François Vérove took his own life and mentioned crimes in suicide note after being called in for questioning
François Vérove had worked as a police officer and a gendarme in Paris. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
The Guardian-Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
A retired police officer has been identified as the serial killer behind a spate of murders and rapes in and around Paris in the 1980s and 1990s, in which he used his police card, handcuffs and professional restraint techniques to stop young women and girls, but eluded capture for decades until he took his life this week.
In one of the biggest cold-case reviews in the history of the Paris police, investigators had been seeking DNA evidence to identify the notorious serial killer and rapist known as the “pockmarked man” who had avoided capture for 35 years.
Cold-case investigators had recently narrowed their search to former gendarmes – military police officers – summoning hundreds for questioning. But one, François Vérove, 59, took his own life in a rented apartment in the south of France this week after being called in for interview. The state prosecutor confirmed after his death that DNA from Vérove, who had worked as a police officer and a gendarme, matched several crime scenes. French media reported that he had left a note saying he had not been in a good state at the time of his crimes but had not given details.
As investigators reopened old cases and connected up different crimes, several factors pointed to the killer and rapist being either a serving member of the police or gendarmerie. He had carried out murders, rapes and attempted murders from 1986 to at least 1994 and never been caught.
In one case of abduction and rape, he had shown his police card to make a lone girl get into his unmarked car. In at least three rapes, he was reported to have identified himself to women and girls as a police officer. He was said to have known police terminology and used handcuffs. He had used elaborate police or military restraint techniques. His last known crime happened near a gendarmerie training centre.
His victims included an 11-year-old girl who he is believed to have stopped in the elevator of her building as she was leaving to go to school in 1986. She was raped and murdered and found in the basement. Another victim was a 26-year-old German au pair, who was assaulted and murdered in a Paris apartment. Her male boss was found murdered near her and had been restrained using skilled police or military techniques.
DNA evidence was later extracted from a cigarette butt and a victim’s sanitary protection found at a crime scene but it had never been matched with a perpetrator.
In a statement, the state prosecutor said there had been “elements” leading cold-case investigators to focus on someone “who had been working as a gendarme” at the time of the crimes. In recent months, the investigating judge had summoned 750 gendarmes who had worked in the Paris region at the time of the attacks. One of them, “a man aged 59 living in the south of France”, who had served as a gendarme then as a police officer and had since retired, was contacted on 24 September and summoned for questioning five days later. Instead, he disappeared from his family home, rented a flat and was found dead there this week.
French media reported that he had left a note saying he had not been in a good state at the time of the crimes but had later “sorted himself out”.
Didier Seban, a lawyer for victims’ families, told France Info: “We were convinced it was a police officer or gendarme, both by the violence he used against his victims, and also his techniques – his way of presenting his tricolour [police] card, a certain number of things victims reported him saying … He knew all the police techniques.”
He said: “We are going to ask the justice system to continue investigating, to know if he had accomplices and to determine the number of victims. The families must have answers.”