Inside The Dupont De Ligonnes Murders: What Happened To The French Family?

In April 2011, police dug up the back garden of the Dupont de Ligonnès family and made a shocking discovery. Agnès Dupont de Ligonnès and her four children had been shot and their bodies buried under the back patio of their own home, and their father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, had disappeared.

Xavier, the prime suspect in the murders, had left his home and followed an easily traceable route to southeastern France, but from there, the trail went cold. While some investigators believed he may have killed himself, his body was never found. Despite an international search that has been ongoing for almost 10 years, he still remains at large. With no evidence as to Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès' current whereabouts, alive or dead, the reason behind the five gruesome murders largely remains a mystery. The case of the Dupont de Ligonnès family murders remains one of France's most shocking and disturbing crimes, and in 2020, the case was the subject of an episode of Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries reboot.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was descended from aristocrats

By most accounts, the Dupont de Ligonnès family was a regular middle-class family. The mother, father, and four bright, popular children lived normal lives in the peaceful, upper-middle class suburbs of Nantes, France until April of 2011.

Xavier Pierre Marie Dupont de Ligonnès, the patriarch of the family, was a descendant of the old French aristocracy. His father, Bernard-Hubert Dupont de Ligonnès, was a count, and Xavier took great pride in his noble heritage, saying: "I think I've got a superiority complex, you could call it that... I belong to a group of people who are intelligent, determined, balanced and in good moral and physical health. Such people are rare compared to the masses," via Newsweek. Born in Versailles, Xavier was raised in a strict, upper-class Catholic society that was well-to-do but also conservative and stuffy. When Xavier was around 10, his father tired of the claustrophobic society of Versailles and left the city, leaving him in the care of his grandmother, according to Air Mail. Xavier kept up the expected aristocratic appearances, but he also longed for adventure.

When he was 20-years-old, he met Agnès Hodanger, another young member of the Versailles bourgeois, and although they claimed to be in love, he was not ready to settle down. He left town, and when he returned, he found Agnès had become pregnant by another man. In an act that defied conservative social norms, he married her anyway, and adopted the boy as his own.

An ordinary family

Xavier and Agnès didn't stay in Versailles. They spent the 1990s travelling around France as their family continued to grow. In the early 2000s, they attempted to emigrate to Florida, but were unsuccessful. Although the process lost the family a lot of money, they eventually settled down to what appeared to be a happy, quiet life in Nantes.

The eldest child, Arthur, was 20-years-old in 2011, and enrolled in a private Catholic college nearby. Thomas, the second oldest child at 18-years-old and Xavier's first biological son, was also enrolled in college, studying music, per 7sur7. Anne, the only daughter, was a pretty and intelligent girl of 16, who modeled for mail-order catalogues part time while keeping up good grades at La Perverie, the private Catholic school she attended with Benoît, her younger brother, per O Magazine. Benoît, who was just 13 at the time of his death, was popular and well-liked. 

Agnès, who remained devoutly religious, worked as an assistant in a Catholic school. Agnès and Xavier seemed like a well-matched couple, but tensions were broiling under the surface. They had been having marital problems as early as 2002. Agnès complained online "Xavier is too judgmental, too quick to argue, too rigid, too military. There's no more tenderness between us, no more attention, no softness, no sex...when I ask him if he's happy, his response is the same. 'Yes I am, but if we could all die tomorrow, that would be better,'" via Air Mail.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès suffered from financial problems

The Dupont de Ligonnès' marital problems worsened. In 2005, Agnès even filed a police report against her husband for assaulting Arthur, her eldest son. Financial problems exacerbated their marital stress. Despite his aristocratic pedigree, Xavier had failed to create a steady career for himself. He had begun a series of businesses, including running a hotel guide and membership card program, according to Air Mail, but none of them ever became lucrative. They relied mostly on money inherited from Agnès' family, and by 2011, that money was in danger of running out.

Xavier had mired himself in debt and was becoming increasingly desperate. He had taken up a mistress in Paris, and had even been forced to borrow 50,000 euros from her out of desperation, according to Euro News. In an email he had written to her in 2010, he declared that he was "ruined, at rock bottom, like never before. I am awake almost every night with these morbid ideas. Burning down the house after giving everyone sleeping pills, or killing myself so that Agnès gets €600,000. In any case, my life will end in the next few months if I don't get €25,000 euros immediately. Most of the time I am not in a dream but in a nightmare and I can't escape except, of course, by doing something radical and final," via The Local.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès made suspicious purchases in the weeks before the murders

In January of 2011, just three months prior to the murders, Xavier's father, the count Bernard-Hubert Dupont de Ligonnès, passed away. After his death, Xavier went through the belongings left in his apartment, presumably looking for things of value. However, his father had also suffered financial troubles at the end of his life, and he had been ill and living near poverty before he died.

