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French woman said to confess to killing 8 babies

Dominique Cottrez tells police she didn't want any more children. Her husband says he was unaware of her pregnancies. It is the worst of several cases of infanticide in recent years.

July 30, 2010|By Devorah Lauter, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Paris — A 45-year-old woman has admitted suffocating eight babies immediately after giving birth to them, authorities said, in the latest, and worst, case of infanticide to rock France in recent years

Dominique Cottrez, a resident of the quiet northern village of Villers-au-Tertre, said she hid the bodies in the garden of a previous home and in her current garage from 1989 to 2006 or '07, according to authorities.

Though the case is unusual in its high death toll, the details are all too familiar in a nation where in recent years infants' bodies have been found, some in freezers and some burned.

Dominique Cottrez, a nursing aide, and her husband were arrested Wednesday, after the bodies were discovered. Cottrez was charged with the murder of victims younger than 15, which can bring a life sentence.

Her husband, Pierre-Marie Cottrez said he knew nothing about the pregnancies and was freed.

Dominique Cottrez, who has two grown daughters, "explained that she didn't want more children," prosecutor Eric Vaillant told journalists. And after a bad experience giving birth to her oldest daughter 22 years ago, Vaillant said, she didn't want to see a doctor about contraception. He said Cottrez, whose stout figure is believed to have helped her hide her pregnancies, claimed to have been "perfectly aware" that she was pregnant.

"The sky has fallen on his head," the prosecutor said of the woman's husband, who works as a carpenter in the village, home to about 700 people.

In March, Celine Lesage, 34, was sent to prison for 15 years for strangling or suffocating six of her newborn infants.

And in May, Veronique Courjault, 41, was freed from prison after serving half of an eight-year term for killing three of her newborns between 1999 and 2003, without the knowledge of her husband.

Historically, "infanticide has been a way for women to handle their misery," which can be related to poverty, fear of a husband's reaction or preferences for male children in some cultures, said Dr. Felix Navarro, who heads an association in Toulouse that studies and promotes awareness about "pregnancy denial."

There are no reliable statistics on the number of infanticides in France, but Navarro estimates that 10 to 20 women suffer from such pregnancy denial here every year.

"Denial of pregnancy" and infanticide, experts say, are age-old phenomena, and there is no evidence that such cases are becoming more common.

Sometimes a woman has " a hard time giving meaning to what just came out of her. The infant is just an object," said Dr. Daniel Ajzenberg, a psychiatrist and judicial expert on the subject. Such suspended belief can lead to the killing of a child, or death through passive neglect.

In Courjault's case, the so-called "frozen baby affair," she infamously told a court, "I was conscious of being pregnant, but not of being pregnant with babies."

The number of infants makes the Cottrez crime "a beyond normal affair," said Vaillant, the prosecutor.

Police began investigating Dominique Cottrez after the new owners of her former home found two bags containing baby skeletons buried in the garden. Cottrez then told authorities that six other corpses were hidden in her garage.

Her daughters, ages 22 and 21, said they support her, speaking in an interview with the local daily, the Voix du Nord. The daughters called her a secretive but "courageous" person who "didn't complain."

Investigators were still searching for other possible victims in the area, but Cottrez said there were none.

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