Playboy murder saga grips France 36 years on

A one-time French playboy is on trial, for the third time, in the murder of an heiress nearly four decades ago whose body has never been found. The latest case has included shocking turns, including revelations from the accused man's son.

Playboy murder saga grips France 36 years on
A nearly four-decade old French murder case has captivated the country yet again. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

Thirty-six years after she disappeared without a trace, France is again gripped by the mystery of the missing heiress and the playboy lover accused of killing her.

Maurice Agnelet, 76, is this week facing his third trial for the killing of Agnes Le Roux, a glamourous 29-year-old whose body was never found after she disappeared in October 1977.

Agnelet, a former lawyer, was initially acquitted of the murder but convicted on appeal in 2007 to serve 20 years — a verdict that was eventually overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

His retrial in Rennes has seen shocking twists in the case, including an accusation from his own son.

"Two or three times I heard what I consider confessions from my father or my mother," his son, Guillaume Agnelet, told the court on Tuesday, testifying by video-conference from Chambery in the Alps.

Guillaume Agnelet, 45, said his mother had confided in him that Agnelet had killed Le Roux in her sleep during a camping trip in Italy and dumped the body
by the side of the road.

He said his father had also confessed in the 1980s to knowing the location of Le Roux's corpse, telling his son: "They must never find the body."

"This testimony will seal the split with my family," he said, adding that he felt he had to testify to avoid "regrets to the end of my days".

In court, Agnelet said he was "flabbergasted" by his son's accusations and said Guillaume was suffering from schizophrenia.

"I think he is very miserable, his head is not right…. I am innocent," he said.

After the testimony Agnelet's bail was revoked and he is now being detained during the trial. A verdict is due in the case on Friday.

Torrid schemes, false alibis

Guillaume Agnelet's mother, 72-year-old Annie Litas, made no mention of the alleged confessions in previous court testimonies and is due to take the stand
on Wednesday.

Agnelet's lawyer, Francois Saint-Pierre, said the testimony of Litas, who is long-separated from Agnelet, would be crucial to the case.

"The result of the trial will depend on her statement," he said, adding that he expected she would "shed a lot of light" on her son's testimony.

Agnelet's other son Thomas is also due to testify on Wednesday for the defence. Agnelet has always denied murdering Le Roux, the heiress to the Palais de
la Mediterranee casino in Nice.

Le Roux disappeared several months after she was at the centre of a torrid scheme involving a hostile take-over bid of her mother's casino.

Agnelet had seduced Le Roux and persuaded her to vote against her mother at a board meeting in June 1977 and allow the casino to be sold to rival owner
Dominique Fratoni.

Money from the transaction — three million francs, worth the equivalent of about 1.7 million euros ($2.3 million) in today's money — first went into a joint account in the couple's name and later ended up solely in Agnelet's hands.

Agnelet was initially the prime suspect in the case but produced an alibi when another mistress claimed he was with her in Switzerland at the time. The woman, Francoise Lausseure, later admitted she had lied and the case was reopened.

Lausseure has requested to testify and the court is considering hearing her by video-conference from Mexico, where she now lives.

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French court acquits four over death of British schoolgirl

A French court on Wednesday acquitted three English teachers and a lifeguard accused over the 2015 drowning of a 12-year-old British schoolgirl in France.

French court acquits four over death of British schoolgirl

Jessica Lawson drowned in July 2015 after a swim in a lake with 23 other British children on a school trip. She died after the pontoon they were playing on capsized near Limoges in southwest central France.

The trial began Tuesday in nearby Tulle, attended by the child’s parents.

The suspects including the teachers from Hull, northeast England, and the lifeguard on duty at the time were charged with manslaughter caused by a “deliberate breach of safety or caution”.

The judges said on Wednesday there were too many elements in the case that were unclear including exactly when the child disappeared in the water.

The court also could not establish a link between the pontoon overturning and the schoolgirl’s death.

The local authority was also cleared of any role in the death.

It was the lifeguard who had found the missing child at the bottom of the lake (lac de la Triouzoune) on July 21 and she was airlifted to hospital. She died the next day.

The public prosecutor had requested a suspended sentence of three years for the teachers and the same for the lifeguard, who was 21 years old at the time, as well as a lifetime ban on doing similar work.

The suspects denied that they had failed to provide proper surveillance.

A lawyer for the schoolgirl’s family said they hoped the public prosecutor would appeal the court’s decision, pointing to many issues.

“A young girl of 12 disappeared, the pontoon was dangerous and there was an obvious lack of surveillance. Another court must hear this,” lawyer Eloi Chan told AFP.