PARIS – One of France’s largest unsolved criminal cases appears to have been cracked, and decades of hunting down a suspect in at least six rapes and four murders in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a former police officer.
Prosecutors announced late Thursday that the DNA of a 59-year-old retired officer matched genetic traces found at the crime scene of several crimes in the 1980s and 1990s.
The horrors began with the rape of an 8-year-old girl in 1986 and continued with further rapes, kidnapping and murder, mostly of underage girls.
After 35 years of digging, investigators found the suspect had worked as a gendarme in the Paris area between 1986 and 1994 and this week called 750 current or former officers for questioning.
One who was identified in French media as Francois V did not appear and was declared missing by his wife after a statement by the Paris prosecutor. He was found dead in an apartment in the Mediterranean resort of Grau-du Roi from an apparent drug overdose.
After DNA testing, prosecutors confirmed that his genetic profile matched that found at multiple crime scenes.
The eight-year-old girl, who is the first known victim, was approached, taken to the cellar, raped and strangled in the elevator of her building by a man posing as a police officer on April 8, 1986. The girl Sarah passed out but did not die.
A month later, an eleven-year-old girl named Cecile was raped and killed in the basement of her Paris apartment building. Her half-brother crossed the suspect’s paths and described him to investigators, which enabled the production of a police sketch that later hung in many police stations across France.
But the police had no clues, so the investigation was closed in 1992. In 1996, a new judge reopened the case and ordered a genetic analysis of the evidence, which made it possible to obtain the suspect’s DNA.
The same genetic profile was found in several other cases: the murder of a 21-year-old German au pair in 1987 and her employer. The rape of a 14-year-old girl in Paris in 1987. The abduction and rape of an 11-year-old girl in a forest in Mitry, an eastern suburb of Paris, in 1994. And the murder of a 19-year-old woman in another forest in 1994.
Download the. down NBC news app for breaking news and politics
Investigators searched in all directions over the years, but could not find the culprit. The judges moved on, others took over the case.
Francois V. had actually worked as a gendarme and policeman as well as a councilor in the southern French city of Prades-le-Lez.
Prosecutors praised the “courage and determination” of investigator Nathalie Turquey, whose efforts to keep the case alive helped finally provide answers to the victims’ families.
The French police network set up a “cold cases” unit last year and similar efforts are being made in the judicial system to encourage cooperation between regions and jurisdictions.