Branded a mur­derer

Was the wrong man jailed for this ter­ri­ble triple killing?

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In Au­gust 1952, Bri­tish sci­en­tist Sir Jack Drum­mond, his wife Lady Ann and their daugh­ter, El­iz­a­beth, 10, were bru­tally mur­dered while on hol­i­day in the south of France. Lo­cal farmer Gas­ton Do­minici, 75, was con­victed of the killings. But was he framed for three mur­ders he didn’t com­mit?


Sir Jack Drum­mond was a busy man. An em­i­nent sci­en­tist, he worked as Di­rec­tor of Re­search at Boots. But in early 1952, he suf­fered a bleed on the brain.

In need of re­cu­per­a­tion, Drum­mond de­cided to take a hol­i­day in the south of France with his wife Ann and their 10-year-old daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth.

It would be a time to re­lax as a fam­ily.

So they set off, driv­ing to France in their green Hill­man.

On 4 Au­gust 1952, the fam­ily de­cided to camp overnight in a layby out­side the vil­lage of Peyruis, around 200 miles from their des­ti­na­tion.

But at 6am the fol­low­ing morn­ing Jack, his wife and young daugh­ter were dead. Cal­lously mur­dered, their bod­ies had been aban­doned by the side of the road. Jean-marie Olivier, a fac­tory worker driv­ing home from a night shift, was flagged down by Gus­tave Do­minici, who lived at his fa­ther’s farm nearby. ‘I’ve just seen a dead body,’ he shouted to JeanMarie. ‘There were shots in the night!’ When the po­lice ar­rived, they found Sir Jack’s body – rid­dled with bul­let wounds – un­der a camp bed by the road. Lady Ann was face down by the fam­ily car, blood stain­ing her flow­ery red-and-white dress. The worst sight of all was lit­tle El­iz­a­beth. Dressed in her py­ja­mas, she’d been shot in the head so many times, her face was un­recog­nis­able. Her body had then been dumped by a nearby bridge. The au­topsy re­port later re­marked, Han­dling her skull was like mov­ing a bag of nuts. She could not have sur­vived her in­juries for more than sev­eral min­utes.

The po­lice turned to Gus­tave Do­minici and his fam­ily, first hop­ing that, as they lived close to the scene, they could shed some light.

Gus­tave and his fa­ther Gas­ton had seen the fam­ily ar­rive, and park in the layby at 8pm.

At 1am, the men were wo­ken by gun­shots. They didn’t in­ves­ti­gate, later claim­ing it was a pop­u­lar area for poach­ers, so the sound of gun­shots wasn’t un­usual.

Gus­tave told po­lice he left the farm at 5.30am and saw El­iz­a­beth’s body by the river.

That was when he ran onto the road for help, hav­ing not no­ticed the other two bod­ies.

‘I was afraid the par­ents had killed their child, or that the mur­derer might be hid­ing nearby,’ he told po­lice.

His fa­ther Gas­ton had also left the farm­house at dawn, head­ing with his goats away from the layby.

He claimed he first heard about the deaths at 8am from Gus­tave and his wife Yvette.

The po­lice per­sisted in ques­tion­ing the Do­mini­cis.

Un­der pres­sure, Gas­ton even­tu­ally blurted out Lady Drum­mond had ‘died in­stantly’.

The fam­ily con­tin­ued to be in­ter­ro­gated by po­lice, but it wasn’t un­til a year later that Gas­ton ad­mit­ted to the mur­ders.

His two sons Gus­tave and Clo­vis had fi­nally con­fessed that their fa­ther had come into the farm­house at 1am on 5 Au­gust say­ing, ‘I have killed the English.’

Two days later, Gas­ton con­fessed his guilt. But he ex­plained it had been a tragic ac­ci­dent.

‘It was a crime

Cal­lously mur­dered, their bod­ies aban­doned by the road

of pas­sion,’ he re­vealed to po­lice.

He said he’d gone for a walk late at night, tak­ing a shot­gun.

Hid­ing in the clear­ing where the Drum­monds were camp­ing, he’d watched Ann un­dress and had been aroused.

Ap­proach­ing her while Jack was al­ready asleep, he claimed they be­gan hav­ing sex, only to be stopped by Jack wak­ing up.

In his state­ment, Gas­ton said, The man tried to dis­arm me, seiz­ing the bar­rel. I lost my head and pulled the trig­ger.

The bul­let pierced his hand, which forced him to let go. He ran to the edge of the road and I fired at him twice more.

It went on to de­scribe the shoot­ing of Ann and El­iz­a­beth.

But his story was at odds with the facts – Jack’s hand had no bul­let wound, El­iz­a­beth had been hit by three bul­lets. He’d de­scribed shoot­ing her just once.

And, de­spite claim­ing he’d watched Ann un­dress, she was found fully clothed. Gas­ton fi­nally with­drew his confession, ad­mit­ting his age meant he was will­ing to sac­ri­fice him­self for oth­ers.

Was he cov­er­ing for his son Gus­tave? Gus­tave, too, re­tracted his state­ment but Clo­vis never did. He’d fallen out with his fa­ther years be­fore.

Through­out 1954, Gas­ton con­fessed then claimed his in­no­cence on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. He faced trial on 17 Novem­ber.

Even with in­for­ma­tion from the pros­e­cu­tion be­ing lim­ited, Gas­ton Do­minici, 75, was found guilty 11 days later, sen­tenced to ex­e­cu­tion by guil­lo­tine.

Pub­lic out­rage led to a sec­ond in­quiry. Dur­ing this, Gas­ton in­sisted he’d seen his son Gus­tave and another per­son car­ry­ing El­iz­a­beth’s body across the clear­ing be­fore dawn, but no new ev­i­dence was found. The en­quiry closed in 1956. In 1957, Gas­ton’s sen­tence was al­tered to life with hard labour. In 1960, he was set free on com­pas­sion­ate grounds by Pres­i­dent de Gaulle.

Gas­ton lived out his fi­nal days in a hospice in Digne, dy­ing in 1965, aged 88.

Though many still be­lieve the Drum­mond fam­ily’s true killer was never caught, Gas­ton was never par­doned or given a re­trial, which he re­quested, and his name was never cleared.

gas­ton do­minici

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