The Dominici affair, by juge Carrias
8 – A review of the facts
What follows was written in early 1997 at the request of Jean Teyssier, in order to refute the claims of William Reymond regarding the Dominici affair during a public meeting in Digne. It assumes that the circumstances of the Lurs triple murder and the investigation that followed are known. Nevertheless, it seems timely to provide an objective and non-polemical chronological account of the events.
Sources are provided at the end using the initials of the main actors and documents in the drama.
On 27 July 1952, an English family lands at Dunkirk for a few days’ holiday in France. Sir Jack Drummond, a laboratory director, 61, is accompanied by his wife Lady Ann, née Wilbraham, 47, and their daughter, Elisabeth, 10. In their Hillman they are on their way to Villefranche-sur-Mer where their friends the Marrians have invited them to stay in a villa IP+GD
After a detour to Domrémy, they spend the night in Digne on 30 July-1 August. Sir Jack buys three tickets for a bull fight on 4 August. On this date, the Drummond family in fact return to Digne and, after having watched the event, head back to Villefranche-sur-Mer, via the valley of the Durance. Sir Jack stops beside the RN 96, intending to spend the night there. IP
The spot he has chosen, under a mulberry tree to the left of the road to Aix, is 165 metres north of the Grand’Terre farm that belongs to a family of smallholders. The family is made up of Gaston Dominici, 75, his wife Marie née Germain, 71, their son Gustave, 32, their daughter in law Yvette, née Barth, 20, and their grandson Alain, 10 months, son of Gustave and Yvette.
Next morning around 6am, Gustave Dominici stops a passing motorcyclist, Jean-Marie Olivier, and asks him to tell the police that he has heard shots during the night and that he has found a body. IO +GD
Arriving at 7:30am, the Forcalquier police find not one but three bodies. That of Lady Ann, wrapped in a blanket, lies near the car and that of Sir Jack, covered with an overturned camp bed, at the opposite side of the road; it appears that both have been killed by firearms. Sir Jack also has a wound on his right hand. Some 75 metres from her mother lies Elisabeth at the other side of a bridge over the railway line between Marseilles and Veynes, on a slope going down to the Durance; she has deep wounds to the head, made with a heavy object. GD + PJ
Under the orders of Captain Henri Albert, the gendarmes make their initial search. Near the Hillman, they discover three empty cartridge cases and an unfired cartridge, which seems to belong to a military weapon. Near the body of Elisabeth, they find footprints, which they try to seal off, but which will prove unusable. They note much disorder in the car and around it.
Dr Henri Dragon, from Oraison, is called to the crime scene. He attributes the parents’ death to bullet wounds and that of the child to head wounds. The autopsy carried out that evening in Forcalquier by the forensic team of Girard and Pierre Nalin confirms these findings.
Captain Albert notifies the public prosecutor in Digne, Louis Sabatier, who opens an investigation led by investigating judge Roger Périès. The magistrates go to the crime scene, accompanied by clerk of the court Emile Barras.GD +PJ
Apart from the police and the authorities, a large crowd of onlookers gathers at the scene, which the police have difficulty in sealing off. WR+PC
Judge Périès hands the case to the 9th Marseilles police brigade, which delegates Chief-Inspector Edmond Sébeille and a team of inspectors. IP+PJ
Soon after their arrival, Inspector Henri Ranchin sees the broken butt of a rifle floating on the surface of a dead arm of the Durance river. He finds the barrel underwater farther up river. It is a Rock-Ola American carbine in bad condition, hastily repaired with an aluminium collar and wire. A splinter of wood found under Elisabeth’s head when the body is removed, fits exactly into the butt of the rifle. Later tests show that the cartridges found at the crime scene were fired by this weapon. PJ+PC
For his part, Inspector Charles Girolami notes the presence of a pair of velvet trousers belonging to Gaston Dominici, newly washed, drying near his room. The deputy prefect of Forcalquier also notes a blue pair of trousers hanging from a window of the farm. But these clues are not followed up. CG+PC
But the Rock-Ola carbine is shown to many witnesses, none of whom recognize it. However, on being presented with it, Clovis Dominici, the elder son of Gaston, shows great emotion and fall to his knees; but he takes control of himself quickly and, despite Chief-Inspector Sébeille’s close questioning, makes no statement that will allow the inquiry to progress. ES
Among the witnesses spoken to, Gaston Dominici tells the police that he saw the three Britons and their car under the mulberry tree around 7:30 pm on the evening of 4 August. Then he was woken during the night, first around 11pm by a motorcyclist calling out in a foreign language and a second time around 1am by his dog barking and by shots. He did not hear shouts. He left to tend to his goats around 5am in the opposite direction to where the Drummonds were camping and it was only on his return at 8am that he learnt of the crime from his own son Gustave, when the police were already on the spot. He claims not to know the Rock-Ola carbine.
