Transcript: 208. The Flactif Family Murder | France

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A large, luxury Alpine chalet stood empty on the hill overlooking the town of Le Grand-Bornand. The family of five, whose laughter and conversation usually fills the rooms was nowhere to be found. It did not look like they had left town, seeing as the fridge was full of fresh food. There were signs of a recent fire in the fireplace and the table was set for dinner.

What was unusual about this scene, was how spotless everything was. In a house with three children under the age of 11, there would typically be some things lying around, or some unwashed dishes, but on this quiet day there was absolutely nothing. Everything had been packed away and cleaned.

The mysterious disappearance of the Flactif family raised many questions, especially about the patriarch, Xavier, and his business dealings. But in the end, the answer as to what happened to them was found much closer to home…

>Intro Music

41-year-old Xavier Flactif was a well-to-do property developer and lived with his partner, 36-year-old Graziella Ortolano and their three kids, in the alpine village of Le Grand Bornand, Haure-Savoie, France.

The Flactif kids spent a lot of time on the slopes and 7-year-old Gregory, 10-year-old Laetitia and 11-year-old Sarah were all well known in the nearby resort town of La Clusaz. Laetitia was a champion skier, and always won local competitions. Graziella’s 14-year-old son, Mario, lived with his father in Pas-de-Calais, where he attended school. But he visited his mother, stepfather and half-siblings every chance he got.

The Flactif family were originally from the north of France and had moved to Haute-Savoie in 1999. Le Grand Bornand has just over 2000 residents, mostly quiet people, living in the upscale location.

Xavier did not come from money, whatever he owned, he had earned himself. And he was not shy about showing off either. Theirs was by far the biggest house in town, built on the mountainside, overlooking the village. Xavier and Graziella drove luxury vehicles – there were about four in his garage. He took his family on expensive vacations abroad and demanded only the best.

Xavier made his fortune in property. He bought land for a reasonable price, then built luxury chalets which he sold to English and Dutch clients. By all accounts, business was ticking over nicely and Xavier seemed to have made the perfect life for himself and his family.

On the morning of Saturday April 12 2003, Graziella’s son, Mario Ortolano arrived at Lyon airport and a local taxi driver from Le Grand-Bornand was waiting for him – as per usual. He was supposed to arrive on Friday but had a commitment at his school.

The drive from Lyon to his family home was about an hour, and typically his mother would call him while he was on his way. However, on that day, there was no call. When Mario walked up to the front door of the Flactif’s chalet, the taxi driver waited, to make sure the boy made it safely inside. Strangely, the front door was locked and no one appeared to be home. He was a bit confused and wondered if there had been a miscommunication. He could not reach his mother on her cell phone and went back to the taxi where he waited for a while.

But as time passed, there was still no word from his mom, so he decided to go to the nearby house of a family friend, Christine. Like Mario, Christine thought it was very odd that his mother wasn’t home when he arrived, as she always looked forward to seeing him. Both assumed that there had been a mix-up with dates and Mario stayed the night. In the morning, Christine accompanied Mario to the Flactif chalet, and again, no one was home. They forced their way in and were baffled about the state of the house...

Inside, the curtains were drawn and the lights were on. The table was set for dinner. As for the rest of the house… It was spotless, unusually tidy for a bustling home with three children. Mario went upstairs and found that all linen had been stripped off the beds, and the matrasses were bare. This was very unusual. Two laptops were strangely open and switched on, an out-of-place sign of life in an otherwise silent house.

Mario also noticed that one of their cars was gone – a red Toyota Landcruiser. He knew Xavier had the tendency to drive fast, even recklessly along the narrow mountain roads and thought that perhaps there had been an accident, and maybe the car had gone off the road into a ravine.

Frantic, and still unable to reach Graziella or Xavier on their cell phones, Mario and Christine informed police about the bizarre scene, and their theory about the possible car accident. Local officers arrived at the chalet, had a quick walk-through and agreed that something did not feel right. Patrol vehicles drove along the surrounding mountain roads and could not locate any trace of Xavier’s recognisable Landcruiser either.

Police returned to the Flactif chalet the next day with a specialist police team to search the property but could not find any signs of foul play. It simply looked like the entire family had up and left, then disappeared into thin air. Curiously though, by the time police arrived at the house, the laptops that Mario and Christine both saw the day before were gone.

Investigators questioned friends and neighbours but came up with very little useful information. With no trace of the Flactif family, police put out an alert to all regions in France, as well as neighbouring countries Switzerland and Italy to keep an eye out for their vehicle.

