Murder in Versailles

Sep 12, 2009 - by Marilyn Z. Tomlins - 1 Comment

the Palace of Versailles

the Palace of Versailles

It took the French government 14 years to bring American expatriate Barrie Taylor to justice for the 1993 murder of her lover's estranged wife. After three trials and three convictions in France for the murder, Taylor continues her fight to be allowed to live freely in the United States.

by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

Thursday, September 30, 1993. It was going to be a quiet day in Versailles, France's "City of Kings." Or so the cops at the local station house told themselves. The trains pulling in from nearby Paris would not be bringing hordes of day trippers to the chateau of Marie Antoinette, France's last queen, as they do at the height of summer. Not that the tourists brought crime to the town, but their coaches did snarl up traffic, and pickpockets were prone to try their luck in front of the palace. It was also a cool, rainy day and the town's street markets would not attract many shoppers. There would therefore be few rogue street vendors to round up.

Boulevard de la République, a street lined with trees and elegant Belle Époque era townhouses, and only a few blocks from the magnificent chateau, was indeed quiet as a small white police automobile, its siren silent, drove up to Number 20, one of six three-storied brick and stone terraced houses. The automobile had four passengers; three uniformed cops and a young man. For the young man, Marc Pavageau, it was his second visit to the house in as many days.

One of the cops knocked at the house’s front door; in France cops and firefighters know never to ring a doorbell, but always to knock in case there is a gas leak inside the property.

On Marc’s previous visit the door had remained closed.

Would it remain closed again?

Marc's mother, Roxanne, an American who hailed from Washington D.C., separated from his father, Philippe, who was French, was missing.

Roxanne Pavageau
Roxanne Pavageau

Or rather, two days previously, on Tuesday, September 28, Roxanne Pavageau had, on setting off for work, told him that she would not return until 5:30 p.m.; she would be having her hair done after work. She had not returned home at all. Home was in the small (Pop. 4,000) commune of Fourqueux, 9 miles (16 kilometers) from Versailles. And she was an English teacher at the private high-school – the Lycée International – in the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 1.8 miles (3 kms) away. (Versailles, Fourqueux and Saint-Germain-en-Laye are all in the prosperous Yvelines county (département), southwest of Paris, half-an-hour by road or rail from Paris.)

The house in Versailles at Number 20 Boulevard de la République that Marc and the cops were visiting the young man knew well. It used to be his rented family-home but since his parents’ marriage had broken up, only his father had remained living there. He did not live there alone though: His lover, a woman named Barrie Taylor (43), lived with him. Like Marc’s mother, Taylor was American.

Marc had been searching for his mother since dinner time that Tuesday. He had phoned friends in Paris to ask whether she was not perhaps with them. No, she was not, he had been told. None had heard from her either for a couple of days.

First on Wednesday morning he had phoned the Lycée International but was told that his mother had not turned up yet; she had been there the previous day, yes. He had also phoned hospitals in the county but none had confirmed the arrival of an American woman. His father was on a business trip in New York, so it was unlikely he would know where his estranged wife would be. Marc had two siblings – Laurent (23) and Elizabeth (21) and both were studying in the United States, so they also would not know the whereabouts of their mother.

Next, Marc had gone to the police.

They had told him that in France the police did not consider someone who had not been in contact with family and friends for such a short period – 24 hours – as missing. (Today there is an exception to this rule; when a child or teenager disappears, the police issue an immediate nationwide alert to the media.)

Thursday morning, officialdom not of any help, and Marc, desperate to find his mother, had set off for Versailles and his father’s house. It was unlikely that his mother would be there but he was looking everywhere. His mother and Taylor had met. The mistress had walked up to the estranged wife on the street one day and the two women had gone to a restaurant where they had finished off a bottle of wine over lunch. They had talked about Philippe; his faults but also his good points.

As the door of his father’s house had remained closed, Marc had returned to the police.

After having explained the family situation to the cops, and 48 hours having passed without any sign of life from Roxanne Pavageau, they had agreed to open a missing person’s file for her. They asked Marc to accompany them to his father’s house; they thought that that would be as good a place as any to start their search.

Approaching the house, Marc pointed Taylor’s car out to the cops: it was parked outside on the street; as it had been on his previous visit.

Taylor was obviously home.


A chilling discovery:

Having knocked at the front door, the cops and Marc waited. The cops knocked again. And again. They banged on the door. Only silence from behind it.

