Updated March 9, 2010
Treiber Police Photo
Awaiting trial for murder, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Treiber goes on the run and makes the police look like idiots.
Before the invention of television, head hunters rode on horseback into dusty towns and in their saddlebags were the wanted poster for the man they’d gone to find.
Today, a head hunter is a cop in a fast car with an earsplitting siren and a rotating red light, or he is cop in a helicopter equipped with infra-red camera equipment that turns night into day. And, today, because of 24/7 breaking news reports on television, the wanted poster has become obsolete because now we know the face of a man on the run like we know our own.
This became the case with the man on the picture above – Jean-Pierre Treiber – who was on the run from prison where he was awaiting trial for the kidnap and murder of two young women.
So familiar had become his face that his marked squint was even being targeted by stand-up comics and talk show hosts.
But Treiber’s story is far from something to laugh about.
Two is company; three is a crowd
It was only 48 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, November 1, 2004, in the region of Burgundy, southeast of Paris. It was All Saints Day and a public holiday in most of Europe and the French actress Géraldine Giraud, 36, was spending the long weekend in the vacation cottage of her showbiz parents, the actors Roland Giraud and Maaike Jansen, in the Burgundy village of La Postolle (pop. 138).
The Girauds’ and their daughter were looked on as “locals” by the villagers, the Postollieès and Postolliers, and their privacy was respected. Paris with its glamour and glitz, and beautiful and wealthy celebrities, was only 70 miles away, but to the villagers, sturdy country folk, it might just as well have been on the other side of the Atlantic for all they cared. They lived uneventful lives which was how they wanted it to be. In fact, the last time the region had been spoken of for a reason other than its splendid wines and delicious escargots de Bourgogne – garlic-buttered snails cooked in their shells – had been in 1946 when the serial killer Dr. Marcel Petiot, a local son, was guillotined in Paris for the murder of 26 people.
Whatever the Girauds did when at the cottage was therefore never something that the locals discussed, not among themselves and certainly never with the media; the Girauds knew that none of their neighbors would be sitting in a tree with a telescopic camera to snap them having a dip in their pool or entertaining their show business friends over a long weekend.
That All Saints Day weekend was no exception. The neighbors knew that Géraldine was at the cottage. They saw her grey Peugeot 206 in the driveway, but who she had staying with her was her business, they thought.
Géraldine Giraud was indeed not alone at the cottage. She had brought along another young woman, the 32-year-old Katia Lherbier, an aspiring singer. There were people in the show business world who also would have described Géraldine as “aspiring”. Despite her parents’ fame on the French movie scene, she had appeared in only three movies, but she was keeping her hand in with dubbing work.
On that Monday morning of the long weekend, the two women stayed indoors.
At one o’clock Katia, using her cell phone, called her older sister who lived in the town of Sens, also in Burgundy and a few miles from La Postolle. The sisters had planned to go to the movies that afternoon - La Postolle did not have a movie theatre, so they were going to go to the one in Sens - but Katia was cancelling the rendezvous. She was still in La Postolle, she said, and would be returning to Sens only the next day. They would go to the movies later that week.
At 8.30 p.m. Géraldine’s cell phone rang. A friend was calling her. Géraldine told the friend that she was on the road, driving to Sens for dinner. Suddenly, the phone went dead. The friend called Géraldine’s cell number again, but there was no reply and she decided that she would call again, but only the next morning. The following morning she did and again there was no answer. The landline telephone in the Girauds’ cottage also remained unanswered.
The long weekend ended.
On Tuesday morning Géraldine’s friend called again but when her call was still not taken, she called the Girauds’ landline which also still remained unanswered. Katia’s cell also remained mute.
In the course of the day the two women’s families became concerned. It was not in the character of the two not to keep in touch. The following day Roland Giraud went to the police in Paris and completed form 12815-01 declaring his daughter and her friend missing.
Immediately, Géraldine’s life and lifestyle became prime-time television news and it filled the front pages of the gossip media. The young woman was a lesbian and so was Katia.
It was only two weeks previously, on Thursday, October 14, that the two had met. Géraldine had snapped Katia away from another woman, an older woman named Marie-Christene Van Kempen. The latter was Géraldine’s maternal aunt. A former opera singer she was giving singing lessons in Sens where she lived. One of her pupils lived - or rather as Van Kempen would say “boarded” - with her. The pupil was Katia Lherbier. Once, having introduced her pupil to her niece, she had to step back to watch the two young women fall in love, and to accept that they were going to spend the long weekend together in the tranquility of La Postolle.
Thus, the long weekend over, and neither the aspiring actress nor the aspiring singer giving any sign of life, had they perhaps fled from the wrath of a jilted Van Kempen? Or from the accusing eyes of Géraldine’s family; Van Kempen was, after all, the sister of Géraldine’s mother.
Or, had they slipped away to a place even quieter than La Postolle to cement their relationship? Géraldine’s car was missing too, so it was plausible that they had set off by car for some secret destination. It did not take the police long to verify all the outgoing and incoming calls of Géraldine’s cell phone and therefore to know that she had answered that final 8.30 p.m. call from the quiet, winding, 3-mile long road between the Burgundy village of Armeau (720 inhabitants) and the Burgundy town of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne (5000 inhabitants). Dr. Petiot had been Mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne before he had moved to Paris there to begin his killing spree.
