Murder that killed a French dream

Daily Express - 01 September 2012

WHEN Patricia Wilson and her long-term partner Donald Marcus moved into their dream French home five years ago they toasted their happiness with champagne.

Patricia Wilson was murdered in Vabre Tizac near Toulouse Patricia Wilson was murdered in Vabre Tizac near Toulouse []

Like thousands of other Britons the couple believed their delightful stone cottage called Basses Landes, attached to a converted barn in the unspoilt village of Vabre Tizac, north of Toulouse, would guarantee them the perfect retirement.

Set beside a lake and mature wood, the £250,000 house was at the centre of a Gallic landscape encompassing rolling countryside, all-year sunshine and local gastronomic delicacies including Roquefort cheese and fine wines.

“They were overjoyed to have arrived in their rural idyll, miles from cold, gloomy Britain,” recalled an old friend of the couple. “They were really looking forward to settling down in a completely new place and living life to the full.”

Half a decade on, such ambitions lie in tatters following the discovery of Ms Wilson’s blood all over Basses Landes. The vivacious 58-year-old is now missing, presumed dead, with French detectives having already opened a murder enquiry. In a development that displays a far more sinister side to expat life, her former gardener and lover, 50-yearold Frenchman Jean-Louis Cayrou, is the prime suspect. He is currently being held on remand in a highsecurity prison, pending a trial that is likely to take place late next year.

Details of exactly what happened are sketchy but prosecutors, detectives and former friends of Ms Wilson have helped the Daily Express build up a picture of how her French life is said to have deteriorated into arguments, threats, and – ultimately – alleged murder.

What we know for certain is that the DNA in the blood spattered all over her home last Friday week was definitely hers. Police also believe that it is matched by similar samples found in a car belonging to Cayrou, one that is likely to have been used to move her body.

“The case against Cayrou is extremely strong – evidence was obtained from the house and the surrounding area,” claims chief prosecutor Patrick Desjardins. “Our job is also to examine every aspect of the life that the victim was leading in Vabre Tizac.”

Ms Wilson, a newly retired advertising executive from Welwyn Garden City, Herts, was just 53 when she moved to the village with Mr Marcus, who had run an electrical supplied business in Yorkshire and was only 49.

Imbued with a joie de vivre so well known to those starting out on a new life following early retirement, they became firm friends with Cayrou, a tall, handsome labourer who owned a cottage in the nearby village of Lunac but stayed in a caravan while working on the Basses Landes property.

Friends often noticed how the romantically inclined Ms Wilson had a natural affinity with the Frenchman, although their romance is not thought to have started until Mr Marcus left France last year.

Dogged by a persistent back pain, he found the relative isolation of rural life too much to deal with, along with the added complications experienced by any British person living in a foreign country.

The language barrier, mountains of French bureaucracy, high taxes, and the collapse of the euro are just some of the problems that expats across the Channel are increasingly complaining about today.

Friends of Ms Wilson say she soon embarked on a passionate affair one that was easily noticeable in a village of just 433 people.

“There was no way of keeping it a secret,” said one. “Patricia was a single woman and entitled to see anyone she wanted. Mr Cayrou is well respected in the village – he worked for a lot of people and was very well liked.”

Unfortunately, such views did nothing to prevent Cayrou’s treatment of Ms Wilson apparently becoming increasingly unpleasant.

Mr Desjardins, who is based in the nearby city of Montpellier, confirmed that Ms Wilson had been “involved in a relationship” that turned sour. She threw Cayrou out six weeks ago but he allegedly cut the electricity to her property to prevent her raising the alarm, broke in and attacked her in bed to prove she was not safe alone.

DETECTIVES now believe Cayrou killed Ms Wilson and hid her body after she broke up with him when she became “scared” of his “jealous and possessive behaviour”.

The bloodstains were consistent with her having been involved in a violent struggle and her body subsequently being dragged into a car, said one detective.

Investigators have also established that Cayrou made “a huge number of phone calls to Wilson” when she returned to England between August 10 and 17.

The case has eerie parallels to one near Bergerac, around an hourand-a-half’s drive across country from Vabre Tizac. In June this year a British handyman was found guilty of murdering an expat millionaire golf course owner.

Neil Ludlam, 33, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for stabbing and battering to death Peter Fuller, a 67-year-old retired Total oil executive, in a drunken attack in his five-bedroom home in Plaisance, in the Dordogne, three years earlier.

Mr Fuller was found face down in a pool of blood with cracked ribs and seven stab wounds, including a punctured lung. A court later heard that the murder had started out as a drunken argument.

Ms Wilson’s body has yet to be found, with police seen searching the lake behind her house, and two wells in the land surrounding it.

Officers including divers and a helicopter team initially began scouring the numerous forests and waterways that make up the Aveyron, and its neighbouring departments, earlier in the week, although the search now appears to have been called off.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said one officer, adding: “The only way we can really hope to find the body is if the murderer confesses and leads us to it.”

Cayrou’s lawyer, Sylvie Bros said that her client denies all the allegations.

She said he was a decent man who had “worked for numerous people, including British nationals” in the area.

She said Cayrou had family in the area but had gradually been cut off from them over the years, and instead concentrated on his “love of gardening”. She said that the blood found in his car was that of a wounded animal, as he was a regular hunter.

Mr Marcus, who had been with Ms Wilson for around 10 years, meanwhile, has told friends he is “completely devastated”, expressing disappointment that aspects of the investigation, including the search for his former partner’s body, are taking so long.

It will certainly be a long time before anyone knows exactly what happened in the beautiful home he once shared with Ms Wilson. All that is certain is that their Gallic rural dream is over for good.

THE END OF THE EXPAT DrEAm SOME 60,000 retired Britons are currently living in France, with more than half of them in southern departments such as the Aveyron and Dordogne.

The so-called “Anglo-Saxon invasion” started in the Seventies, with people in the UK drawn across the Channel by rock-bottom property prices and the attractions of a relaxed Gallic lifestyle.

Hugely successful books such as A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle increased the numbers buying homes in the south of France but in recent months they have started to drop. The euro crisis and a new high-tax Socialist government in France have led to spending power falling, with expats complaining of rising charges, drops in the standard of living and increasing resentment from locals.

Many French, who are suffering increased economic hardships as recession bites, accuse the British of refusing to learn their language, sticking to themselves and sending the prices of property – and everything else – sky high.

Boredom and an increased reliance on alcohol are also regularly complained about by the British in France, with many of those who do sell up and return home facing an uncertain future.

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