A Murder in Paris
Scene of the crime
On the afternoon of 29 March, 1971, the body of a dead man was found in a modest, one-room, apartment in the Paris banlieue St. Ouen. The autopsy revealed that he had been shot three times by a .22 calibre firearm. One bullet had struck the right side of his head, penetrating the skull. One bullet was fired directly into the top of the head. One bullet struck the forehead and deflected off. It was later found buried in the ceiling plaster.1 A mound of vomited cous-cous lay at one end of the small table, where the victim had been seated for what would be his last meal. Apart from the body, and a pool of blood, there was no sign of violence, no evidence of forced entry. The door the apartment was left ajar.
For reasons that were unclear at the time, the investigators of the Brigade criminelle de Paris were unable to make an arrest.
The Couple Appears
The evening before, at 6:30, Sunday, March 28, Mario Bachand’s housemate, Pierre Barral, was startled by a knock on the door.2 Barral opened it to find a young man and young woman standing timidly in the corridor. They appeared to be students, about twenty-five years of age. The man had a fine-featured face, a square chin, chestnut-brown hair and brown eyes. He was about five foot ten and slender. The woman had high cheek bones, a pointed chin, blond hair and piercing blue eyes. She was about six feet and thin. They both wore jeans. He wore a navy blue jacket; she wore a navy-blue turtleneck sweater and a navy-blue beret. “Can we see Françoise?”, the man said. “We are Québécois on the run. We are looking for François because we heard he might be able to help us.” He had a French-Canadian accent. Their problem, he said, was political.
François Mario Bachand, A Canadian from Montreal, had been staying with Pierre Barral in the latter’s one-room apartment in the Paris suburb of St. Ouen since the beginning of February, when he returned from travelling to Algeria and Cuba. Because Barral’s girlfriend, Françoise, was coming over that evening, Bachand would be back the next day, as he was scheduled to be interviewed by a Canadian journalist. He suggested they come back at noon. That evening, Barral prepared Qâlib Kous-Kous, a North African dish with mussels, for their lunch.
The Couple Returns
The couple returned at eleven-thirty the next morning, and Bachand arrived thirty-minutes later. When Françoise introduced them, Bachand said he did not recognize the man, but he might have seen the woman “somewhere in Montreal, perhaps at a demonstration.”3
“Let’s go to the café,” Bachand said. He never talked about politics in the apartment. “The walls might have ears,” he would say. He preferred to talk at the café, where he would sit with his back to the wall and look carefully at everyone who entered.
When the three came back to the apartment a short while later, Françoise pulled out the extensions of the small table and set five places, while the others sat and talked. The visitors said little, apart from making an occasional remark about the weather and about being tourists in Paris. Barral felt they were even more nervous than they had been the previous evening.
Time to die
Françoise brought out the cous-cous. When she picked up the man’s jacket from the chair beside him to make room at the table, about to put it on the bed, she noticed there was something “really heavy” in the right-hand pocket. A muscle on the man’s face began to twitch. He jumped to his feet and took the jacket from her. “Does it bother you, my moving your jacket?” she asked in surprise.4
“No”, he stammered, but from then on he kept it close by his side.
The two visitors hardly ate, saying apologetically that the long journey, the unaccustomed climate and food and their “troubles” in Canada had killed their appetites.
After lunch, Françoise left for work. At one-thirty, when Barral left for the university, Bachand and the couple were still seated at the table.
That Day in Paris
It was an early spring day. The temperature reached 14°C, and it seemed that all of Paris was in the streets and happy. The first fashion show of the season revealed two trends in ready-to-wear: sports clothes and cotton outfits. The new Bertolucci film, The Conformist, had opened at the Cinémonde-Opera; Night of the Assassins was on at the Recamier. At Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of the prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas opened the inaugural meeting of the High Committee of Youth, Sports and Leisure, whose mandate was to set up energies of restless youth. Since the events of May 1968, when students put up barricades in the streets of Paris and almost brought down the government, measures had been taken to ensure “public security and tranquility. The committee was one such measure. “We are required to firmly maintain the rules without which no social life, no progress, no freedom, is possible,” the prime minister declared to the delegates. “The existence of democracy rests on respect for rules.” He added that “adults must accept the generosity of youth. On the other hand, in the name of dialogue and of liberty, the authority of the state must choose the most effective means to bring to reason those who, by force, try to impose their interests or their utopias.”
The Body of Mario Bachand
It was late in the afternoon when Barral finished his class at the St.-Denis campus of the Université de Paris, where he was a doctoral student in mathematics. He took the Métro to Garibaldi, the last stop in St-Ouen, and walked south in the warm spring air along avenue Kléber. Ten minutes later, he turned left onto rue Eugène-Lumeau, a narrow street lined with two-and three-storey apartment buildings with cream-white walls. Two hundred metres down the street was Number 46, a three-storey rooming house behind a two-metre wall and a black-iron grill that then, but never after, was always unlocked. A walkway led along the front of the building, past petunias in bloom, to a small courtyard. An enclosed stairway gave access to the two floors above and to the basement below.
