Christian Ranucci

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Christian Ranucci
Born Christian Jean Gilbert 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 Execution by Beheading (guillotine)
Resting place Cimetière Saint-Véran, Avignon[1]
Other names "Le bourreau du bois de Valdonne" ("The torturer of the wood of Valdonne")[2]
Occupation Travelling salesman
Height 5 ft 8 in (173 cm)
Weight 159 lb (72 kg)
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)
Belcodène (car accident)
Near Peypin (murder scene)
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, committed on June 3, 1974, of an 8-year-old girl, Marie-Dolorès Rambla. He first kidnapped the girl from the estate, Cité Sainte-Agnès in Marseilles, on which she lived, and later stabbed her with a switchblade near the village of Peypin after the two were involved in a car accident.

His case greatly influenced the debate over 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 reportedly had a notable impact upon a part of public opinion, having sold over 1 million copies.[3]

Early life[edit]

Christian Ranucci was born to Jean Ranucci, a board painter and veteran of the Indochina War, and Héloïse Mathon, a caregiver, in Avignon, France on April 6, 1954.

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[3] — at the door of a court after their divorce had been pronounced. However, other sources, like Ranucci's father, testified that his son did not really witness this attack, but only saw his injured mother as a nursemaid was carrying him in her arms.[4]

Mother and son soon fled, moving home numerous times, as Héloïse Mathon was wrongly convinced that her ex-husband would kill them both (Jean would never seek to see his son, however). As a result of this experience, she became an overprotective mother. Years later, Ranucci, charged with Rambla's murder, would confess to the examining magistrate that he had lived his entire childhood with the constant fear that his father, depicted as violent by his mother, would eventually find and kill him.[5]

During his school years 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.[6] Meanwhile, he worked as a waiter at a bar, Le Rio Bravo, owned by his mother, located in Saint-Jean-de-Moirans, near Voiron (Isère), which he ran when she was absent.[3]

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. According to testimony by several comrades from his army days, his behaviour was impulsive, and his reactions could be sometimes disproportionate.[6] Later, as the murder case against him was unfolding, he was picked out as the abductor and offender of two children from Nice, but this was not pursued nor formally proven. 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.[7]

The crime[edit]

As his mother refused to accompany him on a Pentecost weekend trip, Ranucci left Nice alone on June 2, 1974. After having visited the region, he arrived in Marseilles in the morning of June 3, 1974. Looking for a former military service comrade's home, he stopped in Cité Sainte-Agnès (4th arrondissement), being distracted by the sight of a group of children involved in numerous games. There were Marie-Dolorès Rambla, 8 years old, and her brother Jean-Baptiste, 6 and a half years old, alongside two neighbours, all children playing behind a building, on parking garages.[8]

When the Rambla were all that remained, by 11.10-11.15 am, he moved his car to the parking, at the level of the kids. Then, using the claim that he had lost "his big black dog" as a bait, he asked them to help him search for it. Sending the little boy off to track down "the pet", he stayed with Marie-Dolorès, chatting a few minutes, then invited her into his car (a grey Peugeot 304 coupé). According to his confession, the girl was initially reluctant to go with him to the point he had to repeat his offer; he eventually gained her trust by promising to bring her back to home for lunch time.

After being arrested, he would not be recognized by the two witnesses to the abduction, and the only physical evidence implicating him in this phase of the crime would be a drawing representing the estate of the Rambla family that he made during his custody.[9]

One hour later, arriving at a crossroads, he went through a stop sign, collided with another car, a white Renault 16, thus damaging both vehicles. He then turned back and fled in the direction of Marseilles, driving a few hundred meters before stopping at the bottom of a hill, exited from his car with the young girl, and climbed to the thickets holding her left arm. However, hearing Marie-Dolorès screaming and crying (she had just lost her right shoe and thus had to walk barefoot on vegetative ground),[10] he jammed her neck then subsequently lay her down and applied her temple against the floor. He hit her head with stones then stabbed her throat with his flick knife (she reportedly received about fifteen blows).[11] · [12] Afterward, he masked the body with prickly branches.

