Cult victims were murdered, police say

A SENIOR police officer investigating the mysterious deaths of 48 members of a sect in two Swiss villages said yesterday that he was treating the affair as a mass murder, rather than collective suicide.

Major Bernard Geiger, chief of police in the Valais canton, said the deaths in the village of Granges-sur-Salvan of 25 people, some of them children, could not be treated as suicide. Unless the body of Luc Jouret, 46, the sect leader, was identified among the remains, a Swiss judge would soon issue an international arrest warrant for him. Police have said they are looking for two people in connection with the case, but have not identified them.

Meanwhile, in a house in Morin Heights, Quebec, where earlier this week police found the remains of a couple linked to the deaths in Switzerland, two more bodies were found, burnt beyond recognition.

Jean-Francois Mayer, a Swiss experts on sects, said he received a letter yesterday 'from beyond the grave', claiming that the 48 members of the Order of the Sun Temple wanted to die because they had been persecuted in Quebec. The letter, unsigned and typed on a word processor, said the persecution had become 'unbearable'. It said the sect members would continue their work 'at other times and in other places'. The Geneva postmark on the envelope was smudged and the date of dispatch was illegible, according to a Swiss reporter who saw it.

The bodies in Granges were discovered early on Wednesday after firemen were called to three chalets occupied by the sect which had been set alight. At the same time, a further 23 bodies were found in a burnt-out farm in Cheiry, 50 miles away. The deaths, of Canadian, French and Swiss nationals, resembled those of the four in the house in Morin Heights owned by Mr Jouret, where a fire was also set off by a timing mechanism.

On Wednesday, Pierre Nidegger, Major Geiger's counterpart investigating the Cheiry deaths, said the case was one of mass suicide. Major Geiger said yesterday: 'My colleagues and I think this was a hasty conclusion. We do not exclude that a good number of the victims were murdered.' At a press conference, he used the term 'mass execution'.

Andrei Piller, an examining magistrate, said autopsies on some of the Cheiry victims showed they had been given a powerful drug by injection or intravenous drip before they died. A police officer said the attitudes of the bodies - one couple were lying side by side and holding hands, while a little girl was pressed against a little boy and 'almost smiling' - proved they had not been asphyxiated. 'Suffocation is very violent,' he said.

Police completed their search of the third chalet yesterday, but found no more bodies. Their attention turned to Geneva, where the sect has a third 'lodge'. Several people were taken into custody for questioning and their homes searched.

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital