At first glance, the Troadec family appeared to have vanished into thin air. Their toothbrushes had gone from their family home, food was rotting in their otherwise neat kitchen and the beds had been stripped and laundered.
When forensic police discovered blood stains and traces of DNA at the property in the north-west suburbs of Nantes, a more sinister scenario emerged, but nobody was prepared for the horror of Hubert Caouissin’s confession.
On Monday, it was revealed that Caouissin had admitted killing his former brother-in-law, Pascal Troadec, 49, Troadec’s wife, Brigitte, 49, and their children Sébastien, 21 and Charlotte, 18, then dismembering and burning their bodies.
The motive appeared to be a long-running family dispute over an unspecified number of pieces of gold, Pierre Sennès, the public prosecutor in Nantes, said on Monday afternoon.
The mystery of what had befallen the Troadec family had gripped France for three weeks. Headlines expounded various theories: had Sébastien, described as having psychological problems, killed his parents and sister? Was Pascal, who had suffered from depression, responsible for the deaths?
Relations between Caouissin, 46, married to Pascal Troadec’s sister, and his victims had been poisoned for some years. Caouissin was convinced his brother-in-law was hiding gold allegedly left in Troadec’s father’s will six years ago. He felt he and his wife had not received a share of the inheritance, Sennès said.
Caouissin told police that on 16 February, the last day members of the Troadec family were seen, that he went to his victims’ home with a stethoscope to listen to their conversations through the windows and doors.
The Troadec children had returned from school for the holidays and were with their parents. Sennès said Caouissin spent the evening hiding in the garage adjoining the property until the family went to bed. He then entered the house intending to steal a key he had seen on a sideboard.
The noise he made woke the Troadec couple, who came downstairs to find themselves face to face with the intruder.
Sennès admitted the exact details of what followed had yet to be established but said Caouissin claimed Pascal Troadec was carrying a crowbar, which he managed to wrest from his grasp.
“He hit and killed Pascal and Brigitte Troadec first then killed Sebastien and Charlotte. The crime scene was one of great violence. Mr Caouissin stayed until the early hours then returned to the home he shared with Lydie Troadec and told her what had happened,” Sennès said.
“The following evening, Mr Caouissin went back to the house with the intention of cleaning it to remove traces of what had happened and to take the bodies. On the 18th in the evening, he put the four victims in Sebastien Troadec’s Peugeot 308 car and again returned home.
“In the two or three days that followed he tried to make the bodies disappear. It seems the bodies were dismembered and some parts were bured and others were burned,” Sennès added.
The Peugeot was found in the Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire, and Charlotte’s trousers with a bank card in the pocket were discovered near Brest in Brittany.
When first interviewed by police, Caouissin told them he had not seen his in-laws for years. He was arrested after forensic experts discovered his fingerprints in the vehicle and on a glass found in the family home.
Caouissin’s mother told the Parisien her son, who had worked as an engineer at the military base at Brest until four years ago when he became ill with “burn-out” had often spoken about the “family legend” of bars or pieces of gold.
Sennès praised the police for their work and said the priority was now to find the buried remains.
Caouissin, faces life imprisonment if convicted of multiple murder, and Lydie Troadec, who is under investigation as his accomplice, were being held in custody and interviewed by investigating judges on Monday evening.