Search in France for girl, 9, missing since 2003

Ville-sur-Lumes (France) (AFP) – French forensics experts began a grim search Monday for the remains of a nine-year-old girl who disappeared 17 years ago, after a serial killer recently confessed to her murder.

Experts sealed off a former home of killer Michel Fourniret, dubbed the “Ogre of the Ardennes”, in northern France — more than 200 kilometres from the town east of Paris where Estelle Mouzin disappeared on her way home from school in January 2003.

Fourniret was jailed for life in May 2008 for the murder of seven girls and young women, and charged over Mouzin’s disappearance last November after his ex-wife contradicted his alibi.

Detectives first considered Fourniret a suspect in the girl’s disappearance in 2006, after they found a photo of Mouzin on his computer.

A white van resembling the one he drove had been spotted in the area where she vanished, in the town of Guermantes, east of Paris.

But no DNA evidence was ever found to link him to the case, and Fourniret maintained for years that he was at home in southern Belgium, near the French border, on the day Mouzin disappeared.

Then in November last year, Fourniret’s former wife Monique Olivier told investigators that a phone call he claimed to have made from his home the day the girl vanished, was actually made by her at his request.

– Focus on the cellar –

And in March, Fourniret confessed Mouzin’s murder to investigating magistrates, without revealing the location of the body.

Ex-wife Olivier is also serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 28 years for her role in some of the abductions and killings.

On Monday, investigators descended on Fourniret’s former house in the Ardennes in northeast France.

There were about 50 police officers as well as forensics experts, an archeologist and army engineers, preparing for excavation of the property that has never been searched until now.

Investigators are particularly interested in the cellar, covered with concrete by Fourniret, and came armed with radar equipment to scan the ground before they start any digging.

They were joined at the scene by advocates for the missing girl’s family.

Police also cordoned off another former home of Fourniret, in nearby Chateau de Sautou, where the remains of a 12-year-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were found in 2004.

Fourniret was found guilty of seven killings committed between 1987 and 2001. He confessed to the kidnapping, rape and murder of his victims and his life sentence carries no possibility of parole.

He was also convicted of attacks on three girls who managed to escape.