Coming back to his car, he drove for a while, then hid in a mushroom bed in order to replace his collapsed tyre, change his bloodied clothes, clean and hide his knife. However, when leaving, he had to require help from people to get his car out of the mud. After having accepted a cup of tea, he got back to his home, Corniche Fleurie (on the heights of Nice).[13] · [14]

Arrest and inquiry[edit]

Ranucci was arrested two days after Rambla's murder as he was returning from office to his home in Nice. The girl's corpse had just been found shortly before by a gendarmes squad and he had been identified by his licence plate given by witnesses to the accident and his flee with the child. In front of them, he confessed to the abduction and murder of Marie-Dolorès Rambla. He drew an accurate sketch of the kidnapping, then indicated the place where he got rid of the murder weapon: his bloodied flick knife was found buried in a peat field stack, by gendarmes of Aubagne.

Months later, while he was incarcerated at Baumettes prison (9th arrondissement of Marseille), he repudiated his confession, as he had learned that he was of the same blood type as the little girl (bloodstains had been found on his pants seized in his car trunk),[15] and having heard about a lecher wearing a red clothe similar to the one discovered near the mushroom bed where he had hidden after the murder.[16]

Psychiatrists who heard Ranucci during sessions diagnosed him as "immature and backward sexuality". According to their report, coupled with a need for company, this had led to some desire to take children and spend time with them. Even so, he was not depicted as a pedophile, but rather as someone whose sexual identity remained undefined, though the psychiatrists asserted he showed "keen interest" in children. Nevertheless, while confessing, Ranucci claimed he had no intentions of wrongdoing toward the girl during the abduction, and only wished to go for a ride with her.[17] Furthermore, he had explained the murder as a result of panic and fear due to the accident.

Thus, his motive for abducting the girl has remained unclear, all the more since no sign of rape had been found on the victim's body.

André Fraticelli, Ranucci's lawyer, originally planned to cite in court his client's difficult past, especially the sight of his father slashing his mother's face, and the numerous moves made across France, as an argument for pleading mitigating circumstances. Also, Fraticelli wanted the jury to doubt Ranucci's state of mind and consciousness while committing murder, or even if he was really accountable for the murder, rather than his guilt.[a][19] However, as Ranucci had retracted his confession, his other two lawyers chose to plead his innocence, thus conforming to Ranucci's wishes.[b][20]

Trial and execution[edit]

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. A few journalists described public opinion as extremely sensitive to the point of hysteria, 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.[21] This was interpreted by a few observers as an indication of his immaturity. Ranucci was also very arrogant during the trial, denying the crime he had first confessed to, despite all the physical evidence, and details he had provided during his confession. Found guilty on all counts on March 10, 1976, he was sentenced to death. During the last hearing, and after his advocate's plea, minutes were communicated at the last minute to the jury and the defense lawyers, which, while not unheard of or illegal, was an extremely rare procedure. This was later used as an argument before the Court of Cassation.

While on death row, on his mother's advice, Ranucci 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.[22] His appeal for a second trial was denied by the court of cassation on June 17, 1976.[23]

Finally, on July 26, President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing refused a pardon for Ranucci. He was executed by guillotine in the courtyard of 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 "Réhabilitez-moi!" ("Vindicate 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".[24]

Aftermach: controversy, political debate and attempted requests for review[edit]

A novel by Gilles Perrault entitled Le Pull-over rouge, disputed Ranucci's involvement in the crime and expressed his own doubts about his guilt. The title of the book refers to an article of clothing, a red sweater, found hidden in the mushroom bed where Ranucci admitted to have been on the day of the crime, which seemed similar to that worn by another man who sexually abused children in another Marseilles estate, on the first week-end of June 1974, just two days before Rambla's kidnapping and murder.[25] During the inquiry, when asked about the sweater, Ranucci had denied being its owner. In his book, Perrault took on board Ranucci's final defence system, arguing about a concussion he allegedly suffered within his car (as a supposed consequence of a bender), just right at the bottom of the crime scene, Ranucci becoming a victim of manipulation and impersonation perpetrated by the "real murderer"; in this theory, the man is supposed to have carried unconscious Ranucci driving the latter's car to the mushroom bed where he then hid his red sweater.[26] However, Perrault had no rational explanation to main hard facts, especially the hiding place of the murder weapon given by Ranucci himself.

