United Kingdom

French serial killer who murdered British student Joanna Parrish and dozens more dies at age of 79 

Michel Fourniret, 78, (pictured) has slipped into a coma and is on the verge of death

The French serial killer who murdered British student Joanna Parrish and dozens more has died at the age of 79, the chief prosecutor of Paris said today. 

Michel Fourniret, who is known as the 'Beast of the Ardennes', died at the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris at 3pm local time, prosecutor Rémy Heitz said. 

He had been rushed from Fresnes prison to a secure unit at the hospital on Saturday after 'suffering from respiratory problems'.

An investigation has been opened into his death, Heitz said. 

Fourniret had slipped into a coma and was on the verge of death, it emerged earlier today.    

'He is suffering with heart problems and mental degeneration, has been placed in a coma, and doctors consider he cannot be resuscitated,' a source told Le Parisien newspaper early Monday.

Fourniret has admitted kidnapping, raping and murdering nine girls and young women over a 14-year period from 1987, and is thought to be behind up to 21 more killings. 

They included Joanna, a 20-year-old Leeds University language student who was killed in Burgundy countryside in eastern France in May 1990.

In 2018, Fourniret told examining magistrates that he ended the lives of both Joanna and Marie-Ange Domece, a mentally handicapped teenager who disappeared in 1988, aged 19.

Joanna's body was found naked in the River Yonne in Auxerre, the day after she was reported missing.

Fourniret was the prime suspect in Joanna's case for years, and was finally arrested in 2005 with his wife Monique Olivier in connection with the death.

Michel Fourniret, known as the Beast of the Ardennes, was jailed for life without the possibility of parole in May 2008 after admitting the kidnap, rape and murder of seven young women over a 14-year period from 1987 including Estelle Mouzin (left) and Joanna Parrish (right)

Olivier was also jailed for complicity after it was revealed she would pick up victims for him as she drove in their car around the wooden Ardennes area with their baby son in the backseat.

Last year, analysts found forensic traces of two other Fourniret victims - nine-year-old Estelle Mouzin and 18-year-old Céline Saison - on a mattress belonging to the murderer's sister.

Then advanced testing led to links with 12 other people, whose identities could be revealed thanks to advanced testing.

Corinne Herrmann, a barrister representing presumed victims, said at the time: 'We want the DNA of all victims and disappeared girls that we represent to be compared with those found on the mattress, and with all evidence under seal seized at Michel Fourniret's home.'

Pictured: An excavator digs a two hectares parcel of the forest near the village of Issancourt-et-Rumel on the third day of the search operations for the remains of nine-year-old girl Estelle Mouzin on April 29

Ms Herrmann added: 'It is inconceivable that Fourniret did not kill other victims.'

Fourniret was in the high-security Fresnes prison in Paris until being rushed to the Pitié Salpêtrière.

Le Parisien reported that he 'had already been hospitalized in emergency on several occasions.'

Didier Seban, another lawyer for the families of his victims, said: 'His condition and his memory have been deteriorating for several months and we suspect that he will never be tried' for many of his crimes.

Mr Seban added: 'This situation is obviously hard to live with for the families who will be deprived of the main accused in the event of a trial.'

Michel Fourniret – the 79-year-old known as the 'Beast of the Ardennes' – was rushed to a secure unit at the Pitié Salpêtrière in Paris (file photo) on Saturday 'suffering from respiratory problems'

Monique Olivier has told a fellow prisoner that her ex-husband's victims 'greatly exceeded 30', according to investigating sources who have monitored her in Rennes prison.

Genetic traces have linked him with at least 21 unsolved cases of murders or disappearances across France.

This list exclusively concerns girls or young women, aged 10 to 39, who mysteriously disappeared or were murdered between 1987 and 2003 in 17 departments, the French equivalent of counties.

Fourniret was convicted of seven murders in May 2008, and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Olivier, his ex-wife, was given life with a minimum term of 28 years in prison, for complicity in multiple murders.

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