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During the first days of the investigation, there was a strong degree of victim-blame in the media. Rumours began circulating through town about the state of Xavier’s financial affairs. A theory emerged that Xavier had landed himself in hot water with a business deal, and that he had taken his family and fled the country. It emerged that Xavier Flactif had angered many people over the years. He lined his own pocket with no scruples and neglected to pay workers and abandoned building projects as soon his he cashed final cheques. Clients were stuck with unfinished homes and workers demanding payment.

News headlines called Xavier a ‘crook’, a ‘charming charlatan’ and so on. Photos of Xavier drinking champagne and living the high life were everywhere. He was portrayed as a fat cat with no scruples who stepped on others to raise himself up.

Meanwhile the family’s loved ones were desperate for them to be found, not believing for one minute they had fled Haute-Savoie. For starters, Graziella was very protective of Mario and would never have left him behind. To people who knew the family, the runaway theory simply did not add up. As for Xavier’s business acumen… A judge later painted him in a forgiving light, saying that he was…

“…a friendly thug who sometimes pushed legal limits, but with whom you could always sort things out.”

Investigators went through Xavier’s 71 banking accounts with a fine comb and discovered that the property mogul’s finances were indeed messy. Despite his flashy lifestyle, hi debt added up to more than 2.7 million euros.

The Flactif family house was searched once more. It was clear that they were planning on having a family dinner together: the table was set, there was food in a pot on the stove that had been cooked and was ready to be heated up. It did not look like they had packed anything for a holiday, and police were doubtful that they had planned to leave.

Upstairs, the bedlinen had been removed from the children’s beds and a small square of staircase carpet had been neatly cut out. Even though the kitchen and living areas were clean and tidy, Xavier’s upstairs office looked like it had been ransacked. Investigators felt that something was strange about the scene and felt a deep sweep of the house was essential. This is when they found seven tooth fragments, as well as brown specs in between the floorboards in the living room. They also discovered a .635 calibre gun cartridge.

Local gendarmes understood that the chalet was possibly the scene of a brutal crime. Fearing that they did not have the resources and experience required to deal with the magnitude of the investigation, they called the National Institute for Criminal Research for help. On May 11 a team of the country’s best forensic investigators descended on the Flactif residence and set out to process the scene further. Using Bluestar (a chemical solution that reacts to the iron found in blood) crime scene investigators processed the living room first. Although nothing was visible to the naked eye, after applying Bluestar in the dark, the entire room lit up. They determined that a copious amount of blood had been spilled and cleaned up at some point. It was a blood bath.

And this continued throughout the house: from the basement to the living room and kitchen, traces of blood were everywhere. Disturbingly, in the doorway of one of the children’s bedrooms were drag marks. Signs that someone had made a concerted effort to clean it up were visible too. A picture of a diabolical slaughter emerged, and even the most hardened detectives found it hard to stomach.

Police feared the worst for the Flactif family. Of course, there was a slight hope that it had only been a brutal attack, and that the family were held hostage somewhere or perhaps they were hiding out. But realistically, the searches that continued throughout the summer were mainly focussed on looking for the family’s bodies. Police divers, sniffer dogs, search teams, everyone was out looking.

DNA tests eventually confirmed that the blood found in the chalet belonged to all five members of the Flactif family: Xavier, Graziella, Gregory, Laetitia and Sarah. But then there was also DNA from a sixth, unidentified person.

With the sheer amount of blood found, chances of survival were extremely slim, and it was determined that the family had been murdered. Further blood evidence revealed more about the location of each body: Graziella was attacked in the basement, Gregory’s blood was in the kitchen in front of the fridge. A pool of Xavier’s blood was close to Gregory’s, also on the kitchen floor. The DNA could not differentiate between the two sisters, but tooth fragments provided an answer. Laetitia had received a filling from a local dentist, not long before the disappearance. So, investigators concluded that it was Laetitia who was attacked in the living room and that Sarah was the one who died upstairs in her bedroom. But where were their remains?

A month after the Flactif family came up missing, their red Toyota Landcruiser was found abandoned at Geneva airport (about an hour’s drive away). Most of the interior carpeting had been removed and it had been cleaned. However, forensic testing uncovered traces of blood throughout the vehicle. Again, the blood of all five Flactifs showed up.

In an attempt to track down the sixth person whose DNA was found at the house, police took samples from family members, friends, business associates, neighbours… Anyone who has ever had contact with the Flactif family – eventually 300 saliva swabs were tested.

