The two surviving daughters of multiple-baby killer Dominique Cottrez have described her as a doting mother who selflessly devoted herself to her family.
“We never lacked for a thing … She was always ready to do anything for her daughters,” Emeline Cottrez, 22, told La Voix du Nord, the regional newspaper for northern France.
Youngest daughter, Virginie, spoke of her mother’s tears and delight when she and Emeline gave birth.
“How was she able to accept her two grandsons after all that had happened?” Virginie, 21, asked.
Dominique Cottrez, 45, who lives in Villers-au-Tertre, near Lille, has admitted to smothering eight new-born babies between 1989 and 2006 after concealing her pregnancies from her husband, family and friends. She has been placed under formal investigation – a step short of a charge – on eight counts of “murder of a child under the age of 15”.
Her lawyer, Frank Berton, said yesterday that his client was unlikely to be charged with “five or six” of the murders because they had happened too long ago.
Under French law, a prosecution for murder must be brought within 10 years. Mr Berton said that Ms Cottrez was “overwhelmed, exhausted, stricken and confused” but also “relieved” to have been able to share “a secret she had borne alone” for more than 20 years.
Gendarmes discovered the remains of two newborns buried in the garden of Ms Cottrez’s former home, which she had shared with her husband, Pierre-Marie, 47. Ms Cottrez, an auxiliary nurse, admitted to smothering the babies soon after birth and showed gendarmes six other small skeletons hidden in plastic bags in the garage of the house where she had lived since 1991.
She told investigators that she had murdered the eight newborn babies because she “didn’t want any more children”. She had shunned contraception because she distrusted doctors after having bad experiences at the birth of her daughters.
Ms Cottrez, who weighs 20 stone, said her size helped her to conceal the many pregnancies. The investigating judge in charge of the case has accepted – for now – this version of events. Pierre-Marie Cottrez, a carpenter and village councillor, has not been placed under investigation.
Ms Cottrez’s daughters told La Voix du Nord they had never suspected anything. “We just can’t believe it,” said Virginie. “It’s the kind of thing you see on television but not in a little village like ours,” said Emeline.
“We never wanted for anything, mum was always there for us, she was always ready to do anything for her daughters. She was the best there is.”
“We never noticed anything unusual,” she went on. “Mum had moments of tiredness, it’s true, but she worked almost 24 hours a day. She got up early to visit her patients and then came back to her work in the house. She was a courageous woman. She never complained.”
Virginie said: “Mum was a very secretive person. But she never judged us … She always supported us, whatever happened.”
Emeline recalled that her mother had come to the maternity hospital to help her when her son was born two years ago. “She carried him and she dressed him. We both had tears in our eyes.” Since then, Ms Cottrez had often babysat for her grandchildren.
“And to think, she hadn’t just hidden one body, but eight,” said Emeline. “Now it’s all come out, mum must be terribly relieved. She has nothing more to hide.”
Ms Cottrez’s lawyer, Mr Berton, criticised the public prosecutor, Eric Vaillant, for saying that this was not a case of “denied pregnancy” because his client was aware of her condition before the babies were born.
“Experts will have to investigate her psychological state,” he said. “Analysing why she did these things is beyond her. But, according to the leading experts, it is possible to be aware you are pregnant and still suffer from a form of denied pregnancy.”