In 2011, a handsome, aristocratic Frenchman may have shot and killed his wife, their four children, and two dogs, burying them all in the garden of their home in Nantes, France. His terrified former mistress went into hiding, fearing for her life. The mystery remains unsolved.
The entire de Ligonnes family, except for the father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, was murdered in their sleep. Even the two family dogs were killed with what was believed to be a silenced .22 rifle.
After friends and relatives noticed the family had been missing, the police searched their home and discovered all five bodies buried in the backyard of the home at 55 Robert-Schuman Boulevard. A manhunt immediately started for Xavier, who quickly became the prime suspect. He had cancelled the lease on their home and informed his children’s school that they were moving and would no longer be attending.
Although his car was discovered at a nearby hotel, he has never been found. Police believe he most likely committed suicide, but a body was never discovered
At first, it seemed like a bizarre case of a middle-class family who packed up their home and fled to another continent for a new life. Neighbors of the Dupont de Ligonnès family called the police when they noticed their home in the north-western city of Nantes seemed unusually deserted. The children’s school had been notified of a “sudden job transfer” to Australia, the family’s wardrobes had been emptied and the letter-box was taped-up with a note “return all mail to sender”.
But when police looked closer at the townhouse – and the suspicious building work on the patio – they found a severed human leg buried in the garden. Further digs revealed a one-legged corpse, and four others: believed to be the bodies of the mother Agnès, 49, and children Arthur, 20, Thomas, 18, Anne, 16, and Benoît, 13. They were thought to have been killed by shotgun, and were wrapped in hessian sacks and buried under quicklime, all recently purchased. With them were the corpses of the family’s two Labradors, Leon and Jules.
It was discovered Count Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès bought cement, a shovel and a hoe on April 1, 2011. He bought four bags of lime, 10 kg each, from different shops in the Nantes area on April 2.
On Sunday April 3, the couple and three of the children dined in a restaurant in Nantes, then went to the cinema. This is the last confirmed sighting of most of the family. Then on April 4, Anne and Benoît did not turn up at their school, La Perverie-Sacré-Cœur, “due to illness”.
That night Xavier dined alone with his son Thomas at La Croix Cadeau, a high-end restaurant in Avrillé, near Angers. The two waiters remember Thomas feeling unwell near the end of the meal, and that Xavier and Thomas barely spoke to each other during the meal.
Investigators believe that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès murdered his wife and three of his children on the night of April 3 to 4, then murdered his son Thomas on the evening of April 4.
On April 13, neighbors in Nantes became concerned and contacted the police. The house’s shutters had been closed for more than a week and Agnès' car has been parked on the street outside the entire time.
Police searched for the father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, 50, described by neighbors as “courteous and discreet”. His car was found the following Friday in the car park of a cheap hotel on the French Riviera, where he is thought to have spent one night in mid-April
Dupont de Ligonnes was last seen on April 15, 2011 – a week before his family’s bodies were discovered. Xavier checked out of the hotel but abandoned his car there – leaving the hotel in the southeastern town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens on foot with what looked like a rifle case on his back.
Eighteen miles from Roquebrune-sur-Argens, Colette Deromme disappeared mysteriously from her villa in Lorgues. Both her car and her keys were left behind. Her body was found a month later. Some wondered if there was a connection.
Xavier and Agnès de Ligonnès née Hodanger had lived in Lorgues during the 1990s, and two of their children were born there. Investigators explored a potential link between these circumstances but it was concluded that it was a coincidence and that Xavier was not connected to Deromme’s disappearance and death.
It appears that Dupont de Ligonnès sent what looks like a family photo of two of his sons sitting at a table to a journalist at AFP. On the back of the photo, scrawled in blue ink, were the words “I am still alive”. Just below, in smaller print was, “From then until this hour”. The message was signed: Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.
The journalist immediately handed the photo over to the police, who requested a handwriting analysis as well as DNA and fingerprint testing.
It also emerged, he also had a secret mistress, Catherine who he met in 2009 on the Internet. Eventually she lent him 50,000 euros in order to start a business, but instead he used the money to pay his debts, buy his wife Agnes a car, and stay in luxurious hotels. Soon the money was gone and he signed "an acknowledgment of debt to his mistress" stipulating it would be paid by July 3, 2010. He wrote her, stating he believed she didn't need the money, but she threatened him with legal action.