Police became suspicious of the Flactif family’s neighbour, 31-year-old David Hotyat, when he refused to provide a sample. He had no criminal record and according to his family he was a quiet, hard-working man. Those who knew him in Haute-Savoie on the other hand saw him as a social climber, who lived above his means.

On the day forensic investigators processed the scene inside the Flactif home, a gendarme noticed someone who seemed particularly interested in the operation. It was none other than David Hotyat, who was keeping an eye on the Flactif chalet from his apartment, using binoculars.

A local news crew interviewed various neighbours in the days after the family vanished, and David Hotyat and his girlfriend had a lot to say. David worked as a mechanic and told them about his highflying landlord and his riches – that he had leather armchairs, a big screen TV, multiple cars… David’s girlfriend Alexandra Lefebvre who worked as a cleaner for the Flactif family for a short time, was clearly not a fan of Xavier’s and said this during her interview:

“There were always problems with lots of different people. It was about things like stuff wasn’t finished, workers not being paid… People complained – they needed the money.”

During the news-insert, Alexandra is seen blowing off steam to the camera, while David hovers in the background, shaking his head in agreement, apparently appalled at the way Xavier Flactif conducted business.

he also made an unsettling remark:

“It was a total carnage in that house…”

How did he know what the inside of the house looked like after the disappearance? Also, Mario and Christine said it looked like it had been cleaned. What did David Hotyat know?

Investigators told him that by refusing to provide a DNA sample, he has moved up on their list of suspects. They pressured him to co-operate, and he relented. On the 14th of July, within 48 hours the test results were in: the sixth person present in the Flactif home at the time of the murders was David Hotyat.

It seemed unbelievable. Why would a young father murder his neighbours and their children. It was time to look into David Hotyat’s background to find out more about his relationship with the Flactif family. David had lived in Le Grand-Bornand for two years with his partner Alexandra and their two children. With the picturesque backdrop of their new home, they hoped to rise up from their working-class status. But David was a mechanic with no other qualifications, and Alexandra a cleaning lady, which proved difficult in an area where the cost of living is very expensive. They struggled to fit in and hardly had any friends.

However, investigators tapped the couple’s phones and learned about their closest (and only) friends, Stéphan and Isabelle Haremza. David met Stéphan Haremza at work and it seemed Alexandra and Stéphan’s wife, Isabelle also enjoyed each other’s company. The four of them existed in a bubble separate to those around them. They had all moved to Haute-Savoie from the north of France and were disillusioned about life in the Alps. To make ends meet, David and Stéphane went on a petty crime spree, and managed to get away with it for some time.

Police searched David Hotyat and Alexandra Lefebvre’s apartment and found damning evidence: traces of blood, a baby tooth fragment… In their garage were also toys belonging to the Flactif children.

The net was closing in… On the 16th of September, five months after the family was reported missing, police arrested David, Alexandra and their friends Stéphane and Isabelle Haremza. The arrest was a massive operation, involving no less than 80 gendarmes.

David was taken down on his way to work, Alexandra was arrested at home and their young children were taken into social care.

When Hotyat learned that his DNA was found at the scene, he opened up and confessed to the murders. He explained that he had moved his family to the Alps after seeing a property advertised by Xavier Flactif. When Hotyat arrived in Haute-Savoie, the advertised chalet was still under construction and Flactif put Hotyat’s family up in a smaller apartment. While waiting for the home they had relocated for, they were moved around all the time, at the whim of Xavier Flactif. When construction came to an end, Flactif rented the home to another family. Hotyat told police that his dislike of Flactif had grown into a deep-seeded resentment.

According to Hotyat’s confession, he had decided to go to the Flactif home to confront Xavier about their rental situation, hoping to ensure some stability for his family. Fearing that the confrontation would become heated, he took a firearm with him that had once belonged to Alexandra’s grandfather. He arrived at the chalet as the children got home from school and waited with them for their dad to arrive. According to David, when Xavier showed up, he told him that he was fed-up with being moved around and demanded a guarantee from his landlord that things would improve. As he had anticipated, Xavier was less than agreeable, and soon a heated discussion had turned into a physical altercation.

He claimed he fired a shot in self-defence, and when Xavier collapsed, he realised that he had killed him. Then he remembered the children were there and went on a rampage, killing one after the other so as to eliminate all of the witnesses. Laetitia and Gregory were having an afternoon snack in the kitchen when their neighbour opened fire on them. Then he went to look for Sarah upstairs where he found her in her room and shot her too. Lastly, he went down to the basement where Graziella had just entered, unaware of the fact that her whole family had just been massacred. She too, was met with a gunshot and died shortly after.

