THE trail has taken police from France to Madeira and to the Western Isles. But after four years, thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of detective work, the case appears no closer to being solved.
When Dr Yves Godard left his home in France with his wife and children on 1 September, 1999, he set in motion what was to become one of the great unsolved mysteries of recent times.
It is suspected that he murdered his wife, Marie-France, and his children, Camille, six, and Marius, four. Camille’s skull was recovered in a fishing net from the English Channel three years ago, but her mother and brother have never been found. Nor has the rented yacht they left France in. The search for Dr Godard is still ongoing.
Yesterday, officers from the Gendarmerie Nationale arrived in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, to make fresh appeals for help on a possible sighting of Dr Godard and his children in October 1999. Nearly four years on, they want to find anyone who can add weight to rather flimsy evidence that the trio reached the islands.
Two French colleagues did pursue this possible lead at the time, but the investigation was hampered by what was described yesterday as "international protocols". The French officers ran into problems with the Crown Office over paperwork needed to carry out investigations in Scotland and at one point were held under virtual house arrest.
Commanders Philippe Waxin and Thierry Lezeau of the gendarmerie in Rennes will now be issuing posters and descriptions in the hope of jogging memories.
Northern Constabulary will be helping the French policemen with their inquiries over the next ten days in and around the islands.
Detective Inspector Gordon Greenlees said: "The main reason for the officers being here is to try to get any information they can regarding Dr Yves Godard, and I would appeal to people to cast their minds back to 1999.
"In particular, I would appeal to hotel and guest house proprietors, taxi drivers, employees of harbours, airports, car rental firms or the retail trade to examine the photographs of Yves Godard and his children and to contact Stornoway Police Station if they recall seeing any of them.
"If someone saw a French man and his two children on the island at the time, they may well remember.
"The French police are following a number of lines of inquiry as well looking at the links with Scotland."
The possible Western Isles connection was raised in an anonymous letter sent to French police in 1999, which claimed that Dr Godard was seen boarding a ferry in Lewis with his children. The same anonymous source had earlier claimed the three had been seen in the Isle of Man.
Police have taken the letters seriously while realising the possibility they were written to put them off the doctor’s trail.
"In cases such as these, you really can’t assume anything and have to take all factors into account. At this stage, we cannot rule out anything," said Det Insp Greenlees.
The re-opening of the Lewis appeal is yet another twist in the long-running investigation which has made the fugitive doctor the most wanted man in France.
French authorities have been searching for Dr Godard almost since the family left their home at Caen, in northern Brittany, in September 1999. They suspect he killed his wife and dumped her body in the English Channel.
At around the same time, he disappeared with his son and daughter on the rented yacht Nick, from the port of Saint-Malo.
Dr Godard and his wife were said to have had a fierce row before they left, and the French police say they have evidence indicating that Mrs Godard was murdered at about this time.
Her bloodstains were found in the family’s pick-up truck, which was left abandoned on the quayside. It is not clear, however, what in fact happened to her body.
At the time, a French judge issued an international arrest warrant and launched a murder inquiry.
Dr Godard’s medical practice was reported to have been in trouble and it is also believed that he suspected his wife was having an affair.
Between 2-4 September, the yacht was sited at various locations in the bay of Saint-Brieuc. Then, on 5 September, a dinghy from the Nick was found drifting in the English Channel, off the Breton coast. Eleven days later, a life-jacket from the boat was also found drifting near Jersey, followed, on 23 September, by the discovery of the life-raft, with its tow-line cut, which washed ashore at Lyme Bay, on the south coast of England.
Investigators assumed that these items were deliberately abandoned by Dr Godard to simulate a shipwreck.
The following month, the anonymous letters alleged Dr Godard and his children were seen first in the Isle of Man, then in Lewis, while detectives also followed up a lead that they were seen in Madeira.
More evidence then began to emerge. On 16 January, 2000, a travel bag containing several documents relating to the Godard family was found in the nets of a fishing vessel in the English Channel off the Breton coast.
In June 2000, a child’s skull was dredged up in the nets of a fishing boat in the bay of Saint-Brieuc, later identified as Camille. Another, larger, skull was found at the same time by fishermen who threw it back into the sea.
The discovery of the skulls, only 25 miles off Saint-Malo, where the doctor and children were last seen, suggested that he may have deliberately sunk the yacht, killing all aboard.