Dad XAVIER DUPONT DE LIGONNES sounds like a classic psychopath to me.
Mystery plagues French dad's murder spree
Paris - Cold-hearted killer or crazed cultist? As French police issued an international arrest warrant for a fugitive father, more clues emerged as to why he might have slaughtered all five of his family.
Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, a 50-year-old businessman from an aristocratic family, is suspected of the murders of his wife and their four children, who were found buried under the terrace of the family's elegant townhouse.
Each had been a victim of what French prosecutors described as a "methodical execution", with two bullets fired from a silenced weapon, at close range, to their heads, before they were rolled in lime and buried under cement.
Following the killings - thought to have taken place between April 3 and 6 at the home in the western city of Nantes - the father settled the children's school fees, wrote letters to friends and eventually went on the run.
No trace of father
He is known to have stayed in a hotel in the southern Var region on April 15 and to have abandoned the family car there, but there has been no trace of him since and on Tuesday prosecutors issued an arrest warrant.
"Of course he is still presumed innocent, but this warrant from a judge is the equivalent of the opening of a criminal enquiry," explained local Nantes chief prosecutor Xavier de Ronsin, announcing an international manhunt.
"At this stage of the judicial inquiry, the gravity of the charges facing him, and the suspicion that he was the perpetrator of five murders, legally justifies this change in his status in the case," he said.
Ronsin said police had investigated 330 reported sightings of the fugitive around Europe, but had not yet found any of them convincing, and added that they had no concrete reason to suspect he had fled abroad.
Respected, well-heeled family
Nantes residents were shocked by the murders, which destroyed a respected and well-heeled family which had no history of odd or criminal behaviour and was involved in the work of the local Catholic diocese.
Dupont de Ligonnes told his teenage children's private Catholic high school that he had been transferred to a job in Australia. He told friends that he was a US secret agent and was being taken into a witness protection programme.
Such claims led to speculation that he had had some kind of mental crisis before snapping and killing his family, but since his disappearance evidence has emerged of the suspect's peculiar religious background.
In Nantes, the family were seen as mainstream, traditionalist Catholics, and the slain mother Agnes was a volunteer in church activities and education.
But it has emerged that in the 1960s the suspected killer's own mother, Genevieve Dupont de Ligonnes, founded a closed prayer group known as "Philadelphia" which is suspected of sect-like activities.
Strange cult beliefs
Georges Fenech, the head of Miviludes -- the French state's cult-monitoring agency - told AFP the group collected money from followers, claimed to receive direct messages from Jesus Christ and had a mystical apocalyptic bent.
"Xavier grew up as a child alongside his mother, at the time his mother was setting up this prayer group," he said. "He was doubtless surrounded by this very mystical, fearful atmosphere."
In 1994 members of the sect gathered in Rennes, fearing that the end of the world was upon them, and support groups for the victims of cult recruitment say psychiatric hospitals have been forced to treat many former adepts.
Evidence of cold-hearted slaughter
But, while the mystic angle has added a layer of mystery to the murders, investigators have not yet confirmed it played a role. Other evidence points more to a cold-blooded slaughter than a religious frenzy.
Dupont de Ligonnes joined a gun club to learn how to shoot in December and obtained a permit to own a weapon on February 2, shortly after inheriting a .22 calibre rifle on the death of his father.
On March 12 he bought a silencer and ammunition, and on April 1 and 2 he collected cement, lime, a spade and a hoe.
Investigators think he killed his wife and his teenage children on April 3 or 4. He dined with his adult son, 20-year-old Thomas, near his university on April 4. Thomas came to Nantes the next day and died that day or the next.
Abnormal writing style
On April 11, the children's school received a cheque for outstanding fees, and the suspect's friends and his sister Christine received bizarre letters explaining his flight.
"He says he is taking part in a trial in the United States involving international drug traffickers," said Christine's lawyer Stephane Goldenstein.
"It's an enigmatic and preposterous letter in which he pretends to be an undercover agent," he continued.
"He adds: 'When you read this we will no longer be French citizens, but American residents living under new identities.'
"He gives instructions to friends to gather his things and recover money and kitchen appliances."
Goldenstein said the letter was type-written without the spelling mistakes that Xavier often made in emails, and added the family was not convinced it came from her son.
"His mother is convinced he is innocent," he added.
Ronsin's investigating team has been reinforced by several dozen specialist officers. The manhunt continues.