The Dominici affair, by juge Carrias
6 – Dominici not guilty ? William Reymond’s theory*
*’Dominici non coupable. Les assassins retrouvés’ (Dominici not guilty. The murderers found) by William Reymond, Flammarion, 1997.
o How my investigation was described
When I had William Reymond’s book in hand for the first time, I immediately turned to the pages relating to my investigation. They were full of errors. He may well have described me as a brilliant magistrate, which was nice of him, but not accurate. I certainly didn’t shine in this particular business; in fact no one was brilliant. The least bad of us all was probably Edmond Sébeille. His superiors told him he would get the Légion d’Honneur; he got a local police station instead. There is only Mr. Collard left who might still have an outside chance of being brilliant.
Firstly, there are mistakes in the details. I was supposed to have led questioning in Marseilles when in fact I never left the Lower Alps. I was supposed to have issued my ruling one week after the confrontation between Gustave Dominici and Edmond Sébeille, whereas in fact a year passed between this incident in the investigation on 23 September 1955 and my decision dated 13 November 1956. The author also quibbles over a matter of two or three hours regarding the moment when Jean Teyssier took the first photo of Gustave Dominici; in fact he was wrong by nearly ten thousand hours. These details are not important in themselves but showed a lack of attention to detail and a tendency to criticise others.
At another point, William Reymond addresses the question of the drying trousers, of which he clearly knew nothing. Inspector Girolami did not wait 15 months before speaking of the matter; I know because I had him questioned twice in Casablanca, where he was serving, in August and October 1955. On his arrival at the crime scene on 5 August 1952, he noticed the trousers belonging to Gaston Dominici on a line near the kitchen door. He did not see any spots or blood on them; just the fact that they were wet. It was Gaston Dominici himself who told him the laundry was not done at the Grand’Terre but at his eldest daughter’s house and that she brought it back washed and ironed, which is something William Reymond imagined that he had been the first to reveal, 40 years later after an interview with Augusta Caillat. Girolami was rightly surprised that the trousers had been washed on the spot a few hours after a triple murder had been committed in the vicinity. He passed on his suspicions to Inspector Sébeille, but the latter left this valuable piece of information aside until November 1953 when he began his offensive of “small details”. William Reymond accused him of turning his enquiries uniquely to the Dominici family; I myself regret that he did not do this from the first day, instead of failing to follow up on this potentially important clue found by one of his men.
It is incorrect to say that afterwards the ‘trousers’ item was never addressed again by the investigators, with the exception of Inspectors Chenenvier and Gillard. In fact it was addressed by Judge Périès on 15 November 1953 when he questioned Gaston, Clovis and Gustave Dominici, by myself of 21 September 1955 with Yvette Dominici, Lousi Rebaudo and Marie Dominici, then by Judge Batigne when he questioned Gaston Dominici on 24 October 1955. The finding by Chenevier and Gillard actually concerned the presence of another pair of trousers hanging from a window, belonging to Gustave Dominici, was mentioned by Mr de Grave, Deputy-Prefect of Forcalquier. Yvette Dominici was supposed to have washed them before leaving for her morning trip to the market in Oraison. I do not remember if this clue had been mentioned before their finding.
I hope I will be forgiven for bringing up such small details. They relate to that part of the investigation that I know best, as I led it personally and which is the best method I have of determining how accurate the author’s facts are. We see immediately that he was wrong over the issue of the trousers, which doesn’t prevent him from lashing out at others, with comments such as: “An absurd tale…”, “It’s nonsense…” If you don’t know, you keep quiet.
It’s also not quite the done thing to quote me on things I never said. William Reymond’s main source of information is in fact the media. So he has lots of facts relating to Chenevier and Gillard’s activities, which were well covered in the press – so well covered that they generally were informed before I was. But I remain firmly in favour of secrecy in an investigation and I have always respected it, so much so that since January 1955 to date I have never spoken about the Lurs murders to a single journalist. If I have chosen to go public now, it’s because at my age there is little time left to bear witness. Tomorrow will be too late.