The only thing Xavier inherited from his father was a .22 long rifle, which he began using in earnest, despite having never before shown any interest in guns. The following month, Xavier obtained his gun license and began frequenting a shooting range just outside Nantes, sometimes bringing his sons along. 

While using his deceased father's rifle at shooting range might seem innocuous enough on its own, Xavier's behavior became even more suspicious the following month. Records show he bought a silencer for the rifle in March, and he followed that purchase with an even more ominous shopping spree. In the weeks leading up to the Dupont de Ligonnès murders, Xavier also purchased cement, chalk lime, bullets, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, a spade, and a trolley, according to the BBC.

An abrupt move to Australia

In the weeks preceding the family's disappearance, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès seemed to be preparing for a big move. Witnesses mentioned seeing Xavier loading things into his car in the week before he vanished, according to Europe 1. Xavier had also paid off some remaining debts, including the final bills for his children's private schools, per the BBC, before closing all the bank accounts in the Dupont de Ligonnès name. The lease on the family home had recently been terminated, and a final note was taped to the mailbox, stating: "Please return all mail to sender. Thank you."

On April 11th, La Perverie, the school Anne and Benoît attended, received a note from Xavier saying he was pulling them out, as the family was planning a sudden move to Australia for business, according to France24. The school where Agnès worked received a similar message. The messages indicated Agnès intended to resign her position immediately due to her husband's job transfer. However, her boss was unable to reach her when she reached out to follow up on her abrupt departure, according to Le Parisian.

Final sightings of the Dupont de Ligonnès family

The first sign of anything suspicious came on April 1st, when Arthur Dupont de Ligonnès, the eldest child, did not show up to the restaurant where he worked to pick up his paycheck. However, just two days later, the rest of the family was seen out at a restaurant, having a seemingly happy dinner together. That evening, April 3rd, was the last time the two youngest children, Anne and Benoît, would be seen alive. The children did not attend school the following day, supposedly due to an illness, according to Le Parisien.

Thomas, the second oldest child, had returned to school on Monday, but had been called back home by his father, who told him there had been a family emergency. He arrived back at the family home that evening, and was reportedly seen having dinner alone with his father at a restaurant on Monday, April 4th, according to Le Figaro. On Tuesday, April 5th, he went to a friend's house, and his last communication was a text sent to a friend on Tuesday evening. 

Although there is some dispute over the last known sighting of Agnès Dupont de Ligonnès, neighbors recalled with certainty seeing her on April 5th, per RTL. While some neighbors claimed to have seen her outside walking her dog on the evening of April 7th, most investigators place her death to have occurred around April 5th, making that timeline unlikely.

Relatives received strange letters

On April 11th, just a few days after the Dupont de Ligonnès family's last sightings, Xavier and Agnès' relatives received a typed letter, supposedly from Xavier. However, it was unsigned and contained few grammatical errors, which was unlike him, per RFI. In the strange, rambling, four-page letter, Xavier explained that he had been a covert agent, secretly working as a member of the United States' Drug Enforcement Administration. Xavier claimed the family was being moved to America to be placed in the Federal Witness Protection program. They would not be able to remain in contact and his children would be unable to access any social media for an indeterminate amount of time.

The letter also left behind detailed instructions for dealing with the remainder of the family's possessions, including which belongings were to be taken to the dump, which were to be given away, and which should be sold.

Xavier also specified that his car had been given to a family friend, a detail that proved to be untrue when the police later discovered the same car abandoned outside a hotel room in southeast France. However, perhaps the most incriminating aspect came around the middle of the letter, where Xavier told them to stay away from the rubble on the back terrace. The letter also encouraged family members to keep up the story Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès had spread that the family had relocated to Australia for business, saying it was the "official version" of the story.

The bodies were discovered underneath the back patio

Around the same time, neighbors of the Dupont de Ligonnès family noticed that the house was shuttered, and there had been no movement in and out of the house for the past few days. For a home with four active children, this was unusual. On April 13th, a neighbor reported her suspicions to the police, and they arrived to check on the home. However, they found nothing that indicated anything was amiss with the family. While some beds had been stripped of linens and some photographs were missing, police believed this meant the family had packed up and left voluntarily.

But Agnès' family members were not so sure. After receiving the strange letters insisting the family had emigrated to the United States, they became even more suspicious, insisting there was no way she would have packed up the family and left without any words of farewell. They continued to insist something was strange about the family's disappearance, and police returned to investigate the home. All told, police visited the house six times. 

