This case is different because it doesn’t take place in America. It takes place in France. So, when ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ focused on this case in their third episode, it was all in subtitles. At first, I was a little nervous that I wasn’t going to connect with the story due to having to read what people were saying. In fact, my mom who initially got me obsessed with ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ when I was young; didn’t even watch it. But, I ended up really interested in the case. So much so, that almost two weeks ago when I visited my parents, I made them watch the episode. And go figure- my mother did in fact, enjoy it. This blog, this case is about the Dupont de Ligonnes murders and disappearance.
This episode begins with the camera focused on a random residential building. And a woman speaking in French says, “I saw the house all closed up.” The camera switches to the middle-older aged woman with shoulder length blonde hair sitting in a chair. She continues to say, “I’ve always seen that house with the shutters open. It was a shock. I knew something terrible had happened.” A picture of six people are shown- two parents, three sons and one daughter. They are all smiling, and they all look really happy. This woman continues on, “They seemed like a normal family. Totally normal. But no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors.” Cut to the ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ opening credits.
This case takes place in Nantes, France. According to another French woman by the name of Anne-Sophie Martin, a journalist, Nantes is a large French city, situated in the west of France on the Atlantic coast. She notes that Nantes is a city of culture. Life in Nantes is fairly peaceful and quiet. Anne-Sophie states, “In the middle of the town, there’s a residential neighborhood, where you see upper-middle class people.” She says that most of the people that live in the area are church-goers who always attend mass.
The next image is footage from the news archives, of a casket being taken out of a church as people watch from the street. Anne-Sophie says, “And then the Dupont de Ligonnes murders happened.” A cover of a local French newspaper titled, ‘House of Terror’ is displayed on screen along with images of people leaving flowers and candles on the doorstep of the building that was shown in the beginning of the episode. More pictures are shown of the seemingly happy family as Anne-Sophie parks her motorcycle across from the building. She goes on to say that the Dupont de Ligonnes story is an enigma that perplexes everyone due to its mystery. Ann-Sophie walks down the street named Shuman Boulevard, across from number 55. She says that number 55 is where everything happened. Turns out, number 55 is the house that the woman from the start of the documentary was talking about. Anne-Sophie says, “It’s a house where, after 2011, people slowed down or stopped to see what we call, the House of Horror. It still haunts everyone who knew the family, you know?”
The woman from the very beginning of the episode is Estelle Chapon, a neighbor. She moved to number 61 in 1992. She claims that she did alterations for the children and for Agnes and she also ironed the husband’s shirts. She says that she saw the family regularly, and would always see Agnes picking the children up from school. She says that house number 55 was lively and busy. The family was always coming and going.
Anne-Sophie says that there were four children and two parents. “The father, Count Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, he’s a businessman who’d had some success. He’s comfortable communicating with people and quick to laugh.” Two pictures show us evidence of Xavier’s smile and seemingly friendly nature. Anne-Sophie continues, “The pretty mother, Agnes, works in a Catholic school.” One picture of Agnes smiling. Then, Anne-Sophie details the children as more pictures give us an idea as to who they are. “Arthur, the eldest. Arthur is a very handsome young man. He’s 20 at this time and goes to a private Catholic college. There’s Thomas, who’s 18. He’s a shy boy and he studies musicology. Anne is 16. She’s a very pretty young girl. She models for mail order catalogs. A very good student- she’s the best student of all the children. She’s at a private Catholic school called La Perverie. The same high school as Benoit. Benoit is the last, and is 13 years old. He’s crazy about drums, he plays drums all the time.” She goes on to say that they were, seemingly, a golden family.
