French mother confesses to suffocating eight of her babies | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.07.2010
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French mother confesses to suffocating eight of her babies

A French woman in her forties has admitted to killing eight of her new-born babies and hiding them in plastic bags. She has been officially charged, and says her husband knew nothing of her actions.

Dominique Cottrez

Cottrez confessed and is being questioned by police

A French nursing assistant on Thursday confessed to suffocating her eight new-born babies, and disposing of their bodies in plastic bags, in what experts are calling France's worst recorded case of infanticide.

"The mother knew she was pregnant," public prosecutor Eric Valliant told a news conference. "She didn't want any more children, and didn't want any doctors involved."

Valliant said Dominique Cottrez had had bad experiences with doctors in her first pregnancy, and didn't want to use contraceptives.

The prosecutor said she initially admitted to killing two children at birth, before admitting to police she had suffocated six others dating back to the early 1990s. She also told police that her husband knew nothing of her pregnancies or her decisions to kill her babies.

Valliant said the father has been released by police, while the mother is undergoing formal questioning and psychological tests to assess her criminal responsibility. The crime of "deliberate homicide of a child under 15-years old" potentially carries a life sentence in France.

Local community in shock

Candles are displayed in front of a house where the bodies of newborn children were found in the village of Villers-au-Tertre

The family home is currently host to a low-key memorial

Cottrez, who has two grown-up children, cared for the elderly in the village of Villers-au-Tertre, to the north of Paris. Her husband has a seat on the local council, and the pair appeared to be model neighbors.

"They are very good people," one village resident said. "Never any scenes, never any problems. They're very courteous. There was nothing about them that suggested anything like this."

"They always had a kind smile," another neighbor said. "They didn't attract attention, and kept themselves to themselves."

The babies' deaths only came to light by chance; the new owners of Cottrez's parents' house found something suspicious in the garden and called the police. Sniffer dogs discovered the remains of two new-born children, and six more were found at the arrested couple's own house, sealed in plastic bags and hidden in the garage.

"It's unimaginable, incomprehensible - it's a huge shock," local priest Robert Meignotte said after lighting eight candles outside the Cottrez household. "The husband says this is a shock to him too. He knew nothing about the pregnancies, which were made more difficult to detect by his wife's heavy weight."

A pregnant woman's midriff

Though it's usually clear to see, women's bodies can conceal pregnancy

Denial prevented diagnosis?

The case has obviously raised questions as to how a woman can go through eight pregnancies, delivering the children herself, without being detected by friends, family, or even her own husband.

"Pregnancy denial is contagious," the gynecologist and obstetrician Israel Nissand said in an interview on French public television, citing a similar case from last year. "Not just for people immediately around the pregnant woman, but also for the doctors."

Nissand went on to explain how a woman's physical build and development while pregnant can be altered in this rare situation.

"She (the mother) corrects her silhouette by herself. Without knowing it, she muscles up the walls of her belly, stopping the uterus from coming forward and pushing it upwards. Most of the time that means no one detects the pregnancy; not the woman, not the doctors, and, generally speaking, not the husband either."

Prosecutor Eric Valliant, however, asserts that Cottrez was aware of her pregnancies, even if she managed to conceal them.

There have been a number of similar cases in recent years. In March, a woman in Brittany confessed to killing six of her new-born babies and hiding them in the cellar. Another Frenchwoman, Veronique Courjault, was jailed last year for killing three of her babies and keeping their remains in the freezer. And in Germany, four years ago, Sabine Hilschenz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter of eight of her new-born babies.

Author: John Laurenson (msh)

Editor: Rob Turner

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