A former soldier has admitted to "accidently" killing a 9-year-old girl, whose disappearance last year gripped France. The soldier has also been charged with another murder, prompting fears he could be a serial killer.
French police on Wednesday said they had retrieved the remains of missing 9-year-old Maelys de Araujo, who disappeared at a wedding in the French Alps last August, after the chief suspect admitted to "accidently" killing her and hiding her body.
After months of fruitless searching, suspect Nordahl Lelandais, a former French soldier and military dog handler, came clean to authorities about his role in Maelys' disappearance, Grenoble Prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat told reporters.
"This evening Maelys' parents know that their daughter is dead," Coquillat said.
Grenoble Prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat (right) said that, while Lelandais admitted to killing Maelys, the circumstances leading up to her death remained unknown
Lelandais admission was thought to have come after police found traces of the missing girl's blood in the trunk of his car.
Lelandais subsequently told investigators that he killed her accidentally, hid the body near his house and then returned to the wedding party near Chambery in the alpine Isere region, where he was a guest of the groom. He later dumped the child's body in a remote ravine.
However, the former soldier did not explain the circumstances that led to the girl's death, the prosecutor said.
France gripped by Maelys disappearance
Maelys' disappearance in August grabbed national headlines, while hundreds of volunteers helped police comb the area for days to no avail.
Police questioned more than 200 potential witnesses, including Lelandais. Officers reportedly uncovered several clues during the six-month probe that pointed to the former soldier, including traces of her DNA in his car and CCTV footage.
Lelandais repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he had let children at the party look at the dogs he was keeping in his car.
Possible serial killer
Lelandais also faces charges relating to the murder of 24-year-old French soldier, Arthur Noyer. The soldier was last seen in April hitchhiking from the town of Chambery after leaving a night club during the early hours.
With links to separate murders, police fear that Lelandais could be a potential serial killer. Those concerns have prompted authorities to reopen cases into other missing persons in the region.
dm/aw (AFP, AP)