Murder accused ‘thought family was hoarding Nazi gold’
A man will go on trial today accused of murdering a family of four and dismembering their bodies after he became convinced they were hoarding gold hidden from the Nazis in a basement in western France.
Hubert Caouissin was obsessed that he and his wife were being cheated out of their share of what he believed to be the treasure and was spying on his brother-in-law, Pascal Troadec, in the hope of tracing it.
On the day of the killings, in February 2017, he went to Troadec’s home to eavesdrop on conversations using a stethoscope pressed against the windows but was discovered as he attempted to steal a key.
Caouissin admitted killing Troadec, 49, with a crowbar and killing Troadec’s wife, Brigitte, 49, and their two children Sébastien, 21, and Charlotte, 18, in their beds.
He faces life in jail but the defence wants to convince the court he was not psychologically fit at the time and avoid the maximum penalty for premeditated murder.
The mystery of what happened to the Troadec family, who appeared to have vanished into thin air, gripped France for more than three weeks in 2017.
Police said their two-storey home in Orvault, near Nantes, appeared “frozen in time”: toothbrushes and hairbrushes were gone, food was left rotting in the kitchen, dishes were left unwashed in the sink and all the beds had been stripped and laundered.
Detectives were alerted when bloodstains and traces of DNA were found at the house, but it was only when Caouissin, 50, confessed that the horror of what had allegedly happened became clear.
Relations between Caouissin – who was married to Pascal Troadec’s sister, Lydie – and his brother-in-law had been bitter for years. Caouissin was convinced the Troadecs were hiding gold ingots and coins rumoured to have been discovered by Lydie and Pascal’s builder father in 2006 in the basement of a building he was working on in Brest.
The gold was said to have been part of a 50kg consignment the Bank of France had hidden during German occupation in the second world war.
Caouissin believed that his late father-in-law had left it to Troadec in his will six years previously and that his wife should have had a share. He told police he went to his victims’ home with a stethoscope to listen to their conversations through the windows and doors and spent the evening hiding in the garage until the family went to bed. He then entered the house intending to steal a key he had seen on a sideboard but made so much noise he woke the couple.
Pierre Sennès, the public prosecutor in Nantes, said at the time: “He hit and killed Pascal and Brigitte Troadec first then killed Sébastien and Charlotte. The crime scene was one of great violence. 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.
“In the two or three days that followed he tried to make the bodies disappear,” Sennès added. “It seems the bodies were dismembered and some parts were buried and others were burned.”
Police later found 379 body parts around Caouissin’s farm in a remote part of Brittany.
When first interviewed by police, Caouissin said he had not seen his in-laws for years. Psychological reports suggested he was suffering from “extreme paranoia” fuelled by the feeling he was being cheated by his family.
Caouissin’s mother, Renée, told Le Parisien that her son, who had worked as an engineer at the military base at Brest but had become ill with “burnout”, had often spoken about the “family legend” of bars or pieces of gold. She admitted that she had never seen any gold and that other relatives doubted it ever existed.
“He never intended to kill the family,” his lawyer, Thierry Fillion, told French journalists.
The trial, at Nantes, will continue until 9 July. Caouissin faces life imprisonment if convicted of multiple murder. His wife is charged with helping to dispose of the bodies.