Fugitive Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes is thought to have given her £45,000 through a company set up to disguise the payments.
After the murder, Catherine who lived in Paris showed cops texts and correspondence from her lover. She left her home to stay with friends, due to fearing for her life.
His sister, Christine de Ligonnès mentioned an email that her brother wrote to two friends in July 2010. He wrote of “accidents” which may befall his family, and ended with the words: “So I hope that, even after a police investigation, my parents, brothers and sisters will never be led to believe that I intentionally caused these accidents (even if the evidence is strong).”
An autopsy of the victims found the children had ingested sleeping pills, but not Agnes. It is believed she was the first to be murdered. Each was killed with two bullets to the head from a .22 long rifle. None of the neighbors heard the gunshots, and there is suspicion a silencer was used.
They were slaughtered in their bed, wearing pajamas, execution style but strangely there was no blood in the bedrooms, living room, foyer or bathroom. None was found on any of the furniture, floors or walls. The police are at a loss even today, on how to explain how five persons could be murdered with no evidence or blood splatter being left behind.
Not only was there no blood, samples from the scene didn't find any DNA or fingerprints from anyone.
According to friends, by killing his sons, Xavier was ending his lineage.
Throughout the years after the murder authorities have searched caves, mines and other dangerous and hard to access locations, but with no success.
In 2019, a monk who resembled Xavier caused the monastery to be raided.
In 2020, Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode about the murders which generated 2,000 tips.
An unsigned letter dated April 11, 2011, apparently sent by Xavier, was received by his close relatives. This letter was released by the media in May. It covered four pages of A4-sized paper, written in an informal, sometimes humorous style, and at times rambles and goes off on unrelated tangents. It translates into English as follows:
According to Airmail, in 2002, Agnès complained online "Xavier is too judgmental, too quick to argue, too rigid, too military. There's no more tenderness between us, no more attention, no softness, no sex...when I ask him if he's happy, his response is the same. 'Yes I am, but if we could all die tomorrow, that would be better.'"
One of the most intriguing aspects of this case is the motive for the murders. Investigators discovered that contrary to appearances, Xavier did not lead the perfect life, and perhaps the children, the wife, the nice house were all part of an image he wanted to create. In the early 2000s he tried to relocate with the family to Florida, but were not successful.
It was then that he started in a "downward spiral of failure" that lasted ten years until the murders. He'd lost a great deal of money and had other problems, and despite the appearance of being a busy businessman, none of his companies were successful. By 2011, the money they'd relied on which was mostly inherited from Agnès' family was running out.
In a 2010 email, according to EuroNews, he declared that he was "ruined, at rock bottom, like never before. I am awake almost every night with these morbid ideas. Burning down the house after giving everyone sleeping pills, or killing myself so that Agnès gets €600,000. In any case, my life will end in the next few months if I don't get €25,000 euros immediately. Most of the time I am not in a dream but in a nightmare and I can't escape except, of course, by doing something radical and final."
Known as a vain man, losing face in this manner would be unbearable, especially to have his children realize their life had been a farce.
In January of 2011, just three months prior to the murders, Xavier's father, the count Bernard-Hubert Dupont de Ligonnès, passed away. He was ill and died in poverty.
According to the BBC, Xavier inherited a .22 long rifle from his father. Within two months he obtained a gun license, and then two months later bought a silencer for it.
Some believe Xavier committed suicide and his remains have not been found despite exhaustive searches, and others think he is alive using a new identity. Per RFI in 2011, he wrote a letter telling his family he was disappearing because of DEA actions. He claimed to be a secret agent working for the agency. He said the family was being placed in the Federal Witness Protection program. Was this accurate or farfetched? Did he plan to kill himself after the murder, and then changed his mind?
There's others that point out that the hole where the bodies and dogs were buried in, were physically challenging for one man who complained of back problems. Five tons of earth were apparently dugout with one shovel, with only 4 feet of headroom. This would necessitate the work be done while crouching. Another mystery is that despite the huge amount of soil moved, no trace was found in the garden. If one would believe that Xavier committed this act by himself, he would have to use a tarpaulin to displace 5 tons of soil by hand. There was no human skin cells, blood or DNA found on the ceiling over where the bodies were buried.
According to Philippe Esperança, a forensic expert in blood splashes, he said, "This is really the only scene I have ever known, where there are five victims, and that no trace has been discovered. It’s unique. I don't think I've ever seen it." He went to Nantes and had studied thousands of other crime scenes.