For his part Gustave says that on his return from the fields, on 4 August around 8pm, his father sent him to check the mudslide above the railway next to one of their fields, which has been caused by excessive irrigation. On his way, he sees the three campers without speaking to them. Like his father, he is woken in the night, as is his wife, first by the foreign motorcyclist and then by the shots. They did not hear shouts. He gets up at 5:30am and makes his way to the mudslide, to check if it has not worsened during the night. It is then that he sees the dead body of the young girl. He does not go near it, but runs to the main road and flags down Olivier on his motorbike, then goes home to wait for the police. He states that he has never seen the crime weapon.
No one else in the family or any of the numerous witnesses from nearby villages, passers-by on the main road, people coming forward of their own free will or any others, provide useful information on the crime or the owner of the weapon. PJ
Despite the rapid discovery of the weapon, the investigation marks time during August 1952. In September Inspector Sébeille goes on holiday and, in his absence is replaced by Chief-Inspector Fernand Constant. When he returns it is decided that both will stay on the case for the time being. Sébeille undertakes a complete review of the case, while Constant goes to work in the field.
Then a first small breakthrough comes. Using Paul Maillet’s testimony, he establishes that when Gustave Dominici found the body of Elisabeth, she was still alive. Gustave admits this. He serves two months in prison for failure to help a person in danger.
But, contrary to what the two detectives hope for, Gustave Dominici provides no futher clues on his release. ES
Inspector Sébeille continues his work on the case. He makes a detailed study of the statements, looking for differences or contradictions, to see if further questioning is required.
Six witnesses are recalled for questioning: Paul Maillot, Robert Eyroux, Roger Perrin, Jean-Marie Olivier, Jean Ricard and Faustin Roure supply testimony that contradicts Gustave Dominici and Gaston Dominici’s evidence. He decides with Judge Périès to call them in for questioning. ES
He begins by confronting Gustave with Ricard, Roure and Olivier, at the crime scene early in the morning of 12 November 1953. Then he takes him to Digne where he questions him throughout the day and the next day. On the first day, Gustave Dominici admits that, contrary to what he had previously maintained, he had heard the victims crying out during the night of the 4-5 August 1952; that in order to stop Olivier on the morning of the fifth, he had leapt out onto the main road near the Hillman; that Lady Ann and Elisabeth had come to the house asking for water on the evening of the fourth; and that on the morning of the fifth he had gone several times to the crime scene where, between 7 and 7:30am, he had moved the body of Lady Ann. Finally, early in the afternoon of 13 November, he breaks down in tears on Sébeille’s shoulder and confesses that his father had committed the murders and that his brother Clovis was aware of this. IP +ES
Clovis, brought to Digne confirms what his brother has said.
The same evening, at the law courts in Digne, Sébeille questions Gaston regarding his sons’ admissions but gets no result. The same the next day, 14 November. During the questioning throughout a large part of the day, the old man refuses to confess his guilt. Sébeille calls a halt to the questioning At 6pm he decides, in agreement with public prosecutor Sabatier and Judge Périès, that Gaston Dominici will spend another night in the law courts, guarded by local policemen. This is organized by the head of the Digne Police, Pierre Prudhomme, who orders two men to do guard duty of two hours each.
The first shift, from 6-8pm, is taken by Victor Guérino. Alone with him in the court council chamber, the old man speaks to him in Provencal. Their conversation ranges from hunting, the Grand’Terre farm, to farming, then to Gaston’s family. Around 7pm, talking of his children, he begins to weep. Guérino tells him speak, adding that his age will be taken into account. He adds: “It’s perhaps an accident that happened to you” and hears the reply “Yes, it’s an accident, they attacked me, I killed all three of them”. A little later, Gaston Dominici repeats the words, saying that he had taken his rifle to check on the mudslide, and passed close to the English camping site. “I was attacked, I let go a shot and then all hell broke loose”. Victor Guérino advises him to repeat what he has said to Sébeille, but the old man refuses and tells him to bring Prudhomme.
