according to Forbes, France's 38th richest citizen. A member of the wealthy Stern banking family, he was a banker himself and founder and head of the multi-million dollar Geneva-based investment fund, Investment Real Returns (IRR).
|Police station house on ground floor of Stern's apartment building; it helped him feel secure.|
Obsessed with his personal security, not only were there spy cameras in all the communal areas of the apartment building, but his fifth-floor penthouse was burglar-proofed and he could summon a security firm's armed guards night and day by pressing a button concealed on his bedside table. He also carried a gun, and it suited him that the Geneva police had a station house on the ground floor of his building.
The woman in the Mini, Cécile Brossard, was indeed in a hurry and wanted to get the hour-long drive to Montreux over with. She lived with her husband, Xavier Gillet, in an apartment in Clarens, a suburb of Montreux. Clarens and Montreux, like Geneva, are expensive places and not for people who have not made it in life. Gillet, French, had done so; he was a successful herbal therapist and treated the local and visiting wealthy. Brossard, also French, could also say that she had made it in life; she was Stern's official mistress.
And she was Stern's official mistress with the blessing of her husband.
Stern can't be found
Stern's Geneva penthouse where he was found murdered (white building; shutters down
Édouard Stern ran his investment firm from the seventh floor of an eight-floor office building at Number 22 Rue Villereuse. The street ran parallel to Rue Adrien-Lachenal and the office building and Stern's apartment building stood back to back; Stern's penthouse could be seen from the windows of the upper floors of the office building. Walking from his home to his office accordingly took only a couple of minutes.
On Tuesday morning the banker had a 9 a.m. appointment with a Geneva restaurant owner who wanted to make an investment. Stern did not turn up.
He also did not turn up for an 11 a.m. appointment.
The 9 a.m. appointment had not been all that pleased that Stern had not shown, but the 11 a.m. one was really put out. The appointment was with William F. Browder, head of the investment fund and asset management company, Hermitage Capital Management, specializing in Russian markets. Stern was not only a friend of Browder but he was also an investor in his company of which the late Lebanese-born Brazilian-naturalized banker Edmond Safra was a founder-member. (In December 1999 Safra died in a fire in his luxury Monaco penthouse. An American, Ted Maher, then working for Safra as his nurse, was indicted on a charge of arson that caused the death of his employer and of a second person, another nurse also employed by the billionaire; Mahler was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 2007, after having served eight years in Monaco's prison, he was released and he returned to the United States.)
Knowing that Stern did occasionally arrive late for an appointment, but, that he always called to say that he had been held up, this Tuesday, when no such call arrived, his associates became worried. They called up to the offices on the building's eighth floor hoping that the man there would know Stern's whereabouts. The man they spoke to, Alexandre (Sandy) Koifman, also French, used to be an associate of Edmond Safra but he had left him to team up with Stern. A year previously, in April 2004, he had left Stern's IRR too and founded his own investment advisory company, Bedrock S.A., but he and Stern had remained friends. No, he told the callers, he did not know where Stern was, but his car, a green Bentley Mulsan (price approximately $300,000) with white leather seats, bought only a week earlier, was parked downstairs in the parking bay. Stern must therefore be in his penthouse, or somewhere in the building, he said.
Koifman all the same called Stern twice, once to his cell phone and next to his landline number. There was no reply. Then, he went off for lunch to a nearby sushi restaurant, the Hashimoto. Sushi was Stern's favorite food and often Koifman and he lunched there together; the previous day, Koifman, lunching there with his wife, had seen Stern sitting at his usual corner table. Stern was reading a newspaper. Later Koifman would say in interviews to various media publications: "He (meaning Stern) gave my wife the customary Swiss three kisses on the cheek. Perfectly banal. Perfectly normal."
Returning to his office and hearing that one of Stern's associates, Alain Andrey, had summoned Stern's housekeeper, Maria Pires, to the penthouse to bring the keys and to let them in, he said that he would be going up to the penthouse too.
Pires, who had been working for Stern for six years, had initially told Andrey that she had Tuesdays off, but she and her husband, the building's supervisor, were already waiting outside the penthouse's locked front door when Koifman and Andrey arrived.
The first thing Pires did after using her key and stepping into the apartment was to check whether the burglar alarm was activated. It wasn't. Next, she called out to her employer, asking whether he was home. A deactivated alarm meant that he should be. She did not receive a reply.
Meanwhile, the two men noticed Stern's set of keys, his cell phone and his briefcase on a table in the hallway. A pair of sneakers lay in front of the door of Stern's bedroom. Pires also noticed the shoes and she found such sloppiness strange; she knew her employer was almost paranoid about order and cleanliness.
The two men walked to the bedroom. They thought that Stern might have slipped in the bathroom and was lying unconscious; they had earlier called all the Geneva hospitals, but none reported that he had checked in, or had been checked in.
The bedroom door stood ajar and all that was needed was the touch of a finger for it to fling open. Once, in the bedroom, the two men saw something bizarre lying on the floor between Stern's king-size bed and his bedside table, the table with the alarm button.
"I must admit that my first thought was that it was some modern art object that Édouard had bought. I've seen so many bizarre things in people's apartments. It took me a while, a minute, thirty seconds, five seconds to realize that it was a lifeless body there in Édouard's apartment," Koifman would say in media interviews later.
The body was clad in a head-to-toe, skin-colored, latex bodysuit. Behind the head was a pool of blood. They body was tied up with white rope. More white rope lay on an overturned chair.
"Don't come in Maria!" Koifman warned Pires.
The housekeeper and her husband were already in the bedroom.
"Has something happened to Monsieur?" she wanted to know.
Koifman also would have liked an answer to that question.
Pires, seeing the body on the floor, started to cry.
Koifman could think of only one thing to do. He called Stern's Paris-based lawyer, Kristen Van Riel, on his cell phone.
Van Riel's secretary would not call her boss to the phone, but Koifman said that it was urgent.
It was 2.47 p.m.
Koifman told the lawyer that he had to come to Geneva instantly. There was a body in Stern's penthouse.
According to the book Mort d'un Banquier (Death of a Banker) by two Swiss journalists, Valérie Duby and Alain Jourdan, and published in Switzerland in 2006 by Édition Privé, the following conversation took place between the two men.
Said Koifman to Van Riel after he had told him that there was a body lying in a pool of blood in Stern's bedroom: "If it's Stern you have a whole lot of administrative things to sort out here. If it's the body of someone else … you have a whole lot of other things to sort out here."
"You mean you don't how that it's Stern?" asked Van Riel.
"Well … we're worried because we've been unable to find him," replied Koifman.
"And …?" asked Van Riel.
"It's bizarre. The man is rather tall. He's wearing a body-suit. We can't see his face. There's blood all over. We think it could be Édouard …," replied Koifman.
"It's Édouard!" said Van Riel.
He had been the banker's lawyer for 28 years and had become a friend and confidant.
Pires ran down to the police station house. She was not only still crying, but she was almost incoherent when she told the duty officer that Monsieur Stern was dead up in his penthouse.
Shock and Scandal
The death of Edmond Safra was still on everyone's mind, especially on the mind of bankers – it had been thought initially that the Russian Mafia had murdered him – and now the body of another slain banker lay on a metal table in a police morgue for an autopsy.
The Stern murder investigation was handed to Examining Magistrate Michel-Alexandre Graber. The latter would have to decide from evidence uncovered by the Geneva judiciary police whether the Canton of Geneva could successfully prosecute Stern's murderer or murderers. Switzerland or rather the Swiss Confederation consists of 26 sovereign states – cantons. Each canton has its own ruling government, treasury, judicial system, police and laws, schools and universities where tutoring is given in the canton's official language – German, French, Italian or Romansh. Each canton also has its own capital city – the way Geneva is that of the Canton of Geneva. Berne is the overall or federal capital and seat of the federal government which is responsible for the Confederation's military and border guards. The cantonal police agencies are not subordinate to the federal authorities, but to the cantonal governing councils.
Graber would not give journalists more information than that the body of Édouard Stern had been found in his penthouse. The banking world also closed ranks. Swiss bankers must twice a year sign sworn statements of client confidentiality. They also have to pledge to report to their superiors any unusual transactions in clients' accounts. For example, if a large sum of money is deposited by direct transfer into a client's account by someone in say Australia or Argentina and a few days later the sum is transferred to another account in say Paris or Panama, the client's private advisor or counselor has to telephone the client for an explanation. If none is forthcoming or the client's explanation appears suspicious, the bank immediately launches an investigation. All will be done discreetly and most graciously of course, but these days Swiss banks remain alert to money laundering.
The autopsy revealed that Stern had four 9 mm bullets in him. Two were in his head and two in the thorax. One of those in his head was right between his eyes. Forensic tests showed that that was the first bullet to have hit him. It would have been fatal. But another three bullets had been fired into him. One bullet, even two bullets to the head, would certainly have indicated that the one who had fired the gun was a professional killer. But that the gun had been fired four times indicated that the killer was not a professional. In local police jargon so many bullets was a take that slaying. In other words, the killer stood beside the already dead person but continued to fire in anger, hatred or revenge, all the time thinking, take that, you bastard!
Who hated Stern? Who wanted to revenge something he might have done? Did he have enemies?
Probably, if Édouard Stern had ever been asked to give one word that would describe himself, he would have said "discreet".
He was born in Paris on Monday, October 18, 1954. He was born, as is said, with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father, Antoine Jean Elie, Jewish, was the owner of Bank Stern, a private investment house. Young Édouard grew up in a town house in the chic 7th Arrondissement – district – of the French capital; Napoleon lies buried nearby in the gilded-domed Invalides. The boy's childhood was one of routine. With his two half-sisters (his mother had been married before) and his own little sister he spent summer vacations in the resort of Dinard in Brittany and winter vacations skiing in the glamorous resort of Megève frequented by Hollywood stars.
He became an accomplished skier, equestrian, tennis and golf player, hunter, and a Karate Black Belt, and he was sent to school in England to perfect his English. Back in Paris he attended the elite business academy, ESSEC – l'École Supérieure des Sciences Économique et Commerciales. He then modestly lived in a small apartment in Paris' Chinese quarter in the 13th Arrondissement.
In 1976, aged 22, Stern joined the family bank. The bank was ailing, but he revived it and became its head. This caused a break with his father who he had replaced. In 1983 he married the daughter of Michel David-Weill, head of New York-based Bank Lazard. In 1985 he sold Bank Stern for more than a billion French Francs, the equivalent today of $863 million (£589 million; €654 million). He relocated to New York and joined his father-in-law's bank. Michel David-Weill having only daughters, Stern was considered the banking tycoon's heir apparent.
Stern became the father of two sons and a daughter, but his marriage broke up and in 1997 he settled in Geneva. His ex-wife and children remained in New York; every day he spoke to them by telephone. No longer with Bank Lazard, he founded IRR. At the time of his death it was estimated to be worth US $600 million; his heirs would liquidate it.
There were financial advantages to living in Switzerland. The country is a tax haven for foreigners because they are not taxed on their revenue but on their lifestyle. This means that a foreigner residing in Switzerland pays tax on the value of his or her wealth in real estate and possessions; works of art, yachts and aircraft. Therefore the more opulent a foreigner's lifestyle, the higher will be his annual income tax bill. But there is the peace of mind that his or her bank will never reveal information – not even to the authorities of another country – about a bank account.
