Monday Mystery: The Dominici Affair

Today's mystery is still mysterious mainly because the investigation and inquest were what can only be described as a shitshow of epic proportions. The English Wikipedia article on Jack Drummond, a wartime chemist specializing in nutrition, gives the bare bones; there is only a stub about the murder itself.

The real details of the operation are over on, where a lengthy write-up details a police operation that would have embarrassed the Keystone Kops.

Sometime during the night of August 4, 1952, the Drummond family (Jack Drummond, his second wife Ann, and their 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth) were brutally murdered along the side of Route nationale 96 near Lurs, in what is now Alpes-des-Haute-Provence. They had been driving through southeastern France in a green Hillman station wagon when they evidently stopped near a farm rather hyperbolically known as Le Grand'Terre ("the Mainland"), where a person or persons unknown bashed their heads in with the butt of a carbine rifle.

The farm was occupied by a family by the name of Dominici: head of the family Gaston (75) and his wife Marie (73), their son Gustave (33), Gustave's wife Yvette (20), and Gustave and Yvette's 10-month old baby, Alain. Just to show you what we're getting into here, Marie was apparently nicknamed "the Sardine" -- I double-checked, and no, « la Sardine » is unambiguously the fish and not also a term for someone from Sardinia. The family was originally from Italy, but Gaston's great-grandfather migrated over to farm in southern France in 1800. The tone of the article implies that, by French standards, in 1952 they were still considered un-integrated immigrant n00bs.

The story -- and I say "story" because it is widely acknowledged that big chunks of the following have got to be fiction, it's just that nobody is sure which ones exactly -- goes that the Dominicis were all gathered to celebrate the end of the harvest season. Marie "the Sardine" Dominici neglected to close the sluice gate when irrigation was finished, causing a small landside, and several of her kin had noted, as they came in, that it thankfully had not obstructed the railroad tracks. The celebrants heard "six or seven" shots fired about 1:10am on the night of August 4-5.

At 4:30am, a passer-by on the route named Marceau Blanc saw the green Hillman by the side of the road, a camp bed behind it, and curtains obstructing the right-hand windows and the windshield. At 4:50am, Joseph Moynier saw none of this. At 5:20am, Jean Hébrard saw the camp bed leaned up against the car. Around 6:30, a couple of brothers on mopeds stop at the farm and are casually told that there were shots in the night, and that Gustave had found the body of a girl while checking on the landslide in the railroad culvert. One of the brothers leads yet another passer-by right to the corpse of little Elizabeth with what was later noted to be a suspicious rapidity. Eventually they bothered to look a little farther afield and found Jack and Ann as well.

(The last guy lied about it, and then finally coughed up the truth to the gendarmerie. When asked why he lied he variously gave the reasons: "Gustave told me how she screamed when she died," "I half-heard whispering from the Moped Bros that alarmed me," and "I don't know.")

Yet another random guy was camping out in the countryside the night before, when around 7 in the morning he wandered up to see what was so interesting about the Hillman that a commotion had sprung up, and saw a camp bed and a body covered with a blanket. The French article doesn't mention him doing anything, so apparently this was not interesting enough to take action. When the cops didn't show up, they sent the extremely pregnant lady, Yvette, off by bike to the neighbor's to phone them, and by the time the cops did show up, people were already trampling all over the crime scene. One of the policemen found a bicycle identified as Gustave's near the crime scene, and then somehow lost it again. They lost track of Yvette completely when she fucked off into town with her parents to do the shopping and didn't come back until 4pm.

The inquest and trial deteriorated still further. Gatson and Gustave both drunkenly confessed, then recanted. A neighbor claimed Gustave had told him that he'd discovered Elizabeth still alive, and done nothing to help her. The family began pointing fingers at one another. Gaston -- a 75-year-old man who hobbled around with a walking stick -- was eventually convicted of the murders, but later released on the grounds that he was a 75-year-old man who hobbled around with a walking stick, and unlikely to be killing anyone else any time soon. Alain, just a baby at the time, today insists that the Drummonds were murdered by the Soviets for spying. Or refusing to spy. Or handing over secrets. Or not handing them over. Or something.

General consensus today seems to be that, while Gaston was fully mean enough to have done it, he probably didn't. It was 1) one of his equally-violent sons, or 2) the KGB, and the French government used Gaston as a scapegoat because Soviet murders in the south of France would have sent up a panic during the Cold War. Someone named Fergusson wrote a book about it in 1997, which the library hath not coughed up yet, but which you can nip off and read yourself if you can find a copy.

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