The victim's father, Pierre Rambla, had hardly opposed to this book and the subsequent campaign that supported Perrault's theses, arguing it made his family suffer, especially his elder son who witnessed Marie-Dolorès' abduction.[27]

The book was made into a film by Michel Drach in 1979, starring Serge Avédikian as Ranucci.[28] A television film about the case, L'affaire Christian Ranucci: Le combat d'une mère, starring Alexandre Hamidi and Catherine Frot as Christian Ranucci and his mother, was released in 2007.[29]

The controversy grew and moved from the literary to the political arena, especially in the debate upon 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".[30] 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 an article for Minute titled "Non ! L'affaire Ranucci n'est pas une erreur judiciaire" ("No! The Ranucci case was not a miscarriage of justice") in late 1978, in which he recapped the key points of the case which proved that Ranucci was guilty. Chardon denied that Ranucci had been tortured as he had claimed during his trial, accusing in particular Commissioner Gérard Alessandra, chief of the criminal section "Nord" in the Hôtel de Police de Marseille, in charge of the inquiry;[31] 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 titled "Qui a a tué Christian Ranucci ?" ("Who killed Christian Ranucci?"), 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.[32] In 2008, Perrault and his publisher Fayard were found guilty of defamation against the Marseille police in another book, L'Ombre de Christian Ranucci,[33] in which it was stated that the investigators behaved with "thoughtlessness and partisanship". Perrault was fined 5,000 euros and his publisher 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.[34]

Since the publication 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 fact had been brought forward.[35] Furthermore, a few observers stressed that arguments presented before the Court of Cassation had already been cited previously by the defence during the criminal trial.[31] Despite the creation of the association "Affaire Ranucci: Pourquoi réviser?" by four Parisian students in 2002, there has not been any other attempt to seek reconsideration since 1991 (rejection date 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.[36] On multiple occasions, former President of the Republic Giscard d'Estaing has said in interviews about his role 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".[37]

Héloïse Mathon died on March 14, 2013. She was buried in the graveyard of Saint-Véran, Avignon, alongside her son's ashes which she had followed as they were transported from the graveyard Saint-Pierre in Marseille to Saint-Véran after his execution.

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 a 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 made around his sister's murderer's guilt.[38]


  1. ^ According to article 64 of the Penal Code, no one can be tried if he acted in a state of insanity.[18]
  2. ^ Fraticelli said about the defense strategy: "You do not play poker with a man's life (...). This is the reason why I thought we had to plea guilty, with mitigating circumstances which were densely represented and possible.


