Mother on trial for murder of 8 babies in France

Dominique Cottrez feared the babies were the result of an incestuous relationship with her father. Picture: AP
Dominique Cottrez feared the babies were the result of an incestuous relationship with her father. Picture: AP
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A FRENCH woman has gone on trial accused of suffocating eight of her newborns, after she told investigators she feared they were the result of a long, incestuous relationship with her father.

Dominique Cottrez, 51, stands accused of multiple counts of first-degree murder of minors. She faces life in prison if found guilty by a jury in the northern city of Douai.

The worst infanticide case in modern French history stunned the country when the bodies were discovered in and around Cottrez’s village home in 2010.

Leonard Meriaux, who bought the property from Cottrez, was digging in the garden and discovered a rubbish bag containing the remains of an infant. When he summoned the police, they found the body of another newborn. A few days later, they found more bags in the garage, with six additional corpses.

Police contacted the house’s previous owners, and quickly discovered the horrifying explanation: Cottrez confessed to secretly bearing and then killing eight babies, saying she feared they were children of a relationship with her father. Her lawyers are expected to argue she was a victim of rape and incest, and ask for a lesser sentence.

Cottrez’s obesity appeared to hide the pregnancies, which went unnoticed by her husband, children, neighbours and colleagues – and even doctors at a nearby hospital.

Dozens of forensic and psychiatric experts, police investigators and witnesses, including her husband, daughters and siblings, are scheduled to testify.

Cottrez, a withdrawn, secretive nurse’s aide, told investigators she had been raped by her father, first when she was eight and repeatedly through her childhood and teenage years, according to judicial documents. She later entered a long, incestuous relationship with him as an adult, including after she married, and said it became consenting. She even said she was in love with her father more than she was with her husband. Her father died in 2007.

From one interrogation to another, police went from surprise to stupor. Cottrez first admitted killing the two infants found in the garden. Then she herself informed the investigators that several other bodies were in the garage, but she didn’t know how many exactly.

She told the investigating judge she had never used contraception or had an abortion because of a phobia of doctors. She also said she didn’t keep the babies because she was afraid they were the results of her incestuous relations with her father. She said the killing had become a “means of contraception”.

She said she told her father of the eight pregnancies and the eight murders, and investigators believe he could have helped her hide some of the bodies.

The death she described the most clearly was the first one, in 1989. She said she smothered the baby boy with sheets, placed him in a rubbish bag that she had prepared in advance, and put the bag in her wardrobe.

The second killing happened when she was hospitalised for an epilepsy seizure. She said she gave birth in the hospital toilet, strangled the child, wrapped it in plastic sheeting and towels, placed it in the closet of her hospital room, then took it home, hidden in her garment bag.

Her memories are blurred for the later births and deaths. The last infanticide was in 2000.

Her husband and daughters said they noticed foul odours in various parts of the house, but thought they came from sewage, or their dog, or even their father’s feet.

The verdict is expected next Thursday.