The documentary tells us that it was Monday, April 11th 2011. Estelle says that something troubled her. “It was a Monday afternoon at two p.m. when I saw the house was closed up. I passed in front of the house, and I saw this note on the mailbox that said to stop leaving mail there. And then I saw the closed shutters. I just felt that something was wrong.” Estelle claims that the shutters were normally always open, and even when the family would go on a vacation, they’d leave the shutters open. The next day, Estelle leaves for work and realizes that nothing about the house has changed. Wednesday, the same. Estelle decides to call the police. On April 13th, 2011, the police checked on the house. A reenactment plays out of two police officers ringing the doorbell. Jean-Marc Bloch, a retired Chief of Staff for the Paris police gives an interview for the documentary, and states that it was local police who visited the house initially. He says that the police that checked on the house were there to make sure that nothing out of the ordinary was taking place. He says that the front door was locked and the shutters were closed, so they had to get a locksmith to come and get the police inside the house. Anne-Sophie says that on the initial visit, everything in the house was in its rightful place. She says that some bedrooms had beds with their sheets removed, and that some closets were open. Jean-Marc claims that all of it seemed “totally normal.” So, the police felt like the family left voluntarily. And because there was nothing out of the ordinary that would necessitate launching a formal investigation, the police left. Estelle says that all the cars were there, but the C5 was missing. Estelle claims that it’s impossible for six people and their luggage, along with two dogs to have all left in the C5. Estelle kept trying to tell police that something was seriously wrong, and she says that the police didn’t take her seriously.
The episode states between April 9th and 14th, 2011, letters arrived to family and friends. Anne-Sophie states that the letters were sent by Xavier and Agnes. She further details that the letters claimed that the family was involved with the USA DEA, and that “the Americans have recruited me to infiltrate an international drug ring.” The letters say that it’ll be hard and that the family will be gone for a long while. The letters say that the family is going to change their identities and that they’re under protection. Anne-Sophie says that because Xavier was respected, and because Agnes led a Bible study group; they were not viewed as liars.
Bruno de Stabenrath, Xavier’s friend, says that this was all very like Xavier. When he read the letter, he could practically hear Xavier speaking. The documentary moves it’s focus to Versailles, France. Bruno met Xavier in Versailles in the mid-1970’s. He had known Xavier since he was 16, and that they became best friends right away. He states that he was a neighbor to Xavier on Avenue Marechal Foch- where they lived. During the interview, Bruno drives his car and points to where they lived. Bruno says, “Versailles remains the city of the palace of King Louis XIV, the city of the Sun King. And many aristocratic Catholic families still remain.” Bruno claims that both his and Xavier’s families were of noble birth- especially Xavier’s. He says that Xavier’s family was very prestigious and that his father was a Count. In Xavier’s family there had been musketeers for a castle in the center of France, and that there was a signet ring with the family’s coat of arms signifying the family’s motto. Bruno claims that all of that is important to the French, and was especially important to Xavier. Bruno details that Xavier met Agnes in the early 1980’s. He was 20, while she was either 16 or 17. Bruno says that Agnes was beautiful, but from a traditional and conservative family. Bruno says that although Xavier was in love with Agnes, he longed for adventure. So, Xavier left to travel the world. But one year later, when Xavier returned to Versailles, he found that Agnes was pregnant by someone else. To Bruno’s surprise, Xavier chose to marry Agnes and kept her baby and labeled Arthur as his own. According to Bruno, one did not do that in Versailles. In Versailles, one does not marry an unwed mother, and Bruno found that it was very courageous of Xavier to do so.
Once Agnes’ family received the letter, they sent it to the Nantes District Attorney. They immediately knew something wasn’t right and thought it was strange. The family claimed that Agnes would never leave with her children without telling them her plans. So, on April 15th, 2011, the police returned to check on the house. Jean-Marc says that on the second visit of the house, police discovered that photos were missing from their frames, but other than that, nothing else was suspicious. On April 18th, 2011, the police made a third visit to the house. And on April 19th, 2011 a fourth visit. On April 20th, 2011, a fifth visit. On each visit, the police didn’t observe anything unusual. Everything changed when the police made their sixth visit- on April 21st, 2011. Jean-Marc states that a police lieutenant found something odd underneath the terrace. On that same day, District Attorney Xavier Ronsin held a press conference at the courthouse to say, “It’s unusual that this family has disappeared. We’re opening an investigation into a worrying disappearance.” But, suddenly, the District Attorney halted the press conference to answer a phone call. When the DA returned, he officially delayed the rest of the press conference. The press picked up on the fact that something important had happened.
