A pair of French villagers were enjoying a boozy dinner al fresco when they both mysteriously died, in a case that has gripped and moved the country.
It was a warm summer evening when Lucien Perot, 69, sat down at his garden table for one last meal. On the red and white checkered cloth lay a small feast of rib steak, tinned beans, camembert cheese and a baguette. Across the table sat his dear friend Olivier Boudin, 31 years his junior. There was music and merriment, and red wine aplenty.
One retired, the other jobless, the two men had established a close friendship over the years. They were “like father and son”, said the next-door neighbour who found their lifeless bodies the next morning, August 4, in the village of Authon-du-Perche, roughly 150 kilometres southwest of Paris.
‘As if time had stopped’
When she first spotted Olivier lying flat on the ground, at dawn, the neighbour assumed he was merely sleeping off the alcohol after a boozy night. A few hours later, as she walked past the garden, she noticed Lucien was still seated at the table. At midday she called out to them – “fearing they would get sunstroke” – but got no answer. Another neighbour poured cold water on Olivier, and still he didn’t stir.
Both men had died over dinner, “apparently simultaneously”, said the local prosecutor, Rémi Coutin, though the cause of death remained a mystery. They had been drinking heavily, with the older man found to have 2.4g/l of alcohol in his blood. Their faces looked at peace, “as though they were asleep”, the village mayor, Patrice Leriget, told the local daily L'Echo Républicain. He noted that the meal was unfinished; it was “as if time had suddenly stopped”.
When news of the mysterious deaths reached the local and national press, some feared the sleepy village would find itself at the heart of a sinister crime story – the kind that keeps news-starved papers selling in the summer. There was no sign of a robbery or a fight at Lucien’s property, but the prosecutor said he could not rule out involvement by a third party.
Poisoning, whether accidental or deliberate, seemed a plausible hypothesis. Suspicions fell on the tin of beans amid speculation it may have prompted a fatal case of botulism. The contents were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Paris for tests, but the results were negative. The meal’s other components were dispatched to police laboratories for further tests.
Villagers were sceptical about the possibility of a joint suicide, noting that Lucien had been “in good spirits” earlier in the day. His neighbour, however, had her own theory: “That one of the two died, prompting the other to kill himself out of sorrow.” She wasn’t that far off the mark, as the postmortems eventually showed.
Five days after the fatal supper, doctors said Lucien had choked on a 44g (1.5oz) chunk of beef rib – “the size of a small steak” – that he could not chew, possibly because he had several teeth missing, while his younger friend died of a heart attack. Olivier had a pre-existing condition, known as cardiomegaly, which meant his heart was abnormally large. Presumably upon seeing his friend choke, the bloated heart seized and Olivier collapsed.
Lucien’s neighbour was relieved to hear that their deaths were accidental.
“They had no enemies and led a simple life; not the kind to be bumped off by the mafia,” she told Le Parisien newspaper. But others, like the owner of the Au Bon Coin bistro, lamented the men’s “stupid deaths”. “If only Lucien had taken his time to eat the steak,” he sighed. “He could have eaten many more.”
Date created : 2017-08-10