The Dominici affair, by juge Carrias
3 - Shortcomings in the case.
o Lack of a motive
The first and most serious shortcoming of the two investigations was the absence of a motive. If we can accept that the English family was murdered by Gaston Dominici, we do not know why. To be more precise, the sexual motive which appeared in the first case was totally unconvincing. Lady Ann was supposed to have offered herself to the condemned man, a few feet away from her sleeping husband, but the passion of the couple awoke him and when he tried to intervene, the brutal end ensued. Moreover, it had been established how this motive made its way into the procedure. Inspector Prudhomme, the first detective despatched to obtain Gaston Dominici’s statement, had not prepared himself at all, a point to which I will return. For the moment, suffice it to say that the old man had asked, while before him, to be recognized as the person who had committed the crime. As a conscientious policeman, Prudhomme, though he did not know the case, was intent on obtaining an admission of circumstantial guilt and therefore obtaining a motive. He spoke of sex and Gaston Dominici, who was somewhat bawdy, showed interest. Then, he came to fancy the idea. The difference in age and social status was flattering to him. From questioning to questioning, he went a bit farther each time. Initially, he simply wanted to watch the Englishwoman undress, which in no way matched what the inquiry had found: it showed that Lady Drummond had gone to bed well before the time of the crime and had kept most of her clothes on. Then he admitted to touching her; then finally he said he had slept with her and that she had consented. This was all quite unbelievable.
Another problem was the contractions between and even within statements. Thus, in his first confession to Superintendent Sébeille on 15 November 1953, Gaston Dominici claimed to have gone to the Drummond’s camping site at around 11:30 pm and to have killed them all at the same time, though it was established that the shots had been heard at around 1 am. He apparently had two conversations with Lady Drummond, despite the fact that he spoke no English and she spoke no French. He was supposed to have fired one shot at her, though the autopsy showed the impact of three bullets. He was supposed to have smashed Elizabeth’s head with one blow of the rifle butt, while the forensic evidence showed at least two blows, etc. This kind of contradiction showed up all through the first investigation.
It was also evident in his behaviour. Thus, Gaston Dominici told Superintendents Chenevier and Gillard, in the presence of two members of his legal team that “I saw Gustave with the little fellow (Roger Perrin); they were coming through the long grass; they were coming from up there were the English were… they were coming from the English campsite; they went towards the ravine; Roger was carrying the little girl”. But the investigation showed that there was no long grass between the campsite and the place where the little girl’s body was found. In addition, at the spot in the farmyard from where the old man claimed to have observed the scene it was difficult to see much during the day, and therefore even less at night, when looking towards the long grass, the mulberry tree and the ravine.
And not only did Gaston Dominici contradict himself, he also varied what he said incessantly, as can be seen from the written statement made under no pressure as given to policemen who were favourable to his cause and in the presence of his lawyers: “They were carrying the little girl. They went towards the ravine. They are two bandits…”; but later: “It’s not true… Too bad, I didn’t see her when they carried her. If I die, I die. I don’t want to die a liar. If I own up to this then I’m the murderer, not them”; and later: “The plot was set up by Gustave. I’m sure that the carbine belonged to Clovis. I’m sure it was Gustave and Clovis who planned the whole thing”.
Such contradictions and variations were not exclusive to Gaston Dominici. His son Gustave and his daughter-in-law Yvette were just as expert as he was. Thus, during the second investigation, as already noted, they even contested the actual content of their statements made in the first investigation. They went as far as saying that they never said what was to be found in the minutes, which of course bore their signatures as well as those of Superintendent Sébeille and Judge Roger Périès, and also of the clerk of the court, Emile Barras. It was this kind of incoherence that stopped Superintendents Chenevier and Gillard in their tracks.
o The drying pair of trousers
Such behaviour could lead to the conclusion that some of the charges against Gaston Dominici could be questioned. But there were others that touched on issues that deserved to have been verified, and which, if the task had been properly carried out, would have perhaps opened the door to further charges being laid against him. This was the case for the pair of corduroy trousers that belonged to him and which were seen, freshly washed, hanging on a line near the house the day after the crime. Inspector Charles Girolami, a member of Sébeille’s squad, noticed it. Forensic tests in a police laboratory would perhaps have revealed traces of human blood and even the blood group, despite washing. Only too happy to point out a mistake by their colleague Sébeille, Chenevier and Gillard dedicated an entire chapter to it in their report. They even discovered that another pair of blue trousers, belonging to Gustave, had been drying at a window. They questioned the women in the Dominici family about this laundry, but they only obtained denials. They concluded that “the insistence of these people in denying this fact shows that the washing was carried out for a major reason: because the trousers were spattered with the blood of the victims”. This was going too far as, without material evidence and analysis, nothing could be proved. However, the incident showed that the first investigation was not alone in making mistakes.