As is the procedure, the police began to check whether Géraldine and Katia’s credit cards were being used. They were.
On that Monday, November 1, their cards had been used to withdraw money from the cash distributor at the Villeneuve-sur-Yonne branch of Bank Crédit Agricole. The transactions were registered at 9.50 p.m. In other words, just one hour and 20 minutes after the call to Géraldine’s cell phone had abruptly ended. A spy camera was focused on the cash distributor and at 9.50 p.m. it had captured a man at the machine; he was rather tall, slender and had wispy fair hair.
The next day, Tuesday, November 2, the two cards had been used again for money withdrawals, but in Paris, 70 miles away. A spy camera had again photographed a rather tall, slender man with wispy fair hair at the cash distributor at the time that the money was being withdrawn.
On Monday, November 8, the card had been used again and spy cameras had again captured the user; a rather tall, slender man with wispy fair hair. He was snapped paying for provisions at a payout desk in a supermarket in Pontault-Combault, 12 miles south-east of Paris. Next, he was photographed walking from the shop, pushing a trolley packed high with his purchases.
Apart from their successes with situating where Géraldine had taken her final cell phone call and tracking the credit card transactions, the police appeared to have made no progress with what was most crucial - finding the two women. But 22 days later, on Tuesday, November 23, the Paris police, working with their Burgundy colleagues, took in for questioning a forest guide who fitted the description of the man who’d been using the credit cards. His name was Jean-Pierre Treiber. The arrest took place at a warehouse in the town of Blandy-les-Tours, close to Pontault-Combault. Treiber was helping out at the warehouse where a friend of his worked. He’d been doing odd jobs there for a couple of months, sleeping in a caravan parked on the site, but, as the friend would tell the police, he had often driven back to his home for a weekend. Treiber’s home was in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne.
The police had already identified Treiber a few days before when he had again used Géraldine’s credit card; he had bought gas from a Paris gasoline station. Checking the gasoline station’s spy cameras they had then seen the same rather tall, slender, fair-haired man having the tank of a battered Peugeot 205 filled. Quickly, the police had found the owner of the car; a woman named Patricia Darbeau. She lived near to the town of Fontainebleau, 40 miles from Paris, and close to the warehouse and the shopping centre. She had not, she said, used the car for quite some time; she had sold it to Treiber but they’d not yet had time to change its registration. She described him to the police as a friend and had directed them to the warehouse.
Treiber, on his arrest, had the credit cards of Géraldine and Katia on him. When he noticed the police interest in the cards, he said, “Oh, so that’s what this is about. They gave me the cards. Said they wanted to disappear and that I could use their cards.” Asked about the cards he described himself as a friend of the Giraud family and said that he had known Géraldine for some years. At that stage the police believed that he indeed was a friend of the Giraud family because he gave them some personal details about the family, which as the police would say, only an intimate of the family could possibly have known. (The police respecting the family’s privacy have not revealed the details.)
He also told the police that Patricia Darbeau, whom he described as his girlfriend, had been present when the two women had given them their cards. Darbeau would deny this. Her story would be that she had no knowledge of the two women, had never met them and had never even heard Treiber mention them. She also denied being Treiber’s girlfriend; she was an acquaintance only, she said.
Two days later, on Thursday, November 25, Treiber was transferred from Paris police headquarters to the jail in Auxerre, another Burgundy town and birthplace of Dr. Petiot. He was held on suspicion of “kidnapping, illegal confinement, theft and fraud.” Friends speaking to the media said that they were flabbergasted; he was, they said, a really nice guy and not a thief, and certainly not someone who would have harmed anyone.
Treiber, incarcerated, the police cordoned off his house in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. It was a modest, flat-roofed, two-story cottage with white-washed walls that stood within a large, untidy garden. There was a rickety shed in the garden.
While one team from Forensics fine-combed the house, another began to dig up the garden. The police were especially interested in the garden because their investigation had also revealed that Treiber had hired a motorized shovel from a hardware store in Sens. He had done so on Wednesday, November 3, three days into Géraldine and Katia’s disappearance and he had again paid with one of the two credit cards. When questioned about it he had readily acknowledged the hiring of the shovel and said that he had to get rid of some shrubs.
In the garden the police found a strip of denim which they thought had been ripped from a pair of jeans, a set of keys to the Girauds’ vacation cottage, a set of keys to Géraldine’s Paris apartment, and her partly-melted cell phone. The objects had not been hidden as such; it was as if they had been dropped - intentionally dropped with the hope that they would quickly be found.
In the shed, among the normal array of gardening tools, the police found a half-used roll of adhesive tape and a half-used roll of electrical wire. Treiber, questioned, acknowledged ownership of the gardening tools, but he said that he had never seen the tape and the wire. Forensics removed all the items for testing for DNA profiles.
At 2.30 a.m. on Friday, December 10, a dark and freezing cold night, the police found two bodies wrapped in a blanket at the bottom of a disused well in one corner of the garden. The bodies were naked and an effort had been made to burn them. Because of the burning, the media immediately drew comparisons between Treiber and Dr. Petiot; the doctor had also burned the bodies of his victims.
