The Ogress of the Ardennes: parents of murdered woman to face murderer
Face to face with the The Ogress of the Ardennes: 30 years after their daughter Joanna Parrish was murdered in France, her parents will appear in court to confront the woman who lured her to her death
Today, two elderly grandmothers — one British, the other French — will come face-to-face, a few feet apart, across a drab courtroom in the suburbs of Paris.
The confrontation between Pauline Murrell, now 78, and 75-year-old Monique Olivier will be charged with emotion. It is a showdown Mrs Murrell and ex-husband, Roger Parrish, who will be alongside her, have spent 33 years fighting for, and prayed they would live to see.
From the moment they take their seats — Olivier in the dock, protected by a bullet-proof screen; the Gloucestershire pensioners diagonally opposite her, on a bench reserved for the families of her victims — all eyes will be fixed on them.
Everyone crammed into the chamber —from the red-robed judge and 11 jurors, to the battery of lawyers and the phalanx of journalists — will attempt to read the nuances behind the glances they exchange.
That is, if Olivier can summon the chutzpah to raise her greying head and gaze across at Mrs Murrell and Mr Parrish, 80.
Monique Olivier is on trial for alleged crimes that include complicity in abduction, murder and rape of Joanna Parrish, in 1990
Last week, Monique Olivier admitted her role in the murder of Joanna Parrish, luring her into a van, driving her to a lonely riverbank and remaining at the wheel as her husband — serial killer Michel Fourniret — raped and strangled her
The confrontation between Joanna’s parents, Pauline and Roger, with Monique Olivier will be one charged with emotion. They have been fighting for over thirty years for the truth
Last week, she admitted her role in the murder of their 20-year-old daughter, Joanna Parrish, luring her into a van, driving her to a lonely riverbank and remaining at the wheel as her husband — serial killer Michel Fourniret — raped and strangled her.
The so-called Ogre of the Ardennes and his Ogress accomplice had arranged to meet Joanna, a Leeds University student on a teaching secondment in the scenic Chablis-producing town of Auxerre, on the pretext that they wanted her to teach their son to speak English.
Level-headed and cautious, however, she wouldn’t have accepted a lift with a strange man, on that May evening in 1990, but for the reassuring presence of his wife. Of that her parents have always been sure. To their regret, they were deprived of seeing Fourniret brought to justice for her murder.
He belatedly added Joanna to his list of seven admitted victims in 2018; but he died in prison three years later while awaiting a fresh trial.
Olivier is also serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 25 years, and will surely die behind bars, too. But this new prosecution — for helping her husband to kill Joanna and two other girls — has provided her parents with some consolation.
So, today, they have courageously agreed to take the witness stand. Much as Olivier might like to forget her chilling past deeds, she will be forced to listen as they describe their bright, free-spirited daughter and remind her of the unending torment she has caused them by delivering Joanna to her brutal end. Patrick Proctor, Joanna’s boyfriend at the time, is also expected to give evidence today via video link.
Now in his 50s, Mr Proctor has never spoken publicly about the murder. By grim chance, however, his relationship with Joanna was a key factor in the attack.
He was then studying Russian in Czechoslovakia, and she advertised her services as an English tutor to raise the fare to visit him there. When Fourniret spotted the ad in a local paper, he seized his chance and fixed the fateful rendezvous.
The drama of this showcase trial — the denouement of a grisly saga that began with the Ogre’s first (known) murder in 1987 — has already captivated France.
It began on the opening day, last Monday, when Olivier waived her right to avoid being filmed and posed nonchalantly in her glass box as dozens of cameras whirred. Asked why she allowed herself to be filmed, the Parrish family’s lawyer surmised she was ‘proud’ of having been one half of France’s most notorious couple.