When the investigators began to dig underneath the terrace, they discovered large plastic trash bags bound with tape. When the bags were opened up; investigators discovered the bodies. Anne-Sophie says that the bodies were wrapped in blankets and duvets, then tied up and put into the plastic bags. Jean-Marc states that a small religious icon was placed next to each body-whether it was a cross or a little candle. He says that it illustrates that the burial was an imitation of a religious burial. It shows that there was an affectional bond between the perpetrator and the buried bodies. Anne-Sophie says, “It’s as though someone had carried out a burial on Catholic ground.” Except it wasn’t on Catholic ground. It was simply under a terrace in the garden.
Jean-Marc says that in one grave were the bodies of Agnes, Arthur, Beniot and Anne along with the family’s two dogs. In a separate grave was the body of Thomas. One body is missing- Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes. Anne-Sophie states that from that point forward, Xavier became the prime suspect. The investigating Judge determined that because Xavier was missing, he assigned a warrant and sent it to all member countries of the Interpol- also known as an international warrant.
Stephane Goldenstein, the Dupont de Ligonnes’ family attorney, enters the documentary, and claims that it was hard for people to process the fact that Xavier could be involved in murdering his whole family. He claims that where the bodies were found is very low down, and that Xavier had terrible back pain, thus he couldn’t be the perpetrator. Stephane claims that it’s impossible for Xavier to have dug the holes, then moved each of his family’s bodies down underneath the terrace, then to fill the holes.
Bruno claims that it’s hard for him to believe that his best friend had anything to do with the murders because when he got into a car accident (that left him in a wheelchair), Xavier was there for him. Bruno claims that Xavier picked up on his suffering, and would take his hand and tell him that “You’re my friend and I love you. Don’t worry, I’ll never let you down.” Bruno says that Xavier was a good man.
Anne-Sophie says that Xavier “has the characteristics of a father hen.” She goes on to say that Xavier was a present father who was concerned about his children and was very tactile- always giving them hugs and pulling his children into his arms.
Jean-Marc says that it was very important to the investigators to find out how the victims were murdered. At what point did the murders take place? From the autopsy, Jean-Marc claims that they found sleeping pills in the children’s viscera. Anne-Sophie states that Agnes didn’t have drugs in her system, but that she had a sleep apnea machine which helped her sleep. Agnes’ sleep apnea machine suddenly stopped at three a.m. on the morning of either April 3rd or 4th. Jean-Marc claims that the first victim appeared to have been Agnes, followed by the children. Jean-Marc states that each victim was killed by two bullets to the head. The bullets extracted from the bodies had been shot from a .22 long rifle. Yet, the neighbors were not awoken by any gunshots. Anne-Sophie states, “These are methodical executions. They’re all in their pajamas, so they’ve all been killed in their sleep.”
But, there’s this incredible mystery. There’s no trace of blood in any of the bedrooms. No traces of blood in the living room, or the foyer or in the bathroom. Nothing was found on any walls, furniture or on the ground. How does one kill five people, yet no trace of blood evidence is left? Jean-Marc says that when investigators took samples from the garbage bags, they didn’t find any fingerprints or DNA- not from anyone. So, there’s no absolute physical proof implicating Xavier.
Anne-Sophie states that Xavier was 50 years old and never had any problems with the law, but now seemed like he was a criminal mastermind. Bruno shows a picture of Xavier being kissed on the cheek by one of his sons, and says that “Xavier was the heir to the family name.” Bruno says that because Xavier seemingly killed his three sons, he killed his lineage. “And for the aristocratic world, for the French nobility, this is dreadful, because you’re terminating a lineage.”
Jean-Marc goes on record to say that when investigators dug into Xavier’s affairs, it was revealed that he wasn’t leading the life that he was pretending to. Anne-Sophie states that in the early 2000’s, the family tried to relocate to Florida. However, they was unsuccessful. Anne-Sophie says, “Due to his failed American Dream, they’ve more or less spent all their money.” Bruno goes on to say that from 2001 to 2011, Xavier had a downward spiral of failures. He lost a lot of money, and had bailiffs on his back. Although Xavier was telling everyone that his companies were successful, Jean-Marc remarks that the truth of the matter was that Xavier’s companies had never been successful. Anne-Sophie concludes that Xavier knew that he was out of money. He would have no choice but to sell his house and all of his belongings. This was serious, with severe consequences. “He was about to be found out to be someone unsuccessful.”