Five days later, on Wednesday, December 15, the police issued a statement that DNA profiles had identified the two bodies as those of Géraldine and Katia. The two women had not been raped and neither had they suffered any physical violence, but they had been trussed up with electrical wire and kept silent with adhesive tape. They had died from asphyxiation due to the inhalation of the lethal gas chloropicrin. It is a gas that the Germans used against the Allies in World War I and today it is classified as a chemical warfare agent. An oily and colorless liquid, it must be handled with gloves, and safety glasses are to be worn by the handler. (In France, only farmers and foresters can buy chloropicrin. Farmers use it as a soil fumigant and to kill fungi and soil insects, and foresters use it to kill rodents. It is sold in hardware stores and gardening centers and a dangerous substance register must be signed.)
The police also announced that the same DNA profile had been found on the bodies, on the blanket in which the bodies had been wrapped and on the electrical wire and adhesive tape found in Treiber’s garden shed. A different DNA profile had been found on a hair that clung to the adhesive tape. The two DNA profiles were being matched to those of 70 people, one of them Treiber and another Géraldine’s aunt, Marie-Christene Van Kempen. As the police would point out Marie-Christene Van Kempen was not a suspect, but as she had shared her home with Katia, it was essential that she should also provide a DNA sample.
Where were the two killed? And why were they killed?
The police said that as Géraldine and Katia had not been raped, the murder motive had been theft; someone wanted the car and credit cards.
As for where the two women had been killed, the police said that this was something that they were still unable to say. Géraldine’s car had however been found and it was being tested for DNA profiles. The car had been found on Wednesday, December 8, in the free parking bay of a Paris hospital. An attendant at the parking bay had summoned a tow truck to take the car, thought to have been abandoned as it had been parked there for more than a month, to the Paris municipal car pound.
On Monday, December 20, the Auxerre prosecutor changed Treiber’s indictment to murder.
Their investigation had found that Treiber was in dire financial straits. Not having had a steady job for a couple of years he’d been working as an odd-jobs man earning around $750 a month. He had therefore run up a debt of $1500 on his credit card which had resulted in his bank cancelling the card and putting him on a credit risk register.
Treiber was returned to Paris and incarcerated in La Santé prison. It was in La Santé where Dr. Petiot was guillotined. That formidable killing machine would not however await Treiber. France having banned capital banishment in 1981, the maximum sentence for murder today is life imprisonment, and “life” means that a murderer could walk free after having served 18 years.
In La Santé, Treiber protested his innocence. When he chose to reply to questions, he changed his story often, but never his claim of innocence. He said that he had no idea how the women’s bodies had ended up in the well in his garden. He repeated that he was a friend of the Giraud family. He could not recall ever having seen Géraldine’s cell phone or her set of keys. He said that the adhesive tape and electrical wire were not his. He’d said he’d never even seen it. He would admit knowing Marie-Christene Van Kempen, but just to deny during his next interrogation that he did.
Would not hurt a fly
The year 2004 ended. Roland Giraud interviewed by journalists, spoke in anger of the slowness of the murder investigation. Yes, his daughter was a lesbian. Yes, she had never hidden her sexual preference for women. No, she had never spoken of a man named Treiber. No, he was certainly not a friend, not of Géraldine, and not of the family; they did not know him.
Treiber’s friends on the other hand spoke up in support of him. Hunting companions, asked by journalist to tell them about their tall, blond friend with the big ears and the marked squint, said that he was “always calm and discreet, friendly, a good sort when out hunting, an excellent forest guard, and certainly not a bandit.” Yes, they added, he was short of money, but that was not a crime, was it?
In 1989, at 26 years of age, Treiber, working for a gardening firm in his native Alsace (a French province on the French/German border), had married a young colleague, Marie-Pascale, the daughter of a physician; she was a single mother with a daughter. A year later, having moved to the town of Fontainebleau, south of Paris, Treiber and Marie-Pascale’s only child, also a daughter, was born. Fontainebleau is surrounded by forests and it was there that France’s kings used to hunt, and it was those former royal forests and its rich flora and fawn that had drawn Treiber to the region.
Working as hunting guide for the wealthy owner of a chateau, the Treibers lived well, but when killing animals became something unacceptable and unsociable, Treiber lost his job.
His next employment would be as a gardener when he took up with a couple who were running a small local restaurant.
When the restaurateur, identified only as François V, went off to serve a short sentence in jail for petty theft, Treiber started seeing the woman the man had left behind. Her name was Patricia Darbeau.
Treiber and Darbeau’s love affair ended the Treiber marriage although neither Marie-Pascale nor Treiber took steps to start divorce proceedings. This was in 2003 and while Marie-Pascale and her two daughters remained in Fontainebleau, Treiber and Darbeau set off for Burgundy. Burgundy also has many forests, and again, it were those that drew Treiber.
Working either as forest guard or hunting guide or gardener, even already then as an odd-jobs man, Treiber moved around Burgundy and Darbeau patiently trailed along, and then they finally settled down in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in a small house on a street that dead-ended into yet another forest. After a while the couple began to quarrel and Darbeau returned to Fontainebleau.
Living alone, Treiber got on well with his neighbors and, as they would tell journalists, he was always pleased to lend a hand when something had to be done in their gardens. But it was obvious that he had a financial problem because he had told them that, because of the high price of gasoline, he was unable to drive 30 miles to the town where his teenage daughter was lying ill. (Police have not revealed the daughter’s name or what her illness had been, but Treiber was not totally truthful; it was not Treiber’s biological child who had been ill, but the daughter Marie-Pascale had given birth to before she had met him.)
