Cold cases: a center for unsolved crimes to save victims from oblivion

Cold cases: a center for unsolved crimes to save victims from oblivion

Tatiana Andujar was about to turn eighteen. One Sunday in the fall of 1995, the pretty brunette with a radiant smile, returning from the weekend, got off the train at Perpignan station. From a telephone booth, she calls her parents, Marie-José Garcia and Martin Andujar. Don’t worry, she’ll manage to get home, about fifteen kilometers away. But the next day, his bed is not made. “Tati” didn’t come back. She will never come back.

Despite the years that passed by, the false leads and the disillusionments, his mother Marie-José never gave up. And this fall, she feels “reboosted”, strong with an “enormous hope” which has a name: that of Sabine Khéris, the Parisian investigating judge before whom Michel Fourniret admitted to having killed little Estelle Mouzin, who has since disappeared. 2003. An experienced magistrate, she is at the helm of a judicial service operational since spring 2022: the PCSNE, or Serial or Unsolved Crimes Unit, aka pole cold cases .

These affairs fascinate the French. As evidenced by the plethora of podcasts and shows devoted to the subject, Call for witnesses (M6) to The time of the crime (RTL). “Media coverage can be useful, because it sometimes gives rise to new testimony,” believes Commissioner Philippe Guichard, the former head of the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons (OCRVP). Erik Dumont, whose little sister Sabine was raped and killed in 1987, is convinced of this, he who never hesitates to respond to journalists. With the deep conviction that “someone, somewhere, knows something”.

Public opinion and associations of victims’ families, powerfully relayed by social networks, are pushing hard to ensure that justice does not give up in the face of these police rebuses. “There is a consensus on the unbearable nature of impunity,” points out Pascal Gastineau, vice-president of the French Association of Investigating Magistrates. And thanks to the extension of the limitation period, extended from ten to twenty years for murders since 2017, it is possible to investigate for longer. »

A renewed hope for families

The disappearance of Tatiana Andujar is one of the 96 cases, soon to be 103, taken care of by the new center cold cases based in Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine). To the greatest comfort of Marie-José Garcia, whom Judge Khéris went to hear in Perpignan on August 30. These four hours of exchanges brought balm to the heart of “Tati’s” mother. “She is tremendously empathetic, attentive and determined,” she says. I am convinced that she will do everything to ensure that we know what happened to my daughter. » Julien, one of Tatiana’s brothers, measures his mother’s renewed optimism: “For the first time since my sister’s disappearance, I feel totally confident. »

So many hopes rest on the shoulders of the Nanterre team – three investigating judges and their clerks, and three prosecutors… Those of the relatives of the victims, murdered or disappeared, whose murderers have until now passed between the meshes of the investigation; those of the lawyers who have been their voice for so long. “The families hope to obtain answers, finally, because the absence of a judicial resolution prevents them from living,” underlines Me Didier Seban, expert in cold cases .

Promising avenues… both legal and scientific

The creation of this unit specializing in unsolved crimes – unique in Europe – owes a lot to the former prosecutor Jacques Dallest who, in 2008, in Marseille, set up a small unit responsible for listing closed cases and reopening them. some. In 2019, the Ministry of Justice entrusted him with the presidency of a working group for “improving the judicial treatment” of unresolved cases. This reflection gave rise to several innovations: the Nanterre pole therefore, but also the sifting of the criminal history of a murderer or a rapist and the prohibition, about to be included in the law, of destroying the sealed – items seized during an investigation.

A dynamic is now at work, fueled by technical and scientific progress with dizzying prospects. Because never have crime scenes been so talkative. A biological microtrace now makes it possible, thanks to so-called “parental” DNA, to confuse a criminal by identifying a member of his family registered in the Fnaeg, the National Automated Genetic Fingerprint File. Another promising avenue: the genetic robot portrait, revealing valuable physical indications such as the color of hair, eyes and skin and a predisposition to baldness or freckles. “We can even determine the biological age at plus or minus five years,” explains Francis Choukroun, the former head of the National Forensic Institute.

The fear of never solving the mystery

To carry out investigations, the unsolved crimes unit relies on several very specialized services, such as Diane, the Unsolved Cases Division of the gendarmerie, the OCRVP or the Criminal Analysis and Behavioral Analysis Unit of complex cases (UAC3), created in 2021 within the Paris Criminal Brigade.

It is up to them to carry out the delicate task of going over all the parts of the procedure, of re-examining the material elements, of re-reading the multiple hearings in the hope of detecting a contradiction here, a neglected avenue there. “We are fortunate that a team of dedicated, active, efficient investigators are working on our case, even if the culprit may no longer be alive,” welcomes Erik Dumont, who is still fighting for his sister Sabine, killed at age 9 in Essonne, thirty-six years ago.

Families and their councils are not the only ones to welcome the birth of the unit dedicated to cold cases. Many police officers, gendarmes and judges are also haunted by an enigma impossible to erase from their memory. A crime of blood or sex whose perpetrator is still at large, despite the witnesses questioned, the clues dissected, the hypotheses studied.

Now retired, magistrate Jacques Dallest has never forgotten the ten judicial mysteries that, as a young investigating judge, he had to resolve to bequeath to his successor in 1994. “I still have them in my throat” , he admits almost thirty years later. But at least he has the satisfaction of knowing that one of these files – the rape and murder of Muriel Théron, a 17-year-old high school student, in the Croix-Rousse district in April 1993 – is today today in Nanterre.

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