Joanna Parrish's brave fight against serial killer brought to light in French court

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Monique Olivier, the ex-wife of notorious serial killer Michel Fourniret, has recounted horrifying details of the violent assault on British student Joanna Parrish in a French court.

Parrish, 20, was murdered in 1990 in Auxerre, France, and Olivier, already serving a life sentence, is now on trial for complicity in two murders, including Parrish's, and a kidnapping. The horrible story started back to 1988 with the disappearance of 18-year-old Marie-Angele Domece, and was followed by Parrish's tragic fate in 1990. A third charge revolves around Olivier's alleged involvement in the 2003 disappearance of nine-year-old Estelle Mouzin, whose body has never been found.

The Beast of the Ardennes

Fourniret, dubbed the "Beast of the Ardennes," was convicted in 2008 for the murders of seven young women. A decade later, he confessed to Parrish's murder and one other. Olivier, implicated in aiding Fourniret's gruesome spree, faced conviction in the 2008 trial.

During Wednesday's court proceedings in Paris, Olivier, now 75, admitted to "all the facts" she's accused of, contradicting her earlier retraction of a confession made in a 2005 police interview. The harrowing crimes unfolded as Olivier detailed how Fourniret used her to gain the victims' trust. The court heard about a failed kidnapping attempt at the Auxerre station, foreshadowing the tragic events that would later transpire.

Sylvain Lefevre Michel Fourniret accompanies police at the scene where investigators were digging in the grounds of the chateau 'Le Sautou' near Donchery, northern France, July 3, 2004

Chilling details

Francis Nachbar, the ex-prosecutor from the 2008 trial, recounted Olivier's chilling revelations during the police interview. She provided detailed accounts of Parrish's appearance and the horrific fate that befell her. According to Olivier, Parrish valiantly "fought back" against Fourniret's vicious assault, yet succumbed to a horrifying fate of rape and murder.

Nachbar described a haunting moment during the interview when Olivier, after disclosing Parrish's fate, fell into a sudden, eerie silence, resembling a statue. The courtroom atmosphere thickened as officers tried to console her. Olivier later retracted her statement, alleging coercion.

The decision not to include Parrish's case in the 2008 trial stemmed from Olivier's 2006 retraction. Nachbar clarified that this choice aimed to prioritise the "first circle of victims," considering the advanced age of some relatives. Ms. Domece, the other murdered woman, and Parrish were reserved for a later "second circle" of cases.

Joanna Parrish Mathieu Polak/Sygma

The heart-wrenching testimony from Joanna Parrish's parents is anticipated in the coming week, providing a firsthand account of the unimaginable grief and loss inflicted by Fourniret and Olivier. Parrish's murder is just one of a number of chilling murders involving British women and girls over the last few decades, such as the murder of Madeleine McCann, or the more recent death of Nicola Bulley in unclear circumstances.

The trial continues...

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© Mathieu Polak/Sygma/Sygma

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