Death of gendarme may reveal France's own 'Dutroux affair'

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The Independent Online

France faces a judicial scandal comparable to the Dutroux case in Belgium after the revelation that a tenacious gendarme investigating a conspiracy involving sex crimes in Burgundy was almost certainly murdered.

France faces a judicial scandal comparable to the Dutroux case in Belgium after the revelation that a tenacious gendarme investigating a conspiracy involving sex crimes in Burgundy was almost certainly murdered.

Christian Jambert's death seven years ago was classified as suicide by his colleagues in the gendarmerie and by the local state prosecutor, who had previously blocked his near-single-handed investigations or refused to take them seriously.

A belated autopsy, demanded by the gendarme's family, revealed this week that Adjutant (Sergeant) Jambert had been shot twice in the head, not once as a brief investigation in 1997 had decided. Either wound would have killed him instantly. The revelation threatens to blow open the disturbing case of the unexplained murder, or disappearance, of up to a score of young women, including a 21-year-old British student, in northern Burgundy over 20 years.

"This is a very serious business, a judicial scandal," said Maître Didier Seban, lawyer for the gendarme's family and the families of some of the dead or missing women.

A pattern of implausible judicial and police bungles in the Auxerre area, 100 miles south of Paris, including the disappearance of scores of prosecution files, has already led to allegations that France is harbouring its own "Dutroux affair". Defence lawyers and a former public prosecutor have suggested that investigations of a string of murders and abductions were prevented by a cover-up of the kind which allegedly protected the Belgian child murderer, Marc Dutroux.

A series of government and judicial investigations into the cases, including the unsolved murder of Joanna Parrish, a 21-year-old Leeds University student in Auxerre in May 1990, have reached no clear conclusions. Three public prosecutors in the Auxerre area, who held office between 1979 and 1999, were punished for incompetence three years ago but they were exonerated on appeal.

Adjutant Jambert began investigating the disappearance of seven young mentally handicapped women between 1977 and 1979. Although the women were dismissed as runaways, the gendarme uncovered evidence that they had been abducted and probably murdered by a bus driver, Emile Louis, the man who drove them to a day centre for the handicapped.

Although Adjutant Jambert's evidence was rejected, he continued his investigations single-handed over many years, even when he was transferred to another part of France, and even after he had retired. The gendarme became convinced the case of the handicapped women was linked to a wider pattern of abductions, murders and cover-ups in the Auxerre area. A wealthy local man, Claud Dunand, had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1991 for abducting young women and assaulting and torturing them in the cellar of his home in the suburbs of Auxerre. Local newspapers and an investigative book have claimed a list of other local people implicated in the attacks, including several "notables", was drawn up by police but disappeared from the file. Finally, in late 1997, through pressure from Adjutant Jambert and families of the victims, the case of the seven missing handicapped women was re-opened. Emile Louis made confessions to several murders then retracted them.

Louis, 70, will appear in court charged with the killings within months. Last week he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for torturing and sexually assaulting his second wife and stepdaughter. In August 1997, just before the case was reopened, Adjutant Jambert was found dead in his cellar, with a hunting rifle beside him. Apparently, he had made a previous attempt to kill himself and his death was rapidly classified as suicide. A large file of information gathered during his official, and private, investigations, had disappeared.

Last year his son and daughter asked for his death to be re-investigated. His remains were exhumed on Thursday and a Parisian pathologist examined two bullet-holes in the skull.

The original investigation decided - without a proper post-mortem examination- that these wounds were the entry and exit holes of a single bullet. This week's post mortem decided they were both bullet entry holes and either shot would have killed him instantly. Adjutant Jambert was almost certainly murdered.