Stern's lifestyle was not flamboyant. He lived in a penthouse and drove an extremely expensive automobile, yes, and he had a private plane, yes, but he was not the glitzy type. When not at his office, he wore jeans, T-shirts and sneakers. He did not drink or smoke and did not socialize. When not eating in Hashimoto or Thai food at Le Thai, or Italian food at L'Aioli, he dined at home, alone, on an apple and yoghurt. Pires would say after his death that she never had to cook for him. She only ever had to buy him bottles of mineral water, Diet Coke, fruit and yogurt.
But in his professional life Stern was different. "With him a deal was never a deal. We will shake hands on what we've agreed upon, but the final contract never had anything to do with our initial agreement," said someone who had done business with him. Another said that Stern always made it clear that it was a privilege to be doing business with him.
Stern also did not suffer opponents gladly. Often he would interrupt a meeting by calling someone a con – an idiot or moron.
But being called a moron by Stern, is that reason to fire four bullets into him?
Surely not, so the police looked deeper into Stern's complicated professional life.
He had spent much of his time flying around the world – to Russia, India, Japan, Israel, Europe, North and South America – in his private plane to discuss investments. Like his investment in the Hermitage Fund. Because of it he had frequently visited post-Communist Russia and had become a supporter of Alexander Lebed, the Soviet Army commander, who entered politics in 1995, standing for election against Boris Yeltsin. Lebed died in a helicopter crash in 2002; numerous conspiracy theories surround his untimely death.
An investment of Stern's that had gone terribly wrong was in the French chemical company Rhodia. In 1999 he and another three men had invested €38 million ($52 million; £35 million) in the company believing it to be a lucrative investment, but in 2003 the company had posted a loss of €63 million ($85 million; £57 million). Stern suspected financial and accounting irregularities. He went to court. Involved in the case, as his opponent, was the then French minister of finance, one of Rhodia's directors.
Two months before his death, Stern repeated his accusation to the investigating judge on the case, and at the time of his death the case was still pending. It was finally heard in the Paris High Court in June 2007 when Rhodia was fined for giving inaccurate financial information.
Stern had mentioned to several associates that the Rhodia affair was worrying him. He had, in fact, applied for a permit to carry a gun. France's gun laws make it extremely hard for an individual to obtain a permit to carry a firearm and when an application is successful, the permit usually forbids the holder to remove the gun from his or her residence. Stern obtained his permit without a problem. The then French minister of the interior was a man named Nicholas Sarkozy – today president of France. Stern was a friend of Sarkozy and his then wife, Cécilia. Police would find letters written by the two, and in their handwriting, among Stern's personal papers in the penthouse.
The gun permit the French issued Stern was of the kind that allowed him to carry a firearm whenever and wherever he wished in France.
Swiss gun laws are much less restrictive than those of France which means that Stern also had no problem obtaining a gun permit in Switzerland.
Gun ownership in Switzerland is the highest in Europe; there are an estimated three million firearm holders for a population (Swiss nationals and foreigners) of little over seven million. Not only do Swiss soldiers and police keep their guns at home, but all able-bodied Swiss males between the ages of 20 and 34 are army reservists and they also keep their guns at home.
For Stern to have been issued with a permit, all that he had to do was to prove that he was over 18, skilled in the use of firearms, and needed to protect himself and his property from danger. He was a wealthy man and a banker and he did business in Russia; reason to believe that he needed to protect himself and his property from the Russian Mafia. Under the 1999 Gun Act once he had his permit he could buy a firearm in any of Geneva's many gun shops. Buying ammunition – its production is government subsidized – he could buy by signing the vendor's sales registry.
In fact, as a hunter, Stern already had quite a selection of guns, pistols and rifles in his penthouse. An anonymous police source told the two journalists Duby and Jourdan for their book that he had 50 firearms in the penthouse and that many of them were heavy calibers. The source also said that only half of his collection was registered with the authorities.
So, if Stern was armed to the teeth, why had he not defended himself if his killer was or his killers were professional hit men on a contract, but, who had first forced him to get into the latex bodysuit in order to lead police astray?
Or was he into sadomasochism and a sex game that had involved guns had gone terribly wrong?
Cherchez la femme
Women prepared to sell their favors are easy to find in Geneva. And there is a great demand for them. Switzerland's policy of neutrality makes the country a perfect choice as headquarters of international organizations like the U.N., UNICEF, OHCHR, UNHCR and the Red Cross, while Geneva's proximity to capitals like Bonn, London, Paris and Rome makes the cityperfect as a conference center. At least 200 international organizations have their European headquarters accordingly in Geneva and 8,000 international conferences are held there annually. There are therefore very many men about who had left their spouses or their girlfriends at home. The result is that the city's sex industry is thriving and prosperous.
Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and each canton has its own prostitution laws. These laws determine where and how a prostitute may ply her or his trade. Prostitution is always prohibited in areas in the proximity of a church, school and a hospital. Residential areas are also out of bounds. And a prostitute has to register with the police and undergo regular health checks. Pimping is not allowed and a prostitute is not allowed to "display her wares": she or he cannot therefore sit in a window, a red light burning behind them, as prostitutes do in cities like Amsterdam and Hamburg. The Swiss AIDS Federation estimates that there are 14,000 prostitutes in the country of which 92 percent are female. Their number of clients, all male, is estimated at 550,000 annually. (The legal age of consent in the country is 16.)
Geneva Canton legalized prostitution before any of the other cantons - in October 1992, and today social workers estimate that there are over 1,500 in the city of Geneva (pop: 186,000) alone.
