Michel Fourniret, the so-called "ogre of the Ardennes", was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison yesterday after being convicted of a reign of terror on both sides of the French-Belgian border.
At the end of a harrowing, and sometimes grotesque, two-month trial, his wife, Monique Olivier, was convicted of being his accomplice and ordered to spend a minimum of 28 years in jail.
Fourniret, 66, was found guilty of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering seven girls and young women, aged from 12 to 24, between 1987 and 2001. Olivier was convicted of being complicit in one murder and helping him to entrap four girls by posing as a mother in distress. Both received life sentences but in Fourniret's case it was ordered to be "incompressible" or "served in full": the highest possible sentence in the French penal code.
The trial, at Charleville-Mézières, was dominated to the end by Fourniret's pseudo-intellectual mind-games with the court and the families of his victims. His final statement consisted of a series of garbled jokes about his wife and the prosecution and defence lawyers, written in rhyming couplets which failed to rhyme properly.
Both Fourniret and Olivier refused to talk at length about their crimes. Neither showed much remorse, although Olivier said she "regretted" what had happened. As a result, the trial failed to dissolve many of the mysteries surrounding Fourniret's reign of terror, including a 10-year spell between 1991 and 2001 when he was apparently inactive.
A second trial is expected next year, in which Fourniret and Olivier will be accused of at least two other murders, including that of the English student, Joanna Parrish in 1990.
Experts who gave evidence said they believed there may have been many other victims of a murderous, "eternal" pact between Fourniret and Olivier.
Letters read to the court revealed a grotesque deal between the couple when he left prison in 1987 after serving a sentence for rape. He agreed to murder her first husband if she helped him to "hunt virgins". The first part of the pact was never carried out.
Fourniret, an inoffensive-looking man with glasses and a wispy beard, had ordered his defence lawyers to say nothing on his behalf. He refused to answer questions and often mocked the court.
The final exchanges between prosecution and defence turned largely on whether Fourniret should be called a "monster". The chief prosecutor, Francis Nachbar, insisted that the word was justified.
The principal defence lawyer, appointed against Fourniret's wishes, Maître Pierre Blocquaux, said he was "part of the same humanity as the rest of us, alas, whatever the horrible nature of the crimes".
M. Blocquaux also raised in his final statement one of the other great scandals of the case. How could so many girls and young women have been murdered without the French and Belgian police even suspecting a serial killer was at work? And how did Fourniret, a man with several convictions, evade police attention for so long?
M. Blocquaux said both countries were guilty of a "tragic catalogue of missed opportunities, negligence and blunders".
He told the court that Fourniret had indicated that he would not exercise his right to appeal. That was his single act of consideration towards his victims' families during the trial.
Fourniret's known victims
11 December 1987: Isabelle Laville
The 17-year-old schoolgirl agreed to help a woman who was "lost" in her car near Auxerre in Burgundy. Minutes later, the woman, Monique Olivier, stopped for a man with a jerry-can – Michel Fourniret. Isabelle was raped and murdered and her body never found. The killing set the pattern for at least seven similar rapes and murders in the next 14 years.
3 August 1988: Fabienne Leroy, 20, in the Marne.
18 March 1989: Jeanne-Marie Desramault, 21, at Charleville in the French Ardennes.
20 December 1989: Elisabeth Brichet, 12, kidnapped in Belgium and murdered in France.
21 November 1990: Natacha Danais, 13, at Rezé, near Nantes.
5 May 2001 Manyana Thumpong, 13, at Sedan, the French Ardennes.
16 May 2001 Céline Saison, 18, Charleville.
26 June 2003: Fourniret is arrested after a kidnapped 13-year-old girl jumps from his moving van near Namur in Belgium.