For want of direct information, our young journalist took his from reports by the Digne or the Aix Public Prosecutors. I have already spoken of my high opinion of Louis Sabatier, but also stated that we did not exactly see eye to eye on the affair. In addition, as an independent magistrate I was never asked to betray my thinking. We cannot therefore be sure that the interpretation that he gave to the public prosecutor and that William Reymond made use of was my real thinking. On the next page, the source is no longer a report but the rough draft of a report. I wonder where that might have come from. A waste paper basket, perhaps? The events of the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th century were supposed to have banned this sort of information forever. In the present case, we are not even certain that the document expressed a real opinion, as it was a rough draft that might have ended up as an entirely different final opinion.
Then, a little farther on, the report concerning the interview of 23 September 1955 breaks off with three dots in brackets at the point where the poignant scene that I experienced when Gustave Dominici agreed to lean on Inspector Sébeille’s shoulder and repeat the circumstances of his first accusation against his father on 13 November 1952. One can hardly imagine that Sabatier would have forgotten to tell the public prosecutor of an incident that was so much in tune with his ideas on the case. How could one possibly therefore think that this omission was deliberate, when in fact he agreed almost entirely with Gustave’s other statements about pressure from the police?
It’s true that none of this makes me out to be scandalous or exaggerated in my statements or actions. In itself this would not be serious. But what worries me is the lack of rigour in the method. I can see it especially regarding this part of the affair that I know so well.
o Demolishing the case
It’s logical that before coming to the murderers, who he believes he’s found, William Reymond, begins by pulling to pieces the case which led to the death sentence against Gaston Dominici and of the consequences that prevented him from proclaiming his innocence. I won’t go into this part of his argument at length In the twelve books that were published before his and the countless articles and features printed on the subject, everything has been said both for and against. I am well aware of the case’s weak points, but I have explained how many of the arguments used by the defence actually made me even more convinced of Gaston Dominici’s guilt. And I’m not going to start arguing with William Reymond about that.
There is however one point on which I will not remain silent. It’s the disgraceful attack on Inspector Sébeille’s intellectual honesty in being accused of wilfully setting up a legal error against Gaston Dominici. This outrageous sort of accusation only serves to damn the author himself. Without any doubt, Sébeille, whether he liked it or not, became the arch enemy of the Dominici family, when in fact he didn’t even suspect any of them at the outset. It’s not by blaming him that Gaston Dominici will be rehabilitated. I only knew him a little, but, knowing that he had the same facts to hand as me, I’m sure he came to the same conclusions as I did. I’m not here to question William Reymond’s honesty; but by the same token I don’t accept that he questions Sébeille’s honesty either.
It’s worth pointing out that Reymond does not wish to discuss the night of 23 September 1955, when Gustave Dominici repeated before me the confession he had made to Sébeille. But just as Mr. Pollak shortened it for the film, and Mr. Collard grabbed the microphone from me, Gustave’s confession embarrasses William Reymond.
He puts the blame for the triple crime on a foreign secret service. This is not exactly a new departure. Sébeille himself aired the theory in his report of 23 January 1953, but then rejected it, mainly because he had difficulty imagining professional hit men using a lashed up weapon. What’s new in William Reymond’s book is the wealth of detail he provides.
o Sir Jack Drummond, secret agent
It was well known that Sir Jack Drummond was a famous nutritionist. The author believes that from 1914 onwards he was commissioned to carry out chemical warfare work by the British secret services. He then moved from this activity to an even more secret one of bringing over former Nazi scientists. It was while he was doing this that a rival secret service murdered him, his wife and his daughter. He cannot, however, prove any of this. The scientist’s work on preventing infection in foodstuffs can be explained by his speciality as a nutritionist, without it being necessary to imagine any kind of secret work. By the same token, his frequent travels can easily be justified by his presence at conferences and seminars on food. Nor is there anything special about a humanitarian mission behind German lines at the end of the war, led by an eminent nutritionist. The numerous references to English-language publications are meaningless. If we are talking about State secrets then how come they appear in the public domain? The author does not explain this. He prefers vague formulas such as “It is impossible to state.-..” or “Although it is impossible to give the real reasons with any degree of certainty…” or even “What Drummond was doing at this time is not clear…”, etc. When he mentions a secret report in which Sir Jack was supposed to have been part of a group of scientists that had the key to Nazi secrets, he does not say why this report was published and does not quote it.
The story about the English couple which were supposed to have followed the Drummonds on their journey through France features even more inconsistencies. It should come as no surprise that English people meeting abroad tend to gather together, in this instance in Domrémy and Digne. The photos in the book are poor in quality and fail to prove that it was the same man. The air of mystery surrounding the Drummond’s movements in Villefranche and on the road to Digne and Lurs is not serious.