According to Le Parisien, on April 21st, during the police's final visit to 55 boulevard Robert-Schuman, the bodies of Agnes and the four Dupont de Ligonnès children were finally found. Two graves, one containing the bodies of Agnès, Anne, Arthur, and Benoît, and another where Thomas was buried separately, were discovered under the patio in the back garden. By then, almost a full three weeks had passed since Agnès and three of the children had last been seen.

Drugged and shot

The next day, April 22nd, an autopsy was performed on the bodies. Agnès Dupont de Ligonnès, along with three of her children, Arthur, Anne, and Benoît, had been wrapped in blankets and buried in a single grave under the patio. Thomas, because he had presumably been killed a day or two after his mother and siblings, had been buried in a separate grave, per Le Figaro. The bodies were buried with small religious icons next to them, almost as though there had been some sort of ceremony, per O Magazine.

The autopsy revealed all the children had been drugged with sleeping pills and then shot twice in the back of the head with a .22 long rifle, per The Local. Agnès had also been shot twice, but there were no traces of drugs in her system. However, investigators noted that she used a sleep apnea machine, which had been stopped sometime in the middle of the night, so she was most likely also executed in her sleep. Despite five bloody murders, no traces of blood had been found anywhere in the house.

Even the family's two pet Labradors, who had last been heard barking on the night of Tuesday, April 5th, had been shot and buried. But there was one body missing: that of the family patriarch. Xavier immediately became the police's number one suspect. The very next day, an international arrest warrant was issued for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. By then, he'd had a three-week head start on the police.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès' disappearance

In contrast to the painstaking and deliberate efforts that had been taken to clean up the crime scene, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès had taken no pains to conceal his escape. Nothing about his travels indicated that he was planning to go on the run, and investigators speculated that instead he intended to kill himself after the end of his trip.

Police were easily able to track Xavier's last moves. He had stayed in his home in Nantes for a full week after the murders. Neighbors reported seeing him go into and out of the house, and on Friday, April 8th, Xavier made some posts online and sent emails to his family members from his home computer.

He finally left his home on Monday, April 11th, and began travelling south, his car getting caught by a speed camera along the way. That night, he checked into a hotel in the town of Blagnac, in southwestern France. He stayed for one night before continuing his journey, moving east to Vaucluse and staying the night of April 12th in the Auberge de Cassagne, according to Le Figaro. However, this time, he checked in under a false name. Xavier continued travelling southeast the next day, spending the night of April 13th at a hotel in La Seyne-sur-Mer, west of Toulon.

Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès' last sighting

Police found Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès' car on April 22nd, just one day after discovering the bodies. Police were easily able to track his travels through southern France, following security cameras and his use of credit cards at hotels and restaurants along the way. Xavier was last seen on Thursday, April 14th, when a security camera in the parking lot picked him up leaving a hotel, the Hotel Formule 1, in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, according to Europe 1. On the morning of Friday, April 15th, Xavier checked out of the hotel, abandoned his car, and disappeared carrying only a backpack on his back. 

Roquebrune-sur-Argens was surrounded by cliffs, mountains, and other crevices where it would be easy for a body to go undetected. Because nothing about Xavier's behavior indicated he was trying to hide from police or go on the run, investigators believed that Xavier's plan had been to take one last trip to southern France, where he had happy memories, and then commit suicide somewhere in the surrounding region.

In late April, police began searching the Roquebrune-sur-Argens and the surrounding area for Xavier's body, but after an exhaustive search, nothing turned up. Xavier's body was never found, leading investigators to believe that the whole trip might have been intended to throw police off his trail. Perhaps Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès had, in fact, been planning to disappear all along.

The hunt for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès

Investigators have continued to hunt for Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès for almost 10 years, but he has never been found. In July 2015, police thought they may have gotten a break when a photo, assumed to be from Xavier, was sent to a journalist in Nantes. The photograph was of two of the children, Arthur and Benoît, and had the note "I'm still alive" written on the back, along with the date of July 11th, 2015, and the name "Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès," per RTL. However, investigators were never able to track the letter to its source and remain skeptical that it actually came from the real Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.

In more recent years, there have been false sightings of Xavier. In 2018, police received a tip that Xavier was hiding out in a monastery in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, masquerading as a monk, according to O Magazine. However, a police raid of the monastery failed to turn up the suspect.

In 2019, a man believed to be Xavier was arrested in Glasgow, Scotland. Although his fingerprints at first appeared to be a match, DNA testing proved it was another case of mistaken identity, according to France24. As of today, investigators have no new leads on the whereabouts of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. Perhaps the added publicity from the Unsolved Mysteries reboot will make a break in the case.