  1. ^ Christian Jean Ranucci (1954-1976) on Find a Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  2. ^ Jérôme Ferracci, Le Méridional, June 1974; cited by Gilles Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 141.
  3. ^ a b c 50 ans de faits divers, "Christian Ranucci : la vérité impossible", Planète+ Justice, July 13, 2006.
  4. ^ Gilles Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 132.
  5. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over-rouge, Ramsay, p. 212.
  6. ^ a b Dossier Ranucci: entretien avec Alain Rabineau - Dossier Ranucci : Peut-on douter ?
  7. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 165.
  8. ^ Gérard Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture. L'affaire Ranucci, toute la vérité sur le pull-over rouge, Pascal Petiot, pp. 159; 218-220.
  9. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, pp. 118-123.
  10. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 27.
  11. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, pp. 23; 112-113.
  12. ^ Pierre Rambla (2008). Le ″Cirque" rouge ou Le mensonge médiatique et l'argent du sang, Société des Écrivains, pp. 20; 91-92.
  13. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, pp. 33-37.
  14. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, pp. 29-30.
  15. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 324.
  16. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 218.
  17. ^ From the archive, 29 July 1976: "Guillotine returns after two years",, July 29, 2011.
  18. ^ Code pénal (ancien) - Article 64. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  19. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 31.
  20. ^ "Christian Ranucci : l'énigme du pull-over rouge - Faites entrer l'accusé #FELA". YouTube. France 2. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  21. ^ Secrets d'actualité, "Affaire Ranucci : l'ombre d'un doute", M6, September 4, 2005.
  22. ^ G. Bouladou (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture..., Pascal Petiot, p. 232.
  23. ^ "Crim., 17 juin 1976, pourvoi n° 76-90888 (Rejet du pourvoi en cassation de Christian Ranucci)".
  24. ^ "LE PROCÈS-VERBAL OFFICIEL", Le Monde, July 29, 1976.
  25. ^ G. Perrault (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, p. 130.
  26. ^ G. Perrault (1978), Le Pull-over rouge, Ramsay, pp. 387-395.
  27. ^ P. Rambla (2008). Le "Cirque" rouge, Société des Écrivains, pp. 26-29; 62-65.
  28. ^ "Le Pull-Over Rouge". Time Out Digital Limited. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  29. ^ "L'affaire Christian Ranucci: Le combat d'une mère". Le Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  30. ^ Discours de Robert Badinter sur l'abolition de la peine de mort 2/2, INA, September 17, 1981.
  31. ^ a b Christian Chardon (1978). "Non ! L'affaire Ranucci n'est pas une erreur judiciaire", Minute, 1978, p. 27.
  32. ^ Cour de cassation, Chambre criminelle, du 4 février 1992, 90-86.069, Inédit.
  33. ^ "L'ombre de Christian Ranucci". Éditions Fayard. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  34. ^ "Gilles Perrault et son éditeur condamnés pour diffamation", La Provence, January 27, 2009.
  35. ^ Affaire Ranucci : POURQUOI RÉVISER ? - Les demandes de révisions.
  36. ^ "Fourniret n'était pas au procès Ranucci", Le Nouvel Observateur, July 4, 2006.
  37. ^ "Giscard d'Estaing ne regrette pas d'avoir refusé sa grâce à Ranucci", AFP & Le Point, October 9, 2010.
  38. ^ "Ouverture du procès Rambla, sur fond d’affaire Ranucci", France Info, October 15, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bouladou, Gérard (2005). L'affaire du pull-over rouge : Ranucci coupable ! Un pull-over rouge cousu de fil blanc, Nice: France-Europe Éditions, 383 p.
  • Bouladou, Gérard (2006). Autopsie d'une imposture. L'affaire Ranucci : toute la vérité sur le pull-over rouge, Aix-en-Provence: Pascal Petiot, 335 p.
  • Donadini, Geneviève (2016). Le procès Ranucci. Témoignage d'un juré d'assises, Paris: L'Harmattan, 106 p.
  • Fratacci, Mathieu (1994). Qui a tué Christian Ranucci ?, Paris: Éditions N° 1, 253 p.
  • Le Forsonney, Jean-François (2006). Le Fantôme de Ranucci. Ce jeune condamné qui me hante, Neuilly-sur-Seine: Michel Lafon, 187 p.
  • Osswald, Karin (1994). L'affaire Ranucci, Paris: J'ai lu, 188 p.
  • Perrault, Gilles (1978). Le Pull-over rouge, Paris: Ramsay, 439 p. (republished in Le Livre de Poche in 1980 & Fayard in 1994)
  • Perrault, Gilles (2006). L'Ombre de Christian Ranucci, Paris: Fayard, 262 p.
  • Perrault, Gilles; Mathon, Héloïse; Le Forsonney, Jean-François; Soulez-Larivière, Daniel; Bredin, Jean-Denis (1995). Christian Ranucci : vingt ans après, Paris: Julliard, 275 p.
  • Rambla, Pierre (2008). Le "Cirque" rouge ou Le mensonge médiatique et l'argent du sang, Saint-Denis: Société des Écrivains, 298 p.
  • Ranucci, Christian; Mathon, Héloïse (1980). Jusqu'au 28 juillet 1976 : Écrits d'un condamné, Paris: Hachette Littérature, 217 p.

External links[edit]