Michel Fourniret: Ogres of the Ardennes

Crime Files

Fourniret liked to go for drives with his wife by his side and with their baby son safely in the back of their van. What differentiated this family from any other was that their road-trips ended in the rape, mutilation and murder of virgins. The media called Fourniret, the ‘Ogre of the Ardennes’. Though his crimes were huge, the man police arrested was small, grey-haired and bespectacled.

Michel Fourniret was born in 1942 in Sedan, France, near to the Belgium border. His father was a metal worker and his mother, a farmer’s daughter. Michel was a quiet child with a slightly above average IQ who liked chess and classical music. But as an adult, Fourniret struggled to hold down a job. Forestry worker and school supervisor were some of the many jobs he tried and failed. But it was his string of convictions that revealed his true vocation.

His first arrest, in 1966, was for child molestation. It ended his first marriage. He fathered three children with his second wife but this marriage also ended after he was again arrested for the rape and indecent assault of minors. It was while he was in custody awaiting his trial that he placed an advert in a Catholic magazine asking for a pen-pal. Monique Olivier, a nurse and mother of three, replied. As a child she had suffered from a stammer and as an adult she had suffered from a series of physically abusive relationships. Olivier promised to help Fourniret ‘hunt virgins’ if he helped kill her former husband. Only one part of that bargain would be fulfilled.

Amateur psychologists might speculate that Fourniret’s obsession with virgins was related to his problems with premature ejaculation. Only virgins would lack the sexual experience necessary to criticise his condition. What is known is that it was part of Olivier’s duties to physically inspect the victims prior to Fourniret raping them to ensure they met his criteria. Olivier, his ‘bloody muse’, was waiting for Fourniret at the prison gates when he was released in 1987.

He was let out early because he had been a ‘model prisoner’. Two months later, the killing spree started.

Timeline

Born 4 April 1942

The Victims

  • Isabelle Laville, 17, 11 Dec 1987
  • Fabienne Leroy, 20, 8 July 1988
  • Jeanne-Marie Desramault, 22, 18 March 1989
  • Elisabeth Brichet, 12, 20 Dec 1989
  • Natacha Danais, 13, 21 November 1990
  • Céline Saison, 18, 16 May 2000
  • Mananya Thumphong, 13, 5 May 2001

Arrested June 2003

Trial 27 March 2008

Convicted 28 May 2008

The Investigation

Fourniret requested that the female jurors in his trial prove that they were virgins at the time of their marriage. Like his request to have the media removed, this was refused. Fourniret was uncooperative throughout his two month trial in Charleville-Mezières, in eastern France. He often refused to speak and never showed any emotion or remorse. He was briefly enraged, however, to find that his subservient wife was, according to IQ tests, more intelligent than him.

The state prosecutor described him as a ‘necrophiliac monster’ and the pairing of Fourniret and Monique as a ‘devil with two faces’. Monique did show remorse but the state prosecutor criticised her ‘deafening silence’ to the screams of the victims she’d secured. Perhaps she was glad to be an observer to physical abuse and not the victim of it. Whatever her motivations, she was found guilty of being her husband’s accomplice in at least five of the murders and was sentenced to serve at least 28 years of her life sentence.He was found guilty of murdering seven girls and said he will not appeal his sentence.

Fourniret will die in jail. 

The Crimes

The killer couple claimed their first victim in December 1987. They approached 17 year old Isabelle Laville in a van as she was on her way home from school. They said they were lost and persuaded her to climb into the van to help them with the directions. Fourniret then raped and killed her.

One year later, 20 year old Fabienne Leroy was abducted from a supermarket. Her body was found the next day. She’d been shot-gunned in the chest.

The couple married and had a son together and bought a chateau on the forested border region between France and Belgium. One report suggested he financed the purchase with money robbed from a bank robber/militant cellmate. He tracked down his cellmate’s wife, established where the money was hidden, and then murdered her.In 1989, the couple claimed their youngest victim. Elisabeth Brichet was just 12 years old when she was abducted from the Belgian town of Namur. Her body was found 14 years later in the grounds of the couple’s chateau.

With their son in tow, they presented the perfect picture of a trustworthy family and their happily married respectability tricked girls who would otherwise be wary. Fourniret and Olivier sometimes pretended their son was ill and they needed the girl to help direct them to a hospital. Another ruse was for Olivier to drive alone and pick up a girl but then, as they were driving along, they would see Fourniret waving an empty can of petrol as if he just needed a refill for a nearby car. Olivier would then stop to pick him up.

Fourniret would either strangle, shoot, or sometimes inject air into his victims’ veins to cause a heart attack. Death, however, was no escape from his attentions. After he stabbed to death one girl to death with a screwdriver, he sexually assaulted her corpse. Olivier would watch as he raped and murdered his victims and they would later recreate these scenes in their sex life.

Fourniret would either dispose of the bodies in his grounds or the surrounding area. The killings went on for years but the authorities treated each case separately.

There was little sharing of information between the French and Belgium police and no one considered the possibility that the Ardennes region had an unusually high murder rate because a serial killer was using it as his hunting ground. 

The Arrest

With no investigatory task force after them, it is possible that the couple would never have been arrested if it was not for the escape of one of their victims. In 2003, Fourniret tried to adduct a 13 year old girl. He boasted to her that Marc Dutroux, the then recently apprehended Belgian paedophile and serial killer, was no match for him. But she managed to escape by biting her way through the ropes binding her wrists and jumping out of the van at some traffic lights. Before she fled, she noted his registration.

The police questioned both Fourniret and Olivier. But they didn’t realise they were interviewing the French equivalent of Fred and Rose West. It was only Olivier’s mistaken belief that the police knew more than they did that caused her to confess in the hope that her sentence would be reduced.

The first murder she confessed to resembled that of Leeds university student, Joanna Parish, who disappeared in Burgundy in 1990. Confronted with her confession, Fourniret confessed to many murders, but not this one.