Trained for all eventualities, the police officers peeped through the letter-box slot and looked down a corridor. It led to the house's back door. The door stood wide open. Beyond it was a small overgrown garden. Suddenly, a silhouette of a woman stepped from the garden into the corridor. Immediately, the cops banged against the door yet again. A second later the door swung open and there stood Taylor. As the police would later describe her, she wore brown slacks and a man's shirt and her face was covered in sweat and her hands were speckled with fresh soil. No, she said, she had no idea where Roxanne Pavageau could be, and yes, they could come in, but she was rather busy; she was gardening in the back.

The cops asked if they could have a look around the house. Taylor did not appear to like the idea, but she allowed them and Marc in without a search warrant.

There was no sign of the missing woman anywhere in the house.

Next, the cops asked Taylor if they could have a look in the gardening shed and perhaps in the cellar as well. In France, properties always have a cellar; it's an old tradition from the days when no Frenchman’s home was without a stock of fine wines stored under the house.

The cops and Marc did not have to inspect either the gardening shed or the basement.

As was clear, Taylor had indeed been gardening. She'd been digging; a shovel lay on top of a heap of wet, fresh earth. She had already cleared a space of about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length and 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) in depth. On top of stone steps that led down to the cellar, lay what she probably intended to bury. It was a package large enough to need two blue garbage bags to cover it.

The package was secured with rope.

The cops walked over to it. They motioned to Mark to step back, but the young man remained at their heels.

Rolling back one of the bags, the search for Roxanne Pavageau was over.

So was the life of the mother of three.

Police photo of the garden where Roxanne Pavageau's body was to be buried.

Marc had told several of those he had phoned over the previous two days: “If my mother is in that house her life is in danger.”

He appeared to have been right.

More cops, forensic experts, pathologists, a police psychologist and several photographers arrived at the house; already it was entered in the station house's log book as a crime scene.

Taylor sat slumped in a chair in the living-room, scraggy red hair clung to her forehead; she was still sweating. Agitatedly she fiddled with her clothes, but not a sound came from her.

As the police and Marc had seen, Roxanne Pavageau's head was bashed in; she was dressed only in underclothes and a green t-shirt, the t-shirt she had worn on setting off for work two days earlier. Her hands and feet were tied with electrical wire.

Later, at the station house, Taylor uttered her first words of explanation for what had gone on at the house. "She came at me. She was out of control with rage. She had a hammer! She said she'd come to kill Philippe. Then, she wanted to kill me. It was her life or mine … so I hit her. It was legitimate defense. I didn't want to kill her!"

That was all she said, all she said she could say; blank was her mind to anything else that concerned the previous 72 hours.


Falling in love in the most romantic city in the world:

Compiling Taylor's history was not all that easy; the police had to shift through the information she supplied, separating truth from untruth, while seeking confirmation from their colleagues in the United States.

Taylor was born in Orange County, California, in March 1950 and she was educated at UCLA; she received her bachelor's degree in 1972. In 1982 she married a man named Leland Hewitt, a builder and real estate dealer 30 years her senior in Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco. He had passed away at his home in Topanga Canyon in 1991; his marriage to Taylor had ended in divorce in the 1980s. In an interview in 2000 with Carla Hall of the Los Angeles Times, Taylor said of Hewitt's death: "The fact that I wasn't there was something I will never, ever forgive myself for. I don't think I can find a man that I loved as much."

So where was Taylor when Hewitt died? She was in Paris.

She set off for Paris in 1989. She was 39. She rented a small room and started to learn French. She told those she met that she was a lawyer and had practiced law back home in the United States. She supplied various versions about where she had studied law; this she would also do when replying to police questions. She said she studied at Monterey College of Law – she did attend Monterey College of Law for two and half years and then she dropped out. She spoke of having followed various legal courses in England. "I don't represent myself out to be a lawyer, but I know how to do legal work," she defended her claims in the Los Angeles Times interview. She also claimed that she was a member of Amnesty International.

However, between the time of her marriage in 1982 and her arrival in Paris in 1989, she worked at various jobs. She was the owner of a store in Boulder Creek, California; she helped out at a women's shelter, and once she was manager of a movie theatre in Santa Cruz Mountains. Then, in 1991 and already in Paris for almost two years, she inherited a small trust fund from Hewitt.

But how did she support herself in the expensive French capital in those two years before she was able to draw money from the fund?

The Champs-Elysees at night, an area considered "Pure Gold" for hookers.