The so-called Ogre of the Ardennes and his Ogress accomplice had arranged to meet Joanna, a Leeds University student on a teaching secondment in Auxerre, on the pretext that they wanted her to teach their son to speak English
Last week, Joanna’s parents contemptuously dismissed Olivier’s appeal for absolution. ‘I can’t imagine that any mother would be able to live with themselves,’ Pauline told a TV reporter
The wretched product of a domineering father and an alcoholic mother, Olivier was first married to a driving instructor, for whom she worked as a secretary.
When he decided to become an artist, she moved with him to the French Riviera. But she told the court he wanted her to have sex with other men and tried to drown her in the bath. After she left him, in the mid-1980s, she fell into the even more evil arms of Fourniret, who was already in prison for sex offences when she answered his lonely hearts ad.
In 133 letters exchanged before his release, they struck a macabre pact: he would kill her first husband if she satisfied his lust for virgins. Within weeks of his release, they had abducted and killed their first young victim. The court has heard how Olivier performed a plethora of nauseating functions on the kidnap missions.
Approaching the girls; pretending to be lost or needing a doctor for their toddler son (who they sometimes took on their virgin hunts); helping to drug victims; guarding them, oblivious to their pleas for mercy; even examining them to verify their chastity.
As Olivier confessed to these unspeakable crimes after Fourniret was arrested in 2003, and admitted to them again last week, the purpose of this trial is not to decide whether she was complicit. The jury must assess whether, as she insists, she acted reluctantly under his malign influence and deserves to be remembered as a pitiable stooge.
Or if — akin to a Rose West-like figure — she willingly participated in the murders for her own gratification, as the prosecution claims. From the moment they learned of her role in Joanna’s murder, Mrs Murrell, who worked in Tesco before her retirement, and Mr Parrish, a former Land Registry civil servant, have believed the latter.
‘Without her, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did,’ Mrs Murrell has said. ‘That vile woman didn’t respect people’s children. I blame her for everything.’
A picture taken in 1990 of Joanna Parrish (L) and her brother Barney in Paris
A 1992 photo of Monique Olivier, who fell in the arms of a serial killer with whom she struck a macabre pact: he would kill her first husband if she satisfied his lust for virgins
For a shamefully long time, the bungling French police failed to link Fourniret with Joanna’s murder. As she began spilling his sordid secrets, however, Olivier described how they had abducted and killed an unnamed British woman in Auxerre, where Joanna then worked at a school. It could only have been her. Yet prosecutors still chose not to include her case with the seven others.
Despairing that no one would ever be brought to account, in 2010 Mrs Murrell wrote a three-page letter to Olivier in prison, entreating her — ‘as one mother to another’ — to ‘re-examine your conscience and tell me the truth’. Her admirably restrained missive was met with silence.
‘Her lawyers said it [the letter] was a trick, that it wasn’t proper, and I was upset about that,’ Mrs Murrell said last week. ‘It wasn’t a trick, it was heartfelt.’
She and Mr Parrish remain close and have fought the 33-year campaign side-by-side, often travelling to France to seek new clues.
Both have spoken about the devastation of losing their daughter. After Mrs Murrell read the autopsy report, she says she urged him not to look at it, but he felt compelled.
Last week, those of us in court listened in disbelief as the details, too shocking to describe here, were recited. Mr Parrish has also alluded to the devastating effect Joanna’s death had on her younger brother, Barney, then aged 17.
‘He saw her as a guiding light and was a lost soul… he didn’t talk about it for months,’ he said.
Last week, Joanna’s parents contemptuously dismissed Olivier’s appeal for absolution. ‘I can’t imagine that any mother would be able to live with themselves,’ Mrs Murrell told a TV reporter. ‘And now she’s pushing the victim bit.’
Having listened to Olivier’s self-pitying litany of excuses over the past week, nor does this reporter. A Belgian prosecutor who interrogated her says he only saw her cry once, when he took her on a fruitless hunt for bodies that she and Fourniret had buried.
She wept not for the dead girls — but because her handcuffs were too tight. It will be telling to see whether the Ogress’s blank eyes are pricked by tears today.
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