The trial of a French woman who killed two of their babies and froze them has captured the imagination of the French public. Weirder still? Prosecutors have ruled that she did it all without her husband's knowledge.
The story, not involving Americans, hasn't gotten a ton of play Stateside, but since 2006 the name Véronique Courjault has been familiar to anyone in France. The couple was living in South Korea when police found the bodies of two newborns in the freezer of the home Courjault shared with her engineer husband Jean-Louis and their two sons. Although the family initially denied any knowledge, Véronique later admitted to giving birth to both babies in secret and smothering them - in addition to a third baby she'd buried back in France.
Prosecutors apparently accept the fact that her husband was totally oblivious to the three pregnancies, home deliveries, and stranglings - to say nothing of the babies stashed in the freezer for years. (He allegedly found them when attempting to make room for a fish in 2006.) This mystery - as well as the motivations of the friendly kindergarten aide - have created a lurid national fixation with the case, currently on trial in Tours. Until recently, a Facebook page existed in which users could bet on the verdict.
Neither husband nor wife seems able to provide any explanation - although some family members do say that Veronique was prone to dramatic shifts in weight that might have explained his obliviousness. (Although, you know, being pregnant will do that.) As to Courjault herself, she only says, "What I did is so monstrous, without explanation...For me, those children did not have a real existence." The issue, for many, is why she chose to carry the babies to term - well, okay, one of the issues. And in addition to the very odd and lurid particulars of the case, is the dreadful fascination that always accompanies cases of infanticide - a crime so universally reviled as unnatural that it provokes the greatest self-righteousness, horror, and confusion of any kind of crime.
In fact, it's not that uncommon - homicide is apparently the 4th leading cause of death of children under four. Many of these are attributed to Postpartum depression, or in cases like that of Andrew Yates, Postpartum psychosis. Of the 49 women on death row, nearly 11 are there for murdering their children - and in almost every case, the women claim they knew they were in danger of doing so, but were ignored. Says one medical anthropologist, '"There's a collective denial even when mothers come right out and say, "I really shouldn't be trusted with my kids."' Simply put, we want to think it's rare and horrible. Horrible it might be, but pretending it doesn't happen does no one any favors. When one of these high-profile cases occur, we are duly horrified; there is a flurry of analysis and speculation; we are told of the warning signs; then we forget about it. One hopes that the Véronique Courjault case will move beyond the "why was she a secret monster - and how did she hide it?!" speculation to the realization that this can happen - and how to prevent it.
Veronique Courjault, French Woman Who Allegedly Killed Her Babies And Hid Them In The Freezer, Goes On Trial [Huffington Post]
Infanticide Case Mesmerizes France [Washington Post]