Most of the city's prostitutes are from Russia and its former satellite states like Bulgaria and Romania. Another group is French; in 2004 Switzerland signed the European Union's Schengen Treaty which opened the country's borders to other European Union nationals. This means that a French woman or man can live in France but cross the border daily without any hassle from border guards to work as prostitute in Switzerland.
The Geneva female prostitute is either a poule de luxe – high-class call girl – or a street walker. The latter operates from an area close to the city's Cornavin railroad station. The area is known as Les Pâquis. Its Rue de Berne is crammed with sex shops, strip joints and massage parlors. The area never sleeps; all through the night there is a long line of taxis outside the station waiting to take the sex workers or their clients or revelers emerging from the area's numerous Chinese, Filipino, Greek or Turkish eateries, home. Discreetly, a small police vehicle patrols the area from dusk to dawn.
The high-class call girl operates from the bars of the luxury hotels. There are 15 five-star and 26 four-star hotels in Geneva; most of the five-star ones are on Quai des Bergues and Quai du Mont-Blanc.
But was Stern a client?
The police would quickly establish that he was not only discreet about his professional life but so too about his private life. But they did learn that at the end of the 1990s he had been close to a former Miss Russia who was then living in Paris. In 1999 she had given birth to a son. The boy's birth certificate did not give the name of his father, but few in Stern's circle had doubts about who had fathered him. The boy, still only a few months old, died in a Paris hospital in 2000 apparently from head injuries after having been shaken. His mother, briefly held by police but then released without charge, blamed the boy's nanny. The latter was nowhere to be found; she was an illegal immigrant from Romania and it was presumed that she had fled back to her own country. After this incident Stern saw the former Miss Russia less and less and soon not at all.
About Brossard the police were still to hear.
Yet, Stern had not hidden her.
So in love with her had he appeared to his associates that they said among themselves that he was like a college kid in love for the first time. They watched how anxious he would become if he could not get hold of her by phone. He would go almost mad as they would later remember. They remembered how he would phone her friends to ask if they knew where she was; he would even phone her hairdresser or her esthetician, but he had to find her.
He loved Brossard passionately they all agreed.
The working girl and the wealthy banker
Brossard and Stern met at a private dinner in a restaurant in Paris in July 2001. He was divorced. She was married. Extra-marital affairs are perfectly acceptable in French society; they are even recommendable because to be desired despite a wedding band means that a woman has not lost her sex appeal and a man has not lost his virility.
|Cécile Brossard after a few drinks in a night club|
Brossard, born near Paris, was 32. Her parents divorced when she was eight and she grew up with her mother, a woman who suffered from depression. She had little contact with her father. He would, in speaking to the media later, describe his daughter as someone fascinated by money and luxury. And as a girl who had worn short skirts and tight tops; a girl who had boys sleep in her room on sleep-over nights.
At sixteen she left home and school. She worked as salesgirl at a duty-free shop at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, and next she set off for England to perfect her English.
According to her father she worked for a while during the 1990s in the galanterie de luxe. The French have a way of giving even the most menial or degrading job or task a sophisticated name: In its July 2005 edition Vanity Fair reported that her job "appeared to have been as a very expensive call girl specializing in sadomasochistic sex".
At one time she sunk into a deep depression and tried to commit suicide. Her mother had her committed to a psychiatric institution. Soon after her discharge she met Xavier Gillet: He was 21 years her senior and married, but he left his wife for her. Once, Mrs. Gillet, after a Las Vegas marriage ceremony (not legal in Switzerland unless regulated in a court of law which it was not) in 1998 and moving into his large lake-front apartment in Clarens, she did not get up until noon each day and lived a life of shopping and saunas.
At the dinner, meeting Stern, she was introduced to him as the painter and sculptor Cescils; she painted and sculpted and her creations were sold at a Paris art gallery.
There were eight guests at the dinner hosted by Paris art dealer Michel Roussel. Brossard and Stern did not sit next to one another, but their eyes kept on meeting across the table. The next day he got her cell phone number from the host.
Friends said that she was knocked off her feet that a man like Stern – wealthy, powerful, handsome, well-educated, cultured – should be interested in her.
Stern knew that Brossard was married and it did not matter.
Xavier Gillet heard about Stern only in the affair's second year. It also appeared not to have mattered to him that his wife was sleeping with another man.
Until then she had explained her repeated absences to her husband by saying that she had to oversee the renovation of her house outside Paris; in 1993 while still a "working girl" in the French capital she had bought the house, nine miles (15 kms) from Paris. Her neighbors there thought that she was a retired top model; often such expensive cars – Ferraris and Alfa Romeos – were parked outside.
Together Brossard and Stern would go to all the major art expositions in Paris, London, and New York. They would go to museums. They would spend weekends at his chateau in Burgundy. They would fly in his Gulf Stream jet to spend a weekend in the medieval city of Bruges or to go hunting in Africa – South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola. He had taught her to shoot. As Duby and Jourdan point out in their book, once he rented an area, "as large as Belgium," close to Lake Victoria, for a week, but that he would not allow any of his guests to hunt; only he could. They followed behind him "exhausted and silent." They had to rise with the sun each morning and wash in a basin of cold water. Police would find hundreds of photos that he had taken on these hunting holidays.
They would also find hundreds of text messages, e-mails and letters that the two had exchanged. In one e-mail Stern had written: "I love you so much, I can die. I want you to know that."
Then Stern and Brossard began to argue.
He was demanding. When he wanted to see her, she had to drop whatever she was doing and go to him.
She felt financially dependent on him.
He promised to see what he could do about it. In November 2004, more than three years into the affair, he wrote her a letter that he will marry her which will give her financial independence.
She was of course already married.