Barral climbed to the second-floor landing. The door to his apartment, at the end of the short corridor, now in shadow, was ajar. A musty smell from the basement, along with a strange metallic smell, hung in the air. A thief – perhaps the couple? It was shortly after five o’clock.
Apprehensive, he pushed the door open.
For what seemed a very long time, he could not comprehend what he saw. Bachand was at the far end of the room, on the floor, on his left side by a pool of blood. He seemed to look at Barral, but his eyes were empty, the pupils unnaturally large. Barral hurried over to him. There was a gash on Bachand’s forehead, and the thought crossed Barral’s mind that Bachand was having trouble breathing. Barral gently turned him onto his back. The body was warm, but he was not breathing.
The Brigade criminelle de Paris
There was no telephone in the apartment, so Barral ran to the café, block up the street towards avenue des Rosiers, and dialled 17 for Police Secours. After telling them to come urgently, he ran back to the apartment. At the end of the table where Bachand had been sitting was a small mound of cous-cous. The heavy wooden folding chair he’d occupied lay on the floor nearby. Barral noticed a hole in the ceiling, thirty centimetres left of the entrance to the kitchen. The couple, he thought… There was a fight… they hit Bachand with the chair… A piece of chair hit the ceiling.
This would have violated several laws of nature, which his shocked mind failed to realize. He wondered how he could clean up the blood.
Minutes later a Black Estafette van marked Police Secourse, its blue roof light flashing, turned onto rue Eugène-Lumeau from avenue de Rosiers. The siren echoed off the stone faces of buildings, causing heads to poke from windows and men and women on the sidewalk to turn and follow its progress. At number 46, it stopped abruptly. Two men in uniform jumped out, pulled a stretcher from the back and hurried through the gate.
A car arrived with two officers from the St. Ouen commissariat and a man carrying a doctor’s bag. A few minutes later, two black Peugot 308s pulled up, and six unsmiling men got out. Finally a black van marked Identité judiciaire arrived and let off three men in white coats.
In the apartment, the doctor checked for Bachand’s pulse and shone a small flashlight into his unseeing eyes. He turned to Commissaire René Lavaux and shrugged.
The Lavaux group of the Brigade criminelle would investigate the murder of Mario Bachand. Led by Commissaire René Lavaux, it included Commissaire Marc Monera and Inspecteurs Bernard Guy, Jean Laffarge, Bernard Ozanon and Fernand Cousyu.5
Lavaux was a senior investigator with the brigade; from years of experience, he could read a murder scene like a book. Disorder—overturned furniture, broken glass, torn clothing, scratches to the face— would suggest a crime of passion, born of rage or madness. Often with such crimes there are wounds to the face, as if the killer wanted to completely obliterate the victim. If there were no signs of violence— from the corpse, Lavaux would assume a coldly premeditated crime. In either case, he would try to divine the motive based on the answers to basic questions: Who was angry enough to kill him? Who benefits from the crime?
Lavaux opened a leather case, removed pen and notebook and began to write: “We, Commissaire Lavaux of the Police judiciaire, Brigade criminelle, on 29 March at 17h24, at 46 rue Eugène-Lumeau, St-Ouen…” He sketched the room: six by 5 metres; the tiny kitchen, behind a curtain, with stove, sink, small refrigerator; the bathroom, off the kitchen, with sink and small sheet-metal shower; two windows at the far end, overlooking the courtyard; small Formica-topped table, with vomit, its two end leaves extended, just beyond the entrance to the kitchen and near the bed; two chairs; the folded camp cot; the wardrobe; three folding chairs, two stacked against the far wall, one flat on the floor; the green haversack; the body of Bachand, who appeared to look vacantly at the ceiling.
An inspector checked the door and windows for signs of forced entry and found none.
The men from Identité judiciaire photographed the body from every angle, lighting the room with bright flashes. They measured the corpse and located its position in relation to the four walls. They then photographed the entire room, including the hole in the ceiling that Barral had earlier pointed out to Lavaux. They dusted for fingerprints and recovered one under the edge of a chair.
An Inspector pulled on surgical gloves and opened the haversack. He picked through the contents, removing a number of letters, which he quickly read and set aside. He searched through the pockets of the clothing in the wardrobe. He opened the kitchen cupboard and pulled out bread, spaghetti, coffee and tins. He looked in the refrigerator and raised a bottle of milk to his nose. He lifted the mattress from the bed and went through the contents of the wastepaper basket.
Lavaux put papers, passport and several letters in plastic bags. The passport was Canadian, number FKC 013352, issued in Ottawa on April 11, 1969, stamped when the bearer had entered Cuba, Algeria and France, in the name of Joseph Guy François Bachand, born March 24, 1944, in Montreal.
It was five days after Bachand’s twenty-seventh birthday.