The Le Grêlé Killings
"He seemed very sure of himself"
In the French city of Paris, a serial killer who has remained uncaught for over thirty-five years is finally about to be unmasked. The killing spree began in May 1987, with the death of a young girl who went missing. Cécile Bloch left for school and never returned home, and her body was later found, the young girl having been strangled. DNA has link the Bloch murder to at least two others slayings, as well as six rapes committed by an unidentified suspect who is described by an eye-witness as “The Pockmarked Man”.
Surviving victims reported that the pockmarked man posed as a police officer in order to – his victims and gain their trust. The case has remained unsolved since the last incident in 1994. In late-September 2021, French media reported on the suicide of a French national who left a suicide note in which he confessed to the crimes of Le Grêlé. In a shocking turn of events, the man was a former French military police officer who was under investigation as a possible suspect in numerous other crimes during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Paris, known as the “City of Love” for its romantic atmosphere and rich cultural allure, it is a region of France that entices people from all over the world to come and experience the art, fashion and cuisine for which it has become renown. But few know about the darker side of the French Capital, one that has been home to Bluebeards, The Monster of Montmartre, and The Beast of the Bastille, however among this rogues gallery is a serial killer who’s vicious crimes of rape and murder have sent shockwaves across France.
The investigation into these assaults, rapes and gruesome murders has been ongoing since the mid-1980’s when they first began, and the killer has remained at large for over thirty-five years. The suspect is believed to have committed as many as six rapes, those of five locals women and girls, and one German woman, along with three murders that are linked by DNA and Modus Operandi, to a fourth possible crime. The ‘Le Grêlé’ killings stopped in 1994, however investigators have sufficient evidence with which to identify a suspect.
The Murder of Cécile Bloch
The murderous crimes of the Pockmarked Man began in May 1986, with the death of a young girl. On the morning of May 5, 1986, 11-year-old Cécile Bloch was last seen leaving her home, and heading off towards school. It was known that she entered the elevator of her family’s apartment, located in one of the little streets of the 19th Arrondissement, however, it was later discovered that she did not attend school that day. Her mother, Suzanne, called home in the afternoon expecting her daughter to pick up the phone, but no one answered.
Mrs Bloch then called the apartment’s security and asked them to look for Cécile and see if she could be found anywhere near the apartment. The guards search ended within the third basement of the residence, which was a disused room without light, that usually served as storage for maintenance workers and employees of the residence. There they came across the body of the young girl. She had been hidden under a piece of old carpet, lying on her stomach, feet facing the door.
She was stripped naked below her waist, and there was clear evidence she had been raped, in the form of a semen stain was found on top of the girls thigh. Her killer had stabbed her in the left side of the chest, however the cause of death was pressure on the neck resulting from strangulation. Forensic investigators could find no fingerprints, meaning the perpetrator had worn gloves and came prepared that Spring morning. It was noted that the elevators descend only to the second basement, meaning that access could only be made by taking a back staircase to access the third basement.
The Pockmarked Man
It soon became apparent that the killer had made himself familiar with the neighbourhood, and had explored the entire apartment, setting up a trap in order to catch his victim. Cécile father, Jean-Pierre, told police that he noticed the day before that the access door to the third basement was kept open, blocked by a pack of cigarettes. Several residents, including Cécile and Jean-Pierre had previously encountered a man in the elevator on the day of the murder.
The girls father, Jean-Pierre Bloch said he saw “a man who didn’t live in the building, and who didn’t show any emotion (reaction) at our presence.” Cécile’s half-brother Luc Richard recalled seeing a man with pockmarked skin in the elevator that day. He described the man to police and a composite sketch of the suspect was created. He was believed to be between 25 and 30-years-old, around 1.85m in height, of athletic build, with brown hair and a face “pockmarked” plagued by a skin disease. He was dressed in a jacket, sneakers and jeans, a little dusty as a backpacker.