David told police that he then wrapped the bodies of all his victims in sheets found in the chalet, and carried them out to Flactif’s Landcruiser, one by one. With the bodies out of the house, he spent some time cleaning up the murder scene. When he was done, he filled a couple of cannisters with gasoline and drove 10 kilometres where he found an isolated spot in the woods. He started a bonfire, then carried the bodies and lay them on top, and watched as the flames devoured them.

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It did not take long for the news of the arrests to spread through the small alpine community. Four of their own was accused of murder and they demanded to know more. The police called a press conference during which a spokesperson said the following:

“The suspect said he had a violent altercation with Flactif, with whom he was apparently on very bad terms, that evening over payment for a couple of odd jobs that he had done for him and a few hours of cleaning that his wife did in the chalet. The sum involved is derisory, a few hundred euros.”

Townspeople were confused: why would this group of local residents massacre an entire family? A local villager spoke to French newspaper Le Parisien, speaking plainly, saying this about Xavier Flactif:

“He didn’t have many friends here, and that is an understatement. He ripped a few people off and he was flashy with his money. But I don’t think anyone seriously thought he might have been killed, and certainly not his kids. They were guilty of nothing.”

When David Hotyat’s motive for murder came to light, the truth was very unsettling indeed. David was intensely jealous of Xavier Flactif’s success. They were both originally from the north of France and had similar qualifications, neither of them came from money. Yet, Xavier managed to accumulate wealth and instead of being inspired by him, David envied him.

In a press conference police noted that both Xavier Flactif and David Hotyat came from the same region and said they were investigating possible links to their collective past. A police spokesperson said:

“In a way, I hope there is more to it. Five lives for a row between neighbours is difficult to stomach.”

David Hotyat agreed to co-operate with the police and led them to the location in the woods, where he claimed to have built a bonfire and burned the remains of the Flactif family. According to Hotyat, it took about three hours for the bodies to be reduced to almost nothing. Police saw that there had indeed been a fire at the spot, but five months after the fact it was somewhat overgrown. However, when the forensic team arrived, they managed to find bone particles: vertebrae, a milk tooth, cervical vertebrae... Eventually the fragments were all linked to the five Flactifs.

Still, the police were sceptical about David’s story, especially the part about the destruction of the remains. At the high altitude in April, with the humidity and intermittent snow, a fire is unlikely to burn to such a degree that it would destroy the remains of five human bodies within three hours. Investigators decided to conduct a reconstruction, using pig carcasses, dressed and wrapped in sheets, waiting for a night with similar weather conditions and building a fire at the location where David Hotyat said he had made a bonfire. The results were much different to what they had found with David’s fire… Which means, something in his story did not add up. The pig carcasses were only cremated about 20%. Why would Hotyat lie about how he discarded of the remains?

Determined to uncover the truth, investigators built another fire, one that would be big and warm enough to cause the level of cremation that occurred. It had to have been a funeral pyre of about three metres by three metres and one metre high. This could only have been done with 180 kilograms of wood.

What this experiment proved was that the bonfire must have been prepared before David arrived in the woods with the bodies. This was not an argument-gone-wrong, and a desperate attempt to cover up his crime… It was the premeditated murder of a family.

Also, logically, it was too much for one person to have done it all in such a limited amount of time. Alexandra, Stéphan and Isabelle were suspected of assisting David after the fact in cleaning up after the murders. Once in custody (and unaware of David’s confession), they all told the exact same story: David had gone to confront Xavier, then he snapped and killed the entire family.

The only problem was… Their stories were too similar – it was clear that it had been rehearsed, and they all threw David under the bus. However, interrogators persisted and eventually Stéphan opened up and told a chilling story. According to him, he and David had planned to kill the Flactif family on April 9th. Stéphan was supposed to attack the kids and strangle each of them with rope. David would then ‘handle’ Xavier and Graziella. However, as they walked up to the Flactif chalet that day, Stéphan got cold feet, and couldn’t go through with it. David was furious and made it clear that he was disappointed in Stéphan. Two days later, David went ahead with the plan by himself.

Confronted with this version of the story, David Hotyat came clean to the police about how long he had been planning this crime. His main motive was to buy a comfortable mountain chalet for his family but knew he would never have the means to do so. Four months before the murders he saw a documentary about an Italian-born French criminal, Alfredo Stranieri, known as the ‘Classified-Ads Killer’.

In the 1990s, Stranieri found his victims by responding to classified ads, placed by people selling properties or cars. As soon as he gained access to their homes, he would kill them and appropriate their property. He was eventually caught and sentenced to 22 years in prison for four murders, and one attempted murder.