The French police said she was a hooker on Avenue des Champs-Elysées. She vehemently denied this; the police told her that they have a list of her regular clients. The Champs-Elysées's best kept secret is that it is pure gold as far as hookers are concerned. Police estimates show that there are between 200 and 300 hookers operating on the avenue. They are known as les marcheuses – walkers: Clad in $10,000 Yves Saint Laurent suits and clutching Prada purses, they walk up and down the avenue in their stiletto Versaces because if they stand still, they can be arrested for soliciting. For a young woman arriving in Paris with nothing but a rucksack full of expectations to live Hemingway and Fitzgerald's way in the most romantic city in the world and then finding that reality is living in one room over a smelly courtyard, to learn that it is possible to earn between $440 to $2,200 – ₤200/₤1,000: €300/€2,200 – from a client (police estimated figures) picked up on the Champs-Elysées, that certainly is a temptation. (Further police estimates show that a hooker can earn up to $7,000 – ₤3,500: €5,000 – a night on the avenue.)

It was at the end of 1991 that Taylor met Pavageau. She met him either on the Champs-Elysées itself or in the avenue’s vicinity.

According to her, they met because she had become lost looking for the Eiffel Tower. She was carrying a map of the city. A passerby – Pavageau – stopped to ask her whether she was looking for a specific place. She said the Eiffel Tower. He pointed to it. The tower at 1,063 feet (325 meters), the highest structure in Paris, looms over the city.

He, also according to her, offered to drive her to the tower. And to buy her a drink; there is nothing more sexually exciting to a Frenchman than a young woman with a street map and a cute accent, and Pavageau was no exception.

Taylor, then a hazel-eyed redhead and elegantly svelte – petite as the French say – at 5 foot 4 and 115 pounds (1.64 meters and 52 kilos) accepted both.

A few months later, in April 1992, she moved into Pavageau’s Versailles house.

Once living with him, Taylor’s life went up in comfort and social status by several notches. Versailles (Inhabitants: 89,000) is a bourgeois town; there, she could watch television on cold winter nights, dine by candlelight in the garden on warm summer evenings. She could take the fast suburban train to the capital to shop for designer purses at Galaries Lafayette department store. And never would she have to worry over where the money for the next month's rent was to come from.

But, Taylor’s new life was not only love and luxuries.

She had to deal with the Pavageau children. And the estranged wife.

The Pavageau children had initially politely tolerated Taylor, but eventually they no longer did so.

Marc would in March 2000 tell the Paris daily Le Figaro about his first meeting with his father’s concubine; in France the people still use the word “concubine” for a live-in lover.

The meeting had taken place in the restaurant of one of Paris’ most expensive hotels, the five-star Royal Monceau.

Said Marc: “She told me that she was a lawyer and that she had just recently lost her husband in an automobile accident. Lies. And never did we have such luxury as the Royal Monceau at home.”

Taylor was dressed to the nines.

Marc’s sibling, Elisabeth, would in the same article speak of a tête-à-tête she had had with Taylor.

“She tried to put herself over as a substitute mother while she was degrading my mom.  She told me, ‘Your mother, she’s the devil’. The expression on her face chilled my blood.  The human instinct for survival came to the fore and I fled. I realized that she was a destroyer,” she said.

As for the estranged wife: After Taylor and Roxanne had finished off the bottle of wine over lunch, whatever promise there had been that day that the two American women would behave in a thoroughly French way with the former wife and the new mistress becoming great friends, it was something that did not happen. The Pavageau divorce was problematic – there were arguments over possessions – and Taylor sided with her man. She was as outraged as he when Roxanne climbed through a window of the Versailles house to recuperate some silverware. And she backed him when he filed a complaint at the local station house for burglary.

The incident had taken place in May 1993.

Roxanne was then only four months from having her head bashed in.



Roxanne Michele Foley met and fell in love with Philippe Pavageau in 1968 in Chicago. Both were students at the University of Chicago:  Philippe was studying for a master’s degree in business administration and Roxanne was majoring in history. She had already passed not only the Foreign Service exam but had also undergone training for the Peace Corps in Hawaii after which she had taught English in Sarawak, Indonesia.

The two – the all-American girl and the charming Frenchman - were married in Washington, D.C.

According to what Ann Barbieri from Reston, Virginia, a friend of Roxanne’s from the time both were in their teens, told, the vivacious “Roxy” “felt a little bit of a fish out of water” once she settled in France, a Frenchman’s wife. Yet, determined to make a success of her marriage, she adapted.

At first Roxanne did not work, but after the birth of Marc she started to teach at the school in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye. She would, in confiding in Ann about how her marriage was no longer happy, say that until she joined the school, she had not been able to remember laughing.

Like her children she also believed, initially, that Taylor was a lawyer. When she and they found out that Taylor indeed was not, the latter was already living in what they still felt was “their” home.

