'Beast of the Ardennes' and his 'virgin-hunting' wife go on trial for murder of seven women

Last updated at 14:37 27 March 2008

The trial of the man said to be one of France's deadliest serial killers and the wife who helped lure his virgin prey has begun today.

But Michel Fourniret - dubbed the 'Beast of the Ardennes' - refused to speak at the opening of his trial today, despite allegedly confessing to the murders of seven young women.

Instead he told the judge via a note that until the courtroom was closed, he was remaining silent.

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Olivier sits behind bulletproof glass and surrounded by armed guards in the courtroom today

The girls Fourniret is accused of killing: (L-R) Elisabeth Brichet, Isabelle Laville, Jeanne-Marie Desramault, Natacha Danais, Mananya Thumpong, Fabienne Leroy. Missing: Celine Saison

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Tragic: Henri Desramault, the father of Jeanne-Marie, one of Fourniret's victims, looks pained as he arrives at the courthouse today

Fourniret, 66, appeared in court behind a bullet-proof glass alongside his wife, Monique Olivier, 59, who is charged with complicity in five of the murders.

He faces a trial at a later date for the murder of British teacher Joanna Parrish in 1990, whose naked body was found in a river in Burgundy.

Fourniret has already admitted to prosecutors that he needed to go hunting for a virgin at least twice a year.

According to letters seized by investigators, he and his wife forged a pact on his release from prison in 1987 that if he killed her first husband, she would help him find young virgins for him.

The seven victims, as young as 12 and no older than 21, were strangled, shot or stabbed with a screwdriver. They were killed in France and Belgium between 1987 and 2003. Fourniret faces kidnapping, rape and murder charges in connection with their deaths.

Investigators suspect he may have been involved in several other murders, including that of Joanna Parrish.

Fourniret struck a defiant pose on day one of the trial. When the judge asked him to identify himself, he held up a piece of paper with the words "Without a closed courtroom, staying tightlipped."

The judge did not appear to respond.

Fourniret also passed to the judge a rolled paper tied in a red ribbon, which his lawyer said was a message to the victims' families. He asked that the judge read it, and the judge declined.

Jean-Maurice Arnould, lawyer for the family of slain 12-year-old Elisabeth Brichet, said the family was not expecting an apology from Fourniret.

"He's a man without conscience," he said.

Elisabeth's father said he did not want to hear Fourniret's account of his daughter's murder.

"We don't want new facts of the crimes; for us it's already hardly bearable," Francis Brichet said. The child's body was found along with that of 21-year-old Jeanne-Marie Desramault in the wooded grounds of Fourniret's former property in northern France.

An array of exhibits sat in the courtroom including a shotgun, two revolvers, a screwdriver and various pieces of rope.

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Isabelle Laville

Both Olivier and Fourniret face life imprisonment if they are convicted.

Defence lawyer Pierre Blocquaux said that during questioning by investigators, Fourniret admitted to committing the crimes. Blocquaux declined to comment about how Fourniret might plead.

He also told the court Fourniret did not want to be defended by him or his two other lawyers.

French media reports said Olivier appeared to be cooperating and answered the judge's opening questions about her identity. The reports quoted her lawyers as saying she planned to apologize to the victims' families.

Olivier looked for a long time at the families and did not react as crowds of photographers snapped her image as she entered.

Belgian police detained Fourniret in June, 2003, after his bungled kidnapping of a 13-year-old girl. The girl gave authorities his license plate number after she managed to unbind her hands and escape from the back of Fourniret's van.

Police officials said the girl told Belgian investigators that Fourniret had bragged to her that he was "worse than" Belgium's most notorious criminal, paedophile Marc Dutroux, sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for a series of child kidnappings, rapes and murders.

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Francis Brichet, the father of Elisabeth, one of Fourniret's victims, makes his way through the media throng at court today

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Twisted: Monique Olivier attends the 2006 re-enactment of the kidnapping and murder of Fabienne Leroy by her husband

Police officials say Olivier told Belgian investigators in 2004 that Fourniret had committed nine murders, and acknowledged her participation in several of them.

Judicial and police officials say Fourniret admitted to seven murders, and that confession is cited in the indictment. The police and judicial officials would not be identified by name because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

During searches of Fourniret's home, in Sart-Custinne, Belgium, police discovered stolen revolvers, a hood and children's clothing.

The bodies of two victims, 21-year-old Jeanne-Marie Desramault and 12-year-old Elisabeth Brichet - both of whom went missing in 1989 - were found in the wooded grounds of Fourniret's former property in northern France.

Belgium extradited Olivier to France in 2005 and Fourniret in 2006. Judicial officials in both countries decided the case should be tried in France because six of the dead women were French citizens.

Fourniret, a former forest ranger, had a history of sex offences. In 1966, he was found guilty of molestation and in 1987, a French court sentenced him to five years in prison for a series of rapes.

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Heartbreak: Kanyarat Thumpong, the mother of Mananya, one of Fourniret's victims, arrives at court today

In prison, he began to correspond with Olivier - the mother of three children - promising her to kill her ex-husband, judicial officials have said. In the correspondence, seized by Belgian investigators, Olivier pledged to "back up" Fourniret in his endeavours.

The trial is expected to wrap up in May.

The victims

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Relatives of the victims watch the proceedings in court today

Isabelle Laville, 17: Kidnapped on her way home from school on December 11, 1987 in Auxerre, central France. Fourniret confessed to raping and killing her, then led investigators a well in northeastern France where her bones and clothing were buried. Olivier is accused of complicity in her kidnap and rape.

Fabienne Leroy, 20: Kidnapped from a supermarket car park in Chalons-en-Champagne, east of Paris, on July 8, 1988. Her body was discovered outside a military base the next day after she was killed by a shotgun wound to the chest. Fourniret has confessed to her murder, with Olivier charged as an accomplice.

Jeanne-Marie Desramault, 22: The law student was kidnapped outside the railway station in Charleville-Mezieres on March 18, 1989. Fourniret took investigators to her body in the grounds of a chateau he once owned in Donchery in July 2004. He confessed to her murder and Olivier is charged as an accomplice.

Elisabeth Brichet, 12: Kidnapped on her way home from a friend's house in Namur, Belgium, on December 20, 1989. Her remains were also found in July, 2004 at Fourniret's chateau. He confessed to the murder but denied rape, while Olivier is charged with complicity.

Natacha Danais, 13: Kidnapped, assaulted, stabbed to death near Nantes, western France on November 21, 1990. Three days later her body was found on a beach. Fourniret confessed to murder and attempted rape, while Olivier is charged as an accomplice.

Celine Saison, 18: Disappeared after taking an exam in Charleville-Mezieres on May 16, 2000. Two months later her body was found in a wood in Belgium. Fourniret confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering her.

Mananya Thumphong, 13: Disappeared from Sedan, northeast France, on May 5, 2001. Her remains were found the following year in the Nollevaux forest in Belgium. Fourniret admitted kidnap and murder but denied rape.

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