These then are some of the weak points in both investigations. The various writers who have commented on or who will in future comment on the case have found or will no doubt find others that are more or less serious. However, I think it useful to seek to try and explain how such shortcomings could have accumulated in investigations of such importance.
o Explaining the shortcomings
The first explanation is of a general nature. A police investigation and a judicial inquiry are never scientific operations in which the application of strict rules provides perfect results. On the contrary, results depend on many data, often of a transient nature, that relate to the character and skill of the police detectives, magistrates, witnesses, suspects, etc. as well as on the circumstances of time and place, and even chance.
In the affair before us, Superintendent Sébeille ran headlong into the marked reticence of witnesses right from the start. After one of his men found the crime weapon, he was optimistic, believing that the weapon would ‘talk’. But objects don’t talk; the investigator expects those to whom he presents the weapon to talk. And those to whom Sébeille showed it did not talk. The prudent discretion of countryfolk played a part here. But I also believe that the silence was caused by the recent end to the Second World War. I had personal experience of this phenomenon as I had lived through events in Forcalquier where I had sought refuge after the closure of the Law Faculty at Aix-en-Provence University by the Germans on 15 March 1944. I had to escape from a possible round-up of students for obligatory labour in Germany.
The Liberation in France was followed by all kinds of exactions, vengeance, crimes even and the memory of it all was still vivid eight years after. Gaston Dominici had belonged to the Resistance; his defence lawyers even wanted me to investigate his role in the maquis, which didn’t seem to have much point to me. Moreover, during summer 1952, my colleague Roth, an investigating judge in Toulon, carried out a perquisition of clandestine weapons in his Département and many therefore headed north to other Départements. People knew about it, but secrecy surrounded this migration and the organization of illegal arms dumps by many former résistants in the Lower Alps. Nobody would talk: friends of the Resistance refused in order to keep the affair secret; enemies refused because they were afraid. It is therefore easy to understand that by carrying around a rifle that had belonged to a member of the Resistance, Sébeille’s squad made people wary. The shadow of the Resistance and of the Liberation lay darkly across the investigation.
But this was not the main obstacle that the investigators came up against. The main problem was the outrageous attitude of the leading members of the Dominici family, who, flaunting all logic, tried to wriggle their way out of police and investigating judge questioning by incessant variations and denials, which, unacceptable as they were, nevertheless prevented the investigation from making any headway. No sooner had they been forced to accept a point and allow progress to be made than they immediately retreated in a cloud of smoke. I have already revealed how Chenevier and Gillard’s investigation, based on a system of questions directly linked to strict logic, had come up against this insurmountable barrier. Sébeille’s investigation, the logic of which was sometimes tainted with sentimentality, was less adapted to this sort of situation. I noticed this when I brought him together with Gustave Dominici on 23 September 1953. The two men were face to face for a whole afternoon clashing on most of the details raised in the first investigation. In addition, Gustave maintained that the judicial police had put unbearable pressure on him. As night fell, Sébeille as me to join him and remind Gustave of the conditions in which he had admitted his father’s guilt on 13 November 1953. With my permission, he sat opposite him, spoke in a low voice, invited him to lean on his shoulder and even tapped him on the shoulder saying “Cry if you want, it will relieve you”. Gustave Dominici did as requested without reticence and declared that things had happened as described, adding, at my prompting, that Sébeille had put no pressure on him, but that he did remember former pressure. It was a poignant scene. At the time, it seemed to me that a wave of sympathy ran between them and I was rather moved by it. At my side, in addition to my clerk Emile Barras, was Divisional Inspector Georges Hartzic, Sébeille’s hierarchical superior. Both seemed to share the emotion. Forty years later, toughened by a lifetime’s experience as a magistrate, I have to ask myself whether Sébeille was genuinely sincere or had been having us on. I personally still think he was sincere; he made Gustave suffer, but shared his suffering. Such moments were no doubt rare in this affair.
In any case, Sébeille, with his southern warmth, showed himself to be a better cop than his Paris counterparts, with their cold logic.
Nevertheless, the weak points in the two investigations are flagrant. But I have the intimate conviction that Gaston Dominici was guilty. How can this be possible? To answer this question we have to find out what ‘intimate conviction’ is.