Warning: If you haven’t watched the third episode, don’t read further. Spoilers.
In the third episode of Unsolved Mysteries, “House of Terror,” we travel to Nantes, France and as a result, we get the best episode of the series so far. Of course, given the things we’re talking about, it’s hard to label it “the best,” but the macabre intrigue on this one pulled me in even more than the other two (which I liked quite a bit, if you read my reviews here and here). I also like that the show is going to other countries. So much of true crime focuses on American crime, and it’s interesting to see some of the mysterious foreign cases.
In April 2011, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was and is the prime suspect in the killing of his wife, Agnès, three of their children Thomas, Anne, and Benoît. Agnès also had a son prior to Xavier, which he took as his own, named Arthur, who is the oldest of the bunch. Arthur was also killed, in addition to the two family dogs.
When neighbors got concerned, police did the first wellness check on April 13. As Agnès’ family puts more pressure on the police, the police subsequently do five additional wellness checks. On the sixth one, they finally discover the bodies of the murdered family members and dogs under the patio in the back garden of the house. All of them besides Agnès were seemingly drugged, wrapped in a blanket, had a religious artifact placed with them, and wrapped in a garbage bag.
Meanwhile, in the time that had elapsed between when Xavier presumably did the killings and when police finally found the bodies, Xavier was hitting up different spots in France, noticeably using his credit cards, retrieving money from ATMs, and being spotted on security cameras. He even tried to steer people off of him by sending letters to family and friends saying he’d been recruited by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and was taking the family to America.
This is a case, unlike the previous two episodes, where the killer seems obvious: It’s Xavier. There’s no other explanation that makes much sense. If someone else did the killings, why was Xavier left alive? Why was he making all of these trips throughout France? Why does he seem to be the one in possession of the kind of gun that killed his family members? So yeah, it sure seems like him.
But the mystery and the unsolved aspect of it is: how. I don’t much care about the why. There’s no “why” that is sufficient for me to understand how someone can kill their entire family, wife, and even two dogs in cold blood. There’s no understanding that. Apparently, I learned watching this episode that nobility, family lineage and aristocracy is all still quite important in 21st century France. And that class status mattered to Xavier, and he was essentially a fraud. He wasn’t as successful as he purported to be and was poor. Losing that status caused a psychotic break and instead of admitting as much to his family, he killed them to save them the embarrassment of learning his father is a poor sack of shit. That’s the narrative, at least.
But again, okay. Maybe. The more interesting question to me is how. How did he do it? I think the journalist in the episode said Xavier, in his 50s at this point, goes from being someone who has no criminal record, by all accounts was a loving father, and now he’s not only killed four children and his wife, but he’s apparently a criminal mastermind? Because there’s no forensic evidence that a killing happened in the home. There’s no witnesses to it.
That leads one to believe the killings must have not happened in the house. Maybe he drugged them, somehow dragged all of their bodies outside undetected, and then shot them near the garden and makeshift grave-site, again, undetected. And then buried their bodies, again, undetected. Given how astutely the neighbors were paying attention to the house to alert police to doing a wellness check, it’s bizarre that nobody would notice any of that.
Again, there’s also no forensic evidence linking him to doing the killings outside the house. It’s bizarre.
I also agree with the journalist, that in most of these cases, the father kills themselves immediately. If they didn’t, it’s hard to imagine that they would wait two or three weeks, and then do it, as the police seem to think Xavier did here.
In fact, full disclosure: The murder-suicide aspect of familicide is such a default setting, it’s hard to find information about how often the suicide aspect doesn’t happen. There is one other instance I am aware of where someone killed their entire family, and then didn’t kill themselves. It so happens that case happened where I live: Hamilton, Ohio.
On Easter Sunday 1975, James Ruppert killed 11 family members at his mother’s house in Hamilton, but he didn’t kill himself. In fact, he’s still alive and serving a life sentence in Columbus.
Wikipedia also keeps a list of familicide incidents in the United States, with 121 on the list. In a quick counting, 54 didn’t kill themselves. I didn’t investigate every case to see what kind of familicide it was, but that’s still a majority where the perpetrator kills themselves. However, not committing suicide isn’t as rare as I would have thought: that’s nearly 45 percent of cases where the perpetrator was caught and sentenced.
What does seem extremely rare: Only one of those 121 cases is the perpetrator unaccounted for (the rest are accounted for as either dead, killed in some other fashion (like by a mob or the death penalty) or in prison) and it’s a multiple murder from the late 1800s. Granted, this is just the United States, but Xavier’s crime sure stands out. And goes back to: how did he become a criminal mastermind?
It simply shouldn’t be that easy to kill five family members, two dogs, and get away with it. The question I also come back to: If he didn’t kill himself, why was he trying to be found, seemingly? He was blatantly engaging in activities to be found. Was that to lead police to the wilderness and suspect he had offed himself?
Maybe 10 years from now when Xavier is 69, and getting a bit older and letting his guard down, someone will finally find him, if he’s still alive, of course. Still, it’s unlikely we will ever know what actually happened in the House of Terror, or the Garden of Terror, depending on where the murders actually happened.
Such a sad, terrible case.