Marie-Pascale Treiber would perhaps be the one who would describe Jean-Pierre Treiber best. She’s written a book about him (published by l’Archipel in October 2009, titled Ma Vérité – My Truth) in which she wrote of what he was like when she met him: “He was quite fantastic and a very hard worker. He must have weighed between 165 and 170 lbs for his five-foot-nine inches. He did twice as much work as anybody else. He was not an idiot, but dynamic, and never vulgar, and with lots of character.”
Of the break-up of their marriage she wrote that once he had become friendly with the two restaurateurs he changed though. He started to use aftershave and eau de toilette. She wrote that he began to stay out at night. He also was no longer such a good worker because he was “the last to arrive at work and the first to leave.”
“He really lost it,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, March 1, Burgundy, indeed most of France and Europe under snow, the police called in on Marie-Christene Van Kempen at her house in Sens. They had gone to fetch her for questioning.
It was not however the police’s first visit to Van Kempen’s house.
In the week after the disappearance of her niece and Katia, “my student and boarder,” as she had continued to describe Katia to anyone who would listen – the respective families, friends, the media – the police had turned up at her house with a search warrant. On that day they had found a chloroform-impregnated cloth in her cellar. So too a dead cat. Both items they had removed for further examination. Unlike chloropicrin, often called nitro-chloroform, with which Géraldine and Katia had been killed, chloroform, a by-product, is nontoxic if less than 0.34 fluid ounces are inhaled. Had their killer or killers (at that time Treiber was still unknown to them) tested the volume and speed of chloroform’s toxicity on the cat in an effort to know whether it could be a fatal substance if inhaled by a human being?
But the police had allowed four months to pass before taking in Van Kempen and questioning her about the cloth, the chloroform and the dead cat. She replied that the cloth did not belong to her, she’d never used chloroform in her life and she’d never set eyes on the cat. (In France, a non-medical person can get hold of chloroform only by stealing it from medical premises or being illegally given it by medical workers.)
About Treiber, Van Kempen also had something to say. Like with the dead cat, she’d also never laid her eyes on him. She would insist on this even although the owner of a bar in Fontainebleau, the town where Treiber had lived before he set off for Burgundy and where his estranged wife Marie-Pascale and his ex-girlfriend Patricia Darbeau still lived, had gone to tell the police that Treiber, Van Kempen and Darbeau had come to his establishment a few days after the disappearance of Géraldine and Katia had been made public. Why had he waited five months to report the three’s visit to his bar, the police had asked him. His reply was that at the time Treiber, whomhe knew by sight only, had not yet been a suspect in the murder case, and though he also knew Darbeau by sight, he had had no idea that the second woman, a stranger to him, was the aunt of one of the murdered lesbians.
Van Kempen was released. Thirty-one hours after having been taken in, she was free. Not only had the cops believed her, but they had tested the acoustics of her house in her absence to verify whether noise in the house could be heard in those of her neighbors. The reason was that some of her neighbors had reported that angry female and male voices, and thuds and groaning had come from her house that All Saints weekend. The house was soundproof, or at least, as soundproof as an old house could be.
Roland Giraud, asked by journalists about his sister-in-law replied that he had nothing to say. He would in future continue to refuse to speak of her, so too would his wife.
Next, the police took in for questioning another eight people who had contact at some time or other with Treiber. They too were soon released. The police even flew investigators to Poland to question a friend of Treiber who had moved there with his Polish girlfriend. The friend supplied a DNA sample. It would be announced later that his DNA profile did not match the three profiles which had been removed from the bodies, the blanket, and the wire and tape.
The spring of 2005 ended and so did the summer, and then, on Thursday, November 24, yet again a freezing cold day, Van Kempen was re-arrested and charged with “complicity to murder.” Also arrested that day was Darbeau. She too was charged with “complicity to murder.”
The police had changed their minds. They had come to the conclusion that theft was not the main motive for the double murder. The motive was a love triangle: Van Kempen, furious at Géraldine for having stolen Katia, had hired Treiber, an acquaintance if not a friend, to murder the two young women. Darbeau had known of the plan.
In February 2006, Van Kempen again walked free. So did Darbeau. They however remained indicted with “complicity to murder.”
Darbeau had convinced the police that she had never met Géraldine and Katia and therefore could not have been present when they had given Treiber their credit cards and pin codes. Whether they had indeed done so she was not in a position to say, she said, but she preferred to believe in his innocence.
As for Van Kempen, the police had received the results of the DNA tests and hers had not matched the two profiles. As for those two profiles, they did not match Treiber or Darbeau’s DNA profiles either. They were the DNA of two cops on the investigation team.
The indictments against Van Kempen and Darbeau would be lifted, but not until October 2008 when another two years had passed, and despite that three months before that, Marie-Pascale had told the police that her estranged husband had told her of how he had met two lesbians - an aunt and her niece - in the town of Sens. The police would not reveal whether Treiber had given Marie-Pascale the names of the two lesbians, but they did reveal that Treiber had told Marie-Pascale about the meeting in 2004 - the year of the double murder. He had told her in the last fortnight of July 2004, having just then met the two women. She was precise about the month and the year. As she told the police, July 14, a Wednesday, France’s National Day, Treiber had spent in Sens, and it was on that day that he had met the two lesbians. Her certainty about her conversation with Treiber having taken place in 2004 was because within months of him having told her about the two lesbians, the news had broken that two lesbians had been murdered in the village of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne close to Sens.
