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Patricia Tourancheau, the optimistic and tireless queen of ‘true crime’ | Culture

by News Room
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Patricia Tourancheau counteracts with a smile everything she has experienced in almost 40 years of career as a crime journalist, author of some of the best books on true crime of recent times and director of films and documentary series. “I am very optimistic by nature and work has reinforced my joy of life. Despite all the tragedies. “After everything I’ve seen, I’m always relative,” she told this newspaper in Lyon last week, during the Quais du Polar, the most important crime novel festival in Europe. The meeting takes place on the sunny terrace of a bistro next to the Palais de la Bourse. Tourancheau comes with his uniform official: boots, short skirt and leather jacket. He smokes and smiles when answering. However, as we delve deeper into the criminal underworld she forgets everything else.

Tourancheau (Chantonnai, 65 years old) says he does not find any great frustration when he looks back on his career: more than three decades in Release, then on her own, focused on background work with her books and documentaries. “The only thing I regret is not having been able to tell more stories,” confesses the person who has told the best through a monumental book titled Le Grêlé, as he was known François Verove, the story of a serial killer and rapist who was actually a police officer and who was under the radar for decades; or that of Guy Georges, The Beast of the Bastillea story to which a book contributes (The persuit), the script and advice on a film (SK1) and the co-direction of another (Women and the Murderer). Always in search of truth, depth and the most appropriate perspective. “Rigour, empathy with the victims and old-fashioned work, with triple confirmation of sources: that is what I taught my university students for years. That and the need to always have a point of view,” she maintains.

When he is asked about his relationship with the police, it is the only moment in which the answer does not come out directly, he hesitates halfway through, he thinks about it. “The relationships are quite… What many of them say is that I have been loyal, and I think they have been loyal to me. And I have also been the same with bandits. It’s a complex balance, because I’m not a police officer. You have to stay on a very fine line. “I would never pass information to robbers, for example.” There have been many years in which he has told how science and police work evolved, from the shortcomings that allowed Guy Georges to kill and rape at will to current standards. Are there any serial killers under the radar today? “Thanks to DNA and investigative work in unsolved cases, serial killers from the eighties, nineties and early two thousand years will appear, but now it is increasingly difficult for them to go unnoticed,” he explains.

Their true crime They have a particularity: unlike in other great stories of the genre, the French journalist hides behind the facts and flees, with very few exceptions, from the first person: “I am not the protagonist; the victims, their parents, the perpetrators are, but not me. The story is what matters and I am the journalist.” The robbers and their golden era in the seventies and eighties marked the beginning of Tourancheau’s career, who has never left that underworld. Her most recent book, Kim and the robber grandpas (Kim and the Robber Grandparents), addresses one of the last big hits: the theft of Kim Kardashian’s jewelry in Paris in 2014. A case that, as always, Tourancheau attacked in a very special way: in 2021, with the investigation Journalism at its peak, the possibility arose of interviewing one of the thieves, but the world was still experiencing the restrictions of the umpteenth wave of covid, so he invited him to his house. That part of the book breaks her sacred rule: it was impossible to tell it without her appearing.

Michel Fourniret with French gendarmes in a reconstruction after the crime of the teenager Natacha Danais, on March 15, 2006, in Reze, western France.FRED DUFOUR (AFP)

Connections and exclusives impossible

And the best story that this great conversationalist treasures is about great thieves and exclusives, one that would have no place in a novel because it is implausible and that she first collected in Release and then greatly expanded in his book The loot (The Treasure): the connection between Michel Fourniret, one of the worst murderers in the history of France, and the Postiches gang. The man known as the Ogre of the Ardennes stole from these mythical thieves a pile of gold that they had buried in a cemetery, in one of the most improbable and fantastic connections in criminal history. Through effort and intuition, Tourancheau discovered the relationship before anyone else in 2004: “I spent weeks working in silence, without even telling my bosses so they wouldn’t think I was crazy,” she confesses with satisfaction before insisting that it is not capable of writing works of fiction. For what?, many may ask.

Tourancheau’s work has sometimes brought him unexpected returns. Like when one of the Grêlé victims agreed to go before the cameras in Unsoupçonnable, a production by the journalist for France 2 that will premiere in 2024, after having seen how she treated other women raped by Verove in the book. His is also the brave perspective of Women and the Murderer, which addresses the struggle of the lawyers or mothers who crossed paths with Guy Georges. “They are powerful women who have fought against him. “We had to make them speak for themselves and for the victims.”

Grégory Villemin's parents, next to the child's coffin on October 20, 1984, in Lepanges-sur-Vologne.  (Getty)
Grégory Villemin’s parents, next to the child’s coffin on October 20, 1984, in Lepanges-sur-Vologne. (Getty)

In October 1984, little Grégroy Villemin was found dead hours after being kidnapped in the Vosges department. Tourancheau did not initially work on France’s most famous unsolved crime, the one about which the most has been written and talked about. “From a journalistic point of view, everything that did not have to be done was done,” he says regarding the media lynching that the little boy’s mother, Christine, suffered for years. But in 2017, when the judicial plot took a new turn, he saw an opportunity. “I said to myself: ‘This is for me,’” he says without hiding his passion. He worked with very close sources, so much so that it cannot be counted, and the result is the Netflix documentary on the case, one of the best true crime of this wave of recent years. “That’s why I can’t deal with 2,000 stories at once,” she concludes suddenly, satisfied. She is sure that, among the many cases that she follows with the same passion as four decades ago, there is the next great story, another in which reality surpasses fiction.

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