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CRIME

‘Le Grêlé’: Who is the French serial killer suspect found dead after 35 years?

Francois Verove is suspected of committing a string of horrifying crimes throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He will no doubt carry dark secrets to the grave.

Killer's body was found in the small fishing village of Grau-du-Roi
(Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP

A serial killer suspected in some of France’s oldest unsolved cases has been found dead after 35 years on the run, just as police were closing in on his identity.

The man, nicknamed “Le Grêlé” (“pockmarked”), had been wanted by police since the 1980s for the murder and rape of young girls, but was never caught.

He was wanted for a list of crimes committed in the 1980s and 90s, including rape of minors, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and kidnapping of minors, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said in a statement late Thursday.

The man, identified as Francois Verove, committed suicide in a rented apartment, leaving a written confession, a source close to the case told AFP.

In the most notorious case, he was suspected of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl named Cecile who was found dead in the basement of the building where she lived in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.

He is also believed to have strangled a couple to death in the central Marais district of the capital in 1987. 

Over the years, investigators came to believe that the suspect may have been part of the Gendarmerie — armed forces in charge of internal security — at the time of the crimes, and established a DNA profile of him.

In recent months, an investigating magistrate had begun questioning around 750 gendarmes who had been deployed in the Paris region at the time.

One of them was Verove, a 59-year-old man living in the south of France, who was sent a summons on September 24 but then was reported missing by his wife three days later.

He was found dead on Wednesday in Grau-du-Roi, a fishing village on the Mediterranean coast, a prosecutors statement said.

He was a former gendarme, who later became a police officer and then retired, it said.

Police took a DNA sample from the body and found that it matched the genetic profile found at several of the crime scenes.

According to local media, Verove mentioned “past impulses” in a letter he left behind, which he had since brought “under control”, and said he had committed no crimes after 1997. The murder confession contained no specifics, they said.

In 1986, police had published a police sketch based on witness statements that showed a man of around 25 years old, six feet tall with light-brown hair, and with visible traces of acne on his face.

A lawyer for Cecile’s family, Didier Seban, thanked police for their work but also told AFP that it was “painful to know that the criminal took his secrets with him”.

According to the Parisien newspaper, Verove is also the suspect in another murder near Paris, of 19-year-old Karine Leroy, in 1994 in the city of Meaux.

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POLITICS

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections. 

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