Society

My Son Has Committed Unspeakable Crimes

What is it like to be the parent of a "monster?" After their teenaged son confessed to rape and murder in southern France, the parents of Matthieu Moulinas decide to tell their story.

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Stock photo
Isabelle Monnin

CHAMBON-SUR-LIGNON — The monster’s parents live in a small house at the end of a narrow road in this southern French town.

For three years, they had avoided the media, with their lawyers telling journalists over and over again: “Out of respect for the victims, his parents don’t wish to speak publicly.” Then on Oct. 13, this reporter received an email out of the blue. “I am Matthieu’s father …”

Three days earlier, after deliberating for six hours, the Riom Court of Appeals sentenced Matthieu Moulinas to life imprisonment for the rape of one of his schoolmates in August 2010, and for the rape and murder, with a particular degree of cruelty, of 13-year-old Agnès Marin, on Nov. 16, 2011, in Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Life sentences are extremely rare for minors, which Matthieu Moulinas was at the time of the crimes. He never once claimed his innocence. After a few hours in custody, two days after the search for Agnès Marin began, he confessed to taking her in the woods next to their school, having told her he wanted to search for hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Like in children's fairytales, it was deep in the forest that the young man put his plan, which he he'd spent much time preparing, into action: rape her to humiliate her, kill her so she could not accuse him, and, so to be sure nobody could find evidence, burn her body.

He recounted the details, finally in a mournful voice, at the closing hearing at the Riom Court of Appeals.

His lawyers had advised him to speak, to appear more human, after the first hearing was marked by his astonishing indifference, as if he was somehow not concerned by all this fuss. The young man, who will soon turn 20, is docile. He generally does what he is told.

What Matthieu Moulinas said in that first hearing left the public stunned. Solange Marin, the murder victim's grandmother, still shudders at the thought of it: “It was Dantesque. The way he talked about it, without any empathy, it was horrifying. He tortured her for an hour. He said it wasn’t even for his own enjoyment — just to hurt, demean, destroy, annihilate. When he talked, it was hell speaking. You wonder what could affect him, nothing moved inside him. Everyone was sobbing, even the jury members; not him, ever. I don’t know if he’s capable of laughing or crying, which are signs of humanity. It was insane and terrifying.”

A psychologist who saw him four times came up with an expression to describe him, he who constantly feels cold, even in summertime: “the winter within.”

In 2012, he described himself as “a monster,” and had only one regret: getting caught. For him, other people do not seem to exist. Psychiatrists noted “the uncommon indifference and the distant coldness” of this “extraordinarily self-centered” individual.

“If I get out, I’ll do it again, it’s not a wish, it’s a certainty,” he told them blandly, as if he were simply passing on a piece of information.

The experts have heard stories like that before, they are thick-skinned. But they are nevertheless astounded by such detachment. One day around noon in August 2010, he said about the first rape: “I went up a hill, I prepared the area, positioned the ties. I hid the knife , then I called her. What I was interested in and what motivated me was to hurt. I was set to torture, rape and kill her. But I lacked experience. I didn’t handle it very well so I ended up untying her.”

About the murder in Chambon-sur-Lignon, he said: “I didn’t tie Agnès to a tree but I tied her hands behind her back, gagged her with a keffiyeh, but keffiyehs and scarves aren’t enough, I’ll have to think of something else. I did that with very little imagination, really ... In any case, I clearly had to do it. There were punches, penetrations, bites, torsions, stabs and locks.” The experts asks him: “Armlocks?” He answers: “No no, headlocks.”

The train seems frozen when it stops under the Nimes sun, where Dominique Moulinas is waiting for us. About 20 kilometers separate us from her house. Sitting in the same seat in his father’s car, from which Matthieu has seen this landscape of dry stones and parched garrigues a thousand times. Was he really constantly thinking, as he has said, about these torture scenarios? Was he also thinking about them when his mother opened the front door with a timid smile?

Sophie Moulinas offers coffee, sits down and says: “Shame.” Her first word, her first sentence, pronounced spontaneously. “I didn’t speak out because I’m ashamed,” she says in a sudden outburst. “I’m devastated by shame, by shame and despair.” The pretty female silhouette repeats her words, fading away because of the antidepressants that allow her to hang on by just enough to her new reality.

She is discreet, but wants to talk, about him, about what has become a nightmare with no end. Her son is cold, in every sense of the term, but she is the one constantly trembling. She talks about what has been drowning her these past three years: having given birth to the one that committed such a horrific act, and how she still loves him in spite of everything. “I can’t reject him, he’s mine.”

A very curious child

It was she, not her son, who had a difficult childhood, but at the age of 20, Sophie met a tall young man who seemed as shy as he was determined. Dominique. Her anchor. They had friends, pasts to repair and a simple dream: “To have three children.” Matthieu was the first. Then came Margaux and Zélie (now 17 and 11 years old).

Sophie started working as an accountant in a clinic, Dominique as a teacher. They did local theater and went hiking. They set up home in the countryside, and she became a town councilor. Matthieu started speaking at a very young age. “Like in a book, with carefully chosen words, he was very curious,” his grandmother remembers.

Toward the end of kindergarten, however, the teacher did alert the parents. Diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysorthographia, the boy began to have serious difficulties at school. Every parent in the world that worries about their offspring will be able to relate to them. Appointments at the speech therapist, the child psychiatrist and the child neurologist, they all had one goal: “We wanted him to get by. We chose his activities according to his shortcomings and every evening, he reviewed what he learned during the day at school with a neighbor.”

