The mystery behind the whereabouts of a French national and his four children has seemingly come to the grimmest of conclusions.
Police in Kampong Speu town are investigating the deaths of whom they believe to be Laurent Vallier and his family, after the remains of five bodies were found on Saturday in a car that had been dumped in a pond a few metres behind their home.
At least one skull and other remains of the children’s bodies were found in a suitcase in the back of the vehicle, when authorities pulled it from the pond.
Vallier, 42, and his children, two boys and two girls aged 2 to 11, had been missing since September last year, but were not officially reported missing by the French Embassy until November.
Director of the Internal Security Department at the Ministry of Interior Chhay Sinarith said technical police, along with the help of the provincial health department, were in charge of performing the investigation at the scene yesterday.
“We dare not say in advance [the cause of death], we have to wait for the results of the investigation,” the director said.
Cheat Phat, a 34-year-old neighbour of the Valliers, made the chilling discovery of the family’s submerged Nissan SUV early on Saturday morning, while he was setting bird traps in the area. He said a few inches of the vehicle were visibly sticking out from the surface of the pond, which is about nine metres deep.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was a piece of zinc, but I was curious why there would be such a large deposit of zinc in the pond,” he said. “I spoke with other neighbours and decided that maybe it was Mr Vallier’s car, because we saw tyre tracks [leading into the pond].”
Neighbour and close friend of the family Ben Kim Heng, 47, said Vallier had been a tour guide and would occasionally leave all four children with his family for weeks at a time while he took clients on expeditions around the country.
“I looked after his youngest son since he was 1 month old. I was so surprised when I saw the bodies, I could not believe it,” the neighbour said. He said the Valliers had lived in Kampong Speu town’s Toul Thnong village since 2007 and had enjoyed good relationships with all their neighbours in the area.
“I don’t think that he [Mr Vallier] committed suicide with his four kids. He loved his kids very much, and from my point of view, this was a murder.”
Mr Vallier’s father-in-law, 69-year-old Tith Chhuon, from Prey Veng, was at the scene yesterday and confirmed that the family had been missing since at least September 8, when he came to visit them but found they had seemingly disappeared.
“I filed a complaint with the French embassy and went to get information from the embassy six times. I just received the news on Saturday,” Tith Chhuon said.
He identified his grandchildren as Johan, 11, Ramsey, 8, Sovan, 5, and Mickeal, 2.
He said Mr Vallier had married his daughter in April, 2000 in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, before the couple moved to Kep and operated a guesthouse for three years.
After that, they moved to Kampot briefly and eventually settled in Kampong Speu in 2007.
Mr Vallier’s wife had died on October 15, 2010 during the delivery of their youngest boy, Mickeal, her father told the Post yesterday.
“After my daughter passed away, I came to live with him [Mr Vallier] for five months to look after the baby. He promised me that he would not return to France. He said he would sell his property in Kampong Speu and come and live with me in Prey Veng until he died,’’ he said.
“My son-in-law did not kill his kids and commit suicide. Someone killed them.”
The French embassy released a statement on Saturday that acknowledged the discovery of the bodies, but failed to identify them.
“Because of the state of the corpses, it is impossible to confirm that these are Mr Vallier and his children’s bodies,” the statement reads. The embassy could not be reached yesterday for comment.