PARIS — A former French police officer is suspected of having been a notorious serial killer and rapist, after authorities confirmed Thursday night that his DNA matched samples found at several crime scenes linked to the same killer.
Authorities did not immediately comment on widespread reports — including from one of the victims’ lawyers — that the man had left a confession letter, but said that he was supposed to be questioned about the crimes the same day he was found dead, amid a widening new investigation into what was long considered one of France’s most puzzling cold cases.
“The DNA comparison, immediately ordered by the examining magistrate, today established a correspondence between the genetic profile found at several crime scenes and that of the deceased man,” state prosecutor Laure Beccuau said in a statement late Thursday night, describing the man as a “former gendarme who became a policeman,” and had since retired.
In France, gendarmes are a national police force but part of the armed forces. France’s public broadcaster reported that the man had also served in the prestigious Republican Guard in the capital region, which is, for instance, tasked with escorting visiting foreign state guests, until 1988. The suspect later worked as a senior police officer in southern France and joined a local municipal council, according to the broadcaster.
French authorities spent decades looking for the perpetrator of a string of crimes that included the rape of minors, murder, attempted murder and armed robbery between 1986 and 1994.
Thursday’s statement did not indicate whether the suspect’s DNA was found at all or only some of the crime scenes previously linked to the same suspect. French media outlets cited a total of six rape incidents and four murders that had been linked to the suspect, including the rape and stabbing of a 11-year-old schoolgirl in Paris in 1986.
For years, investigators struggled to connect the dots, despite having been able to establish a facial composite of the suspect, whose face was believed to be marked by acne — resulting in his nickname, “le Grêlé,” a French term for “the pockmarked.”
Investigators also knew that the suspect had at times introduced himself as a police officer to victims, even though it was long unclear if he was only pretending to be one.
Victims’representatives had argued that the nature of the attacks hinted at a real law enforcement background of the suspect. “We were convinced that he was a police officer or a gendarme, both [due to] the violence with which he attacked his victims and his techniques,” Didier Seban, the lawyer who represents several of the man’s alleged victims, told France’s public broadcaster on Friday.
Seban said the reactions of victims’ families to the announcement of the DNA match ranged from “satisfaction” to “a feeling of bitterness” because the suspect may have taken many of his secrets to his grave.
“We are talking about a number of murders and rapes, but we think there are others,” he said.
Seban said the focus of investigators had recently narrowed to a gendarmerie training center that was near the crime scene of the last incident linked to the suspect.
In her statement Thursday, the public prosecutor said that “around 750 gendarmes stationed in the Paris region at the time of the events” had been summoned over the past months.
The suspect was notified of his summoning last Friday, the prosecutor said. His wife reported him missing three days later.