Bruno claims that Xavier was vain and proud. Xavier wouldn’t want to lose face. He wouldn’t want his children to find out that he had no more money, or that he had been ruined. Anne-Sophie deduces that Xavier was trying to save his children from disgrace, and from finding out that their father didn’t have the life everyone thought he had.
Three months before the murders, on January 20th, 2011, Xavier’s father, Hubert Depont de Ligonnes died from a heart attack. Michael Calvi, Hubert’s neighbor, claims that Xavier was the one to clean out Hubert’s apartment by going through his father’s personal belongings. Michael claims that Xavier was trying to recover the count’s signet ring. Michael claims that Xavier was also looking for money that might have been set aside. But, Michael says that Xavier couldn’t find anything. Anne-Sophie states that apparently, there was no money left. In fact, Hubert was very sad at the end of his life. He was sick, he was lonely, and he was living in near poverty. While Xavier didn’t find the ring or any money, he did find a gun in his father’s apartment. A .22 caliber long rifle. Michael Calvi states that the last time he saw Xavier was after he was clearing out his father’s apartment. Michael says that Xavier’s expression was unusual and that he’d never seen him like that before. “He had a dark look in his eyes.”
On February 2nd, 2011, Xavier obtained a firearms license. Jean-Marc claims that before Xavier inherited his father’s rifle, Xavier never expressed any interest in weapons. But it’s from the moment that he inherits his father’s rifle that he learns how to shoot. He even takes two of his sons with him when he visits the shooting range. Apparently, he asked a few questions to his instructor, one being on how to use a silencer, so on March 12th, 2011, Xavier bought a silencer.
It’s at this time in the documentary that Jean-Marc concluded that Thomas wasn’t killed when the rest of the family was. The reason why Jean-Marc thinks this, is because Thomas is the only body that was found in the other grave. Anne-Sophie states that it’s known for a fact that the four children were alive and at the house on both Saturday and Sunday. But, Thomas had to leave to go back to school and apparently, Xavier let him go. The murders are known to have happened during the night of Sunday to Monday. On Tuesday, Xavier calls Thomas and tells him that he needs to come back home. He apparently tells his son that Agnes was involved in a bicycle accident and was in a coma at the hospital. So, on Tuesday evening, Thomas returned home. The last we know is that Thomas sent a text message to his friend at around midnight, but when his friend texted him back, Thomas never responded. Investigators believe that Thomas was killed the night of Tuesday to Wednesday.
So this leads to more questions- the most important being, why did Xavier wait to kill his son Thomas? Anne-Sophie believes that Xavier hesitated to kill him. She states that because Arthur wasn’t his biological son, but Thomas was, that would make Thomas the eldest son, and the one to carry on the family name.
The family was last seen on April 4th, and the family’s bodies were discovered on April 21st. That’s nearly three weeks that went by without a search. At this point, Xavier could be anywhere. Police searched hotels and restaurants around France. But, on April 22nd, 2011, police located Xavier’s car in the parking lot of a small Formule 1 hotel in Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the south of France. Once the police located the car, they reconstructed the week prior to the disappearances. (And along with some more deep diving, I’ve managed to get a complete timeline of the events.) Friday, April 1st- Arthur leaves the college that he’s attending, and doesn’t turn up at the pizzeria where he worked at. He was due to pick up his monthly wages. His boss is surprised by this, stating that Arthur always came to collect his wages on the first day of the month. On this day, Xavier buys cement, a shovel and a hoe. Saturday, April 2nd- Xavier buys four bags of lime from different shops in Nantes. Sunday, April 3rd- A neighbor sees Agnes for the last time. Shortly thereafter, the same neighbor notices Xavier “putting large bags in his car”, which turned out to be the C5. Xavier, Agnes, Arthur, Anne and Benoit dine in a restaurant in Nantes, then go to the cinema. At 10:37 p.m, Xavier leaves a message on his sister Christine’s answering machine: “We spent our Sunday evening in the cinema together, then in a restaurant, and we’ve just got back. I’m calling to ask if it’s too late to speak to you on the phone, and now I see it’s gone to voicemail. But… I was surprised, you spoke to me about Bertram, who’s getting ready for his flight!? Huh!? But.. I thought he’d only just arrived!? So I was a bit surprised. Anyway, sending you my love. If it’s not too late, call me back or send me a text and I’ll call you. Ok, I’m going to put the kids to bed, say hi to everyone. See