Investigators have closed down their “search for causes of the disappearance,” of Allison and Marie-Josée Benitez, and replaced it with a murder inquiry, it emerged this week.
“We consider the theory of a killing to be the most likely,” Perpignan prosecutor Achille Kiriakides told local daily Midi Libre on Tuesday.
“The objective remains the same: find these two people, figure out as precisely as possible how they went missing, and who is responsible for their disappearance and possibly their death,” he added.
Another source close to the case told Midi Libre: “There’s no reason to believe any explanation other than a criminal one.”
The latest developments come after forensic testing found traces of Allison’s blood in both a freezer and in a washing machine at the workplace of her father, Francisco Benitez.
Investigators were first led to inspect the machine after a colleague of Benitez at the Foreign Legion barracks in Perpignan, told police he had seen him washing sheets that appeared to be stained with blood.
Furthermore, suspicions were raised when another colleague noticed Benitez bringing a freezer from the family home to the barracks, explaining that he wanted to donate it to the other legionnaires in the break room.
Investigators found it suspect that Benitez would go to the time and trouble of defrosting and transporting a freezer to his workplace, just a couple of days after his wife and daughter went missing, on July 14th.
Subsequent forensic testing on the machine led to the discovery of further traces of Allison’s blood.
Furthermore, investigators found the two women's passports in the family home, undermining Francisco Benitez's claim that they had left Perpignan permanently.
Since the mother and daughter disappeared their Facebook and Twitter pages have gone quiet and neither has used their bank accounts or answered their phones. However a suitcase and various personal belongings were found missing from their home.
The pair also left behind their car and pet dog, a sign, say the family’s neighbours, that they did not intend to stay out long.
Benitez hanged himself on August 5th, after weeks of speculation that he had played a sinister role in the disappearance of the women.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Kiriakides admitted the nature of Benitez’s death had influenced the investigation’s decision to switch from “missing persons” to “murder.”
A Spaniard who was granted French nationality, Benitez left a letter and video behind, and also sent emails to his parents, bosses and friends to tell them he could not stand the suspicions weighing on him.
He said he was innocent and declared his love for his daughter, sources close to the case said.
“We are a family, like every other family, with highs and lows. People who really know me, know that Allison is my life. Today, I have a lot of uncertainty…A lot of different things are going through my head. I’m hanging on, and hanging on, but I’m at the point of exploding,” Benitez said tearfully in a video published by Paris Match after he was found hanged at his workplace.
In the intervening weeks, fears were raised when it emerged a former mistress of Benitez had gone missing in 2004, under chillingly similar circumstances to the disappearance of his wife and daughter in mid-July.