Said Ann of the state of mind her friend: “She missed the beautiful old house in Versailles where she’d lived with her family. When she’d finally left Philippe she’d taken nothing with her. At the time of her death, the questions of what belonged to whom were mostly final. She had been on a retreat the weekend before and felt absolved and supported in the choices she had made.”

Roxanne had a new man in her life – an Englishman.

Her broken marriage she had put behind her.


Taylor starts to remember what had happened:

Barrie Taylor
Barrie Taylor

At first, Taylor stuck to her claim of partial amnesia. French psychologists and neuroscientists accept amnesia, full or partial, as a genuine medical condition caused by a traumatic experience. They also recognize self-deception and shoehorning as genuine phenomena in murder cases. Taylor appeared to suffer, or rather take refuge, in all three. She was not a lawyer, yet she claimed to be: Self-deception. The explanation she was giving for her attack on Roxanne: Shoehorning – she was fitting her own version of the attack into police conclusions. As for her partial amnesia: Normally, memory returns, the French experts say. It may take a few hours, a few months, perhaps years to do so, but it is a condition that can be reversed.

So, Taylor’s memory started to return. Gradually.

She told the police that she could remember that Roxanne had come to the house looking for Pavageau wanting to kill him; her eyes wild, she held an “object” with which she was going to do the deed.

The angry wife, on hearing that her soon-to-be ex was not at home, had then turned the “object” on her.

“She held it above my head,” said Taylor.

In self defense she had sprayed tear gas into Roxanne’s face; she always carried a small tear gas cylinder in her bag for self-defense – many working women who have to use public transport late at night do. Roxanne had sunk to the floor.

Taylor remembered a few more details.

She said that she had then run from the house to a nearby phone callbox and she dialed 17 (France’s nationwide emergency number) to summon the police, but before anyone could reply, she, frightened, hung up. Next, she had run to her car to go and fetch a friend. The friend – a man – had however refused to return to the house with her. She refused to name him; he was married and the father of three children, she said.

That the “object” that Roxanne had threatened her with was a hammer, she remembered next.

“She burst into the living room from the cellar. I don’t remember to have hit her, but I obviously did,” she said.

Why obviously?

Because on returning to the house, she said, she found Roxanne “dead in the corridor near the dining room.”

But she emphasized yet again that she had acted in self defense only.

Next, she remembered that she had gone shopping the next day; she went down to Paris to hand in camera films to be developed.

And she remembered something else. So great had been the shock of having found a dead Roxanne in the house, that she suffered a miscarriage; she’d been pregnant with Pavageau’s baby.

But there was no recall of undressing Roxanne's body, wrapping bin-liners around it, getting the body to the garden and digging a hole. Neither could she remember cleaning up the house to wash away the dead woman’s blood. Or what she had done with the hammer.

Later, for the Los Angeles Times her memory would though serve up a few more details. She would recall returning to the house after her male friend had refused to accompany her.  "I finally went in and as you go up the steps, I saw her lying on the floor. I just started crying,” she told Carla Hall. And she recalled that she had “apparently” had a shovel in her hand when the police turned up, and that she had covered Roxanne's face with a scarf – a silk scarf.

On Saturday, October 2, another cold and rainy day in Versailles, Taylor, having been held for three days at the police station house, was driven to the local Palais de Justice (Court) and handed over to a juge d'instruction (investigating magistrate) – Judge Jean-Marie Charpier. He told her he was placing her under provisional incarceration as a murder suspect. She was booked into Versailles Prison on Rue de Paris, another leafy street, just a block from the Pavageau house.

Under France's 1958 Code of Criminal Procedure, the case, until then classified as a police investigation, had become a judicial investigation.

It would be Judge Charpier's task to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Taylor for the murder of Roxanne Pavageau.

What Taylor might not have known was that it was there in Versailles, on June 17, 1938, on a square outside another of the town's prisons, Saint Pierre Prison, that France's last public execution by guillotine had taken place. A German-born robber, kidnapper and murderer, Eugène Weidmann, had been convicted for the murder of five people; one was the New York dancer, Jean de Koven. Weidmann's dawn beheading had turned into such a manifestation of hysterical excitement – women tried to dip their handkerchiefs into his blood – that the then French president, Albert Lebrun, had banned public guillotine executions. (France abolished capital punishment on October 9, 1981: The last person to be executed by guillotine was the Tunisian-born Hamida Djandoubi, convicted for the slaying of his girlfriend.) It was also in Versailles, and on the same square, that French serial-killer, Henri Désiré Landru, known as the Modern Bluebeard, was publicly executed in 1922 for having murdered 11 women.