When David Hotyat saw this, he was captivated, and felt that he had found a way out of his financial woes. He would identify a property owner, gain their trust, eliminate them and then take their home.

Alexandra, who knew what an impact this story had had on David, told police that when he first learned about Stranieri, he said the killer was an idiot for burying the bodies. If he had done a better job of disposing of his victims’ remains, he would never have been caught. David reckoned that burning one’s victims was the best way of destroying all evidence.

For months David, Alexandra, Stéphan and Isabelle discussed the murder – it had become a hobby, an obsession, all they could talk about. They often had meals together, gossiping about the Flactif family, with David expressing his deep-seeded hatred for Xavier, and his determination to eliminate the entire family.

A month after confessing, David Hotyat retracted everything and denied any involvement in the murders. He claimed that he was in the Flactif home to confront Xavier when two men came in and attacked them all. He was a victim too, being knocked unconscious and he woke up to the massacre after the fact. Fearing that the murders would be pinned on him, he set out to clean up the scene and dispose of the bodies.

Police realised they could not trust anything that came out of his mouth. They needed more than speculation and false statements to build their case against their suspect. Firstly, phone evidence contradicted David’s statement regarding the timeline of the murders, in that Xavier was the first to die in the heat of an argument. Graziella’s last phone call was around 5pm. The children typically got back from school shortly after five. Xavier was still making calls after 6pm. So… Xavier could not have been killed first.

David also claimed that he had shot all of the victims with the firearm he had taken with him. However, bloodstain pattern analysis showed that the only pattern consistent with the use of a firearm was on the armchair which was covered in Xavier’s blood. All of the other blood spatter indicated attacks with a blunt instrument. David bludgeoned Graziella and each of the children to death. Most likely with a piece of firewood.

Gregory and Sarah were the first ones to be killed. A grim reminder of the fact that CHILDREN were killed was that Nutella was found in a smudge of Gregory’s blood. He must have made himself a sandwich was attacked shortly after arriving home. Sarah was attacked near Gregory but tried to get away. Footprint and blood evidence showed that she tried to get out of the back door, but then changed direction and ran for the front door, where her killer caught up with her. Laetitia was hiding in her bedroom upstairs, but she was not safe either. The monster who had killed her siblings would not stop until he had finished off the whole family. Blood evidence showed that the victim was on the floor when she was struck by a blunt object. She had been trying to hide behind the bedpost. Graziella was struck as soon as she entered the house in the basement, using the laundry door. She died on the spot, never knowing about the horror that had taken place upstairs.

When Xavier arrived home, he found two of his children, lifeless in the living area and David Hotyat waiting for him. Understandably, Xavier lost it, attacking Hotyat. Realising that he could not overpower the strong, angered bereaved father, Hotyat took out the small pistol in his pocket and fired.

As for the disposal of the remains… David and Stéphan then spent the next couple of days burning the bodies in sessions at the location shown to police. They patiently waited for the remains to turn to dust while stoking the fire and watching…

While David was charged with the murders, the Alexandra, Stéphan and Isabelle were initially only charged with failing to report a crime. However, many people believe that the passionate and opinionated Alexandra was the driving force behind the murders. It was said that she often belittled David, comparing him to Xavier, and expressing her disgust at David’s lack of success.

While awaiting trial, Alexandra separated from David, got herself a new boyfriend and fell pregnant. The press speculated that she did this, hoping to receive a more lenient sentence, as an expectant mother.

The trial was very emotional as the public became aware of the brutality of the murders. Mario (who was 17 at the time) had to face all the role players in court. He stood strong, facing them down, by his own resolve decided that he will not break down in front of them.

In 2006, Hotyat was found guilty of murdering all five members of the Flactif family. He was sentenced to life with a minimum of 22 years. Stéphane was handed a 15-year sentence for ‘complicity’. Alexandra Lefebvre was sentenced to 10 years for her role in the murders, and Isabelle Haremze for seven [for conspiracy and failing to report a crime].

They all knew what David was planning to do, yet they did nothing to stop him, nor did they report it to police. Being parents themselves, how could they have allowed this to happen?

Today Alexandra and Isabelle are free, having served their sentences.

Mario lost his mother, his siblings and his stepfather, and no matter how long any of the perpetrators spent in jail, he will never get them back. His entire family was wiped out, and for what – the greed of a bunch of low lives who would stop at nothing to live the high life, undeservedly. Fortunately, David Hotyat never did get the chalet with the mountain view, but instead has to face the four walls of his prison cell.

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