French murder mystery: Bone discovery revives century-old case

For nearly a century the case of Guillaume Seznec, accused of killing his business partner even though no body or weapon was ever found, has fascinated France as one of the country's most notorious legal mysteries.

French murder mystery: Bone discovery revives century-old case
Guillaume Seznec (L) and Pierre Quemeneur (R). Photo: AFP
Now, the discovery over the weekend of human bones at Seznec's former home in Brittany has sparked hope among his descendants and defenders that the truth may finally come to light.
Denis Langlois, a former lawyer for Seznec's family, and author Bertrand Vilain carried out their unofficial dig in the cellar of the unoccupied house on the theory that the victim may have been accidently killed by Seznec's wife as she resisted his advances.
In May 1923 Seznec, a lumber merchant, travelled to Paris from the western town of Rennes with Pierre Quemeneur, a local official, to buy a stock of cars left by US forces after World War I.
Three days later Seznec returned home alone, saying that after a series of car breakdowns on their way to the capital, Quemeneur had wanted to return by train.
Quemeneur supposedly sent a telegram from Le Havre saying he would be home “in a few days”, but was never seen again.
Police later claimed Seznec himself sent the telegram. Despite his claims of innocence his testimony was often contradictory, prompting a jury to sentence him to a life of hard labour in French Guiana.
Piece of bone possible femur found at the Seznec's old house in Morlaix. AFP PHOTO /Bertrand VILAIN
'More will turn up' 
Seznec was freed for good behaviour by Charles de Gaulle in 1946. He had refused in 1933 to seek a pardon, saying “only the guilty ask for a pardon”.
He returned to the French mainland a broken man, his wife and eldest daughter having died while he was in prison.
He was killed a few years later after being knocked down on a Paris street by a truck that fled the scene. He was 69 years old.
Seznec fought all his life to have his conviction overturned, a campaign that continued after his death with the support of family members as well as lawmakers, judges and journalists.
Even the police inspector who led the case, Pierre Bonny, reportedly voiced his remorse at “having sent an innocent man to prison” shortly before he was executed for collaborating with the Gestapo during World War II.
The “Seznec Affair” became a source of fascination, spawning TV movies as well as a popular theatre show in 2010 based on the trial, where audiences were asked at the end of each performance to give a verdict. On average, 90 percent declared him innocent.
But prosecutors have denied 14 requests to reopen the case since 1924, most recently in 2006.
That could soon change with the two bone fragments found over the weekend, which have been turned over to local prosecutors for an eventual DNA analysis.
“More things will turn up. We thought we'd start finding things at one metre deep, but we found these on the surface,” Vilain told AFP.
“We had solid information, and a crucial witness. We weren't just digging on a whim.”
The house where the Seznec family used to live in Morlaix, western France prior to an excavation operation with the hope of finding the body of Pierre Quemeneur. Photo: AFP
'Never say anything' 
In a 2015 book, Langlois claimed that Seznec's son Guillaume had recorded a conversation with his nephew in 1978, describing his version of events.
Guillaume, 11 at the time, recalled hearing his mother fighting off Quemeneur and then seeing him laying on the ground with the woman standing over him.
“I think she had to defend herself and hit him in the head,” Guillaume said, according to Langlois.
Besides Guillaume and his parents, only one other person, a housemaid named Angele, knew the truth. “We were made to swear that we would never say anything,” Guillaume recalled.
“Our hypothesis is that Pierre Quemeneur tried to take advantage” of Seznec's wife, who fended him off with a heavy candlestick, Vilain said.
Police have taken over the search at Seznec's house, which also turned up part of a broken pipe.
Prosecutor Jean-Philippe Recappe said investigators were checking if the bone pieces — one of which may be the top of a femur — were indeed human and if so, from a man or a woman.
“Only then will we decide on resuming the excavations,” he said.


How France plans to prevents youngsters accessing online pornography

France is set to announce new measures this week to prevent youngsters from accessing porn websites, in the latest round of a years-long struggle to protect children from explicit material.

How France plans to prevents youngsters accessing online pornography

“I plan to put an end to this scandal,” Digital Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told the Parisien newspaper on Monday.

France’s data protection and media regulators Cnil and Arcom are set to announce their latest proposals to rein in porn websites which are in theory subject to a 2020 law requiring age verification.

Previous attempts have been held up by privacy and technical concerns, as well as court action by the websites.

To its frustration last September, a Paris court ordered Arcom to enter into mediation with several porn websites including market leader Pornhub, holding up efforts to block them.

READ MORE: France hits Google and Facebook with huge fines over ‘cookies’

Under the new proposal, people wanting to access explicit material will need to download a phone application that provides them with a digital certificate and code, the Parisien reported.

The code will be needed to access a porn website under a system “which will work a bit like the checks from your bank when you buy something online,” Barrot told the newspaper.

“2023 will mark the end of our children accessing pornographic sites,” he added.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is married to former school teacher Brigitte Macron, promised to make protecting children from porn a priority during his bid for re-election last year.

In November, he launched the Children Online Protection Laboratory, an initiative that aims to bring together industry giants and researchers to look for ways to shield minors online.

In September last year, a report entitled “Hell Behind the Scenes” by French senators concluded that there was “massive, ordinary and toxic” viewing of porn by children.

The report found that two thirds of children aged 15 or less had seen pornographic content.

The French production industry has been roiled by a series of sexual assault cases in recent years in which women have come forward to allege rape, mistreatment and manipulation by directors and fellow actors.