Profile: Dominique Cottrez

Dominique Cottrez (undated photo)
Image caption Dominique Cottrez is the only person charged over the crimes

Obesity appears to have played an important part in the case of French mother Dominique Cottrez, who has confessed to killing eight of her children at birth and concealing their bodies.

She told prosecutors that the birth of her first, surviving child in the late 1980s had been complicated by her excess weight, a trauma which left her in fear of doctors to the point of not wanting to seek contraceptive advice - advice that she, being from a strongly Roman Catholic family, would presumably have hesitated over seeking in any case.

After the birth of her second living child a year later, she went through at least eight further pregnancies but apparently nobody noticed the physical difference in her each time.

At the time of her arrest, this short woman of 45 was said by French media to weigh about 130kg (286lb).

If Mrs Cottrez showed no outward sign of being with child over nearly two decades, she appears equally to have never aroused suspicion that she was anything other than harmless.

She was "a simple woman who would not hurt a fly", said a local girl who knows her grown-up daughters.

'Sweet' Dominique

After interviewing people who had known Dominique Cottrez all their lives in the little village of Villers-au-Tertre near the northern city of Lille, French newspaper La Voix du Nord concluded that she was regarded as a "child of the village".

Image caption Two babies' remains were found at the house on Rue de Fressain

An unnamed resident on Rue de Fressain, where the remains of two of the babies were found at her father's former house, recalled being at the birth of "sweet" little Dominique to agricultural labourer Oscar Lempereur and his wife Marie-Louise in 1963.

She was the eldest of three sisters and there was also a son, who was born handicapped.

Local priest Robert Meignotte, who lit candles outside the house on Sentier du Pre where the other six babies' remains were found and talked of his incomprehension at how infants could have been "thrown out a few hours" after being born, said he had heard how Dominique's grandparents would erect a prayer altar outside their home during religious processions.

Andre-Michel, a former schoolmate, recalled her as a "nice little girl" while schoolteacher Rejane, who taught both Dominique and her two daughters, remembered her as "a very good girl who was perhaps a little withdrawn".

"She was always well-mannered and neatly dressed, like her daughters," she told La Voix du Nord.

Dominique began to put on weight while still a teenager. "She was shy and withdrawn, probably because of her body which embarrassed her," said her former schoolmate Andre-Michel.

The women in Dominique's family "tended to be on the fairly large side", according to the neighbour from Rue de Fressain.

First births

Andre-Michel, who now owns the Sept-Puits cafe in Villers-au-Tertre, said Dominique had met her husband Pierre-Marie Cottrez in his establishment, like most of the couples in the village at the time.

Image caption Seals were placed on the garage where six babies' remains were found

They had seemed a happy couple even if they became less attached in later years, he added.

Dominique Cottrez gave birth for the first time at the age of 24.

The delivery was "difficult because of her large body weight", prosecutors quoted her as saying after her arrest. "[She said] she did not want any more children and that she did not want to see a doctor about methods of contraception."

According to the former schoolteacher, when she gave birth the second time, the news came as a complete surprise to her.

"She used to come and pick up her daughter at the nursery and I only heard the news after the delivery," she said.

The two grown-up daughters, Virginie, 21, and Emeline, 22, told La Voix du Nord they could not understand what had happened with their mother.

Enmeline recalled a loving parent who had helped at the birth of her own little boy: "She was there at the delivery with me, she was the one who carried him and wrapped him... We both had tears in our eyes.

"We never wanted for anything, she always had her hand on her heart, she was always ready to do anything for her daughters."

'No rejection'

Describing her mother as "secretive", Virginie said nonetheless that the family had never noticed anything untoward.

"She had her moments of weariness, it's true, but she worked nearly 24 hours a day between her job as a home help and her housework."

Francine Caron, her supervisor at the care service in the nearby town of Douai, described her as "a very good home help, a pearl, a good, very kind person who had all the qualities".

Village mayor Patrick Mercier said Mrs Cottrez had played little part in village life, in contrast to Pierre-Marie, 46, a "decent, well-meaning type" who had sat on the village council for years.

Mr Cottrez, a carpenter by trade, is said to have been stunned by the news that his wife had suffocated her babies.

"My brother saw nothing, even though he sleeps next to his wife... but Dominique was always heavily built, it didn't show when she was pregnant with her two daughters," his brother-in-law Yves Cottrez was quoted as saying by French newspaper Le Parisien.

A lawyer for Dominique Cottrez's husband said the family remained united.

"That is to say there is a strong union between the children, the father and this mother of two [grown] children," Pierre-Jean Gribouva told the Associated Press news agency.

"There is no rejection and they are very united."

Mrs Cottrez, who was due to undergo psychological tests to determine whether she was fully responsible for her acts, faces trial and life imprisonment.

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