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Jean-Claude Romand: Fake French doctor who killed family is free

Jean-Claude Romand at this trial in 1996 Image copyright AFP

A Frenchman who killed his parents, wife and children in a case that inspired a book and two films has been freed after 26 years in jail.

Before the murders, Jean-Claude Romand, now 65, spent 18 years pretending to be a medical student and then a researcher at the World Health Organization (WHO).

He was in fact making money by taking cash from family friends and claiming to invest it in Switzerland.

He went on a killing spree in 1993 as his fraud was about to be exposed.

Romand - who was widely regarded as a model student - failed to turn up for his first-year exam at the Lyon medical school in 1974.

He was allowed to repeat the first year for the next 12 years and never took the exam.

However he told his friends that he was following normal medical studies, and eventually that he had become a doctor.

Living a double life

He went on to pretend that he had got a job at the Geneva-based WHO. In fact he was spending his days driving near the border area between France and Switzerland, and occasionally visited the WHO's public information service.

In 1980 he married his girlfriend, and went on to have two children with her in the late-1980s. He would sometimes tell his family that he was on foreign trips, then stay in motorway rest areas for several days, and return home with gifts.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Items retrieved from Romand's home suggested a happy family life

First Romand lived off money from the sale of the student flat his parents had bought for him in Lyon. When this ran out, he took advantage of relatives and friends who asked him to invest their savings in schemes he claimed to have access to as a UN employee.

By late 1992 some of his victims were asking for their money. One family friend became suspicious after finding that Romand's name was not on the WHO's staff list.

In January 1993, he killed his wife with a rolling pin at their home before killing his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son with a rifle.

On the same day, he travelled more than 80km (50 miles) to his parents' house and killed both of them, as well as their dog. He returned home, where his wife and children lay dead, set fire to the house and swallowed sleeping pills.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Romand set fire to his home in Prévessin-Moëns near the Swiss border

However Romand was rescued by firefighters, taken into custody, and made a confession. He was convicted of murder in 1996.

He became eligible for parole in 2015 and his release was granted in April this year.

'Hard to hear'

While still awaiting trial, he began a correspondence with the author Emmanuel Carrère to tell his life story and version of events.

Carrère struggled for years to write a book based on the exchange, as he wanted it to be neither the portrait of a monster nor a defence.

The book, L'Adversaire (The Adversary), was finally published in 2000 and was a bestseller. It was adapted into a film two years later.

The Romand case also inspired the 2001 film L'Emploi du Temps (Time Out) about a sacked executive who deceives his family by pretending to go to the office every day while aimlessly driving between France and Switzerland.

Romand has expressed remorse and is reported to have become religious during his 26 years in prison.

His former brother-in-law has criticised the decision to release him. Emmanuel Crolet told French radio earlier this month: "The word 'free' is hard to hear... For me, he's won."

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