Jean-Pierre said that the man spoke French without an accent, behaved obsequiously and was unusually polite in an abusive manner. Passive aggressive politeness, even. Years later Jean-Pierre said he will always remember seeing the arms of this daughter bound, while a policemen held him back. He remembers calling for a doctor and that policeman laughing at him, saying “it’s useless”. The investigation soon uncovered two previous crimes that would be connected to the Pockmarked Man that occurred before the murder of Cécile Bloch.
The first was the rape of a young girl on April 7, 1986. An 8-year-old named “Sarah A” was attacked by an unknown assailant at the Place de Vénétie. Her attacker had attempted to strangle the young girl, and she was left for dead after being rape, but she had lost consciousness and managed to survive. DNA from this crime would later link it to the same suspect who murdered Cécile Bloch one month later.
Three days after this incident, an 11-year-old girl named as Nathalie M. was raped in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris. Semen swabs taken from this crime would later prove that the same individual was responsible. However, before French police realised they had a potential emerging serial killer on the loose, the suspect vanished, committing no more known crimes throughout the year of 1986. Meanwhile, the composite sketch of the cunning killer hung on the wall of the criminal brigade of the Paris judicial police, so that the officers investigating the crime would never forget the face of the beast they were hunting.
The Murders at Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie
On the evening of April 29, 1987, two murders were committed by an apparent madman, or so detectives were lead to believe by their inexplicable brutality. The bodies of a 38-year-old man and his 21-year-old German au pair were found at the Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie. Gilles Politi was a night mechanic at the Roissy airport whose body was found lying naked on his stomach on the bed in his room, his wrists and ankles were bound by belts stolen from his closet. The belts passed up to his neck and were held in place by a poker taken from the fireplace, which formed a Spanish tourniquet.
The babysitter, German national Irmgard Muller, was found in similar circumstances. Described in some news reports as being “crucified”, the young woman was lying naked on her back in a bunk bed, her arms spread into a cross with a cord around her neck, her throat having been slit. Both of them had semen on their thighs. There was no sign of forced entry, or that a fight had taken place, so investigators wondered how the victims had been subdued by the killer.
Police suspected that the killer could have been an occasional lover after it was learned she wrote down a list of her many lovers in her diary. The majority of those on the list were questioned by investigators and cleared as suspects, all except one. Elijah Lauringe, whose address was a squat house that was razed shortly after, was considered a potential suspect, but it is unknown whether or not the Gendarmerie questioned him as a suspect or followed up with their inquiry, clearing him of involvement. The semen collected from the scene was later tested and found to have originated from the same suspect who was responsible for the Bloch murder and two previous attacks.
The Le Grêlé Investigation
Throughout 1987, three more rapes were committed by the Pockmarked Man, connected by DNA evidence. On May 11, 1987, a 26-year-old German woman named Andrea S. was raped by the Le Grêlé killer. In October, two further rapes were committed, one against a 29-year-old woman, Lauri C., and the other which occurred on October 26th, against a 14-year-old girl named Marianne N., who was followed to her apartment and threatened with a handgun by an unknown man who forced his way into her home. The teenager was undressed, tied up, and raped. A semen stain found on the comforter would link this crime to the others.
No further crimes are understood to have been committed by the Pockmarked Man until the mid-1990’s. It is unknown why there is such a large gap between the three rapes in 1987, and his further crimes in 1994. This could suggest the killer was incarcerated for similar but unrelated crimes, however, such a theory is speculation. It is possible the killer continued to kill, and his crimes remain either undetected or unconnected to the others in the series. Reports indicate that as many as five girls aged 6 to 10, were killed from July 1983 to June 1987.
The Pockmarked Man resurfaced in 1994 when he committed what police suspect is his fourth murder. On June 9, 1994, a 19-year-old girl named Karine Leroy went missing in Meaux in Seine-et-Marne. She was found dead on July 12, 1994 in a grove on Montceaux-lès-Meaux. Like the victims at Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie, Leroy was strangled by use of a Spanish tourniquet, a technique employed during war-time to stop bleeding. This method was however used by the killer as a sadistic way to strangle his victims.
