France’s ‘Black Widow’ on trial for murder

A woman dubbed the "Black Widow" of the French Alps goes on trial Monday for the murder of her husband, a case with troubling echoes of how four of her previous partners were poisoned, two of them fatally.

France's 'Black Widow' on trial for murder
A black widow spider. Photo: Wikimedia

Manuela Gonzalez, 53, is accused of the 2008 murder of Daniel Cano, a 58-year-old metal worker whose charred remains were found in the back of his burnt-out car near the house he shared with her in Villard-Bonnot in the Isère region of the Alps.

Police quickly established that the fire had been started deliberately, that Cano had consumed sleeping pills and that there had been tensions between the couple, both of whom were keen gamblers.

It subsequently emerged that Gonzalez had, without consulting her husband, re-mortgaged their house for €165,000 ($229,000), and that, a month before his death, there had been a fire in Cano's bedroom while he was sleeping alone.

The blaze was blamed on the family dog knocking over a candle but the couple's son testified to prosecutors that he had heard his father say, during an argument several days after the incident, "Manuela, don't take me for an idiot, there was no candle in my room."

As they looked into Gonzalez's past, investigators discovered that four of her previous partners had been poisoned in suspicious circumstances, two of whom died.

In 1983, her then husband spent three months in hospital having absorbed large quantities of anti-depressants.

A year later, a jeweller with whom she had begun a relationship was hopitalized after drinking tea she had laced with morphine derivatives as part of a plot to persuade him to write her a cheque for the equivalent of €12,000. That episode resulted in a conviction and a two-year prison sentence.

In April 1989, another lover died in his garage as a result of what was declared a suicide caused by asphyxiation from exhaust fumes from his car.

Another partner died in 1991 as a result of fumes caused by a fire at a flat they shared. Gonzalez was accused of causing the death but the charges were dropped three years later.

"What is astonishing is that she has slipped through so many nets for such a long time," said Francois Leclerc, the lawyer representing the brother and sister of Daniel Cano.

Leclerc said Gonzalez's past would be a key element in the prosecution case as, he argued, it reflected her modus operandi.

Gonzalez's lawyer, Ronald Gallo, argued that the previous cases were not relevant.

"Either they cannot be considered on statute of limitations grounds or they have already been judged," he said.

"From the beginning, the police have convicted her on the basis of her past. There is no proof, not even a single indirect witness."

The case is also expected to focus on whether Gonzalez, who is of Spanish heritage, suffered from a split personality and whether financial problems related to her gambling may have been a motive for her alleged murder.

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French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.