The grotesque relationship between a merciless, sexual predator and his wife will be at the centre of a serial murder trial that begins in France tomorrow.
Michel Fourniret, 66, is accused of seven murders of girls and young women and seven sexual assaults in a 16-year reign of terror in France and Belgium between 1987 and 2003. His wife, Monique Olivier, 59, has admitted helping Fourniret to "hunt" and entrap virgins by posing as a friendly woman or the distressed mother of a sick baby. She is accused of taking part in one murder and complicity in four other killings.
Fourniret, the so-called "Ogre of the Ardennes", admits the seven murders. He is also suspected of at least three other crimes, including the killing of a British student, Joanna Parrish, 20, at Auxerre in Burgundy in 1990.
At least two huge, unanswered questions hang over the trial which will be held at Charleville-Mézières in the French Ardennes, close to the Belgian frontier.
First, how did Fourniret manage to kill so many young women and girls, over so many years, without the French and Belgian police suspecting that a serial killer was responsible?
He was caught in 2003 after a 13-year-old girl managed to escape from his van in Belgium. It was Monique Olivier, a prison pen-pal, who became his wife and accomplice, who linked him to a series of unsolved murders in Belgium and France.
Second, did Fourniret take an 11-year break from his brutal activities, between 1990 and 2001, as he claims? Fourniret is a man who likes to play mind games with investigators and appear more cultured than he really is. He is a keen chess player, who talks, and writes, in complex, verbose but inaccurate French, with unnecessary subjunctive verbs and sub-clauses. He is demanding the right to remain in his cell and miss large parts of his own trial.
Is this bizarre, vain behaviour his way of cloaking many other secrets, as some investigators believe?
Letters seized by police suggest that Fourniret and Olivier made a grotesque pact 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 not carried out. The second part was.
In December 1987, Olivier – who was not yet married to Fourniret – stopped her van to ask directions of 17-year-old Isabelle Laville, a schoolgirl walking home near Auxerre in Burgundy. The unsuspecting girl got into the car.
A few hundred yards later, Olivier stopped for a "hitchhiker" with a jerry-can – Fourniret. According to the couple's confessions, Isabelle was raped and murdered. Her body has not been found.
In 1989, near Namur in Belgium, the couple stopped their car beside a 12-year- old girl, Elisabeth Brichet, and asked her to help them to find a doctor for their "sick" baby. They pointed to their year-old son in a baby seat. The girl agreed to accompany them. Her body was found 14 years later buried in the grounds of the couple's small château, just on the over the Franco-Belgian border.
Fourniret has admitted five other murders. He has been linked by Olivier to the murder of Joanna Parrish in 1990 and another young woman in 1988. Those killings will most probably be the subject of a second trial.
In her written confession, Olivier says that – on Fourniret's orders – she sometimes watched through a mirror from a nearby room, as her husband raped and murdered his victims.
Both she and her husband have also confessed to a crime of greed. They say they murdered the wife of a former jail-mate of Fourniret, who knew the whereabouts of a large cache of stolen money.
It was with this money, Fourniret claims, that he bought his chateau at Sautou, near Sedan in 1989. This crime is also still under investigation.
Until Fourniret was arrested in 2003, and Olivier came forward to confess, police in Belgium and France were treating all the murders as separate cases. Some investigations had been closed.