When the guard changes at 8pm, Guérino asks Gaston Dominici, in front of Joseph Bocca, the second guard, and Simon Garaud, the concierge, if he still wishes to make a statement to Prudhomme. Receiving an affirmative reply he calls his boss, who, in agreement with Sébeille, goes to the court at 8:30pm.
But, in the meantime, the old man has told his new guard, Joseph Bocca, that the gun belongs to his son Gustave who is the guilty party and that if he is confessing it is to protect the honour of his grandchildren. He goes on in the same vein with Prudhomme, asking him to prepare a draft confession, even though he is the innocent party. The policeman refuses and turns the conversation towards ‘lechery’, a subject that seems to please Gaston Dominici, who reveals that he watched the Drummond family preparing for the night and that he approached the wife to try to touch her, that the husband intervened, grabbed the barrel of the gun, that a shot went off, wounding the man in the hand, that then he continued firing at the woman, that he missed the girl and stoved her head in with the butt of the rifle. Prudhomme then called Sébeille who prepared the transcript of Gaston Dominici’s confession that Gaston Dominici repeats before him, adding even that the woman had allowed him to touch her.
When Judge Périès and Barras, the clerk, come to hear his confession the next day, Sunday, 15 November, the old man repeates that he is not the murderer but is willing to confess to save the honour of his grandchildren. Then, he returns to the crime, which was committed due to 'lechery’ and even adds for good measure that he watched the woman getting undressed, approached her and had sex with her, hence the fight with the husband. IP
On Monday, 16 November, Judge Périès re-enacts the crime in the presence of a hundred or so journalists and onlookers. Gaston Dominici goes through the motions willingly, at least for the most part. He first shows the judge where the gun was hidden in a hut. The he goes to where the Hillman was parked and lies on the ground, saying that it was here that he had ‘had’ the woman. Then he mimes the ‘fight’ with the inspector playing the part of the husband who tries to disarm him and shows how, after wounding him in the hand , he shoots him twice as he tries to run across the road. He then turns to the place where the woman was, explaining that she ‘fell to the ground’ when he shot her. Then he indicates that the girl gets out of the car and runs towards the railway line. He himself runs with some agility after the policeman playing the part of the girl and mimes shooting at her but missing. But, crossing the bridge over the railway, he tries to climb over the parapet and to throw himself onto the tracks, perhaps to commit suicide. Stopped in time, he is led to the spot where Elisabeth lay. Once there he shows much reticence in demonstrating how he hit her, before miming with his stick a blow to the head of the policeman.
Following this reconstitution, the judge charges him with triple murder. Hearing the charge, he merely confirms his previous statement, adding only that he acted in a moment of madness.
Questioned again by Judge Périès on 7 December, in the presence of his lawyers, Gaston Dominici proclaims his innocence and claims to have confessed only because of fatigue and under police pressure.
Gustave maintains the accusation against his father on 5, 17 and 28 December, nevertheless varying the circumstances in which he received the admission.
Questioned on 18 December, Yvette Dominici declares having heard shouts and six or seven shots on the night of 4-5 August 1952. A few moments later, Gustave leaves the bedroom. When he returns he tells her that he has met his father in the courtyard, slumped like a drunk and saying he ‘had killed’.
On 30 December 1952, Gaston repeated these denials. Judge Périès brings him face to face with his sons. Gustave retracts his accusations; Clovis maintains his. Questioned a second time without his father being present, Gustave says he did not have the courage to repeat the accusations before him, but that it is true that Gaston told him on 5 August 1952 around 2am in the courtyard that he was responsible for the murders, and that he had noticed that the gun was gun from the hut. IP
On 19 January 1954, Gustave Dominici sends his father a letter in prison in which he seems to accept his innocence. Questioned on this by Judge Périès on 4 February, he claims that he has wrongly accused him, due to tiredness and police pressure. He explains that since then he has been subjected to harassment by the family and no longer knows where he is. Confronted with Clovis, he does another about-face and says that he has been lying. But when he meets journalists he claims that Gaston is innocent.
On 23 February, before the judge, he maintains the accusations against his father. He acknowledges having told his family that Clovis had made them before he did, on 13 November 1953, and that he had been influenced by his brother. He adds the nuance that when he spoke to him on the night of the crime his father was probably under the influence of alcohol. He concludes that if his father says that he is innocent then it must be true.