No one detected any mental illness, not even his paternal grandparents, both psychiatric nurses. He'll be all right in the end, he’s smart, the parents kept hearing. He put up with it, suffered through the double amount of work and the mockeries of the other children without complaining.

“He’s the most docile of our children,” his parents used to say. In reality, they were trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole, but nobody understood that. Except Matthieu, maybe, who was starting to feel a terrifying evil growing inside him.

As far back as he can remember, he has always had these obsessions that push him to hurt others. But he did not talk about it. With enough tutoring, he passed his national junior high school exams with honors. Everyone was proud of him for making it to high school — an invisible victory. His parents often went to bed thinking the worst was behind them, that all was well. It all collapsed with the first rape.

The family was loading up the car to set off on holiday when the police arrived. They asked Matthieu, 16 years old, where the knife with which he threatened his victim was. He had put it back in the kitchen draw. And the dildo he used to rape her? He had put it back in his parents’ room. The police took him, and the Moulinas family’s lives fell apart. As if all their efforts to be “good people” were reduced to nothing.

“I was horrified,” his mother says. “I asked myself what kind vision he had of women for him to do that. It was unbearable.” The gravity of this rape was however dramatically underestimated by his parents, who were convinced that it was due to Matthieu’s excessive drinking and cannabis smoking with his friends the night before.

At the same time, the juvenile justice professionals they met did not disagree: “As soon as he was arrested, we were told that if he had suitable study plans, he could hope to remain free until his hearing. We hung on to that,” his father recalled.

Courthouses are full of parents who are absent or indifferent, incapable or abusive. But the judges could only blame Matthieu’s parents for trying to do too much. For weeks, they looked for a boarding school for their son until his hearing for rape. “I didn’t hide the reasons for which he was in prison, it was humiliating,” Dominique Moulinas explains.

Simultaneously, a psychiatrist assigned by the examining magistrate to assess Matthieu declared he could be released. “We consider that this person is not dangerous,” Doctor Claude Aiguesvives wrote in his report.

The doctor even took the time to call Matthieu’s father. “He told me: "Take away his video games and the cannabis, and everything will be ok,"” he remembers.

On Nov. 26, after he spent four months remanded in custody, Matthieu was released and made his first steps in the Cévennes region, site of the boarding school, and setting for the final act of this tragedy.

Looking around, it looks like the perfect teaching campus: no barriers, nature all around, the idea that within every being are qualities waiting to bloom. Placed under judiciary supervision, Matthieu was subjected to strict monitoring — compulsory treatment, controls by the legal protection for youth and minors, a ban from residing in the Gard region — which his parents took good care of complying with, too anxious about the idea that he could go back to prison.

A model case, on paper

The young man became a textbook study. Officially, everything was in place, no one failed in their duty. The legal protection for youth and minors educator visited him, his parents found him a therapist, he saw a psychiatrist, the school watched over his progress.

Everything appeared to be in order. But after the tragedy, the reality surfaced: The psychiatrist did not speak French, only saw him twice and ordained: “No ill, no treatment.” The therapist had no training and never addressed the facts of the rape case with him, the educator did not consider it necessary to meet the school supervisors, who themselves did not pass on information about the young man’s behavior problems, which had gotten him expelled for a few days.

In the end, it is as if the presence of the parents neutralized the vigilance of all the other people and masked the gravity of the first crime. “Agnès was put on a slow, runaway train towards death. The collective failure is impressive,” the grandmother of the victim, Solange Marin says.

In Chambon-sur-Lignon, the fox was placed in the henhouse, and no guard was on duty. Agnès, a young Parisian sent to the countryside school to keep her away from bad company in the city, was young and vulnerable.

Matthieu’s other personality

Matthieu’s evil would destroy everything. In Paris and in the Gard region, the families are trying to get their lives back on track after the disaster. They are looking for meaning in the chaos. They cannot find it. For the Moulinas, in addition to dread came shame and the staggering discovery of their son’s other personality.

Only his parents, sisters and grandparents come to see him in the visiting room. His grandmother now considers him a medical patient, she says: “It would be too hard for me otherwise.” Mental illness is an explanation.

“When I close my eyes,” Sophie Moulinas explains, “I see Agnès, her parents, her father.” They say they think about them 10, 20 times per day and light candles for her at the church. “We are haunted by Agnès.”

On the first day of the second hearing, the presiding officer of the court asked Matthieu Moulinas why he appealed the first sentence and he answered: “I accept life imprisonment, but I would like compulsory care.”

There have been more combative defendants, and the second verdict is exactly what his family asked for. “Because an ill minor has been sentenced to life imprisonment, which is no small matter,” the father says. French law holds that minors sentence to life have the possibility for parole after 18 years.

Matthieu dissuaded his parents from wasting the rest of their earnings in a final appeal: “We got what we wanted, compulsory care,” he told them.

The parents consider it a victory: "This guarantees us that the state will watch over when he gets out, the responsibility will not be incumbent upon us, neither us nor his younger sisters.” A third trial will not be inflicted on his victims.

Matthieu Moulinas feels good in prison. He keeps saying “don’t worry” to his mother. He is under treatment, an antipsychotic drug that can diminish his illness — but in no case, the doctors warn, make him harmless. He often blocks the door and the windows of his cell with towels, he rarely goes out for a walk and sometimes sleeps under his mattress. He is scared of the zombies that want to attack him.

The other day, he asked his grandmother in the visiting room: “Grandma, what is pain? I don’t know what it is.” For two families, it will last forever, a long nightmare that will forever flow in the same direction as his mother's tears — downwards, trickling, furrowing, maybe cleansing. The parents of the monster are all his humanity.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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