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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

French woman dubbed ‘Black Widow of the Riviera’ goes on trial for murder

Patricia Dagorn, 57, is charged with seducing and poisoning several elderly men

Patricia Dagorn, a woman suspected of being a serial poisoner trapping wealthy widowers from the Cote d'Azur, is seen in a car as she arrives at the courthouse in Nice. Valery Hache/ AFP Photo
Patricia Dagorn, a woman suspected of being a serial poisoner trapping wealthy widowers from the Cote d'Azur, is seen in a car as she arrives at the courthouse in Nice. Valery Hache/ AFP Photo

The trial of a French woman, who has been dubbed the “Black Widow of the Riviera” or "l'empoisonneuse [poisoner] de la Riviera" for allegedly seducing and killing two elderly men, has begun in Nice.

Patricia Dagorn, who is also accused of seducing and poisoning two other men, is facing a life sentence for her alleged crimes.

The 57-year-old is currently serving a five-year sentence for theft, fraud and sequestration relating to a relationship she had with an elderly man, Robert Mazereau, in 2012, in which he agreed to let her live with him in exchange for sexual favours.

Police found bottles of Valium pills and methadone at the home of Mr Mazereau, a retired teacher.

“I almost died for three days of love," said the 88-year-old widower around the time of Ms Dagorn’s sentencing in 2013.

Ms Dagorn had come to the attention of the authorities in July 2011 when police found the body of sexagenarian Michel Kneffel in a hotel room where the pair had been living, although no charges were brought at the time.

The investigation into Mr Kneffel’s death was reopened following Ms Dagorn’s 2013 conviction and after the discovery of vials of Valium and personal documents belonging to a dozen men which she had in her possession.

This led prosecutors to another case of suspected murder of an elderly man also in 2011. Francesco Filippone’s badly-decomposed body was found in February that year in a bathtub in the village of Mouans-Sartoux, outside Cannes.

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Read more: Japan's 'Black Widow' to hang for murder

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Ms Dagorn was linked to the case when investigators discovered she had previously cashed a cheque from 85-year-old Mr Filippone, for 21,000 euros (Dh95,000), which she claimed had been a gift to enable her to open a jewellery shop.

Investigators believe she met around 20 men in two year through a matchmaking agency after arriving on the Côte d'Azur in 2011. Two of the men will testify at her trial.

One of the victims, Robert Vaux, arriving at the courthouse in Nice, southeastern France, to attend the trial of Patricia Dagorn. Valery Hache/ AFP Photo
One of the victims, Robert Vaux, arriving at the courthouse in Nice, southeastern France, to attend the trial of Patricia Dagorn. Valery Hache/ AFP Photo

One of them, 91-year-old Robert Vaux, from the town of Frejus, said his health began to deteriorate when Ms Dagorn moved in with him in early 2012.

“I was heading for death without even realising it,” he told a local newspaper.

Police believe she asked her victims to sign blank cheques for her or to name her as a beneficiary in their wills. In Mr Vaux’s case she had already begun making arrangements with his solicitor.

In an interview with Nice-Matin, Ms Dagorn’s youngest son Guilhem, 26, said his mother, who trained as a lawyer, had always been obsessed with “quick and easy money”. Guilhem, who is estranged from his mother, added that he was “not surprised” by the allegations.

One of Ms Dagorn’s lawyers, Georges Rimondi, said she denies the charges in their entirety, while her other lawyer Cedric Huissoud once described his client as “fragile”.

“She’s a very fragile person who’s led a very difficult life and been in many precarious situations,” he said. “She grew up in a foster family, and that’s never easy. She’s had a hard time of it. She says she feels better with elderly people.”

The case has drawn comparisons to the story of Marie Besnard, known as “The Good Lady of Loudun”, who was accused of being a serial poisoner.

Mrs Besnard, who died at the age of 83 in 1980, was charged with 11 counts of murder in 1949 after arsenic was detected in the bodies of several members of her family and of friends. All had named her as a beneficiary in their wills.

She was put on trial three times, freed in 1954 and eventually acquitted in 1961.