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Interpol looks for suspected French killer as 5 to be buried

Interpol extends its search alert for a Frenchman who is suspected of killing his wife and four children three weeks ago.

People set flowers in front of the house where the five Dupont de Ligonnes family members were murdered in the French city of Nantes. French authorities issued an international search alert on April 23 for murder suspect Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes amid evidence that he carefully planned the killing of his wife and four children.
People set flowers in front of the house where the five Dupont de Ligonnes family members were murdered in the French city of Nantes. French authorities issued an international search alert on April 23 for murder suspect Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes amid evidence that he carefully planned the killing of his wife and four children.

TOULON, FRANCE // Three weeks after a massacre that turned Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès from an outwardly respectable family man into France's most wanted fugitive, the funerals take place Thursday for the people he is suspected of killing: his wife and four children.

An Interpol search alert, previously distributed to police forces in Europe, has now been extended to the whole world, say prosecutors in the western city of Nantes where the churchgoing family lived.

No sign of Mr Dupont de Ligonnès, 50, has been reported since April 15. On that day he checked out of a low-cost hotel in the south of France, 750 kilometres from the family home where the five victims died in what investigators call a "systematic execution".

His wife, Agnès, 49, and their children - Arthur, 20, Thomas, 18, Anne, 16 and Benoît, 13 - had each been shot at least twice in the head.

Some may have been murdered in their sleep as the killer moved from bedroom to bedroom with a .22 calibre firearm fitted with a silencer.

The youngest son may have tried to escape; he was also shot twice in the chest and one report says traces of his blood were found in the kitchen.

Another possibility is that Thomas was murdered after the others.

His father had summoned him home from music college on April 5 and he arrived by train late that night. A friend told the newspaper Le Parisien he suspected from the tone of text messages sent from Thomas's phone next day that they were not written by him.

Prosecutors originally put time of deaths as the night of April 3-4 but admit, amid contradictory witness statements, that they could have occurred later.

The victims were dismembered and buried with the family labradors, Léon and Jules, under quicklime in the garden.

But as the search widens, there is no clear indication on whether the suspect has also killed himself.

Mr Dupont de Ligonnès is thought to have planned each move with meticulous detail, from taking firearms lessons and buying materials used in the burial of the bodies to changing car number plates and mobile phone after disappearing.

"If he is alive, he's a fortnight ahead of us," one source close to the investigation was quoted as telling Le Parisien.

The inquiry is riddled with detail that might have leapt from the pages of a thriller. Before the murders, Mr Dupont de Ligonnès told friends he was a US secret agent about to go into hiding in a witness protection scheme concerning a drug case.

His wife had given notice at the private Catholic school where she worked as a part-time assistant and another school attended by the two youngest children had been told they would be withdrawn because of a sudden professional relocation to Australia.

And on the same day that Mr Dupont de Ligonnès left the Formule 1 hotel at Roquebrune-sur-Argens, a few kilometres inland from popular Riviera resorts, a woman vanished from her home in the small town of Lorgues.

No trace of Colette Deromme, 50, has been found and although police have made no formal link with the murder inquiry, her home is barely a kilometre from where the Dupont de Ligonenès family lived for a time in the 1990s.

Families die together in a number of accidental ways: on the road, in floods, earthquakes and plane crashes. But France has been stunned by the cold-blooded slaughter of what seemed a model middle-class family in a pleasant provincial city once described by Time magazine as "the most liveable in Europe".

Ample evidence has surfaced to show first appearances were deceptive.

Mr Dupont de Ligonnès was initially described as a well-to-do businessman and devoted family man. It is now known that a tourism publicity firm he launched was a sham and that he declared only €4,000 (Dh21,573) in family income in his 2010 tax return.

Prosecutors talk of substantial debts and a woman has come forward to say she had been Mr Dupont de Ligonnès's mistress and loaned him €50,000 in late 2009.

She has now taken refuge in a friend's home after receiving on April 9, by which time the family had been murdered, a message from Mr Dupont de Ligonnès saying: "We had good times together, but now you will know unhappiness."

Both Mr and Mrs Dupont de Ligonnès were active on internet forums. Writing under a pseudonym, Mrs Dupont de Ligonnès described her husband as "macho, cold, methodical, rigid", spending much of the week away from home, purportedly on business, according to material found by a young internet surfer and widely repeated in the French media.

A friend interviewed anonymously by French radio said she had told of her deep unhappiness with a man who demonstrated a split personality and had squandered her family inheritance.

Mr Dupont de Ligonnès had been banned from an online Catholic discussion forum after posting scores of rambling messages, invariably covering the same ground on questions of time and theology. His last message to the webmaster was sent on April 8 - after the killings - from a connection in the south of France.

After today's funeral at the modest church of Saint Félix, where the family worshipped and young Benoît was a choirboy, the murder victims will be buried on Saturday in Burgundy, home to relatives of Mrs Dupont de Ligonnès.

If Xavier Dupont de Ligonès is still alive, and sees television images of his family being laid to rest, he may reflect on the response he gave, according to an internet posting by his wife in 2004, when she asked whether he was happy: "If we could all die tomorrow, how great."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae