Christian Ranucci

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Christian Ranucci
Born Christian Jean Ranucci
(1954-04-06)April 6, 1954
Avignon, France
Died July 28, 1976(1976-07-28) (aged 22)
Baumettes prison, Marseilles, France
Cause of death
Beheading (guillotine)
Resting place
Cimetière Saint-Véran, Avignon
Other names "The torturer of the wood of Valdonne"[1]
Occupation Travelling salesman
Height 1.74 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 72 kg (159 lb; 11 st 5 lb)
Criminal charge
Child abduction
Child murder
Criminal penalty
Capital punishment
Criminal status Executed by guillotine on July 28, 1976
Parent(s) Jean Ranucci and Héloïse Mathon
Victims Marie-Dolorès Rambla, 8
Date June 3, 1974
State(s) Bouches-du-Rhône
Location(s) Marseilles (abduction)
Near Peypin (murder)
Weapons Stones
Flick knife
Date apprehended
June 5, 1974

Christian Ranucci (April 6, 1954 – July 28, 1976) was one of the last persons executed in France, having been convicted of the abduction and murder of an 8-year-old girl, Marie-Dolorès Rambla, committed on June 3, 1974. Allegedly, Ranucci first kidnapped the girl from the estate on which she lived, Cité Sainte-Agnès in Marseilles, and later stabbed her with a switchblade near the village of Peypin after the two had become involved in a car accident. His case held a great influence in the debate upon capital punishment in France after a book entitled Le Pull-over rouge, calling Ranucci's guilt into question, was published in 1978 by former lawyer and journalist Gilles Perrault. It has reportedly had a notable impact upon a part of public opinion, having sold over 1 million copies.[2]

Early life[edit]

Christian Ranucci was born to Jean Ranucci, a board painter and Indochina wars veteran, and Héloïse Mathon. When he was four years old, he witnessed his father slashing his mother in the face with a knife — similar to the one Ranucci would later use to commit murder — at the door of the court after their divorce had been pronounced. However, other sources, like Ranucci's father in a testimony, indicate to the contrary that he did not really witness this attack, but only saw his mother disfigured as a nursemaid was carrying him in her arms.[3] Mother and son soon fled and moved home numerous times, Héloïse Mathon being convinced that her ex-husband would kill them both. As a result of this experience, Héloïse Mathon became an overprotective mother.

During his school years Christian Ranucci was described as a mediocre pupil repeating a year but still earning his BEPC at the age of 17. He was often violent toward his comrades, and remained immature and uncommunicative as a young man.[4] Ranucci later worked as a waiter in a bar near Voiron, Le Rio Bravo, owned by his mother, and by Ranucci himself when she was absent;[2] They had lived in Nice since 1970. Ranucci eventually went to Wittlich (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany) in order to complete his military service, which ended in March 1974.

Later, as the murder case against him was unfolding, he was identified as the abductor of two children from Nice, but this was not pursued. On May 24, 1974, he was hired by Ets COTTO, a company that made and sold air-conditioning equipment based in Nice, and began working as a travelling salesman.[5]

The crime[edit]

According to his confession, on June 3, 1974 Ranucci was on a weekend trip in Marseilles and looking for a former military service comrade's home when he saw two children, Marie-Dolorès Rambla, 8 years old, and her brother Jean-Baptiste, 6 and a half years old, playing in Cité Sainte-Agnès (4th arrondissement). Using a bait, he claimed he had lost his black dog and asked the children to help search for it. Sending the little boy on the track of the pet, he stayed with Marie-Dolorès, invited her into his car and left. Later, he would not be recognized by the two witnesses of the abduction, and the only physical evidence implicating him in the crime would be a drawing representing the estate of the Rambla family that he made during his custody.[6]

One hour later, arriving at a crossroads, he went through a "STOP" ban sign, causing a collision with another car and damaging both this vehicle and his own. He then turned back and fled in the direction of Marseilles, driving again a few hundred meters before stopping at the bottom of a hill, and exited from his coupé Peugeot 304 with the young girl. He then killed Marie-Dolorès by hitting her with stones and stabbing her with a flick knife (she had reportedly received about fifteen blows).[7]

Arrest and trial[edit]

He was arrested two days after Rambla's murder (her corpse had just been found near the place where he was seen with a child), as he was coming back to his home in Nice. He had been identified by his licence plate. In front of the witnesses of the accident, he confessed the abduction and murder of Marie-Dolorès Rambla. Then, he indicated the place where he got rid of the murder weapon, his bloodied flick knife, found buried in a peat field stack. Months later, incarcerated at Baumettes prison (9th arrondissement of Marseille), he would repudiate his confession, having learned that he was of the same blood group as the little girl (bloodstains had been found on his pants seized in his car trunk), and having heard about a child abductor wearing a red sweater similar to the one discovered near the mushroom bed where he hid after the murder.[8]

Psychiatrists who heard Ranucci during sessions diagnosed "immature and backward sexuality"; coupled with a need for company, this had led to, according to their report, some desire to take children and spend time with them. Even so, he was not depicted as a real pedophile, but rather as someone whose sexual identity remained undefined, though psychiatrists asserted he showed "keen interest" in children. His difficult past, especially the sight of his father slashing his mother, was originally planned to be cited in court by his lawyer André Fraticelli, as an argument for pleading mitigating circumstances. Also, Fraticelli wanted to make doubt the jury not of Ranucci's guilt, but rather of his state of mind and consciousness while committing murder, or even if he was really accountable.[9] However, as Ranucci had retracted, the remaining two lawyers chose to plead innocence, thus conforming to Ranucci's wishes.[10]

He was tried in Aix-en-Provence in southern France on March 9 and 10, 1976, just three weeks after Patrick Henry was arrested in Troyes for another child murder. Thus, public opinion was described by a few journalists as made sensitive, demanding the death penalty for child murderers. Ranucci's mother had the idea that he should come to court dressed like a clergyman, sporting a large pectoral cross, which irritated most of the jury.[11] This was interpreted by a few observers as an indication of immaturity. Ranucci was also very arrogant during the trial, denying the crime he had first confessed despite all the physical evidence and details he had given in his confession. Found guilty on all counts on March 10, 1976, he was sentenced to death. During the last hearing and after Paul Lombard's plea, minutes were communicated at the last minute to the jury and the defense lawyers, which, while not being unheard of or illegal, was extremely rare in procedure. It was later used as an argument before the court of cassation. While in jail and on his mother's advice, he wrote a 74-page document titled "Récapitulatif" ("Summary") in which he summed up the case from his point of view, trying to prove he was innocent. However, Gérard Bouladou, who has written books about the case, detected some sort of mythomania in this document and argued that Ranucci only tried to persuade himself of his own innocence.[12] His appeal for a second trial was denied by the court of cassation on June 17, 1976.[13]


On July 26, President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing refused a pardon for Ranucci. He was executed by guillotine at Baumettes prison in Marseilles on July 28, 1976, at 4.13 am. Two of his lawyers, who witnessed the execution, said his last words were "Rehabilitate me!". On the contrary, executioner André Obrecht wrote in his memoirs that the condemned said nothing before dying, his last word being a "Negative!" shouted at the chaplain when he refused to receive communion. His third lawyer, André Fraticelli, confirmed that Ranucci never asked to be rehabilitated. It is also specified in the minutes of the execution that Ranucci "made no statement".[14] · [15]

Controversy, debate and attempted reviews[edit]

A novel by Gilles Perrault, entitled Le Pull-over rouge, disputed Ranucci's involvement in the crime and expressed Perrault's doubts about Ranucci's guilt. The title of the book refers to an article of clothing, a red sweater, found near the mushroom bed where Ranucci admitted to have gone on the day of the crime, which seemed similar to that worn by another satyr who, on the first week-end of June 1974, tried to bother children in other Marseilles estate, just two days before Rambla's kidnapping and murder.[16] The sweater was not Ranucci's. The book became a film by Michel Drach in 1979, starring Serge Avédikian as Ranucci. A television film about the case, starring Alexandre Hamidi and Catherine Frot as Christian Ranucci and his mother, was released in 2007. The controversy increased and moved from literary to political stakes, especially in the debate on capital punishment in France, which culminated when criminal lawyer and socialist newly nominated Minister of Justice Robert Badinter addressed the National Assembly in September 1981 to defend his abolition of capital punishment bill; he claimed with regard to the Ranucci case that there were "too many questions about his case, and [that] these questions were sufficient [...] to condemn the death penalty".[17] On the other hand, some journalists who covered the case refuted Perrault's miscarriage of justice theory: Christian Chardon, who covered the case for Détective, wrote for Minute an article titled "Non ! L'affaire Ranucci n'est pas une erreur judiciair-e" ("No ! The Ranucci case was not one of a miscarriage of justice") in late 1978, in which he recapped the key points of the case which proved that Ranucci was guilty, and denied that Ranucci had been tortured as he had claimed during his trial, accusing in particular Commissionner Gérard Alessandra, chief of the criminal section "Nord" in the Hôtel de Police de Marseille, in charge of the inquiry;[18] in late 1979, Jean Laborde published an article in Paris-Match which he titled "Ranucci innocent? Eh bien non!" ("Ranucci innocent ? Well no !"), also refuting Perrault's theory of Ranucci's innocence in Rambla's murder.

In 1990, having accused the policemen in charge of the inquiry of "abuse of authority" in a 1985 TV program, Gilles Perrault, as well as the presenter, was found guilty of defamation and fined 40,000 francs to be paid to each of the five policemen, a sentence confirmed and granted on appeals to 70,000 francs for each plaintiff.[19] In 2008, Perrault and his publisher Fayard were found guilty of defamation against the Marseille police in another book, L'Ombre de Christian Ranucci, in which it was stated that the investigators behaved with "thoughtlessness and partisanship". Perrault was fined 5,000 euros and his editor an equal sum for each policeman defamed, a decision confirmed on appeal in 2009. The appeal court also granted 10,000 euros in damages to each of the four policemen defamed.[20]

Since the publishing of Le Pull-over rouge (which was soon followed by the creation of the "Comité national pour la révision du procès Ranucci"), there have been three requests for a review of the Ranucci trial, all of them ultimately fruitless and rejected, the court arguing no new development had been brought.[21] Furthermore, a few observers stressed that arguments presented before the Court of Cassation had already been cited by the defence during the criminal trial.[18] Despite the creation of the association "Affaire Ranucci: Pourquoi réviser?" by four Parisian students in 2002, there has not been any other attempt for a review since 1991 (date of rejection of the last request), although some rumors circulated in 2006 about the presence of serial killer Michel Fourniret near Marseilles in 1974. An anthropometric study concluded that photos shot at Ranucci's trial in 1976 of a man who seemed at a first sight to look like Fourniret did not match pictures of the real Fourniret at that time.[22] On multiple occasions, former President of the Republic Giscard d'Estaing told in interviews about the role he had in the case that he did not feel remorse; he mentioned to journalist Laurent Delahousse in 2010 that he did not regret his decision to decline clemency to Ranucci, claiming that he was indeed guilty and that "he had to be punished".[23]

Héloïse Mathon died on March 14, 2013. She has been buried in the graveyard of Saint-Véran, Avignon, alongside her son's ashes whom she overwised the transport from the graveyard Saint-Pierre in Marseille.

