A French army veteran accused of murdering three young men in the 1980s has killed himself hours
after the start of his trial. Pierre Chanal, 57, slashed the main artery in his left leg with a razorblade.
Mr Chanal had been on hunger strike to protest his innocence and refused to attend the trial in
the northern city of Reims. He killed himself in the hospital where he was being treated.
He was originally suspected in the murders of eight men who disappeared in the north-eastern Marne region between
1980 and 1987, seven of them army conscripts. The three murder charges came after advances in DNA technology allowed
hairs found in Mr Chanal's van in 1988 to be linked to three of the missing men. Mr Chanal, who denied the allegations,
had already served 10 years in prison after being caught assaulting a young
Hungarian man in his camper van in 1988.
The trial opened on Tuesday, with Mr Chanal accused of killing conscripts Patrice Denis and Patrick Gache, as well
as Irish hitch-hiker Trevor O'Keefe.
The conscripts disappeared from Mourmelon army camp in 1985 and 1987 respectively, while O'Keefe was found strangled
in a shallow grave, also in 1987.
But Mr Chanal had said he would not be judged for something he had not done. His lawyer said he was also too weak
after three months on hunger strike to attend.
Mr Chanal had warned some time ago that he would rather kill himself than face life imprisonment.
Police are investigating how he managed to obtain the razorblade, despite the presence of two guards outside his
room and regular checks by hospital staff.
Justice Minister Dominique Perben said his room had been carefully searched on Tuesday evening and someone could
have deliberately passed it to him.
The victims' families have been stunned by the news
There'll be no justice for our son and that's my biggest regret (Roger Denis, Father of victim) "The razorblade didn't arrive mysteriously" he told French radio. "Either there was an oversight or the razorblade was slipped in by someone in the last hours before his death."
He added that Mr Chanal had pretended to be asleep, even after having cut open his artery. The families of all the victims,
who had gathered at Reims in the hoping of finding out the truth, were devastated by what had happened. "There'll be no justice for our son and that's my biggest regret," said Roger Denis, father of Patrice.
But Mr Chanal's sister Simone said her brother had been the victim of the justice system, which had driven him to his death.