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Switzerland

Interview With A Psychopath - Now At Large

Convicted rapist and murderer Jean-Louis B. escaped from his Swiss jail on Monday. “As he talked about his dark past, his eyes lit up”, recalls journalist Fati Mansour from her 1999 encounter with the man considered Switzerland's most dangerous c

Swiss police have released this photo of the fugitive
Swiss police have released this photo of the fugitive
Fati Mansour

Some encounters stand out in a journalist's life. One for certain was my interview with Jean-Louis B., the convicted murderer and rapist who just became Switzerland's most wanted fugitive after escaping Monday from his guards' watch on an outing outside of prison.

It was snowing outside that day in February 1999 when I met Jean-Louis B. inside the gates of the Bochuz prison where this unusual convict was serving his sentence. The prisoner was thought to be the most dangerous man in the country. Authorities had considered all sorts of cures for his persistent violence, from chemical or physical castration (which he refused) to a lobotomy. Finally, the psychiatrists admitted they were powerless.

"B.", who was 53 at the time, entered the visiting room. He was tall and imposing, with very short hair. He wore an earring, and around his neck hung a cross and two medals of the Virgin Mary. This man seemed nothing like the sexual offenders who keep a low profile in prison. Slightly tense, he started talking about himself. He had not lost his accent from the Jura region during these long years in prison. Nor had he lost his sense of humor. He liked to imitate Thorberg's guards in Swiss German.

But the subject of our meeting was serious. At the time, "B." was asking the Swiss justice system to free him at the end of his sentence. Psychological experts had described him as dangerous and incurable, and his request had been opposed in the name of public security. "B." wanted to convince them that he had changed, that he understood the gravity of his actions and that he could now be trusted.

Very quickly, as he talked about his dark past, his eyes lit up. He abandoned his falsely neutral and consensual tone, revealing his lifelong inner revolt. This is the violent streak that worried the experts and caused the authorities so much trouble. In the only language he mastered, jailhouse slang, and using his infallible memory, he talked about himself. In a scary way. His face had a very harsh expression that sometimes became almost childish. This tension is impossible to forget. Especially when I tried to contradict him, or when he looked at me intensely.

Sordid confessions

"I made people suffer without realizing it. I deserve my sentence, but I don't deserve more. I think about these sad stories and I tell myself that everything must have started when I was barely five. I already looked at my mom's ass. Then I met my first wife at a gala at Porrentruy. She is the one who asked me to sodomize her. I got to like it, but she stopped letting me do it. That's when I decided to choose other women. For 20 years, I rebelled against everything. My parents, society, the judges, the psychiatrists who wanted to calm me down with electroshocks and tranquilizers. In prison, I was not scared of going into solitary confinement. Since 1990, something changed. I don't know if I'm still the same man, but I agree to obey the rules."

There was still one subject he would not talk about. The fact that his first victim was no other than his own sister. He had sexually abused her when he was still a minor. He was the only boy in a family of four children.

Then he talked about the woman he met and married in prison. He used the same crude words. "We exchanged little messages when we were both held at the Champ-Dollon prison. She was convicted for fraud. Her letters were more moving than the ones her roommate sent me. She became my idol. She's from Napoli, has three kids. She has some nerve. We had to wait one year before the administration let us meet in private in the visiting room. I love her even if she's obese and has a twisted nose since she fell down a few days ago. The other day, she even hit me. It was the first time a women hit me. Ten years ago, I would have smashed her face."

His future, he hoped would be like this: "I want to live with her and show her the Jura forest of my childhood. I want to find a job to protect the little dignity I have left. And continue painting. I love painting. Especially women's faces." He had – nearly – said it all.

Read the original article in French.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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