you soon! Maybe.” Monday, April 4th- Anne and Benoit do not turn up at their school “due to illness.” Anne’s and Benoit’s friends become concerned when they are unable to reach them. They remember a rumor about the family leaving for Australia where their father had been given a job transfer, and they find it suspicious that Anne and Benoit never verified it to them. So, they attempt to contact Anne and Benoit via text or online. Also on this day, Xavier speaks with his sister on the telephone for about 20-30 minutes. Christine said that everything was normal. Xavier dines alone with his son Thomas at La Croix Cadeau (a high-end restaurant in Avrille, near Angers.) The pair arrived at about 9 p.m. Xavier ordered a €35 tasting menu with a half bottle of Anjou-villages-brissac red wine. Thomas had a sea bass dish with tomato juice. The total bill came to €72.55. The two waiters remember Thomas feeling unwell near the end of the meal, and that Xavier and Thomas barely spoke to each other. Tuesday, April 5th- A bailiff comes to the family home to recover a debt of €20,000, but no one answers the door. A friend of Thomas’ who studied music with him, confirms that Thomas spent the afternoon with him at a friend’s house in Angers, where they played music and watched the tv. Thomas apparently also messaged his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Thomas had planned to spend the night at his friend’s house, but Xavier phoned his son, telling him that Agnes has been hurt in a “cycling accident” and that he needs to return to Nantes. Thomas quickly ate, and then took a train home at around 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 6th- Xavier is seen outside of his house by acquaintances from Nantes. Arthur’s girlfriend, who has grown concerned after not hearing from him, knocks on the door of the family home, where “a light was on the first floor”, but the family’s two labradors don’t bark when she knocks. *Investigators believe that Xavier murdered his wife, Arthur, Anne and Benoit on the night of Sunday the 3rd, to Monday the 4th. Xavier then turned around, and murdered his son Thomas on the evening of April 5th. However, many neighbors don’t agree to this timeline because several witnesses claim to have seen Agnes alive on April 7th. (I personally don’t think that investigators have a definite day and time of death for any of the family members, but either way, Agnes, Arthur, Thomas, Anne and Benoit were all murdered at some point between April 4th and April 8th.)* Friday, April 8th- Xavier writes on the Catholic online forum site- catholique.org. According to the State prosecutor, he “went online for the last time on April 8th from the IP address of the family home in Nantes.” Also on the 8th, Xavier sends an email to his brother-in-law saying, “Everything’s fine Bertram. You’ll hear more detailed news soon through Christine. Bye for now. All the best, Xavier.” Xavier, also sends his mother and sister a message online. Saturday, April 10th- Xavier leaves Nantes. Anne-Sophie says that we know Xavier left on the 10th because his car got flashed by a speed camera between Nantes and La Rochelle. Xavier’s credit card was also time stamped at a restaurant at around noon, then again his credit card was time stamped at a hotel in La Rochelle. He’d apparently gone on the run and become a fugitive. Anne-Sophie states that Xavier wasn’t traveling very fast. He wasn’t putting hundreds of miles (or kilometers) between his house and his destination. Jean-Marc says that Xavier isn’t trying to hide. He’s withdrawing money and using his credit card. They’ve caught him on surveillance footage. He keeps going to restaurants, leaving bills and credit card receipts. Anne-Sophie notes that it is strange that he’s carelessly using his credit card and withdrawing money, because of the amount of caution and work that went into the crime scene to fool investigators. Monday, April 11th- Anne and Benoit’s school receives a letter signed by Xavier, stating that Anne and Benoit will be leaving the school and the family would be moving to Australia due to “urgent professional changes.” The Catholic school where Anges works also receives a letter, but this time it’s signed by Agnes. This letter also states the same reason for leaving. The headmaster tries to phone the home, but is unable to reach anyone. (This is also the day that all the other letters that I have previously mentioned were mailed.) Xavier spends the night at the Hotel Premiere Classe in Blagnac, near Toulouse. Tuesday, April 12th- Xavier spends the night at the Auberge de Cassagne in Le Pontet in Vaucluse. He registers under the name of Mr Laurent Xavier. He pays €214.59 by credit card. Wednesday, April 13th- This is when neighbors become concerned and contact the police. Xavier spends the night in La Seyne-sur-Mer in Var. A former girlfriend of Xavier’s from sometime in the 80’s later informed the police that Xavier contacted her on the 13th, although the two didn’t meet.