He next wrote about giving her money because that will give her the financial independence and security she felt she did not possess.
About the money Stern had second thoughts.
He asked an associate what to do.
"If you love her, you pay," replied the associate.
Stern did exactly that.
First thing in the New Year (2005) he deposited a million dollars into an account for Brossard with Bank Credit Suisse in Montreux. (A Swiss bank account can be in any of the major world currencies: the choice of currency is that of the account holder.)
Again Stern had second thoughts and he gave instructions to his Paris lawyer (Van Riel) to start legal proceedings to block the account; the money could only be blocked with a court order. According to the Vanity Fair article it was then that Van Riel learned about Stern's affair with Brossard. He apparently heard "all the details" of the relationship.
Brossard was furious when she heard from Stern that he wanted his million dollars back. She told him that she no longer wanted to see him. But she could not stay away from the man she called mon mec – my man. And he from her. But she had to have the money.
One of his associates described what was going on between the two as "love blackmail".
Again text messages and e-mails flew between the two. One day Brossard phoned Stern 10 times on his cell and left messages; he replied not even to one of them.
She set off for her house outside Paris. The e-mailing continued. He e-mailed her that he hoped that she was unable to sleep. She e-mailed him that she hoped that he found pleasure in the pain his behavior was inflicting on her.
She returned to Clarens. On Valentine's Day she phoned Stern 12 times. At 7 p.m. only did she get hold of him; he was in his penthouse. They spoke for 10 minutes, then she ended the call, but only to call him back immediately again.
She again left for France.
Three days later she was back in Clarens, just to return to France 48 hours later.
On February 20 Stern was at a dinner in Paris; his host was the French minister of culture. The following day he returned to Geneva. That day Brossard withdrew the interest that had accumulated on the million dollars – $5,000 – and returned to her house in France. She sent Stern an e-mail to tell him she had withdrawn the interest and he e-mailed back: "You stole from me. You deceived me!"
On February 24 Stern succeeded in getting the million dollars blocked. The reason his lawyer had given a Swiss judge for his client's wish to have the money blocked was that the money was commission to Brossard for having arranged the purchase of eight Chagall paintings; the deal had fallen through and therefore the commission was no longer applicable. Known as a collector of valuable art works, there was no reason not to believe that Stern wanted to buy eight Chagall paintings.
On that day Stern was in Paris. So was Brossard. He went to her house but she would not let him in. She also would not answer her cell or landline phone. But the next day, Friday, February 25, she did answer when Stern called again. He told her that he had something to tell her. He was flying back to Geneva and asked her to return as well; he made the reservation for her.
That night Brossard went to Stern's penthouse. He explained to her that blocking the money had been a temporary measure only: She could have it back if she behaved herself. They spent the night together.
In the morning there was yet again an argument about the money and Brossard set off for Clarens. Before she even reached the apartment where Gillet was waiting, Stern was calling her on her cell. He begged her to turn the car round and return to Geneva. She continued on to Clarens. Her husband thought that she looked close to a nervous collapse. She raged against the man whom she had once so excitedly spoken of as "my man." He had become "that bastard" and "that piece of garbage".
But on Sunday Brossard had dinner with Stern all the same at an expensive restaurant in Montreux. They argued loudly at the table: She did not touch her food.
At midnight, back in his penthouse, he phoned her. She did not answer. At 1:06 a.m. he called her again and again she did not answer. He also phoned Gillet and left a voice mail message for him: "You have won," he said.
In the morning, the first thing that Brossard did was to go to the Credit Suisse Bank in Montreux. She wanted to know whether the money had been unblocked. Furious because she had heard that the money was still blocked, she went to a spa of a five-star lake-front hotel for a massage. At 7 p.m. she set off in Gillet's gray Mini for Geneva. She had told him that she was going to have a word with Stern; she wanted to clear up "the mess."
Stern's last hours
Brossard arrived at Stern's penthouse at 8 p.m. There were seven sets of keys to the penthouse's front door: Stern and Pires each had a set, a set the banker kept at his office and three sets were left in the penthouse. Brossard had the seventh set. She let herself in.
Soon afterwards, Stern arrived; he had had a quick sushi meal at Hashimoto.
Only Brossard knows what happened next.
According to her she and Stern had first stood talking in the kitchen. Then he wanted to have sex; she did not, but she capitulated. He got into the latex bodysuit and she into her sadomasochist outfit: black pantyhose and black leather miniskirt with braces, and a leather top. She had a whip. Also some white rope. She tied up Stern: his latex bodysuit had four openings: two for the eyes, one for the mouth and one in the crotch. Her pantyhose also had an opening in the crotch.
At one moment or another Stern called Brossard a "whore." She told the police that he had also said: "A million dollars, that's not so bad for a whore."
Her lawyer would later tell journalists that those words had exploded in his client's head "like a bomb".
She went into the dressing-room that led from the bedroom. She knew that there in a drawer Stern kept three guns. One was a Smith & Wesson. She took it and walked back to the bedroom and fired four of its bullets into Stern. She sank to her knees beside the body, stayed there for "about 10 minutes". Scenes from the past – the two of them happily hunting deer in South Africa and Kenya – relived themselves in her mind. She thought of dialing 117, the police's emergency number, but did not. "I did not want to inflict that on Xavier," she would say to the police.
At 9:15 p.m. she closed and locked the penthouse's front door behind her. The sadomasochist outfit – she had rolled it up – the whip and some cans of Diet Coke she and Stern had been drinking into a black leather bag. The Smith & Wesson, as well as the other two guns from the drawer, she put into a white cloth bag. The four empty bullet shells and her keys she threw into her purse.
She had to get away.