But I don’t regret having persevered, as what follows becomes more interesting from the moment when the author come to the interrogation of the German, Wilhelm Bartowski, by police in Stuttgart. This individual had been arrested for several crimes including stolen car traffic and armed robbery in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland. On 12 November 1952 he admitted to belonging to a gang of three bandits. In his testimony, he said that in August 1952 they had been paid to carry out a hit job in France. He acted as driver to take them down to the South, to a place he gave a sketchy description of, where he was told by the gang to stop in the middle of the night. He was left at the wheel while the others, armed with a pistol and two carbines, walked towards a small light, near a parked car and bushes, into which they disappeared. After a while, he heard three or four shots and the moans of a woman or a child. The three men stayed for a while to cover their tracks and, William Reymond, who believes this was the Lurs crime, says, to finish off Elisabeth before returning to the car and going back the way they had come.
This statement probably exists, though Reymond provides no precise references to the German police report and gives no indication of how the report came into his possession. However, can Bartowski’s statement be linked to the Lurs crime? His description of places is vague but could be any of ten places in that part of France. He says he heard three or four shots when at least seven were fired - three at each of the Drummond parents according to the autopsy, and one which hit the bridge.
However, there is one thing for sure. William Reymond claims that two weapons were used - a 7.62mm US carbine and a 7.92mm German pistol. He thinks that the proof is in the autopsy which showed different diameters of impact on the bodies. But the difference of 2 millimetres between two calibres is too small to show up on a soft target such as a human body. The differences in the size of the wounds can be explained by other factors, such as the firing distance and the angle of penetration. Reymond contradicts ballistic experts here, as the first investigators did not make the same mistake as for the drying trousers. They carefully picked up the cartridges and cartridge cases, of which they only found two of each, as well as the empty magazine. Some were missing, therefore, but Gustave Dominici had passed over the ground before they arrived. The tests showed that the two cartridges had been fired by the 7.62mm US carbine.
Let’s not forget either that the person using this semi-automatic carbine did not know how to use it correctly and this would be surprising for members of an armed gang. To dispose of this awkward fact, Reymond presumes that the gunman knew how to use the gun but had to manually eject dud cartridges. This is not what the police reports state. Captain Albert handed over unfired cartridges to Sébeille. To back up his argument, Reymond mentions a recent TV programme. To each his own proof. I knew Captain Albert well as an irreproachable upright man of exceptional competence; he was unlikely to have made a mistake on such an important detail. I far prefer his report to any TV show.
o Enter Inspector Gillard
However, William Reymond established another link between Bartowski’s statement and the Lurs crime. The German police had forwarded the statement to the French authorities and Inspector Gillard was put in charge of the inquiry. His conclusion, as he told William Reymond was quite straightforward: Bartowski was a fraud; his statement was intended merely to win time and change prisons. I tend to believe this, firstly because I know he is a good policeman and I trust his judgement, and secondly, I have plenty of experience as an investigator and I know this type of situation. As soon as a case grabs the headlines, a crowd of unstable or dodgy people turn up trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. I would have liked to read the results of the psychiatric tests that the German courts subjected Bartowski to.
William Reymond obviously did not like Inspector Gillard’s opinion on the matter and he preferred calling on the report drawn up by the same person on 24 November 1952 to demonstrate that in fact he thought the opposite. But you have to read the five pages on the subject very carefully. They contain excerpts from the report mixed in with the author’s comments, all made to look as if Gillard had himself concluded that Bartowski was guilty. But this was simply not the case. Only the author’s comments suggest this. The quotes from the author of the report itself are mainly statements by Bartowski, who seems to have wanted to make it look as if he had taken part in the Lurs murders. Other excerpts are arguments that could be taken as proof of his participation. But Gillard provided both sides of the argument and Reymond mentions none of the cons, nor does he quote from the conclusions.
In addition, the excerpts mentioned show that the author of the report treats the whole issue as a common crime and never raises the question of secret services. William Reymond himself cannot prove that secret services played a part. He confines himself to revealing that, having been interviewed daily for three months by the German police, Bartowski confessed to having played a part in the hijacking of a nuclear physicist called Erich Kramer, who was handed over to a Czech service before being liquidated. But we are interested in the Drummonds and not Kramer.