The Rambla case: the murder of Corinne Beidl[edit]

In February 2005, Jean-Baptiste Rambla, Marie-Dolorès' brother, was arrested during the investigation into the disappearance of Corinne Beidl, his employer in the restaurant where he worked. It turned out during the inquiry that Rambla killed her as the result of a violent dispute about his salary. Rambla was convicted of Corinne Beidl's murder and sentenced in October 2008 to an 18-year prison term. According to his lawyers, his acting out was influenced by drug addiction and the media coverage of the debate about his sister's murderer's guilt.[24]

Further reading[edit]

  • Gérard Bouladou (2005). L'Affaire du pull-over rouge : Ranucci coupable ! Un pull-over rouge cousu... de fil blanc, France-Europe Editions, 383 p.
  • Gérard Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture. L'affaire Ranucci : toute la vérité sur le pull-over rouge, Aix-en-Provence, Pascal Petiot Editions, 335 p.
  • Christian Chardon, "Non ! L'affaire Ranucci n'est pas une erreur judiciaire", in Minute, 1978, p. 20-27
  • Mathieu Fratacci (1994). Qui a tué Christian Ranucci ?, Editions N° 1
  • Balbino Katz, "La petite fille et son meurtrier : L’incroyable affaire Ranucci ou comment innocenter un coupable", in Aventures et dossiers secrets de l’Histoire, Hors série n°30, June 2005, p. 42-61
  • Jean Laborde, "Ranucci innocent ? Eh bien non !", Paris Match, 30 November 1979
  • Jean-François Le Forsonney (2006). Le Fantôme de Ranucci. Ce jeune condamné qui me hante, Michel Lafon, 187 p.
  • Gilles Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, 439 p. (republished in Le Livre de Poche in 1980)
  • Gilles Perrault, Héloïse Mathon, Jean-François Le Forsonney, Jean-Denis Bredin & Daniel Soulez-Larivière (1995). Christian Ranucci : vingt ans après, Julliard, 275 p.
  • Pierre Rambla (2008). Le Cirque rouge, Société des écrivains, 298 p.
  • Christian Ranucci & Héloïse Mathon (1980). Jusqu'au 28 juillet 1976 – Écrits d'un condamné, Hachette, 217 p.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Jérôme Ferracci, Le Méridional, June 1974
  2. ^ a b 50 ans de faits divers, "Christian Ranucci : la vérité impossible", Planète+ Justice, July 13, 2006.
  3. ^ Gilles Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 132.
  4. ^ Dossier Ranucci: entretien avec Alain Rabineau - Dossier Ranucci : Peut-on douter ?
  5. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 165.
  6. ^ Gérard Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture. L'affaire Ranucci, toute la vérité sur le pull-over rouge, Pascal Petiot, p. 118-123.
  7. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 23.
  8. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 218.
  9. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 31.
  10. ^ André Fraticelli in TV program Faites entrer l'accusé, "Christian Ranucci, l'énigme du pull-over rouge", France 2, July 17, 2003. Fraticelli said about the defense strategy: "You do not play poker with a man's life (...). This is the reason why I though we had to plea guilty, with mitigating circumstances which were densely represented and possible."
  11. ^ Secrets d'actualité, "Affaire Ranucci : l'ombre d'un doute", M6, September 4, 2005.
  12. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 232.
  13. ^ "Crim., 17 juin 1976, pourvoi n° 76-90888 (Rejet du pourvoi en cassation de Christian Ranucci)".
  14. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 258.
  15. ^ "LE PROCÈS-VERBAL OFFICIEL", Le Monde, July 29, 1976.
  16. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 130.
  17. ^ Discours de Robert Badinter sur l'abolition de la peine de mort 2/2, INA, September 17, 1981.
  18. ^ a b Christian Chardon (1978). "Non ! L'affaire Ranucci n'est pas une erreur judiciaire", Minute, 1978, p. 27.
  19. ^ Cour de cassation, Chambre criminelle, du 4 février 1992, 90-86.069, Inédit.
  20. ^ "Gilles Perrault et son éditeur condamnés pour diffamation", La Provence, January 27, 2009.
  21. ^ Affaire Ranucci : POURQUOI RÉVISER ? - Les demandes de révisions.
  22. ^ "Fourniret n'était pas au procès Ranucci", Le Nouvel Observateur, July 4, 2006.
  23. ^ "Giscard d'Estaing ne regrette pas d'avoir refusé sa grâce à Ranucci", AFP & Le Point, October 9, 2010.
  24. ^ "Ouverture du procès Rambla, sur fond d’affaire Ranucci", France Info, October 15, 2008.