The road from Geneva to Montreux runs through one of the most beautiful areas in the world.
|Water jet between Geneva and Montreux
First, one drives along the lake with its water jet, at 500 feet (152 meters) the tallest in Europe, perhaps the tallest anywhere. On a clear day Mont Blanc, 15,781 feet (4,810 meters) high, dominates the horizon behind the lake. Then, one turns onto the highway which cuts through hills and the Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland's second largest producer of wines. One is now no longer in Geneva Canton, but in Vaud Canton. Its capital city is Lausanne, 14 miles (22 kms) from Montreux. This part of Switzerland is known as the Vaud Riviera because of its mild climate – palm trees grow along the lake – and the wealth of its inhabitants. Like those of Geneva Canton, they are Protestant, and as in Geneva Canton, the language they speak is French.
On that night Cécile Brossard was oblivious to the beautiful scenery. She had only one thought: To get back to Montreux as quickly as she could, but to do so without the highway's speed surveillance radar reading her as going faster than the permitted 75 miles per hour (120 kph).
She did all the same break another Swiss road law: She made two calls on her cell phone. One call was to her lawyer. The other to her husband.
She left a message on her lawyer's cell that she had done something stupid but she did not go into details. She told her husband that she had had "yet another" argument with Stern and she has had enough and he should make a reservation for her to fly to "the other end of the earth".
Reaching Montreux, she pulled up at the pier where river boats picked up passengers for cruises on the lake, walked to the end of it, and dropped the white cloth bag into the water. She pulled up yet again; she wanted to get rid of her whip. The town's building supervisors had already put the garbage bins out to be collected in the morning; she threw the whip into one.
There are several versions of what Gillet knew about what had happened in Stern's penthouse, but as the police would discover from the couple's cell phones, a few minutes after Brossard had ended her call to her husband, his cell phone recorded a call in which he reserved a train ticket for her to Rome, Italy. She was to leave for Rome from Montreux at 11:40 p.m. that very night. The next call registered on his cell was to make a reservation for her to Sydney, Australia. She was to fly from Rome on an Austrian Airlines flight the next morning at 7:40.
Back home, Brossard threw clothes into a wheelie suitcase and then she made yet another phone call. She phoned an aunt and uncle in France; her mother no longer alive, and estranged from her father, the couple were her closest relatives. The two knew that their niece was Stern's mistress and they knew that the relationship had become stormy of late. That night the message she left for them was that she had yet again had an argument with Stern and that she was going to go away for a while.
The rest of the night was a mad chase to get to Rome.
Brossard missed the 11:40 p.m. Montreux-Rome train. Instead she took a taxi to the next station along the line. There, she missed the train as well; it pulled out as her taxi screeched to a halt outside the station. She pulled some 100 Swiss Franc notes from her purse and asked the taxi driver, an immigrant named Radovan Milic, to continue to the next station. Again, they arrived too late. This was how it was to continue. Finally, she did all of the 442 miles (714 kms) to Rome by taxi: She kept pulling notes from her purse and handing them to Milic. He would tell police later that his very agitated passenger had dosed off a little along the way. Also, that when they were driving through the Saint-Bernard Tunnel, she had turned the window down and had thrown something out. He did not know but she had thrown out four empty bullet shells and a set of keys. Police would fine comb the tunnel but these were not found.
Ten thousand five-hundred and sixty-four miles (17,000 kms) later, Cécile Brossard arrived at Sydney's international airport. She bought a cell phone and some phone time at the airport and took a room at one of the airport's hotels. Why did she go to Sydney? Her lawyers would say that it was only because it was the place that was furthest from Geneva.
Forty-eight hours later, Brossard was back in Geneva. When still in Sydney she had made several calls on her new cell phone and one had been to one of Stern's half-sisters (it was the only member of Stern's family that she had been introduced to) who had told her that something had happened to Stern. "What! Did he have an accident? It's not too serious, I hope," Brossard had cried out. "It is. He's dead. He's been murdered," the woman had replied. "It's not possible! It's horrible! What happened?" Brossard had sobbed into the phone.
Acting the grieving girlfriend, Brossard had immediately flown back to Geneva. Gillet had again made the flight reservation for her; she had to pick the ticket up at the airport. She was flying Lufthansa to Zurich.
One of the Stern family's lawyers would say of Brosssard's 48 hour stay in Australia: "Guilty, she had to leave. Innocent, she had to return."
By now the Geneva police had watched the film from the basement's surveillance camera and they had also heard from Pires and her husband and from Stern's associates, friends and family that he was having an affair with a French woman named Cécile Brosssard. They had notified their French counterparts and these too were on the lookout for Brossard; her legal residence was her house in France and she was on France's voters roll as Cécile Brossard Épouse Gillet – Spouse Gillet. Neither the Swiss nor the French police had as yet called on Gillet.
Brossard's uncle and aunt, having heard from Gillet that their niece was flying back from Australia, drove from France and waited at Zurich airport to drive their niece home to Clarens – and Gillet. The purpose of the trip was that they wanted to know from Brossard about Stern's murder. She did not deny that she had seen him on the night of his death, but she was adamant that he was well and alive when she left him. When the couple drove off to return to their home in France, a small object was lying on the rear seat of their car: Stern's gold Swiss watch. Brossard had left it there without telling the couple.
The following day, Saturday, March 5, in the afternoon, Brossard, Gillet at her side, walked into the main station house of the Geneva judiciary police. Speaking to her by phone earlier that day her aunt and uncle had persuaded her that, innocent as she was of the banker's death, she should go to the police rather than let the police come to her.
For the next 10 hours the police questioned Brossard and Gillet. But they questioned them as witnesses and not as suspects. Brossard described Gillet as her "companion" and Stern as "the man of her life." She expressed astonishment at being asked whether she had shot him. "He was the man of my life! Why would I have wanted to hurt him?" she replied. Gillet was questioned in another room.