Should Judge Charpier find that he had sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Taylor for voluntary “premeditated” homicide – classified as “assassination” in France - and court-appointed psychiatrists found her mentally fit to stand trial, she risked a life sentence. Premeditated is defined in Art. 132-72 of the French Penal Code as: Premeditation is the plan formed before the action to commit a particular serious or major offence.

If found guilty of only voluntary but not premeditated murder, then, under Art. 122-5 she risked a 30-year imprisonment sentence. The article reads: The fact of voluntarily killing another constitutes murder. It is punished by 30 years imprisonment.

However, if Taylor could prove beyond reasonable doubt that she struck down Roxanne Pavageau to defend herself against an unjustified attack and that her action was both necessary for legitimate defense and simultaneous with the attack against her, and there was no disproportion between her means of defense and the gravity of the attack against her, then, also under Art.122-5 of the French Penal Code, she would not be held responsible for her deed. She would in that case receive only a suspended sentence and her victim’s children could demand reparation from her.


Behind bars:

Taylor was transferred from Versailles Prison to Fresnes in the commune of Fresnes, 7 miles (11.2 kms) south of Paris. There, she would await her trial. It was a wait that promised to be a long one; French law is slow and an accused could wait three or four years for his or her case to come to court.

Versailles Prison

Versailles Prison


Versailles Prison – before its inauguration in 1860 the building had been a refuge for homeless women and their children – is not one of France’s major jails. Fresnes – with a capacity of 1444 inmates but holding 1651 (latest Ministry of Justice statistics) – is France’s second largest jail. It was inaugurated in 1898 when it was considered “revolutionary” because of its layout of long blocks instead of the traditional star-shape of prisons: the design of New York’s Riker’s Island was based on that of Fresnes.

While Taylor’s lawyer, Maître Francis Triboulet (in France a lawyer is addressed as Maître), prepared her defense, she watched from her cell window how the days, weeks and months passed. Pavageau visited her, but such meetings were short and because of prison rules, impersonal: she was not allowed to touch him; she could not discuss her case with him, and when he brought her a parcel her guards would hand it over only after they had opened it to examine it for notes, a weapon or pills with which she could commit suicide. She was suicidal.

On Wednesday, April 22, 1998, four years and seven months after Taylor’s arrest, Maître Triboulet successfully petitioned for her release on control order for health reasons. She weighed only 86 pounds (39 kilos) and by then she had tried to commit suicide several times. Under the terms of her control order she was to reside in Paris and report to the police twice a week. Her passport was confiscated.

Dutifully, Taylor reported to the police twice weekly, but on Thursday, December 10, a little over seven months later, she failed to turn up. Instead, she went to the United States Consulate on Place de la Concorde and asked for a replacement passport. As she was to tell the Los Angeles Times, “When the embassy asked, ‘What happened to your passport – lost or stolen?’, I said, ‘It was taken by the police’.” Asked by the consulate clerk what she planned to do about that, she replied that she planned to take legal action against France. The Consulate did not verify whether she was being truthful.

When, in January 1999, the Paris police finally got through the red-tape and reported to the Ministry of Interior that Taylor had made a runner, she was already back in the United States, a fact confirmed to the French government by the U.S. State Department.  In a letter dated February 10, to explain her flight to the French Ministry of Interior, Taylor wrote, "Ms Pavageau lost her life after she broke into my home in a state of rage and tried to kill me. There was no murder. I defended my life.” She was living in Los Angeles and added that she was undergoing medical treatment there but that she would return to France for her trial.

A month later, ignoring her letter, France issued an international order for her arrest. Immediately also, France requested her extradition from the U.S. State Department. Two years previously, on April 23, 1996, France and the United States had signed an extradition treaty. The French authorities knew that the United States government hardly ever extradited a national – France also did not like to do so – but they were not going to let Taylor get away with murder. "She was found in the house. The body was on the premises. She was digging a hole in the garden," said one of the investigating police officers. They had their "corpora delicti."

Despite that Taylor had promised to return to France for her trial, she decided to fight extradition.

She moved to Santa Cruz County.

Next, she settled down in a condominium in Capitola close to Capitola Mall.

To her aid came Professor Anthony D'Amato of Northwestern University. He prepared to appeal to the European Commission on Human Rights based in Strasbourg, France. He wanted France to drop the murder accusation against her. He claimed that her human rights had been violated by the French judiciary. Not only had she been held in prison too long but the conditions under which she had been held were appalling: The interpreter she was given was incompetent, and her medication for depression and anxiety had been taken away from her.