Therefore, Van Kempen and Darbeau no longer suspects, the police were back with one suspect only: Jean-Pierre Treiber.
Treiber’s trial was set for the spring of 2010, so he had almost another two years of waiting. He was transferred from Paris’s La Santé back to the prison in Auxerre, there to wait for his day of judgment.
At first he was a model prisoner. He was quiet and polite and liked by all. Compensated for his good behavior, he became overseer in the prison’s work atelier where the inmates were making pencils for a manufacturer of small wooden objects whose warehouse was in the town of Bonnard, a few miles from Auxerre.
Time dragged though for this man who loved the outdoors. He became depressed. He spoke little, and certainly not to the warders.
Outside, in the free world of which he so much wanted to be part, his compatriots forgot about him.
On Tuesday, September 8, 2009, an unusually hot day for so late in summer, Treiber was back on prime time TV and on the front pages of newspapers and magazines.
He had escaped.
Hearing of his escape did not raise many eyebrows in France. Each year, half a dozen or more inmates go on the run. An inmate may not return from what the French call a permission – a day or a weekend at home or an afternoon of liberty to attend, for example, a funeral. Another may make a ladder from sheets and escape that way, and, until a few years ago when safety nets were strung across exercise yards, escaping audaciously and glamorously by helicopter, an accomplice lowering a cord from the chopper with which to whisk the inmate to freedom, had happened frequently.
Therefore, with Treiber on the run as well, both the written and the visual media wanted to know whether nothing could then be done to make France’s prisons more humane.
For example, Auxerre’s prison, built in the 19th century, has 183 inmates although it should have no more than 111.
Cédric Labigne, one of its warders and an official of the warders’ union, UFAP, tried to explain on television news how a prisoner could have escaped. He said that at Auxerre there were just 45 warders and that they were unable to cope with the supervision of 183 men, men whose nerves were all stretched to the limit because of the overcrowding conditions of prison life. “We now have two to a cell. Some times even three to a cell. It was inhumane to lock people up like this. And it is inhumane to expect the staff to do their work properly,” he said. He was echoing what other UFAP members had been saying for years.
Official justice ministry statistics seemed to endorse that all was not well in the country’s prisons. They showed that from January 1 to August 19 of 2009, 81 prisoners in French prisons had committed suicide. The figure of 81 was immediately contested by the Paris-based International Prison Observatory (IPO) that monitors jail conditions and prisoners’ rights in France. The IPO claimed that 88 prisoners had killed themselves in jail in that period. It also gave the figure for 2007 as 96, and that of 2008 as 115.
Justice-Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie, aware that French prisons holding 62,000 men and women in a nationwide prison capacity of 51,000, were among the most overcrowded in Europe, admitted that something had to be done. In a first step she announced that from early in 2010 prisons would be equipped with anti-suicide “kits.” In such a kit would be tear-proof bedding and single-use paper pajamas to prevent cell hangings because those account for 90 percent of prison suicides.
She would also file a motion in parliament in the month that would follow Treiber’s escape that there should never be more than one inmate per cell. The motion would be adopted after only one debate but, as critics would then point out, before it would be possible to implement such a rule more prisons would have to be built. And until then the number of suicides would undoubtedly continue to rise. So too the number of escapees.
On the run
Treiber’s escape was, if not glamorous, then certainly audacious.
He had escaped in a large cardboard box.
The escape scenario resulted in many red faces, red faces not only at the prison, but also at the Ministry of Justice.
The story was that on that Tuesday morning, Treiber had gone to the atelier as usual and at10:30 he had joined his fellow inmates on their coffee break when he had spoken of how he would be seeing his lawyer that day. He would therefore, as he said, not be returning immediately to the atelier. During the day whenever a warder had asked the other inmates where Treiber was, one of the inmates, a man named Flavien Cosson, who was serving 20 years for the murder of his girlfriend, explained that Treiber was in consultation with his lawyer. It was not until 7:30 that night – seven hours having gone by – that the warders, on doing their habitual end-of-day head-count, had realized that Treiber had made a runner. At first Cosson had denied having assisted him, then he had confessed; Treiber, equipped with a set of warm clothing and a few objects with which to keep himself clean and neat, had climbed into one of the boxes destined to be driven to the warehouse in Bonnard, and he, Cosson, had covered that box along with all the other pencil-filled boxes with thick industrial cellophane. The boxes had then been fork-lifted onto a waiting truck and were driven off to the warehouse. (Cosson now risks having a couple of years added to the 20 he is already serving.)
At first the police could not work out where exactly between prison and factory Treiber had bid his box and the truck farewell, but the driver and his mate soon admitted that they had pulled up at a highway café close to the factory for a bite to eat and something to drink, and that, on their return to the truck, they had seen that there was a large hole in one of its canvassed side panels.
The factory stood on the edge of a forest, the 45-mile long forest of Orthe, and the police presumed that Treiber, a man of the forest, had descended at the café and had headed for the trees.
On the morning after Treiber’s escape, more than a hundred police and gendarmes (militarized police who fall under the Ministry of Defense) began a search of Orthe forest. Treiber was however not to be found there and a mocking media pointed out that with a day and a night to his advantage he could already have booked into a hotel in any of the countries on France’s eastern border.