At 8 p.m. the two were told that they could go. Examining Magistrate Graber had decided that he still had insufficient evidence to charge Brossard with murder and Gillet with complicity. But what Brossard and Gillet did not know was that while they were with the police their landline phones had been tapped and that listening and tracking devices had been planted in their automobiles. Their cell phones had been confiscated.
Back in the apartment in Clarens, Brossard started putting her affairs in order. She called her lawyers – she had one in Switzerland and one in France – and she called friends, as well as friends of Stern. She wanted her French lawyer to sell her house in France to Gillet. The latter would buy the house by paying predetermined installments until the death of its owner, in other words, until the death of Brossard, when the property would become his.
Brossard also asked her French lawyer to contact the lawyers of Stern's heirs; she wanted to come to an agreement with them about the million dollars. She was not going to allow the money to be taken from her.
On Thursday, March 10, Stern was buried in Geneva's Jewish cemetery. Brossard told Stern's associates that she was going to attend. She wondered whether she should wear black: Earlier that week when she had joined her Swiss lawyer for dinner in an expensive Geneva restaurant, she had worn pink. Sixty mourners joined Stern's ex-wife and their three adult children at the grave site. Brossard failed to turn up. "I knew she would not have the nerve," said one of Stern's associates.
Near to Stern's grave was the grave of the other slain banker: Edmond Safra.
In Paris, in an apartment, Nicolas and Cécilia Sarkozy (he was still France's minister of the interior), joined other friends of the departed to pay their respects.
The next day Brossard's aunt and uncle received a parcel that had been posted in Australia on March 3. They opened it and then they called their lawyer. In the parcel was Brossard's black leather sadomasochist outfit; she had posted it to them before she had flown back to Switzerland. There was also a letter in the parcel: Brossard asked them to wash the clothes and to keep them in a safe place. She apologized for inconveniencing them with her request. The couple handed the clothes and letter over to their lawyer. Also, Stern's gold watch. He in turn handed all over to the police.
Why Brossard kept the sadomasochist outfit and why she then posted it to her uncle and aunt in France, and why she left Stern's watch in their car she has not explained.
On Tuesday, March 15, Brossard was arrested. At 11 p.m. she admitted having shot Stern to death. She was charged with his murder. She was incarcerated in Champ-Dollon prison outside Geneva. Constructed in 1977 for 270 prisoners, it today holds 457 which makes it Switzerland's most overcrowded prison. There are no bars to its windows, but the window panes are armor-plated. On its walls, painted in bright colors, hang reproductions.
Gillet was also taken in, but for further questioning only. He quickly cracked and told the police that Brossard had told him that she had found Stern dead. He said that Brossard had told him that Stern had been shot. Such a confession was confirmation to the police that Brossard was the one who had pulled the trigger: when a hole is made in latex, the latex immediately snaps back so that the hole cannot be seen. There had therefore been no visible bullet holes in Stern's latex suit: The police had only established that he had been shot after they had removed the suit.
Gillet was free to leave. He would not be charged with complicity.
Following Jewish tradition, a year later, Stern's tombstone was consecrated.
The only words engraved on his black marble headstone are: Édouard Stern, 18 octobre 1954 – 1ère mars 2005.
Of course, Stern died on February 28 but March 1 was the date his body was found and therefore the date on his death certificate.
Brossard’s cell in the years of waiting for her trial would be on the third-floor of Champ-Dollon.
Soon after the key turned in the lock, she began to hold long whispered conversations with Stern. One day, a wardress walked into her cell during one such chat and she angrily ordered the wardress out. "I am talking to Édouard and I do not want to be disturbed," said Brossard angrily. She was clutching a small teddy bear. The wardress told her not to be stupid; she burst into tears.
As the wardresses also reported that Brossard held conversations with the walls of her cell, psychiatrists decided to transfer her to the prison’s psychiatric unit, then later, because she had sunk into a deep depression, to a secure psychiatric hospital in Geneva. On her return to her cell, she was put under suicide surveillance; it did not stop her from trying several times to end her life.
At one stage she asked if her two cats could join her in prison; the reply was that they could certainly not.
Like all inmates, allowed to wear her own clothes, she chose to wear only white or pink; the latter because, as she told the wardresses, it was Stern’s favorite color, and white, as it represented purity. As Duby and Jourdan also wrote in their book, when the prison gave her mail order catalogues from which to order clothes, she also only ordered white and pink.
Her aunt and uncle visited her in jail. So did Gillet. Had Brossard shot Stern in France – one side of Lake Geneva is French territory – instead of in Switzerland, then he would also have been in jail charged with “failure to report a crime,” perhaps even with “complicity.”
Céecile Brossard’s trial opened in the Assize Court of Geneva on Wednesday, June 10, 2009. Present and giving evidence at the trial would be Stern’s ex-wife and two of their children; his ex-wife had agreed to step into the witness box, but the two children had been given permission to give their evidence in camera – in the judge’s chambers.
In the four years and four months since she had fired four bullets into her lover, the once vivacious Parisian who had caught the eye of one of France’s richest men had changed; she was painfully thin and her eyes, filled with “chagrin,” stared from her lined face. Two months previously – on March 20 – she had turned 40. “On a good day she can be lively, witty, pleasant. The following day, she can be a wreck,” a wardress had described her to the media in the days before the commencement of the trial.
On the first day of the trial there was great disappointment among the 30 journalists who had with great difficulty been granted accreditation to cover the trial; the Stern family had requested that the trial should be held behind closed doors “to respect the suffering of the Stern children,” and the presiding judge had agreed despite that he said that he found the request “surprising.”
