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Trial of Jacques Rançon: from the initial “misses” of the investigation to its spectacular revival – France


“It was one of the first times that she left alone, not imagining that someone could harm her.” At the helm, Philippe Mesnage recalls the memory of his sister Isabelle, discovered dead at the age of 20 in July 1986, after going on a hike.

The family has been waiting for 35 years to find out who killed the young computer scientist, described as freedom-loving. “I am sometimes ashamed to tell myself that I am in justice”, blows his sister-in-law, clerk by profession, while the investigation had resulted in a dismissal in 1992.

“The name of Jacques Rançon never appeared at the time when I was in charge”, underlines Denis Coche, gendarme who led the first investigations. A colleague of Isabelle had been suspected before being exonerated.

“Principle of guilt”

Defense lawyers deplore that “the second investigation”, carried out after a link made in 2017 with the modus operandi of Jacques Rançon, then implicated for murders, rapes and mutilations in Perpignan, “seems to start from the principle” of his guilt. Pointing out the shortcomings of the first investigations, they blame the initial investigators for reinterpreting their findings.

“We can say that at the start of the investigation (…) there were misses”, laments the president, Patricia Ledru, referring to changes in the crime scene. A forensic scientist had concluded that the genitals had disappeared due to the proliferation of insects on the body, but another investigator claims to have been convinced at that time that parts of them were missing.

For the civil parties, the mutilations are a “signature” of Jacques Rançon, sentenced in 2018 to life imprisonment for having raped and killed two women in Perpignan in 1997 and 1998, as well as for an attempted rape and an attempted murder of a fourth victim.

In 2018, Isabelle Mesnage’s body was exhumed for a new autopsy, which established similarities with one of the victims in Perpignan: removal of the genitals, lesions descending on the thighs … The former 61-year-old forklift driver then confessed to the murder, rape and mutilation, before retracting.

In “its territory of comfort”

35 years ago, he lived a few kilometers from Cachy, where the body of Isabelle Mesnage was found. In 1976, he assaulted a young girl in the area, for which he was never prosecuted. One Saturday in the summer of 1986, he traps a teenage girl, 600 m from where Isabelle Mesnage was last seen. She never lodged a complaint, but testified in Amiens on Tuesday.

If she had not succeeded in jumping out of the door of her car, Jacques Rançon would have “made love” to her, replied to the court this silent man who always says “to make love”, never to rape, and speaks of his misdeeds without any affect.

In 1992, he raped a woman at the threat of a knife, again very close to Cauchy. This time he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The 1986 attempt, the 1992 rape and the last place where Isabelle Mesnage was seen are “in a circle with a radius of two kilometers”, summarized this Wednesday the gendarme who led the investigation after its relaunch.

Three towns form “his comfort zone, where he hunted his prey at the time,” adds the investigator, also noting that the man was “free to do whatever it takes” every Saturday at the beginning of the afternoon, the moment when the young woman disappeared.

This Wednesday, expert psychologists and psychiatrists had underlined the still sexual motivation of Jacques Rançon, obeying impulses and only killing when the victim resisted. The accused, who still denies, said he wanted to defend his “honor” in this case, facing the portrait of a serial killer that the lawyers for the civil parties make of him.

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