Nor does he explain why France would have had no interest in revealing a Soviet crime in the middle of the Cold War. I could have understood him if the crime had been blamed on the British or American secret services, but why hide the treachery of the Soviets from public opinion? Was someone afraid that the Kremlin would trigger a nuclear war? And why would Gillard have continued to remain silent in his interview with the author in 1995, after the fall of the Soviet regime?
In the end, his opinion is totally incompatible with everything I know about Chenevier and Gillard, who, despite their relationship with the media, were good policemen. There would have been no need for intrigue in 1955 if from 1952 onwards they had known the identity of the guilty parties, who were being protected for reasons of State. They would have never have announced that they were going to get better results than Sébeille if they had known in advance that they would fail. On the contrary, Chenevier would have done his best to prevent a new investigation being launched in 1955 or would have got someone else to take his place. He would never have got himself nor Gillard involved in something that would have caused him to lose face.
Unless… the two inspectors were as unworthy as Reymond claimed Sébeille was and that they had decided, simply to raise their profile to sacrifice a second victim to reasons of State - Gustave Dominici. This is a horrifying idea as much as it was in Sébeille’s case. It is well known that I did not entirely approve the methods of these two policemen but I have never doubted their good intentions. I have seen them at work and I’m sure that they genuinely set out to seek the truth and find the guilty.
Unless… Gustave Dominici, after his service in the Resistance, had been recruited by an East Bloc secret service and had cleaned up the crime scene after Bartowski and Co had finished and got rid of the 7.92mm shells, not on his own or his father’s account, but on SMERSH’s; and that he then pinned the blame on the old man to protect the thugs working for his paymasters; that his continual changes of mind can be explained by his being torn between love of his father and the Cause; that Gaston himself had kept quiet in order to avoid the shame of his grandchildren finding out that there had been a traitor in the family; and, finally, that, knowing this Chenevier and Gillard had simultaneously wanted to show up the guilty, establish their reputation and be nasty to Sébeille, all this without anything weighing on their conscience, or giving away State secrets. This all holds up logically, except on one point: Gustave was not a Soviet agent. He could have been, as Sir Jack was probably a British secret agent, and, with carefully edited evidence, this could be “proved”. How he spent his time, for instance. The fact that he forgot to water the field shows that he was worried about the arrival of the gang. And, his visit to the cinema to see a Fernandel film was a cover for meeting the gang in the dark, and so on. But this is all complete nonsense, as we all know.
o My summing up
Getting back to common sense and to the scenario that we are presented with. To prove that Sir Jack was a spy and that he was being followed, the author builds up a series of small but banal details to which he gratuitously gives a mysterious aura. Knowing his tendency to speak of matters he knows little about and his lack of self-criticism, I remain quite unconvinced. There’s nothing very solid in his arguments. All I see is a dietary scientist who attends many conferences and an English family on holidays in France. As far as I am concerned, the first part of his argument is fictitious; the supposed political motive for the murders is no better than the sexual motive attributed to Gaston Dominici.
The second part begins seriously. In order to prove that the Lurs crime was the work of the Bartowski gang, William Reymond bases his evidence on a German police report, in which states that Bartowski claimed responsibility. But this man was a story-teller and in any case was weak on detail. The details that he did provide did not prove that he played a part in the crime. On the contrary, the material evidence, mainly the weapon and its use, don not fit with his account. Reymond therefore uses a report by Inspector Gillard that he presents in bits and pieces, broken up with partial comments. If this report concluded that the Bartowski gang was responsible it would be the keystone of his evidence. He had no right to cut it into little bits. He should havc published it in full as an appendix. The reason he did not is because one only has to read the whole report to discover that his theory is wrong. Gillard’s behaviour in 1955 would in any case have been ridiculous if he had believed in Bartowski’s guilt back in 1952. Furthermore, Bartowski and his cohorts were common law delinquents and is has not been proved that they acted on behalf of a secret service. Finally, we are not given an explanation of why reasons of State were used to hide a Soviet crime committed in France.
I’m afraid that Reymond is not the person to convince me. I think Gaston Dominici was guilty. He was perhaps not the only guilty party, but I do not think we will ever be able to identify the other party or parties, in the Dominici family or elsewhere.
The question that remains is: would I have sentenced him to death?