Therefore while the media hung about outside, an overcast sky threatening them with rain, one of Brossard’s two lawyers, Alec Reymond, told the prosecutors that his client was to plead that she had not shot her lover in anger and cold blood, but out of passion.
“It was a crime of passion,” said Reymond.
He added that Brossard will “explain the truth.”
She, however, decided to allow the truth to wait for a while. Her first words were addressed to Stern’s ex-wife and the Stern children. “I would like to ask for forgiveness, but we cannot seek forgiveness for something so abominable.” Then, she also promised to speak the truth by saying, “The only thing that I can do is to try and explain the truth.”
She also said that she had asked Mrs. Stern that, if she should die, whether there will be solace in her death for the family.
“She told me that there would not be,” said Brossard.
Lawyer Marc Bonnant, representing the three Stern children, promised to show the court that it was Brossard who had the upper hand over Stern and not vice versa.
“I am here to make certain that the verdict will not be an affront to the pain of the victim’s loved ones,” he said.
On the second day of the trial, Gillet, the cuckolded husband, took the stand. He wanted to clear up a misunderstand he said. Contrary to what had been reported, that he had not objected to his wife being the official mistress of another man, he had been unaware of the affair until after Stern’s death. He had been under the impression that his wife was the banker’s “sexual secretary.” But he had met the banker, he said; he had given him a massage because he had a bad back. It was his wife who had asked him to give her boss the massage. Then, one day, Stern had insulted him during a telephone conversation: The banker had called him a “cuckold.”
Another misunderstanding was also corrected on this second day. The $1 million that Stern had given Brossard had not been returned to the banker’s estate. The money was still in the bank in Montreux: Credit Suisse was still blocking the account. But the good news was that the money was earning interest.
Brossard would also speak on this day. She spoke of how passionately she had loved Stern. But he had called her a “whore” and she had snapped. She admitted to having shot him four times. He was, she said, sitting on a chair “in a bondage position” when she fired the bullets into him.
“It was not a question of money. It was a question of love,” she said.
She spoke of how she had killed him.
“I pointed the weapon at his face and fired the first short. The gun must have been six inches from his face. I think I hit him between the eyes. He got up, turned half way round and fell. I fired another round at his head.”
Her second lawyer, Pascal Maurer, would later when answering questions from the media impatiently waiting outside, echo her words about how she had loved Stern.
“Brossard was madly in love with him (Stern) and she loves him still beyond the grave,” he said.
Character witnesses called by the defense described Brossard as gentle, energetic, artistic, a young woman with simple tastes, a normal young woman.
As for what Stern was like, the Paris art dealer Roussel who had hosted the dinner at which the two had met said: “In the beginning (he was referring to the relationship) all went well, she was happy. And then the situation began to deteriorate, she lost weight, became anxious, started to take medication. In the last six months there was an accumulation of scenes, each more violent than the previous. All saw what was going on, all saw the deterioration! But Ėdouard Stern was her man. She did everything to keep him. She was prepared to do anything, anything. But alas, is it possible to love a man who hurts one so much. But well, that’s why I’m saying, but then I am only a man!”
He had more to say: “He tried … I say this with lots of compassion because I respected the man … but well, voilà … he phoned me at least 17 times. He wanted me to inform on Cécile. I refused. One day he came to Nanteuil (Brossard’s house in France) by car with his chauffeur and he again asked me to inform on everything she did. He told me, ‘Michel, I will be in your debt. I will be generous towards you. How much do you make a month?’”
In his summing up Pascal Maurer told the court: “Cécile did not kill Ėdouard Stern for $1 million. Cécile Brossard killed Ėdouard Stern because he pushed her to.”
Marc Bonnant, the Stern children’s lawyer, replied that Brossard had repeatedly phoned her lawyer to fight the freeze on the $1 million.
He said that Stern was seated and tied up when he died.
“Who put him in this submissive position?” he asked and added: “She stirred up the fantasies of a 50-year-old man, who became dependent on a sexually deviant little blonde from the suburbs.”
He thought that she could have “run away, cried or collapsed” when Stern had called her a “whore” instead of having fired four bullets into him.
The jury was asked to decide whether Brossard’s killing of the French banker had been an act of passion, or one of cold blooded murder.
The jury chose cold blooded murder committed, but a murder committed because of diminished responsibility.
Brossard was sentenced to 8 and half years in jail.
As she has already served four years, she could be freed in a year or two, either for health reasons or good behavior.
The $1 million would now be released. Not to Brossard but to Stern’s estate.
But it is not impossible that the “sexually deviant little blonde from the suburbs” may still be getting a few hundred thousand dollars from Stern, albeit indirectly. That is, if on the day that she walks free a publisher is waiting with an advance for her memoir.
Cécile Brossard walked free on Wednesday, November 10, 2010. The murdered banker’s family learned the news with fury.
Brossard’s release was in accordance with the laws of the Canton of Geneva.
Sentenced to eight years incarceration in June 2009, after having been held in detention since March 2005, she had become eligible for release on Wednesday, October 6, because she had served a quarter of her sentence.
She had done the time in Geneva’s Riant-Parc prison for women.
The prison can not be described as conventional.
A large 19th-century villa that bears no visible characteristics of a penitentiary, it is regularly mistaken for a bourgeois family home like those that surround it. Equipped with 16 beds, it never has more than half a dozen occupants. According to the Swiss judiciary Swiss women are generally law-abiding: Only 5.4 percent of inmates across Switzerland are therefore female.
Brossard’s sister collected her from the prison and drove her across the border into France. It is a frontier the 41-year-old will not cross again soon: She was expelled from Switzerland and would not be permitted to return for ten years.
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