She had also been repeatedly raped. The rape accusation she confirmed in the Los Angeles Times interview. She said she was raped in the showers by the other women; she was raped "with things."

She also claimed that the French examining magistrate had refused to shake her hand. "I do not shake hands with assassins, and certainly not an American," Judge Charpier allegedly had told her.

Taylor might also not have been aware that for security reasons in France a law official, even if only a patrol cop, never shakes the hand of anyone while on duty. Similarly, during interrogation, a suspect, witness or claimant always sits with his/her back right up against a wall, and never is he or she to sit or stand within touching distance of the interrogating law official.

By the time that Prof. D’Amato had become involved with Taylor, Judge Charpier had already decided that he had gathered sufficient evidence to bring her successfully to trial for murder.

Taylor, when informed by the State Department that her trial was imminent, refused to return to France.

The trial opened without her.

Therefore, on Friday, June 23, 2000, almost seven years since Roxanne Pavageau's death, a judge of the Court of Assizes of the county of Yvelines found Taylor guilty of murder in absentia. She was sentenced to 30 years in jail.

The trial, attended by the three Pavageau children, as well as their father, lasted four days and the nine jurors needed only two hours to deliberate her culpability.

The prosecution rejected the explanation Taylor had given the Versailles police on her arrest in 1998 that she hit Roxanne in self defense.

"Roxanne Pavageau was hit 20 times at least, maybe 21 or 22 times. Maybe 25 times. That's not defending oneself. That's murder," a police officer remarked to journalists after the verdict had been given.

Something that Professor D'Amato would tell U.S. journalists at the time might have been interpreted as his agreement. "She didn't just kill the lady, she butchered her. She struck her many times," he said. But he had found extenuating circumstances. He compared her action to that of a battered wife. "You want to make sure they're really dead," he said. "Barrie was totally appropriate in trying to defend herself, but then she went into overkill."

Although the Versailles prosecution team had sentenced Taylor to 30 years, it had failed to establish what exactly had happened between the two American women on the day of the slaughter. It had though, through forensic tests, established that Roxanne had been sitting when most of the hammer blows hit her and that she had been drinking wine. Because of an abundance of blood residue in the house's dining room it was there that the attack had taken place.

On Saturday, November 20, 2003, Taylor was surprised by the arrival of federal marshals at her Capitola Mall home. She was arrested and incarcerated in San Francisco’s Dublin Prison.

There, in Dublin Prison, she would await her extradition to France where she would have to serve her 30-year sentence.

She still had no intention of returning to France.

Accordingly, she would go through four lawyers, and at times she would defend herself, in her fight to remain in the States.

Her first extradition hearing was in September 2005 – two years later – when she appeared before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in the United States District Court of the Northern District of California.

On Friday, October 28, she heard that she had lost her fight; Judge Laporte issued the Certification of Extraditability and Order of Commitment (Extradition Order).

But Taylor would fight on, and two months later, on Thursday, December 1, she filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and a motion for stay of extradition pending resolution of her habeas petition. In her petition she raised the issue of her future treatment in France; she was certain she would not be treated humanely.

On Friday, October 26, 2007, another two years having passed, Taylor, accompanied by U.S. marshals, arrived back in France. The California Court had denied her petition for writ of habeas corpus. She landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport at Roissy, north of Paris. French newspapers reported that she had tried to kill herself during the flight.


Fleury-Merogis Prison

Fleury-Merogis Prison



Taylor was driven straight from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Fleury-Mérogis Prison in the commune of the same name, 16 miles (25 kms) south of Paris. She was to have a new trial. Maître Olivier Morice, the lawyer representing Roxanne Pavageau's three children (Marc had turned 33, Elizabeth 36, and Laurent 38) told journalists, "They (the children) are waiting for her to explain her crime." He added that the three would also like to know who this American woman really was; this woman who had claimed she was a lawyer, when she had in fact lived a “life of charm” in Paris.


Before boarding the plane, Taylor had heard that she had also lost her case against France at the European Commission on Human Rights. Prof. D’Amato had told the commission: “Mrs. Taylor had lost her possessions, her income, and her health has deteriorated. She has lost five years of her life locked in prison.”

No time was lost bringing Taylor to justice this second time. Her trial opened at the Versailles court on Monday, April 7, 2008 – a mere five months and one week after her return.

Again present in Court were the three Pavageau siblings – all three married and parents. Their father was there too. Back in 2000 when the Los Angeles Times had interviewed Pavageau, all that he would say when the paper contacted him in Paris and asked for a comment was, "The very fact that seven years after the tragedy we're still talking about, is, in fact, a tragedy." He added that he would like to know, "Why did Roxanne come by again after having left that house two years before and what happened when Barrie and Roxanne were together to trigger such a tragedy?"

