A group of French and Cambodian investigators have ruled out suicide as the cause of death of Frenchman Laurent Vallier, whose decomposed remains – along with those of his four children – were discovered early last year in an SUV in a pond behind his home in Kampong Speu province, the French embassy said on Friday.
The findings of the latest inquest – which began in mid-March under the supervision of French investigating judge Claudine Enfoux – overturned those of a preliminary investigation conducted in January, which found that Vallier, 42, had killed himself and his children by driving his car into the nine-metre-deep pond, possibly because of financial difficulties.
“Thanks to this effective and constant collaboration, many exchanges of files and procedure acts related to the case, advanced forensic research, as well as numerous hearings have indeed been arranged,” an embassy statement reads. “This has led to very significant breakthroughs, which are now ruling out the possibility of a suicide.”
The bodies of Vallier, a widower, and his four small children were discovered in the submerged SUV on January 14, 2012, four months after they had last been seen alive. By the end of the month, police had ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.
However, according to Chem Rithy, an investigating judge with the Kampong Speu Provincial Court who was involved in the re-investigation, a second look at the facts made that conclusion impossible.
First of all, he said, Vallier’s skull was found in a suitcase in the back of the car, despite the fact that the pond had no current that could have moved it from where his body was found in the front passenger’s seat, a fact that also makes it clear he was not the driver.
No evidence of decomposition was found on the driver’s seat, Rithy went on, though a pair of sandals was found on the driver’s side that would have been too small for Vallier. What’s more, the driver’s-side door was not closed properly, indicating that someone had managed to get the vehicle into the pond and then jumped out, he said.
Finally, he continued, there were no other signs of murder-suicide, such as the poison or sleeping pills that often accompany such scenes, and an examination of the car’s electric system showed that it had most likely been pushed into the water, not driven.
“Now we are looking for suspects,” Rithy said, noting that there could have been “three to five people” involved. “Vallier was a very cautious person, because witnesses said he used to say that if any accident happened to him, let his children stay at the French embassy and contact their grandmother in France to come and see them.”
Police are now taking blood samples found in the Frenchman’s house to be tested to determine whether the blood was Vallier’s or an animal’s, he added.
Nicolas Baudouin, a spokesman for the French embassy, confirmed that the French investigators were leaving Cambodia, and that investigating Judge Enfoux would “take the findings back to France and continue to process them”.
“The family has lodged a complaint in France, and so she will be following up on that,” he said. “She will be examining the results of the hearing, the evidence that she has been collecting, and we will see what happens next.”
Vallier’s father-in-law, Tith Chhuon, said the investigation had only validated what he had been saying all along.
“From the beginning, I didn’t believe at all that my son-in-law and his children committed suicide because they didn’t have enough food to eat,” he said.
“I always thought it must be something [else], and now [they think] the same as I do.”
Chhuon, his wife and his daughter were questioned by the provincial court in January of this year after they applied for titles granting ownership of Vallier’s land, and again by French investigators earlier this month.
The relatives were never named as suspects, and Chhuon said at the time that he had applied for the title simply because he was the next of kin.
“I don’t know what misdeeds befell my grandchildren and son-in-law before they died,” Chhoun said yesterday, adding that there was no particular person that he suspected. “Nowadays, when I rest on my bed, I always look at their photos and grieve for them.”
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
With assistance from Stuart White