Sometime in 2000, another victim was found who gave an interview for France 3. Although she was not named in the article, Ingrid G, who was 11-years-old at the time of the incident, became known as ‘the girl from 1994’. On April 29, 1994, Ingrid was riding a bicycle during the early afternoon in Mitry-Mory in Seine-et-Marne. She was approached by an unknown man, who identifies himself as a policeman, and then proceeds to handcuff her and bring the young girl to his car in an abandoned farm called Villeras at Saclay in the Essonne.
There she is bound to a radiator, and forced by her captor to read a pornographic comics. By late afternoon, the man leaves and abandons the car. Ingrid said during the interview, “I had a lot of luck, I was calm, and I spoke to him, asked him questions. I think that this is what saved my life” She managed to provide police with a description of the car the killer drove, identifying it as a Volvo. However, more than ten thousand Volvos as described by Ingrid G were searched without success.
A Flawed Inquiry and Missed Opportunities
A semen stain found on a Kleenex that was extracted in 1996, produced a DNA sample linking this crime to the Pockmarked Man. From the survivors, authorities were able to pinpoint the specific MO used by the killer. He would observe a victim and then approach and produce a badge, posing as a police officer. A psycho-criminalist named Michèle Agrapart-Delmas said that to impress his victims, he had a police card, speaks police jargon and is usually seen holding a walkie-talkie, before threatening the victim with a handgun and handcuffs.
Agrapart-Delmas also adds that his pockmarked skin could come from treatment with antipsychotics, sedatives or toxic substances. The assumption that “pockmarked” is or was an officer had been considered by investigators, who had not ruled out such a possibility. Since 1995, the crimes of ‘The Pockmarked Killer’ stopped abruptly, and despite a treasure trove of evidence, including eye-witness testimony and physical DNA, the Brigade criminelle of the famous 36 Quai des Orfevres had yet to discover his true identity.
In May 1986, Luc Richard, Cécile Bloch’s older step-brother, contacted police. Richard had studied in both England and Belgium and worked as a biologist, having learned about new and emerging DNA techniques. He told investigators about a new technique that could more adequately identify a suspect based on the sperm, blood, hair and skin left behind at a crime scene. However, the judge overseeing the inquiry refused to allow such techniques to be used. He told Cécile’s family that the case is no longer their concern, it is an affair of justice.
Furthermore, the Judge would not allow the Bloch family access to Cécile’s file, only offering the reason that the parents did not have a lawyer. In 1989, Cécile’s mother died during an accident, never knowing who murdered her daughter. In subsequent years, two other Judges also declined to allow DNA analysis using the new techniques, and refused permission to allow and analysis of sand found on Cécile’s clothes. Four years after the murder of Cécile Bloch, the judge in charge of the case closed the investigation.
It was not until 1996, that a new female Judge orders the case to be reopened and gives permission for DNA analysis to be done using the new techniques, as suggested previously by Luc Richard. In 1998, forensic experts are able to link Cécile’s case with that of Sarah A., who was raped in April 1986, the rape of Marianne N. in October 1987 and the attack on Ingrid G in April 1994. Following further DNA analysis they also link the murders of Gilles and Irmgard to the Le Grêlé/Pockmarked Man case.
In 2015, the French police reopened The Pockmarked Case once again by the order of Judge Nathalie Turquay, in an attempt to look for clues in confirming the identity of Le Grêlé. The suspect is likely to be in his 50’s or 60’s, and due to the increased media attention, it is possible he may had his pockmarks removed through plastic surgery and the lack of recent crime could suggest he may have started a family. As part of the increased attention the case had received, a documentary on the Cécile Bloch case was released on YouTube by French Broadcaster France 2.