In Court, Taylor gave an explanation why Roxanne had gone to the house.

She had, she said, bumped into Roxanne who had just then stepped from the hairdressing salon where she had had her hair done.

“I told her that I liked her hair. She took my compliment badly. She thought I was being ironic. Then I made some unnecessary sarcastic remarks. I told her that we – Philippe and I – are very happy with the silverware,” she said.

Bursting into tears, she added that she would never be able to forgive herself for having provoked Roxanne in such a way.

Roxanne, she said, had then “surprised her” by suddenly appearing in the hallway of the Pavageau house.

“She had this ‘object’ in her hands. Her face was all red. Her mouth was distorted with anger. Never in my life had I seen someone in such a state,” she said.

Summing up for the prosecution, Chief Prosecutor Anne-Marie Chapelle requested a 20-year sentence. "We still do not know exactly when, how and why Barrie Taylor killed Roxanne Pavageau," she said. She added that the autopsy had shown that Roxanne had not died instantly; it must have taken her at least an hour to breathe her final breath.

Psychiatrists who had examined Taylor had diagnosed her as "hysterical and perverse" and "quick-tempered" and "capable of violent emotional unloading." Roxanne Pavageau, on the contrary, was described by friends subpoenaed by the prosecution as character witnesses – Ann Barbieri was one of them - as someone who had been "optimistic, positive and always wanted to help others."

On Friday, April 11, another jury of nine found Taylor guilty of voluntary homicide. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison. She was driven back to Fleury-Mérogis Prison.

After the trial, Maître Morice said to journalists that Roxanne’s children felt a great sense of relief that their mother's assassin had finally been judged, that she had been found guilty and that she would spend 18 years behind bars. The three had broken with their father.


But Taylor is determined not to do her time:

The 180-hectare Fleury-Mérogis is old-fashioned in that it is star-shaped. It is however “new” in that it was inaugurated in 1964 – the women’s wing dates from 1968 – and it is not only France’s largest prison in capacity (3,800 inmates) but also Europe’s largest in ground area.

Taylor was to share her cell with two inmates. The cell measures 118 sq. ft. (11 sq. meters) and the bunks are superimposed. The cell has a toilet seat and a washbasin and she would have hot running water, something the male inmates do not have.

Like all her inmates, she would be able to shop in the prison shop. She could have her hair done in the prison’s hairdressing salon. She could borrow books from the prison library. Her letters, both those she would be writing and those she was to receive, would not be censored; a 1983 law recognizes the right of unimpeded correspondence for convicted inmates as well as those still awaiting trial. She would be able to have her own radio. And she could watch television in her cell; the prison rented out sets to inmates at a small monthly fee.

If she wished, she might work; inmates did sewing and embroidery, made and addressed envelopes, bound books, and made and repaired toys. But if she should prefer not to work, that was her right. She might however volunteer to help with the cleaning work and cooking.

She could also study; 68 percent of her fellow female inmates would be foreign – Algerians, Angolans, Bolivians, Brazilians, Filipinos, Nigerians and South Africans – and would be studying the French language. "All women arrested at Paris's airports of Charles de Gaulle and Orly, either on smuggling charges or as illegal immigrants, end up here," one of the staff revealed to

And should the French Parliament pass a law the Minister of Justice had proposed, then she would in future receive a monthly benefit of €67 ($106 : ₤54).

But no sooner had the bars of Fleury-Mérogis locked Barrie Taylor in, she dismissed her lawyer whom she found unsatisfactory, and she hired another. Having no intention of serving her sentence – not in France or the States or anywhere else - she was going to appeal. By French law it was her right to do so.


Her appeal:

On Monday, April 6 of this year (2009), a few days short of the first anniversary of Taylor’s second trial, her appeal opened in the Assize Court of Appeal in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris.

Taylor entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. She was bone-thin and her red hair clung to her very pale face. When she spoke, and this was frequently because in France an accused has the right to interrupt the proceedings at any time to question a witness, a lawyer, or any member of the prosecution, even to address a juror or the prosecutor or the judge, her voice was hardly above a whisper. “Squeaky” was how those subpoenaed as prosecution witnesses described her voice.

Immediately, Maître Eric Plouvier, Taylor’s “new” lawyer, demanded that his client’s 2007 extradition to France be annulled. The reason for his demand was that Taylor had not been informed of her right to have contested the extradition. He also wanted her released immediately; her physical condition, he claimed, was not “compatible” with detention.

