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Who is France's 'Ogre of the Ardennes'?

The Local France
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Who is France's 'Ogre of the Ardennes'?
French self-confessed serial killer Michel Fourniret (L) arriving for civil hearings, on May 29, 2008 at the Charleville-Meziere courthouse, northern France. (Photo by ALAIN JULIEN / AFP)

As the widow of French serial killer the 'Ogre of Ardennes' prepares to face trial again, we take a look at the case that continues to haunt France.


On Tuesday, the widow of Michel Fourniret - the French serial killer known as the Ogre of the Ardennes - will face trial over her role in three murders dating back several decades, including the killing of a British woman whose body was found in a river in 1990.

Monique Olivier was married to murderer Michel Fourniret, one of France's most prolific serial killers who died in jail in 2021 - he was was convicted of eight murders, but the true number is thought to be at least 12.

Olivier is currently serving a life sentence for her part in the crimes, but now she faces new charges relating to her involvement in the 1988 killing of of Marie-Angele Domece, who disappeared aged 18 from Auxerre, and the 1990 murder of 20-year-old British woman Joanna Parrish, whose naked body was found in the Yonne river that runs through the department of the same name in central France.


The third charge is for complicity in the 2003 disappearance of nine-year-old Estelle Mouzin, whose body has never been found two decades on, despite intensive searches.

So who is the Ogre?

Fourniret was born in 1942 in Sedan, France, close to the border with Belgium. As an adult, he worked several odd jobs and served in the French military during the Algerian War.

Prior to meeting Monique Olivier, he had been married twice and had already spent time in prison for child molestation, voyeurism and violence.

They met when she answered his advert for a pen pal - by this time he was behind bars again for a dozen assaults and rapes of minors in the Paris region. 

Once out of prison, Fourniret began abducting and murdering young girls. With the help of Olivier, the couple would drive up beside the children, using a ruse where they might ask for directions. The presence of Olivier - and eventually the couple's one-year-old child - was intended to assuage any fear. 

The first victim was 17-year-old Isabelle Laville, who was walking home from school, in Auxerre in 1987. The next year, Fourniret went to dig up stolen gold at the behest of his prison cellmate. The couple stole the fortune, and Fourniret strangled his cellmate's wife, who had helped them find it. They allegedly used the money to buy a chateau.

Between 1988 and 2003, Fourniret abducted, raped and murdered at least 10 more women and girls, the youngest just nine years old, in eastern France and Belgium.

In 2003, a 13-year-old girl the couple had tried to abduct managed to get away and warn police. After that, officers began interrogating the couple. Fearing a lengthy prison sentence, Olivier told police of her husband's crimes. 

Some investigators believe he could have been responsible for at least 30 killings.

Unsolved cases

While cases like Fourniret and Olivier's are thankfully extremely rare, there are in France several high-profile cases that continue to shock and perplex. 

The al-Hilli murders

On September 5th, 2012 a UK family of five - Saad al-Hilli (50), his wife Iqbal (47), their two daughters Zainab (7) and Zeena (4) and Iqbal's mother, Suhaila al-Alla (74) were on vacation in France near Annecy when they were attacked as they drove in their car.

READ MORE: OPINION: French police secrecy encouraged wild conspiracy theories on Princess Diana and Al-Hilli deaths


In total, 25 shots, from a pre-World War II pistol, were fired, and the three adults in the al-Hilli family killed with two gunshots each to the head.

The al-Hilli's two daughters managed to survive: seven-year-old Zainad was injured and four-year-old Zeena hid behind her mother's legs for hours before gendarmes arrived.

A cyclist - local man Sylvain Mollier - was also shot and killed on the scene. 

After 10 years, law enforcement still had not found the killer. In 2017, French police said they had "no working theory".

Some theorised that the killings were the work of the foreign intelligence agencies, Iraqi agents (al-Hilli's birth country), a conniving brother, or even that the French cyclist was the target of a jealous lover.

Most recently, Veronique Dizot, the lead prosecutor in the case, noted that the attack may have been local and random. 

Little Gregory

Four-year-old son Grégory Villemin went missing from his family home in the Vosges, eastern France, in 1984 - his body was found in the river, his hands and feet bound and his hat covering his face. 

No-one has ever been convicted of his murder, and the case rapidly descended into further tragedy.

READ MORE: Gregory: The smiling boy whose murder haunted France for decades


Police narrowed in on Gégory's father Jean-Marie's cousin, Bernard Laroche, as a suspect. Bernard gave an alibi, saying that he was picking up his sister-in-law, 15-year-old Murielle Boche, from school. However, she ended up telling police that she had witnessed Laroche with an unknown child on the day of the murder. Eventually, she recanted, claiming she had been pressured by law enforcement. This led to Laroche being freed.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, Grégory's father told media he planned to kill his cousin. Jean-Marie followed through on his threats - he murdered Bernard on March 29th, 1985. He was convicted for murder and given a five year sentence.

Around the same time, police re-focused their efforts on Grégory's pregnant mother. After being charged with murdering her son, Christine went on an 11-day hunger strike. She was eventually freed due to a lack of evidence - and a judge issued an order forbidding further prosecution of her - but following her questioning by authorities she reportedly collapsed and lost one of the twins she was pregnant with.

The case has consumed French society and media for decades, and in 2017 - Judge Jean-Michel Lambert, who had been the subject of much vitriol during the early years of the case, died by suicide. He wrote in a letter that he had been haunted by the case.


A 2019 Netflix series 'Who Killed Little Gregory?' examines the case in detail. 

La tuerie de Nantes

Nicknamed 'the Nantes massacre' - five members of the same family: Agnès (48) and her four children, Arthur (20), Thomas (18), Anne (16) and Benoît (13) were murdered and buried in their garden in April 2011, with the prime suspect: their husband or father, still missing as of 2023. The two family dogs were also killed.

Before the murders, the father - minor aristocrat Xavier Pierre Marie Dupont de Ligonnès - informed Agnès' employer that she was sick and would be moving to the United States. Next, he placed a message on the family's mailbox to return all letters back to the sender, emptied part of the house and purchased cement, a shovel and a hoe.

The school that his children, Anne and Benoît, attended received letters signed by Xavier informing them that the children were moving to Australia. 

Eventually, the five bodies were discovered under the patio in the back garden - they had been drugged and then shot with a .22 Long Rifle, the same type of weapon that Xavier - who was heavily in debt - inherited from his father three weeks earlier.

Over the years, police have received hundreds of tips of potential sightings - including one in Scotland in 2019 - but none have been verified and Xavier remains at large. 


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