That same year, Luc Richard, the half-brother of murder victim Cécile Bloch was interviewed by the Sud Ouest newspaper, and talked about the suspect he saw on the day of his sisters death. Richard described the man he shared a lift with, “He seemed very sure of himself. He spoke to me in an audacious manner, very polite, too much so. He said something to me along the lines of, “Have a very, very good day.” He spoke without an accent.”
Although it is generally believed the Pockmarked Man stopped killing from 1995 onwards, the French police investigating the case are attempting to link several unsolved murders that occurred between the late 1980’s to the 2000’s to the Pockmarked Killer, including the murder of Joanna Parrish, a British tutor and language student from from Britain, who was murdered in the Burgundy region of France on May 17, 1990. However, the prime suspect in that case is Michel Fourniret, a convicted serial killer known as “The Beast of Ardennes”. French police have yet to confirm nor deny any links so far.
Despite a wealth of evidence that includes the killer’s DNA, fingerprints, a composite sketch, and a clearly defined MO of posing as a policeman and performing strangulation on his victims, police were yet to apprehend a suspect. Investigators searched the files of current inmates based on the composite, without success, and also analyzed DNA to find the Genealogical background of the killer, without success. Some researchers had noticed similarities between the crimes of the Pockmarked Man and those of the Golden State Killer, a recently apprehended serial killer who was active in California and responsible for hundreds of crimes ranging from burglary, rape and serial murder.
The on-going investigation by the Paris crime squad had continued to search for Le Grêlé, and by mid-2021, they were looking into a new suspect and there appeared to be signs that the mysterious killer could finally be unmasked. An investigating magistrate had recently sent out letters to 750 gendarmes stationed in the Paris region at the time. This suspect, a retired former French military police officer, had been summoned for questioning on September 24th, in relation to the case, and was ordered to surrender a DNA sample as part of the investigation.
However, the 59-year-old former Gendarme, named in the media as Francois V. failed to show up for the meeting. Then, on September 29, 2021, the body of a man was found in a rented apartment at a seaside resort in Grau-du-Roi near the southern city of Monspellier on the Mediterranean coast. Although few details were released or confirmed at that time, Le Parisien newspaper reported that Francois V was a former policeman attached to the French military, and that at the time of his death he was married with two children.
Along with his body, police found a suicide note, in which he confessed to the Le Grêlé killings, explaining that he was “not well in life,” at the time of the murders. The note also described how he experienced “previous impulses” but added that he had since “got himself together”. DNA tests are yet to confirm if the dead man is the wanted serial killer, however his confession could mark the end of one of France’s longest and most notorious unsolved cases.
On October 1, 2021, French media outlets reported that the dead man, now identified as François Vérove, was the serial killer known as the Pockmarked Man, after his DNA was found to match that found at several of the crime scenes. He was responsible for the murders of Cécile Bloch, Gilles Politi and Irmgard Müller, as well as the six rapes committed between 1986 and 1994. In some local reports he has also been linked to the murder of Karine Leroy, most likely because of the similar MO.
It is unknown if he was involved in any other crimes. “We won’t ever know all the crimes Le Grêlé committed,” said Didier Saban, a lawyer representing the families of the victims. The surviving victims all described the attacker as identifying himself as a policeman, “We had this conviction that he was either an officer or a gendarme, both from the violence he used against his victims and the tactics he adopted,” explained Saban. Sometimes the Pockmarked Man would even present his card with the French tricolor on it.
Mr. Saban said that the killer had done everything he could to ensure that his DNA was not left at crime scenes. But now that his identity has been revealed and confirmed, the lawyer wants unsolved crimes to be reopened in which DNA techniques were never used. Luc Richard has previously described how the case had haunted him, saying he had lived with a ‘great feeling of injustice’. With the death of François Vérove, that lack of justice might never be rectified as Le Grêlé has escaped retribution for his crimes.