“If there exists a case where the rights of the accused and the extradition procedure were respected, then this case is surely it,” retorted Judge Philippe Courroye.

Taylor in her many interruptions – these annoyed everyone in Court – repeated her claim that she had acted in self-defense only.

“I remember that the victim came to my house, but I have no recollection of the act. I am innocent of the charge against me,” she said.

Reminded by the judge of the lies that she had told about being a lawyer and a member of Amnesty International, she replied: “I studied law and it was easier for me to have introduced myself to people as a lawyer.”

Crying, she denied claims that had been made by her mother, her brother and his son, and the sons of Hewitt (her ex-husband) at her two previous trials that she was violent and used to attack them.

The Pavageau siblings’ lawyer – it was again Maître Morice – in his final argument spoke of how, when Roxanne’s body was found, it was not Pavageau who was the one who cried, but his brother, the murdered woman’s brother-in-law.

The judge in his summary went through every lie Taylor had told – she had even lied about her age having falsified her passport to make her three years younger – and every version she had given of what had happened at the Pavageau house. He quoted what Ann Barbieri had said in the witness box about her departed friend: She had described Roxanne as “luminous.”  He also said that Taylor’s own family had called her violent.

At 9.30 pm on Wednesday, April 15, nine days later (the Court had adjourned for the Easter weekend) the nine jurors withdrew for deliberation.

Five hours later, at 2.30 am, they returned; they unanimously agreed that Taylor had indeed killed Roxanne willfully.

Taylor’s 18 years sentenced was increased to 20 years.

Judge Courroye in giving the sentence described Taylor as “an inveterate liar” and “violent.”

Taylor was given five days to decide whether to take her case to the Court of Cassation (Cour de Cassation), France’s supreme court of appeal, and a convicted felon’s final resort to have a ruling quashed (casser) or reduced.

She decided that she would indeed take her case to the Court of Cassation.

The Court, originally established in 1790 during the French Revolution to revise convictions pronounced by lower courts, sits from Monday to Thursday in the Palais de Justice complex on the Ȋle de la Cite, one of the two islands in the Seine in central Paris.  The Court is made up of a presiding judge called “the president” (président) and a team of counselors (conseillers) and magistrates (magistrats).

In 2008 the Court of Cassation heard 40 cases. Of these cases, the original ruling had stood for exactly half.

Such a hearing is not a retrial because the felon’s guilt has already been established.

The average wait for a case to be heard is 118 days.

Should the “Quashing Court” as the Court of Cassation is nicknamed confirm Barrie Taylor’s 20 years (the sentence cannot be increased because she has already been judged) she could always again take her case to the European Commission on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the French Parliament has agreed on another proposal from the Minister of Justice: For France’s prisons to be refitted.  All will be. The cost is expected to be €400 million ($632 million: ₤320 million).

However, the refit is only to commence in 2012.

Taylor, with a little bit of luck, might then be back in the United States.

As she has already spent over 6 years and 4 months – from October 1993 to May 1998 and from October 2007 to today – in prison in France, as well as 4 years – from November 2003 to October 2007 – in prison in the United States, a total of 10 years and 4 months, she could be paroled by 2012. She would however, as a convicted felon, be forbidden under a European Union law of ever setting foot again in France and any of the union’s other 26 countries which includes the United Kingdom.

But she could return to live happily ever after in California.

Roxanne Pavageau, on the other hand, will remain dead.

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1 comment on "Murder in Versailles"

oposum72 Apr 7, 2014 · Log in or register to post comments

After reading the very well investigated, and extremely capturing report, MARYLYN Z.TOMLINS wrote back in 2009 about the murder in Verailles, I must add my thoughts and impressions on this article! Well,not only has Marilyn done an extraoridinary resarch on what went on at the time in France, but also, she had the talent to wrap the story up, in a text, that really gives suspense to the reader! Eventhough, the story is very tragic, reading all those well researched details made it of a comparable suspense-level of good old Agatha Christie stories...only that this one is based on true facts...I also like, the fact, that Miss Tomlins teaches  the reader between the lines,about typical French differences tfrom  the U.S .law, such as, the accused person can interfare anytime, to be heard at a trial, ..or that French houses,almost all (built after 1902) have a cellar...and very true again: With the purpose of keeping good wine at a perfect tempersture!)

It is also true, that the French still call a mistress, either "concubine", or "maitresse"...I have hardly ever read such a well researched article, and I'd like to "féliciter" Miss M. Tomlins for her profound, 100% authentic research!! Bravo!  Amicalement! Caroline


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