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Notorious French 'doctor' who killed family released to abbey

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Fontgombault (France) (AFP)

A Frenchman who killed his parents, wife and children after pretending to be a successful doctor for two decades in a case that inspired a book and films was released Friday after 26 years in jail and immediately moved into a monastery.

Jean-Claude Romand, 65, left the Saint-Maur prison near Bourges in central France and entered the nearby Benedictine monastery in Fontgombault where he is now expected to live.

"He was released last night," lawyer Jean-Louis Abad said on Friday.

A source close to the case, who asked not to be named, confirmed he had headed straight to the Fontgombault Abbey.

Romand's future place of residence has to be approved by the judiciary and it was not immediately clear what role he would play in the monastery.

One of France's most notorious killers, Romand murdered his parents, wife and two children in 1993 as they were about to learn about his double life.

He had spent nearly 20 years pretending he was a successful doctor and researcher working for the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

An appeals court granted Romand parole on April 25. He will be under electronic surveillance for two years.

The appeals court also barred him from contacting the civil parties involved in the case, and from talking to the media about his crimes.

- Films and a book -

His case has been the subject of fascination in France, notably inspiring the book "L'adversaire" (The Adversary) by Emmanuel Carrere which was made into a 2002 film starring prominent French actor Daniel Auteuil.

It also provided the storyline for the 2001 film "L'emploi du temps" by French director Laurent Cantet, which was very well received.

Romand hid his failure to qualify as a doctor from his family and instead claimed to be a high-ranking WHO researcher.

Threatened with exposure as creditors closed in, Romand, then aged 38, carried out the killings on January 9, 1993.

He murdered his wife with a rolling pin and then shot dead his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son before killing his parents.

He then went home and took barbiturates, setting his house on fire. But he was found alive, though unconscious, by the fire brigade.

- 'Knew he was coming' -

The abbey where Romand is due to establish his new life has its own notoriety.

It was this imposing building that housed for part of the 1970s the former leader of the pro-Nazi Lyon militia, Paul Touvier, a devout Catholic.

After the war, Touvier spent 45 years in hiding under the protection of Catholic monks around France, including at Fontgombault, before being arrested in 1989 at a chapel in Nice.

Touvier was eventually jailed for life in April 1994 on charges of crimes against humanity. He died in 1996.

In the usually quiet village of Fontgombault, locals said they were relaxed about the arrival of the famous convict.

"Everyone knew for a long time that Jean-Claude Romand was due to come! It was just the monks and the mayor who pretended not to know," said a shopkeeper called Keren.

"This will not change our lives and the monks look after themselves," she added.

Christophe, in his 50s, added: "He will have an electronic bracelet. He is certainly no longer dangerous. At least it will clear some space in the prisons. It's easy for us to say but for the family, it must be tough."

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