The police interpreted Xavier’s movements after the murders to be a pilgrimage. They didn’t think that he was trying to hide- moreover, it was a farewell to his past life. He was visiting places where he had been happy. Places where he had lived with Agnes during the first few years of their marriage and where some of the children were born. The years he spent in the south were happy years, which made investigators think that he would end his life where it had been good. Thursday, April 14th- Xavier withdraws €30 from an ATM in Roquebrune-sur-Argens in Var. He spends the night in a Formule 1 hotel. Investigators recovered the CCTV footage from April 15th, 2011, and discovered an image of Xavier crossing the hotel parking lot carrying a bag. At the bottom of the carryall bag is a long object. The investigators believe that the long object is the rifle that he used to kill his family. Jean-Marc says that Xavier looked into the parking lot camera and waved- almost like he was saying goodbye.
Bruno notes that cliffs and a mountain make up Roquebrune-sur-Argens. On April 22nd, 2011, police began to search the wilderness area near the Formule 1 hotel. For weeks, search parties scoured the area, looking for traces of any clues that Xavier had ever been there. They were also looking for a body- believing that Xavier might have disappeared into the wilderness to commit suicide. Jean-Marc notes that the search parties were looking in holes, in rocks and in caves. For two months, the search parties looked between every nook and cranny with the aid of mountain guides. No body was ever found.
Anne-Sophie is adamant that Xavier fooled everyone. She says that in 98% of familicide cases, the father who commits the murders, commits suicide on the spot. She thinks that Xavier is the one or two percent, and went on the run. “There’s so much care, work, organization to deceive the investigators to buy time. And it worked.”
Bruno says, “…and that’s what happened. Xavier escaped.” As Bruno sits at a cafe, and looks over the pictures of the family, he remarks, “We see a happy family. A family- that’s what is, that’s what- How can I put it? That’s what appalls me and makes me angry. How can you decide that one day you’ll strip your children of their future? How can you take people’s lives? That’s totally inconceivable. Unspeakable.”
Jean-Marc comments at the end of the documentary, that no plane ticket was bought under his name, no cars have disappeared or have been rented, and no train ticket has ever been purchased. “There isn’t the slightest clue as to where Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes could be.”
Anne-Sophie notes that in the area where Xavier went missing, one can take a boat out. Apparently, the sea is 30 kilometers (a little over 18 miles) away from where he went missing. Anne-Sophie says that one can take a cargo ship in Fos, near Marseille. Or, take the highway and mountain paths and go to Italy. One could board a train and head to Croatia. “It’s totally mind-blowing, and that will turn him into a master of disappearance.” Anne-Sophie thinks that Xavier is alive, and is possibly in Latin America because he’s bilingual in English. Apparently, Xavier’s English is very good. His Spanish is also pretty good, so he would get along with ease. Bruno believes that Xavier made it to either Hamburg or Tangiers and took a cargo ship to either Latin America or Argentia. Bruno says that he’s got dark hair and dark eyes. He’s known to grow a beard, but also shave his head. Jean-Marc notes that the only problem is that “Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes looks a bit like everybody else, with no strong features.”
Bruno wants to ask Xavier, “..how can he look himself in the mirror every night, every morning, brushing his teeth, shaving, and think about his children who he loved. Because he loved them. A lot. He was a real father. That, for me, is a mystery. It’s a big mystery. Yeah.”
The episode ends with the ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ cryptic music accompanied with white intertitle over the ocean reading, “Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes is wanted for questioning in connection with the murders of his wife and four children. If you have any information about this case, go to unsolved.com”