But Treiber was still in France as he manifested by sending a letter to the weekly Paris-published news magazine, Marianne. He had posted the letter on Monday, September 14, seven days after his escape from prison, and he had posted it in the town of Monéteau (pop. 3,826) only four miles from Auxerre and 20 miles from Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. He wrote in the letter, which the magazine published, that he had not gone on the run, he was only reclaiming what the two women’s real murderers had taken from him: His freedom. He described himself as having been close to suicide in jail, and he promised that he will be turn up for the opening day of his trial. But until then he will remain a free man. He had enclosed his prisoner’s card bearing the number 13855 with the letter.
Treiber was to write more letters, each one posted in a town a little closer to Paris. He was obviously making his way to the capital. In one letter written to Blandine Stassart, a woman prison visitor with whom he had fallen in love (and apparently she with him), and addressing her as Hartzala – “little heart” in Alsatian – he wrote lyrically of the beauty of nature. (Alsatian is close to German which Treiber, though he was a non-achiever in school, speaks fluently.)
He also wrote of a “little old lady” who had given him some tomatoes although she had obviously recognized him.
And he wrote about overhead helicopters, and having seen newspapers with his photograph splashed on the front page when he’d gone to post her a letter. “I did not hang around,” he wrote.
At the home of his “little heart” police found 152 letters he had written her from prison. In one he told her that he will, in the fall, see her in the forest of Bombon south of Paris and close to Fontainebleau where he had once lived. He will, he wrote, carve a large red heart on a tree and when the time came she should leave letters for him under that tree and he would leave some there for her.
Police immediately proceeded to the forest and soon they found a tree with a large red heart carved into its bark. On Friday, October 9, a warm and sunny day, 150 police and gendarmes in camouflage clothing began to stake out the forest, hiding in trees and under fallen trunks and in the forest’s numerous small caves and coves. Night fell and still they were waiting for Public Enemy No.1, as the media had begun to call Treiber. There were even police in helicopters with infra-red equipment aimed down onto the forest, circling overhead as if in a war zone.
Then, towards 9 p.m. a car with two passengers – a man and a woman – drew up. The couple started to make love and the police and gendarmes watched, unable to step from their hiding places to move the two amorous lovers along. After a frustrating 45 minutes, the car finally drove off.
Soon afterwards, a man came walking towards the tree, but suddenly he stopped and cocked his head to one side as if he was listening to the silence of the night. Maybe in that silence he had heard a twig snap or maybe he felt the tension of the men hiding all around the tree, but he turned on his heels and ran away and before any of the police could run after him, he had vanished.
The man was obviously Treiber.
Not even trying to explain how they could possibly have failed to catch him on that day, the police would only say that they were certain that he was not hiding in the forest itself. He was, they said, hiding with someone who lived somewhere close to the forest.
More the police would not say, but a Paris newspaper printed two photographs of a man casually dressed in jeans, open-necked shirt and windbreaker walking along a street. The photos had been taken by a spy camera on that street.
The newspaper did not name the town or city where the photographs were taken, and neither had it explained how the photos had come into its possession. But the police immediately announced that they had launched an investigation to find the mole among their ranks, because they believed that only they knew of the existence if those photographs.
Meanwhile, Treiber remained on the run. His family and friends said that him being a man of the forests, as long as there was a forest left in France, he would remain free.
Roland Giraud, unable to put closure to the murder of his daughter, wanted to know how the police could be so incompetent. He also said that if anything proved Jean-Pierre Treiber’s guilt, then it was his escape.
As for Marie-Pascale Treiber, in an interview in the Paris-based weekly VSD of 16/22 September (2009), she predicted that Treiber would never be seen again.
She said: “He is neither a serial killer nor a dangerous madman. He is without doubt a most knowledgeable forester. He knows every plant that there is and he can identify every bird’s song. It is revolting what has been written about him. He is not a halfwit. I think the way he escaped proves this surely.
“He was not a good husband or father. He was even a bad father. But being a husband and a father was difficult for him because he loved nature so much. We must have been a kind of prison for him.”
She said that he knew the forests of his native Alsace province well and as there were still many World War II German shelters and bunkers (Nazi Germany annexed Alsace during the war) in those forests, they would be a perfect setting to play “catch me if you can” with the police.
His trial remained scheduled for Monday, April 19, 2010. It would go ahead with or without him in the dock.
Crime reporters were writing that Treiber would no longer be in France; it made sense, they wrote, that he would have found someone in the milieu – criminal underground – who would have given him a fake passport. He could therefore be in just about any place on earth.
The police remained characteristically mute. And they continued to look like blunderers. “Tell us, what do you guys do all day?” the media asked.
Then it was Friday, November 20, and the day was ending but the office of Brice Hortefeux, France’s Minister of Interior, called a press conference. The Minister was experiencing a bad patch in his career because of a racist remark he had made – he had said that one man of color was alright but that several caused a problem – so the journalists thought that he wanted to again explain that he was not a racist. But to their surprise, he wanted to talk about Treiber.
Said the Minister: “I wish to announce that Monsieur Jean-Pierre Treiber was arrested this afternoon.”
That afternoon at 4:25, France’s special intervention police, RAID (Recherche, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion - Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deference) had burst into a one-room apartment in the town of Melun, 30 miles south of Paris, and there they had found Treiber lying on a mattress on the floor.
He had been on the run for 74 days.
