Twenty years ago, in a luxury apartment in Paris, a brilliant 39-year-old lawyer named Jacques Perrot was to meet his mother-in-law. Presumably the jet-setting attorney, best friend of the prime minister, husband of the famous and beautiful female jockey Darie Boutboul, planned to speak to his mother-in-law Marie-Elizabeth Boutboul about his plans to divorce Darie and take custody of their child, 4-year-old Adrien. While his mother-in-law never showed up, someone else did... with a loaded rifle. Jacques Perrot was shot in the back three times and died on the spot.
The city's newspaper editors went nuts, and the murder quickly captivated French audiences. Even the President, Francois Mitterand, said he was fascinated by the case.
Both the victim and his widow were widely known in the upper echelon of Paris circles; Jacques Perrot had served as best man at the wedding of his childhood friend, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, a favor that Fabius returned when Jacques Perrot married Darie Boutboul. For her part, 27-year-old Darie was famous as the first female jockey to win a leading French horse rase, the tierce, and the star of a popular radio talk show. An educated woman with degrees in art history and Russian, Darie was a fixture in Paris society.
For one thing, his mother-in-law wasn't actually a lawyer any more.
It seems that Perrot had learned shortly before his death that Marie-Elizabeth Boutboul, the very wealthy racehorse owner and mother of his wife, was disbarred for swindling a religious charity of 10 million francs ($2 million).
And she wasn't a widow either.
Officially, her husband, a dentist, was killed in an airplane crash 16 years earlier. Except the forensic investigation of their lives following Perrot's murder led to the discovery that Robert Boutboul was perfectly alive and well and living in Paris. A TV crew filmed a tearful reunion between the fresh widow, Darie, and her long-thought-dead father.
In the same television interview, Marie-Elizabeth Boutboul made some bizarre comments about her son-in-law's death, implying that he was killed for his "curiosity."
"When you touch dynamite, you can get burned," she said, refusing to elaborate; if nothing else, her cryptic remarks only fueled more speculation.
And the shocking discoveries continued. Mrs. Boutboul had long maintained that she lost a son in the same airplane crash that killed her husband; it turned out that the son never existed. She also claimed at one point that she had cancer, which turned out to be a fabrication. She also had some connections to men of low character, and that is what finally spelled her downfall.
In 1989, she was convicted for complicity in the assassination of her son-in-law and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. After nine years in detention, she was released in 1998. She never admitted her role in the crime.
Buried in all the coverage were the haunting words of the prime minister, who'd lost his best friend: "He was a man of incredible generosity and kindness. I wish that amid all this noise, people would first of all think of him and of the sorrow of those who loved him."
"Murder Among Elite; France Fascinated by Slaying of Prime Minister's Closest Friend," by the Washington Post, reprinted in the Syracuse Post Standard, Jan. 16, 1986.