On 25 February, Gaston Dominici casts suspicions on his son-in-law Roger Perrin to whom the US carbine could have been lent by his uncle Clovis, who was the real owner.
Judge Périès continues his investigation, asking Sébeille to check out details required by the criminal procedure. At the end of the investigation, Gaston Dominici is committed for trial at Digne. IP
The trial opens in Digne on 17 November 1954. Not only is there a large press pack, but the literary world is also present. The courtroom is full to overflowing and many members of the public have to sit outside.
The trial last 12 days and is stormy. Gaston proclaims his innocence. Disgraced by his family, Clovis claims the opposite. Gustave supports his father, but not sufficiently it seems as the father shouts at him, telling him to tell the truth and claiming that he is in prison for him. Gaston also allows his suspicions to fall on Clovis and Roger Perrin, without giving details. Yvette no longer blames her father-in-law. ES + WR
On 28 November, Gaston Dominici is declared guilty and sentenced to death. ES+WR
Stunned by the sentence, he tells one of his lawyers, Léon Charles-Alfred, of a conversation he says he overheard between Gustave and Yvette in the days that followed the murders. According to what was said, Roger Perrin helped Gustave carry Elisabeth.
Gaston Dominici’s lawyers hand over this evidence to the ministry of justice, which instructs a magistrate, Joseph Oddou, to question the condemned man, who repeats his allegations. Two detectives from police headquarters in Paris, Chief Superintendent Chenevier and Chief Inspector Gillard are entrusted with the task of questioning Gaston Dominici .
The two men question Gaston Dominici on 1 and 20 December 1954, but he changes his allegations during these long sessions. After having confirmed what he had previously declared, he then states that he himself saw Gustave and Roger Perrin carry Elisabeth, then he takes this back and repeats the allegation about the conversation he overheard. PC
In view of these allegations, the ministry deems a new investigation necessary. As Judge Périès has been transferred to Marseilles, a deputy judge from Toulon, Pierre Carrias, is appointed as investigation judge in Digne.
A new case is opened on 23 February 1955 against X for complicity in premeditated murder. PC
Judge Carrias personally handles parts of the investigation, such as the confrontation between Inspector Sébeille and Gustave Dominici, during which the latter mimes the scene in which he accused his father and where he cried on Sébeille’s shoulder. But, in addition, on the orders of the ministry of justice, Inspectors Chenevier and Gillard are given commissions to take evidence and carry out extensive investigations, hearing numerous witnesses whom they ask a large number of questions drawn up in a carefully prepared plan. As to Gaston Dominici, the Baumettes prison, he is questioned by Jacques Batigne, from the Marseilles courts. IC
Inspectors Chenevier and Gillard carry on their work for several months in order to find possible accomplices in the murders. CG
They complete their task at the beginning of 1956 and reveal their results in a weighty report dated 15 February. They declare that Gaston Dominici is guilty of the murder of the Drummond family, without irrefutable proof being brought. They add that, in any case, Gustave Dominici is at least co-responsible for or an accomplice in the two last murders. They consider that pursuing the investigation would help determine his real role and even that of Roger Perrin. CG
The suspicions thus laid against Gustave Dominici and Roger Perrin are too vague to bring charges against them. No new evidence has been put forward against Gustave, who suspicious attitude and obvious intent to impede justice is long known but can only be explained by theories that do not necessarily implicate his personal responsibility. As to Roger Perrin, there is no hard evidence against him. After some additional investigatory work, the second investigation is declared closed on 13 November 1956 by Judge Carrias. IC
In 1957, President Coty of France commutes the sentence to hard labour for life. Three years later, in 1960, General de Gaulle pardons Gaston Dominici and he is freed. The patriarch of the Grand’Terre dies in Digne in 1965, aged 88. Despite the efforts of the Dominici family, aided by eminent lawyers, a retrial fails. WR+PC
CG = report by Inspectors Chenevier and Gillard
ES = Edmond Sébeille, “The Dominici Affair”
GD = transcripts and police reports
IC = Judge Carrias investigation
IP = Judge Pérriès investigation
PC = Pierre Carrias’s memoirs
PJ = Marseilles police transcripts and reports
WR = William Reymond, “Dominici not Guilty”