Branded a murderer
Was the wrong man jailed for this terrible triple killing?
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.