Joanna Parrish murder: French serial killer’s ex-wife tried in student cold case

Monique Olivier
Image caption,Monique Olivier, now 75, met serial killer Michel Fourniret in the 1980s and became his accomplice

The ex-wife of one of France’s most notorious serial-killers has gone on trial for her role in the 1990 murder of British student Joanna Parrish.

Monique Olivier, who is 75 and already serving a life sentence in jail, is also charged with helping the late Michel Fourniret commit two other murders, one of a nine-year old girl.

Joanna Parrish, 20, was found dead in a river near the town of Auxerre.

The Leeds University student had been working as a gap-year English teacher.

She had been beaten and raped.

More than 30 years later, the trial in the Paris suburb of Nanterre is the first chance for her family to see a semblance of justice. Her parents, now divorced, are attending.

Fourniret was nicknamed the Beast of the Ardennes after he was convicted of seven murders of young women in 2008. In jail 10 years later, he confessed to killing Joanna Parrish and the two others.

In France, most interest is focused on the case of nine-year-old Estelle Mouzin, who disappeared on her way from school in Guermantes southeast of Paris in 2003. She is believed to be Fourniret’s last victim. Her body has never been found.

Fourniret died in 2021 before he could be tried for these three murders.

Joanna Parrish
Image caption,Joanna Parrish had been working as an English teacher in Auxerre when she was murdered

Olivier was also convicted in the 2008 trial, during which her role in aiding Fourniret’s murderous sex obsession was laid bare. As his female accomplice, she was able to win the trust of victims, who would otherwise have been on their guard against a single male.

In court on Tuesday, she was asked by the judge if she had anything to say and replied: “I regret everything that happened.”

In the first murder, alone in the couple’s van she picked up a hitch-hiker, then further down the road picked up Fourniret, who was pretending to be another hitch-hiker.

Olivier met Fourniret in the mid-1980s after he placed an advertisement in a Catholic weekly. At the time he was serving a sentence for rape.

They started a correspondence, in which he revealed his obsession with virginity. He referred to young girls as “membranes on legs”. On his release she agreed to help him find victims.

In a bizarre twist, in 1988 the pair also laid hands on a fortune in gold which had been buried by a gang in a cemetery outside Paris.

Fourniret learned of the treasure from a cellmate. He and Olivier dug it up with the cellmate’s wife, who Fourniret later murdered.

With the money the couple bought a ch√Ęteau near the Belgian border which for years served as their base of operations. Fourniret and Olivier used a van to travel around France and chose many of their victims in places where other serial-killers were suspected of operating.

Self-confessed French serial killer Michel Fourniret leaves Police Headquarters in Dinant 08 July 2004.
Image caption,Fourniret, pictured here in 2004, died in jail two years ago

This may have been a factor behind the failures of the police investigation. In the case of Joanna Parrish, Auxerre was also the territory of Emile Louis, a bus-driver jailed in 2004 for the murders of seven young women.

Fourniret was finally caught in 2003 after an attempted kidnapping in Belgium went wrong. The following year Olivier made her first confessions, and bit by bit Fourniret also let out the truth – though often in a confused and contradictory fashion. The couple divorced while in jail in 2010.

As in the 2008 trial, much attention in Nanterre will be on Olivier’s degree of responsibility. Her lawyer says she has a submissive personality, and did everything in order to please Fourniret. The prosecution says that without Olivier the murders would never have happened.

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