Crimes,  France

Five Major Criminal Cases That Have Shaken French Society

France is the world’s leading tourist destination. But, like every other Western country, France has a dark side. Serial killers, appalling criminal cases, child murders. Let’s take a look at five cases that have shaken up French society.

Christian Ranucci. Doubt and the guillotine

Christian Ranucci in 1974
Christian Ranucci was guillotined in July 1976

Christian Ranucci was a French man who was convicted for the abduction and killing of an eight-year-old girl on Whit Monday in 1974, in Marseille. Ranucci claimed that he had no intention of harming the girl and only wished to go for a ride with her, but the murder was a result of panic and fear due to an accident.

His motive for the abduction still remains unclear, as no signs of rape or other sexual assault were found on the victim’s body. Ranucci appeared arrogant during the trial, denying the crime and his guilt, despite the physical evidence and the details he had provided during his confession.

Found guilty on all counts on March 10, 1976, he was sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine at Baumettes prison in Marseille on July 28, 1976. In his last words, he said to his lawyers, who were present, “Rehabilitate me”. Ranucci’s case has been the subject of much controversy, with some arguing that he was wrongly convicted and executed.

The case sparked a debate about the death penalty. Ranucci’s lawyers were convinced that he would escape the death penalty, but his attitude during the trial and the seriousness of the acts committed against a young child convinced the jury otherwise. President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, aware that the death penalty was being strongly questioned, decided not to pardon Ranucci.

Grégory Villemin. A heartbreaking case that moved every household in France

Grégory Villemin was killed in 1984
Grégory Villemin was abducted and murdered
at the age of 4

The murder of Grégory Villemin is a notorious case in France that has remained unsolved for over 36 years. From September 1981 to October 1984, Grégory’s parents, Jean-Marie and Christine Villemin, and his paternal grandparents, Albert and Monique Villemin, received numerous anonymous letters and phone calls from a man threatening revenge against Jean-Marie for some unknown offense. The communications indicated he possessed detailed knowledge of the extended Villemin family.

Shortly after 5:00 pm on October 16th, 1984, Christine Villemin reported Grégory missing after she noticed he was no longer playing in the Villemins’ front yard. At 5:30 pm, Gregory’s uncle Michel Villemin informed the family that the boy’s body had been found in the Vologne River, his hands and feet bound.

Over the years, several people have been arrested and released in connection with the case, including Grégory’s father, Jean-Marie Villemin, who killed Bernard Laroche, a cousin who was initially suspected of the murder. Christine Villemin was also briefly accused of the crime.

In 2020, French police reopened the inquiry into the case after new DNA evidence reportedly identified a fresh suspect. Despite the many twists and turns in the case, nobody has ever been convicted of Grégory Villemin’s murder, and the case remains unsolved.

This is certainly the most high-profile case in France since the Second World War. The French were horrified by the nature and circumstances of this little boy’s murder. Some have called for the return of the death penalty for crimes against children. It’s also a case that shed light on the jealousy and envy that sometimes wreak havoc in French society.

Jean-Claude Romand, the impostor of the World Health Organization

Jean-Claude Romand killed his family
Jean-Claude Romand at his trial

Jean-Claude Romand was a French man who pretended to be a medical doctor at the World Health Organization in Geneva for 18 years before killing his wife, children, and parents in January 1993 when he was about to be exposed. He is also a spree killer and was convicted of five murders, with a suspected sixth murder.

The case began when Romand’s father-in-law, Pierre Crolet, had a fatal fall on the stairs of his house a few days after asking for reimbursement of part of his financial investment. When the rescuers arrived on the scene, they claimed to have heard him stammer: “Jean-Claude m’a, Jean-Claude m’a…” (“Jean-Claude [missing verb]d me”) before Jean-Claude intervened to put an oxygen mask on the face of his father-in-law.

For years, Romand pretended to go to work every morning, whereas he spent his days reading medical literature in his car in parking lots, attending medical congresses and spending time in libraries. The Romand family had a high standard of living, and Jean-Claude Romand plundered his parents and in-laws for years, pretending to make lucrative investments in Switzerland. He managed the family’s bank accounts and had power of attorney over his parents’ accounts in order to finance this high standard of living.

Friends and acquaintances appreciated his discretion, encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and simplicity despite his enviable social position. This criminal case stunned the French, who discovered the turpitudes of an impostor who had lied to his family and social contacts for 18 years. The good family man was just a lazy coward who decimated his family for material reasons.

Emile Louis, the butcher of Burgundy

Emile Louis is a French serial killer
Emile Louis killed at least 7 disabled girls

The “disparues de l’Yonne” case (the Yonne the missing women) refers to a criminal case in France involving the disappearance and murder of at least eight disabled women. The case began in the late 1970s when several women went missing in the Yonne department, in Burgundy. The investigation into the case was initially slow and disorganized, with police failing.

In 2000, a man named Emile Louis was arrested and charged with the murders of seven of the women. Louis was a bus driver who had been employed to transport mentally disabled women to a care home. He was accused of using his position to abduct and kill the women. He was convicted of the murders in 2004 and sentenced to life in prison. He passed away in October 2013 while behind bars.

Emile Louis mercilessly abused and killed defenseless young women whom the French state did not see fit to search for when they disappeared. This nationally-reported case not only showed that the centers for the disabled in this region of eastern France were extremely lax, but also that the authorities tended to not search for runaways, in the 1970s, especially when mentally disabled people were missing. This case also showed that serial killers were not just a criminal phenomenon affecting the USA.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, the French John List

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès hasn't been found since 2011
Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès is dubbed the French John List

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès is a Frenchman who is accused of murdering his wife, Agnès Hodanger, and their four children, Thomas, Anne, Benoît, and Arthur, as well as their two dogs, at their home in Nantes, in April 2011. The victims were discovered when a neighbor noticed that the blinds of the house had been drawn for days and alerted the authorities.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was the main suspect in the case, and a massive manhunt was launched to find him. However, he has not been found to this day, and his whereabouts remain unknown. There have been several reported sightings of him throughout the world over the years, but none have been confirmed.

The case has stumped authorities and gripped the French public for the past decade. Every police force in the world has been contacted by the French police, who are absolutely determined to bring this man to trial if he is still alive. Dupont de Ligonnès is often compared to John List, the American who killed his entire family in 1971 in New Jersey. Like List, the French had a strong religious background and well-defined moral principles. He was also in dire financial straits and unable to hold down a steady job as his entrepreneurial ventures were all failures. Some time after John List’s arrest, Dupont de Ligonnès spent 18 months in the United States, a country that had fascinated him since childhood.

The case continues to be commented on in the French media, and the authorities are persisting with their investigation, following dozens of leads. Did he commit suicide? Did he flee to the United States? Does he currently live in a country that hasn’t signed an extradition treaty with France? It seems this criminal had a penchant for changing his appearance.

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These criminal cases had a huge impact on French society. Some citizens still believe that Christian Ranucci was innocent and that the French state wrongfully killed him. The Villemin family has been suffering for almost 40 years, and the whole of France is moved as soon as Gregory’s photo is published or shown on television. Jean-Claude Romand was released in 2019 and some consider this scandalous. Emile Louis is considered by some as one of the most infamous serial killers France gave birth to. All the French have the hope that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès will soon be tried for his actions.

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