France glued to saga of the fugitive

Accused of murdering a lesbian couple, Jean-Pierre Treiber posted himself out of jail and has remained at large ever since. John Lichfield reports on a man determined to prove his innocence

They seek him here. They seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Jean-Pierre Treiber bears little resemblance to the daring, aristocratic Scarlet Pimpernel. He is a former forest worker and game-keeper, accused of the brutal kidnapping and double murder of a young, lesbian couple in 2004.

Like the fictional Pimpernel, however, he is defeating all efforts by the French authorities to capture him. Fifty days ago tomorrow, Treiber escaped from prison in Auxerre in Burgundy. He hid inside a cardboard box in the prison workshop and had himself "delivered" to the outside world as part of a consignment of tools.

Despite seven weeks of intensive searches using helicopters, dogs, hidden cameras, heat-seeking equipment and up to 400 officers at a time, he has evaded – and on one occasion made complete fools of – the French police and gendarmerie.

While on the run, Treiber has written letters to his family, his girlfriend, and to former fellow jail inmates. He even wrote to the food expert of a French news magazine, enclosing his prison identity card and protesting his innocence. He pledged to turn up for his trial next April after gathering evidence on the "real culprits".

Treiber's fondness for letter-writing almost proved his downfall. After a tip-off earlier this month, scores of police from the elite RAID squad lay in ambush in a forest east of Paris. They staked out an oak tree carved with a heart, which Treiber had been using as a "letter-box" to exchange letters with his girlfriend, Blandine.

The escapee turned up soon after 10pm but spotted the police presence and somehow managed to evade his pursuers in the mist and darkness.

With near escapes and letters protesting his innocence, the Treiber saga is beginning to resemble The Fugitive, the TV series which gripped audiences on both side of the Atlantic in the 1960s. In 1993, Harrison Ford starred in a full-length film version of the same story – that of Richard Kimble, a doctor who goes on the run after being wrongly accused of murdering his wife.

If Jean-Pierre Treiber, 47, is no Scarlet Pimpernel, he is no dashing Harrison Ford either. He is a wiry, dour-looking man with one damaged eye and prominent ears, who walks with the help of a cane. According to investigators, there is overwhelming evidence that he kidnapped and murdered Géraldine Giraud and Katia Lherbier in November 2004 and buried their bodies in the grounds of his house. His wife describes him as "violent, unpredictable, perverse and manipulative".

Friends and acquaintances in the village of Bréau in Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris, where Treiber lived for more than 10 years, insist that he is an innocent man. The police, using heat-detectors, all-terrain vehicles, dogs and helicopters, have repeatedly searched the immense Forest of Bombon nearby, where Treiber used to work as a nature warden and gamekeeper.

The authorities suspect that he is – or was at one point – being sheltered by the villagers. Some local people scarcely bother to deny it. Jean-Paul Raphael, a local hunter, said: "He is the victim of a conspiracy. We know he is innocent. In Bréau, no one would hand him over to the police, including me. If I saw him, I would give him money to buy food."

A few days before his night-time escape in the forest, hidden police cameras took pictures of Treiber limping down the village street with a sack over his back. The authorities were furious when these pictures were later published by Le Figaro magazine. They were equally livid, and embarrassed, when a France 3 television crew visited the tree carved with a heart a few days after his escape and found another letter from Blandine hidden between its roots.

Government ministers and officials have accused the media of, in effect, helping Treiber by flooding the search area with reporters and cameras. The chief public prosecutor in Auxerre, François Pérain, said the blanket media presence had "seriously disturbed the investigation".

"You can no longer count the number of journalists per square metre in the forests of Seine-et-Marne," he said.

Like the 1970s French "celebrity" criminal and fugitive, Jacques Mesrine, who was recently the subject of two thriller movies, Treiber has tried to turn the media interest in his escape to his advantage. A letter which he sent to Marianne magazine, enclosing his prison card as proof of identity, received wide coverage in the French press. Bizarrely, Treiber sent the letter to the magazine's food correspondent, Périco Légasse, because, he said, he approved of Légasse's "tirades" in defence of traditional patterns of farming.

"I have not escaped," Treiber wrote in the letter. "I have merely taken back a small part of what the murderers, 'the real ones', have stolen from me. I could no longer stand being inside and I was close to suicide..."

He said that the investigation of the double murder had been unfairly skewed towards proving his guilt and that the investigators had ignored evidence which pointed to the possible involvement of "old flames" of "Géraldine", one of the dead women. "I therefore decide to escape... as the only way of getting my side of the case heard before my trial, which I will attend."

One of the murdered women, Géraldine Giraud, 36, was an actress and the daughter of a popular French actor, Roland Giraud. The other victim was Géraldine's lover, Katia Lherbier, 32.

The two women disappeared in November 2004. Their bodies were found on 9 December that year – after prolonged searches – buried beneath stones at the bottom of a well in the garden of Treiber's home at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in Burgundy.

Apart from the hiding place, investigators say that they have overwhelming evidence of Treiber's guilt. They say that he used the credit cards of both women in the period after they disappeared.

Treiber has always denied killing the women. Géraldine Giraud's aunt, Marie-Christine Van Kempen, was placed under investigation for "complicity" in the murder of the two women in 2005. The accusation against her was later abandoned as unfounded.

Treiber's wife, Marie-Pascale, published a book earlier this month in which she described her "15 years with a man who was unpredictable, manipulative and extraordinarily perverse... who took pleasure in persecuting me and destroying me".

She said that, in July 2004, her husband – "amidst a homophobic and racist tirade" – told her that he knew a "lesbian couple, an aunt and niece". Later that year, she said, she had received a call from Treiber in which he said that he had "completed a well-paid piece of work which would make him financially secure for some time".

Treiber's girlfriend, and prison visitor, Blandine Stassart, paints a completely different picture of the fugitive. She told Paris Match: "He's a generous, kind, thoughtful man, a thousand leagues from this 'man of the woods' that people imagine."

The search continues...

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game