Certainly not Blunderers
Treiber behind bars yet again, the police no longer remained mute; they started to talk, they told their side of the story. Blunderers, they said, they certainly were not.
No sooner had Treiber escaped from Auxerre’s prison than France’s BNRF police (Brigade Nationale de Recherche des Fugitifs) that seek fugitives, began tapping the telephones (landline and cell) of the various members of his family, his known friends and former colleagues, and of men who had been in prison with him but had served their sentences and had been released. The BNRF also began staking out the homes of those they thought would be most inclined to give him shelter.
For a month the BNRF patiently watched and listened, but there was no sign of Treiber.
One friend the BNRF kept an eye on was a man named Michel Huys.
Huys, 57 years old, and Treiber had become buddies when they had worked together as forest guards during Treiber’s Fontainebleau days. Although Huys did not have a police record, at Treiber’s initial arrest in November 2004, he’d been among the seven people the police had taken in for questioning having suspected that he could have been involved in the murders of Géraldine and Katia. He still lived in the Fontainebleau region, on a small rented farm in the region of Fontainebleau. With him lived a woman, identified only as Marie-Thérèse F.
Huys had two friends. One was named Christian Top. He was a 56-year-old former security van driver, who, having been the victim of a hold-up, had taken early retirement. He had never clashed with the law. And he had never met Treiber. The other friend was named Régis Charpentier. He was 53 years old and he had indeed clashed with the law; he spent a total of 20 years in prison for violence and pimping. And he did know Treiber; in fact, they used to be great friends and used to go drinking together. Both Charpentier and Top lived in small towns close to Fontainebleau.
The police thought that if Treiber was going to turn to friends for help then he would turn to Huys and Charpentier, and the first clue that they were not mistaken was when a resident of the small town of Bréau, also in the Fontainbleau region and bordering a forest, reported having seen Treiber walk along one of the town’s streets. Discreetly, the police put up a spy camera on the street, and sure, Treiber was filmed. As discreetly, the police handed two stills from the film to a Paris newspaper hoping that their publication would “smoke out” the fugitive. (There had therefore not been a mole in the police force, but the tactic had not worked because after the publication of the photos Treiber was not filmed again.)
However, with confirmation that Treiber was in the region, the BNRF put tracking devices on the cars of Huys, Charpentier and Top. It was something that took some time to accomplish because the cars were hardly out of sight of their owners.
Then, when it was already November and Treiber had been on the run for more than two months, Charpentier drove to the town of Melun, 10 miles from Fontainebleau where he parked his car and walked off. A couple of days later he was back on his way to Melun and again he parked his car and walked off. Each time he had parked on the same street. When he next pulled up, the BNRF’s men were waiting for him and they saw him go into a seven-floor apartment building. They waited until after he’d left again to inspect the building and saw that one of the mail boxes was overflowing with letters and advertising flyers; the surname on the box did not surprise them - it was Charpentier. From the building’s administrators the BNRF learned that the Charpentier who rented a 5th floor one-roomed apartment was a young woman; she was in arrears with the rent and had apparently abandoned the apartment. (There is a law in France that forbids landlords to evict tenants during the winter months of October to March, so Miss Charpentier had not been evicted.)
On Friday, November 20, Charpentier again drove to Melun, but before he could reach the apartment building, the heavily-armed and masked men from RAID stopped his car. He offered no resistance and quickly admitted that he was putting someone up at his daughter’s apartment - and that someone was Treiber.
The BNRF, deciding that they had to arrest Treiber immediately or he might yet again get away, gave RAID’s men staking out the apartment building, the order to go and get him. Also heavily-armed and masked, and wearing trainer to dull their footfalls, the men crept up the stairs and a few minutes later the door of the apartment gave way under the weight of their huge steel barrier-crusher.
About the moment when RAID rushed into the apartment, guns drawn, a policeman would say: “Treiber was not happy but that was understandable.”
The only resistance he had offered the men was to lift an eyebrow.
At about the same time, RAID arrested Huys and Top. Huys, like Charpentier, was pulled from his car. Top was picked up at his home and from what the police said, he looked “really pleased” and “as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders.”
Treiber, driven to Paris’s police headquarters, replied with “no reply” to all questions, but Charpentier, Buys and Top, driven to Auxerre and locked up in its prison, opened up. They said that Treiber, emaciated, dirty, unshaven, his hair long, and so hungry that he was close to passing out, had turned up on foot on Saturday, October 10, a month after his escape, at Huys’ farm. He had stayed at the farm, hiding in a barn, until Sunday, November 8, when Charpentier had taken him to the Melun apartment. Huys, in dire straits and unable to feed another person, had called in Charpentier, as well as Top, to help out, and eventually Charpentier had taken over completely.
There in the apartment in Melun, Treiber had lived a rat-like existence. The place had no furniture and no stove, so he had to sleep on a mattress on the floor and he heated the tins his buddies brought him on an electrical hot plate.
Apart from Charpentier, Huys and Top, the three women who lived with them were also arrested. So was Miss Charpentier. The four women were however released after 24 hours; under French law it is not a punishable offence to know that a fugitive is being given shelter. In order to be indicted one must actively participate in the harboring of a fugitive which the four women had not done. Miss Charpentier had not even been aware that Treiber was living in the apartment she had abandoned.
