I had to kill twice a year, says self-confessed 'hunter of virgins'

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The Independent Online

Michel Fourniret is a skilful chess-player; a man who talks in complex, formal French, with many subjunctive verbs and sub-clauses; a man who looks the image of a priest or university professor.

Michel Fourniret is a skilful chess-player; a man who talks in complex, formal French, with many subjunctive verbs and sub-clauses; a man who looks the image of a priest or university professor.

He is also, he says, a hunter of virgins; a man who "needed" to kill young women twice a year; a man who persuaded his wife to help him trap women, then to watch, in a mirror, while he raped and murdered them.

The full extent of the crimes committed by 62-year-old Fourniret, may take weeks to emerge. He has admitted nine murders, on both sides of the French-Belgian border, placing him among France's worst serial killers of modern days. His wife has implicated him in other killings.

Investigators are checking his possible involvement in unsolved murders further south, in the Auxerre area of northern Burgundy, including the killing of the British student, Joanna Parrish in 1990.

The Fournirets lived in the Auxerre area in 1987-88 before buying a chateau in the Ardennes. Although Joanna, 21, a student from Leeds University, was raped and murdered after the Fournirets left the area, the case is being reopened.

Joanna's father, Roger Parrish, said yesterday: "We are keeping an open mind. There are some aspects of this case which suggest a connection with Joanna, others less so. We are hoping that DNA tests will clarify the situation."

At least 30 unsolved murder cases are to be reopened.

Because of Fourniret's Belgian connection - he moved to Belgium in 1991 and was arrested there last year after a failed attempt to abduct a 13-year-old girl - Fourniret has been called "the French Dutroux". This is misleading. In fact, Fourniret appears to have more similarities with the multiple-murderer Fred West.

Unlike Dutroux, jailed for life last month for murdering and kidnapping young girls, Fourniret is not only a paedophile. His victims, admitted and claimed, range from women in their mid-twenties to 12-year-old Elisabeth Brichet, from Namur in Belgium, who disappeared without trace in 1989. Her body, and that of another victim, was found in the grounds of Fourniret's château in the French Ardennes last Saturday.

French and Belgian police, who are likely to co-ordinate their investigation on the French side of the border, suspect he may be guilty of many more murders. He has admitted killings between 1987 and 1990 and more in recent years. He denies killings in the period 1990-2000.

"I am very sceptical about that," Yves Charpanel, the chief public prosecutor for the Reims area of France, said. "He boasts that he 'hunted' two girls a year. So far, the numbers don't add up." In Fourniret's written statement to Belgian investigators, leaked to the French press, he said: "I needed to hunt virgins twice a year. When I knew that I was going hunting and that I would bring something back, I dug the holes in advance, three metres deep." Two killings a year would bring Fourniret's list of victims to more than 30.

Fourniret has been a carpenter but never had a steady job. He has a string of convictions for sexual assault and rape in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite his record, he was freed early from jail after another rape conviction in 1987.

In his confessions, couched in florid and complex French, he then started his murder spree, with the help of a woman who had become his pen-pal in jail. Monique Olivier, 55, who befriended Fourniret after answering a small-ad, visited him in prison and married him soon after he was freed. Almost immediately, they confessed, apparently coldly and without obvious remorse, they began to "hunt" young women together.

In December 1987, Monique Olivier - not yet married to Fourniret - halted her white van to ask directions from 17-year-old Isabelle Laville, a schoolgirl walking home near Auxerre. The unsuspecting girl got in. A few hundred yards later, Olivier stopped for a "hitch-hiker" with a jerry-can, Fourniret. The couple admitted Isabelle was raped and murdered. Her body has not been found.

Ms Olivier, said she, later accompanied by her baby son, Selim, were often used as bait to put potential victims at ease. In 1988, Fabienne Leroy, 20, was persuaded to get into the couple's car at Chalons-en-Champagne. They said their baby was sick. The young woman agreed to lead them to a doctor. She was found shot dead. But two weeks ago, Mme Fourniret (née Olivier) approached Belgian police and confessed to her involvement in nine of her husband's murders. She had apparently been shocked by Dutroux's wife being sentenced to 30 years for complicity in his crimes.

In her written confession, she admits that, on her husband's orders, she was sometimes present, watching through a mirror from a nearby room, when her husband raped and murdered his victims. The couple have also confessed to crimes of greed. They say Fourniret murdered a commercial traveller on a motorway lay-by near Auxerre, and the wife of a fellow-inmate in prison, who knew where a large cache of stolen money was. Fourniret says the money paid for his small château at Sautou, near Sedan in 1989.

Even on the facts known so far, Fourniret's 16-year career of undetected murders by a man with a criminal record for rape, poses embarrassing questions for the French and Belgian police and judicial systems.

Why, despite a long record of sexual crimes, was he let out of jail so soon without any attempt to follow his movements? How could a man with a criminal record and no known resources buy a château without anyone asking questions?

Serial killers become serial killers because police fail to catch them. Here, French and Belgian police were not aware, until Mme Fourniret's confession, that a serial killer was operating across their border.