An attorney representing the Dupont de Ligonnes family point out that they have never received conclusive answers as to when the family died. They were given a range of 10 to 21 days, also the bodies share the same DNA, but they have not been compared with Agnes', and the heights and weights don't correspond to those of the family members. Also the fact that the hole the family was buried in would have been impossible for Xavier Dupont to dig. There is also the glaring lack of motive. Could it be they are not dead?
Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès created Netsurf Concept LLC, a company which was cataloged onto the commercial register in Florida, USA. His adviser was Gérard Corona, a French expat and manager of the company Strategy Netcom, which was founded in 1998. Corona specialized in assisting foreigners with administrative and legal procedures in the United States.
He also helped his clients to open foreign bank accounts and to obtain anonymous bank cards allowing them to withdraw money anywhere in the world without leaving a trace. It has been theorized that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès could have used these services in order to disappear.
In April, 2023, at the anniversary of the crime, news article once more reappear asking if Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes is alive or dead. There are those who believe he is dead, killed by his own hand, and others believe he is alive and well; living in exile.
France 2 journalists uncovered testimony from Michel Rétif a friend of de Ligonnes recorded in 2017, where he commented: "Personally, I think he is alive. The probability of it being is quite great to me. He is someone who speaks several languages fluently without accent, he could pass for an American without any problem. He went somewhere where he speaks another language so that we do not find him. He did not stay in France, that would surprise me."
Pictures were found of de Ligonnes, 28, on the road in the United states, where he traveled to 48 states in the company of Michel from 1989 to 1990. They made a living by buying and selling old cars.
Michel who committed suicide in 2018 took his secrets to the grave. He was convinced his friend would not have gone off somewhere to commit suicide, and instead would have been found with his family.
It turns out that Michel Rétif called Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès on April 6, a day after the murder of the last member of the family. That day, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès’ phone was switched off all day except during this half hour of calling.
De Lignones if alive would be 62 years old. Even though he is sought by police, there are only allegations against him.
Some wonder if de Ligonnes might have copied a similar crime that occurred in the United in 1971, but came to the public eye in 1989, when the perpetrator was apprehended. This was the time de Ligonnes traveled through the United States
John Emil List, an insurance agent murdered his family members and evaporated to live a new life. He killed his mother, his wife and their three children. He planned the murder so well, that it took nearly a month before anyone suspected something had happened to the family.
He spent 18 years free and living under a new identity. He was convicted and sentenced to five consecutive terms of life imprisonment. He gave the reasons for the murder as financial problems including letting them know he had been laid off from the bank where he worked, and the belief his family was straying from their religious faith. He died in 2008, at the age of 82.
Further investigation of the couple found that not only was their financial troubles for de Ligoonnes starting in the early 2000s, but he had run into marital troubles as well. In 2005, Agnes started a virtual and then personal relationship with Michel Rétif, her husband's friend. According to the magazine Society, "he (de Ligonnes) and the couple then formed a love triangle that would change the nature of the trio's relationship."
In his interview Michel Rétif, stated that he wanted to forget the murders. He said everyone associated with Xavier de Ligonnes had been pressured and haunted by the events.
The Dupont de Ligonnes are a conservative Catholic family, and through the years Xavier's mother Genevieve and his sister Christine continued to claim that Xavier's guilt had not been proven, and authorities had not investigated other possibilities for the murders.
The French authorities or the media do not like traditional Catholics. Both women operate a conservative Catholic prayer group they established before the 2011 murders. Some refer to the group as the Philadelphia Church, however the women deny their group was ever named this. Genevieve claims she receives messages from God through automatic writing in an antique language.
In 2019, a disaffected ex-member claimed they were involved in cult-like activities. Due to the association with the murders several French politicians jumped on the bandwagon, demanding they should be investigated.
An attorney representing the group said, "What distrubs me mostly in this case is that law-abiding citizens are harassed for their religious beliefs. There is nothing illegal there, nor do they include the prophecies about the end of the world some media mentioned."
The attorney remembered that Xavier was part of the circle's nostalgia for pre-Vatican-II times.
The attorney believes Xavier's mother and sister were exploited for publicity purposes despite their suffering, and their religious liberty was violated. The police and the prosecutor determined there are no "cultic deviances."
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer