On the morning of Monday, January 11, 1993 tragedy struck the French town of Prévessin-Moëns, near the Swiss border. Jean-Claude Romand's house had caught fire and his wife and children had perished in the blaze. Jean-Claude himself was found unconscious and rushed to the nearest hospital. A well respected member of the local community, he was a researcher at the World Health Organisation in Geneva and took an active part in the operation of the local school board. What at first appeared to be a tragic accident took a turn for the worse when it was discovered that his wife and children had been killed before the fire: Jean-Claude shot his 2 children and beat his wife to death with a rolling pin. When Jean-Claude's brother went to see his parents after the fire, he found them both dead, shot by Jean-Claude. Further investigations revealed that Jean-Claude had never worked for the WHO. In fact he was not even a doctor having failed his first year exams. Everything his friends and family had been told was a web of lies and deceit, a mixture of self denial and an inability to admit failure to those he cared about.
A quiet but normal childhood.
During the trial Jean-Claude claimed that he had a happy childhood, "J'ai reçu le maximum d'amour que des parents peuvent donner" (I received the most love parents can give). He was a quiet child who kept to himself and was a good pupil. He would lie to his parents in order not to worry them, especially his mother who was said to be fragile. In the philosophy paper of the Baccalaureate he got 16/20. The subject of the essay was "La vérité existe-t-elle ?" (Does truth exist ?).
A first major lie
After the Baccalaureate, he joined a "classe preparatoire" in Lyon but dropped out after a term, supposedly because of health problems. He subsequently studied medicine. At the end of his first year Jean-Claude missed one of the papers of his exams and as a result failed by a narrow margin. Although he was eligible to resit his exams in September, instead he chose to tell all his friends and family that he had passed. No one noticed that his name was missing from the exam results. For twelve years he enrolled for first year medecine every September and pretended to be a student, getting hold of lecture handouts, borrowing notes from friends, working as hard as the other students. On exam days he would turn up like all the other students hoping that stress would help his fellow students forget that he did not actually sit the exams. This came to an end when a new head of medicine became suspicious. His friends though, never doubted that he had completed his studies just as they did.
In many ways it was already too late. How could he tell the world that he had been lying to them for the past 12 years?
An imaginary job
He needed a job so he invented one: researcher for the WHO in Geneva, specialising in cardiology. His career was made up from beginning to end, from lecturer at the University of Dijon to head of a clinic in Geneva. He spent many an hour hanging around the areas of the WHO headquarters open to the public , taking anything with the organisation's name on it. His home was full of medical journals and paperwork with the organisation's logo on it. He went on frequent "business trips", which actually entailed staying in a hotel near the airport and bringing back souvenirs from the airport's shop. Instead of going to work he would drive through the countryside or sit around in parks. Everything was carefully planned and executed. He told his wife he was very busy and always on the move at his office, so calling him was pointless, if she needed to contact him she should page him. Not once did she actually try calling the WHO. He claimed to know many well respected doctors whom he frequently went out to lunch or played golf with. He never brought them home of course, as he preferred to keep his private and professional lives separate. When questioned about his job he would always feign modesty. His wife joked that one day she would find out that he was a Communist spy.
Lies, more lies
One of the problems with having an imaginary job is that you are paid in imaginary money. For Jean-Claude the solution was to continue with the lies he was so good at. He told his family that his connections from work and his status allowed him to invest money with a return of 18% after tax. His reputation as an expert finance manager was undeserved: every centime of the 2.5 million francs he stole over the years from his parents, his uncle, his parents in law and his mistress fuelled his lifestyle. A lifestyle that had to be worthy of his professional status: large house, BMW and a private school for the children. At the time of his death, less that 500 (swiss) francs were in his bank account.
Jean-Claude's lies started to catch up with him. First in 1988 his father in law wanted to withdraw some of the money he invested. A few weeks later he fell to his death in an accident, whose only witness was Jean-Claude. Although it was never proven that he was responsible, the death was extremely convenient. Not only did it deal with the problem of the money, but his mother in law decided she no longer needed such a big house and moved to a smaller flat, leaving Jean-Claude to take care of the leftover money. Four years later it was his mistress' turn to ask for the return of the money she had invested, a total of 900000 francs. Friends had began to discover the truth about his job, it was all becoming too much to handle. Jean-Claude contemplates telling the truth, suicide.
On the 9th of January he made a different choice. He killed his parents, his wife and his children. One day later he doused his house in petrol, swallowed a bottle's worth of barbiturates and sets the house alight. The pills were several years passed their sell by date, in his own words he was "condamné à vivre" (sentenced to live).
On the 2nd of July 1996, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his quintuple murder, with no possibility of parole before 2015. He is quoted as saying that, finally relieved of the burden of 20 years of lies, he has never felt so free.