Top, Charpentier and Huys were indicted for “harboring and assisting a fugitive” but they too would be released. Top, after his release toldjournalists: “Ididn’t contemplate the risk. When I heard that Huys had Treiber at his place, I immediately took a chunk of cheese and a pot of jam from my cupboard and took it to him. Now I tell myself that I’m going to do time for a guy I did not even know.” Each risks three years in prison and a $68,000 fine.
As for Treiber, he was back under lock and key, incarcerated in a more secure prison, that of Fleury-Mérogis, south of Paris. The police had announced that they were reinvestigating the case because they had “new evidence” against him which needed “further investigation.” The new evidence had come from a former co-inmate of Treiber who had given an interview to the Auxerre daily “L’Yonne Républicaine” while Treiber had been on the run. The man had told the daily that Treiber had told him that he had indeed known Van Kempen and Katia and that after the latter had taken up with Géraldine she had stayed at his house for a few days because Van Kempen had shown her the door. She had then set off with Géraldine. Where they were going, they had not told him.
The year 2009 was over. Christmas had been cold; Paris had been under snow. In Fleury-Mérogis, France’s largest prison with 3800 inmates (men, women and young adults) the days were long and passed slowly for Treiber. He wrote letters to his family and friends and told them that he was unable to live locked up. He wrote that he was going to kill himself. He was offered psychiatric help which he refused.
The men’s section in Fleury-Mérogis is divided into five blocks – D1 to D5. Each consists of a large central domed area surrounded by cells. Cells are either for single occupancy or for three inmates; in order to prevent or at least to discourage homosexuality there are no longer cells for two in French prisons. A cell for one inmate measures 118 square ft., but as that is considered quite large, it can happen that another two inmates are moved in. When this is the case two will sleep on superimposed bunks and the third on a mattress which is removed during the day. Each sell has its own toilet and wash basin; whereas the women have hot water, the men have to make do with cold. Under the cell’s barred window there is an embedded cupboard. A television set can be rented for $95 per month; it is fastened just below the ceiling, rather like those in hospital wards. Inmates are allowed to paste photographs and posters on the walls, and they can switch the light in their cells off when they wish as there is no longer a lights-out time in a French prison.
Inmates can either work or study – or do nothing if they so wish. The work, for which they are paid, can be anything from filling tiny packets with seeds to assembling large cardboard boxes to packaging small spare parts for France’s car manufacturers, Renault and Citroën. The inmates are paid from $16 to $24 a day; half of it is withheld for the day of their release.
In a block’s domed area sit the warders – there are two day teams working 6 hours and one night team working 12 hours. They sit at interphone panels which enable them to speak to an inmate without having to leave their desks. Each block has it own open-air exercise yard, its own disciplinary cells, its own high security cells each with its own enclosed exercise corridor, a medical area and rooms where the inmates can meet with their visitors and consult with their lawyers.
Treiber was in a single cell, alone. He chose not to work. He continued to write to his family and friends that he was going to kill himself. Despite such threats he was not put on suicide watch and his cell was not equipped with the tear-proof bedding and single-use paper pajamas of an “anti-suicide kit.” A warder looked in on him on the hour every hour though.
The first month of 2010 passed. The name Treiber was no longer on anyone’s lips.
On Saturday, February 20, it suddenly was again. Treiber had committed suicide. At 6 o’clock that morning the duty warder had looked in on him through the observation slot in the door of his cell, and saw him lying asleep on his bunk, “like any other morning.” An hour later the warder had looked through the slot again and saw Treiber hanging from the bars in front of the cell’s window. He was beyond resuscitation.
Within 24 hours the police announced that they had closed the “Giraud Case.” It was Treiber who had murdered Géraldine and Katia.
The French media wanted to know how the police could possible have closed the case with so many questions still unanswered. Why did Van Kempen have chloroform in her cellar? Did she know Treiber? Did Treiber know Géraldine and Katia? Who drove Géraldine’s car to Paris? How did Treiber come to have the two women’s credit cards? Was he really so stupid as to have used the cards in less than two hours after the women’s disappearance? Was he really so stupid as to have buried the two bodies in his garden? Would he have been so stupid as to have strewn about some of the two women’s belongings in his garden? Had he ever bought chloropicrin? Where did he spend the first month after he’d made the runner from the prison in Auxerre?
There was also another question. On Sunday, October 11 of 2009, Treiber on the run, a 50-year-old friend of his was found hanging from a caterpillar tractor on the farm where he worked which was close to Fontainebleau. The man had burn wounds on his face and on the soles of his feet, but an anonymous police source, had told the French news agency, Agence France Presse (AFP), that the man had committed suicide. Did this man really commit suicide? Treiber was in the area at the time.
There will now be no answer to any of these questions.
Treiber left a suicide note – one line - scribbled on the outside of a folder in which he kept the letters he had been receiving from his family and friends. He had written: I have had enough of being taken for an assassin and to be deprived of those I love.
Two hundred mourners attended his funeral in the Alsace village of Soppe-le Bas where he was born and grew up. Among the mourners were his parents, his brother, his sister, his 20-year-old daughter, and the last love of his life - Blandine Stassart, his “little heart.” They are all heartbroken at their loss.
Roland Giraud has spoken to the media of his family’s anger and frustration. Anger at France’s legal machine for not having made sure that Treiber could not commit suicide. Frustration at Treiber having escaped justice.
Did Treiber escape justice?