Seeking to escape the stresses of stardom, the actress Keira Knightley bought a farmhouse, hidden by olive trees and truffle oaks, in the enchanting Provencal village of Mazan. Her low-key wedding, to pop star James Righton, was staged in its handsome town hall.
Surrounded by vineyards on the slopes of Mount Ventoux, this tranquil outpost of 6,500 souls has another claim to fame. Or rather, notoriety.
Now a luxury hotel, its imposing chateau was the family seat of the Marquis de Sade, whose name morphed into a noun describing the act of deriving pleasure from inflicting humiliation and suffering.
It was there that the libertine 18th century nobleman wrote some of his shockingly explicit accounts of violent eroticism.
In recent days, sleepy Mazan has again emerged as the setting of an appallingly sadistic story. A story of such cruel depravity that, had he been born 250 years later, even the morally bankrupt marquis might have struggled to imagine it.
The enormity of this saga almost defies belief. A warning: it will not make for easy reading. The central character is an outwardly respectable, retired businessman, now aged 70.
In recent days, sleepy Mazan has again emerged as the setting of an appallingly sadistic story (stock image)
Pictured is an illustration of The Marquis De Sade
If this appalling crime had occurred in the Cotswolds or the Yorkshire Dales, it would doubtless have caused a national outcry and dominated news bulletins for weeks (pictured is Mazan)
For almost a decade, sometimes several times a month, he drugged his wife into unconsciousness by slipping tranquilisers into her evening meal, then, using an internet chatroom, he procured strangers to come to their house and rape her as he filmed the attacks.
The woman, whose name is known to the Mail, but whom we shall call Chantal, was unknowingly defiled more than 90 times, by at least 51 different men — and perhaps many more — before the evildoing of her husband, Dominique P (as he is described by the French authorities) was uncovered.
If this appalling crime had occurred in the Cotswolds or the Yorkshire Dales, it would doubtless have caused a national outcry and dominated news bulletins for weeks.
Yet in Provence, it has raised barely more than a Gallic shrug.
This week, when I visited Mazan, where some of the accused rapists are well known, because they live in or near the village, it wasn’t even a major talking point; which, we might think, says much about the antediluvian attitudes that persist in parts of France when it comes to matters of sex and morality.
When I met Dominique P’s lawyer, Beatrice Zavarro, she also expressed surprise that the case was of interest in Britain.
However, what makes this affair still more astounding is that so many ordinary provincial Frenchmen, from different walks of life, were prepared to commit rape when presented with an easy opportunity.
Among the men who violated the unwitting Chantal, after her husband offered her up for abuse on the internet, some were already corrupted, yet many had previously led blameless lives.
The woman was unknowingly defiled more than 90 times by her husband, Dominique P
They included a local councillor, a bank employee, a nurse, a prison guard, a pensioner, a serving soldier, a local newspaper journalist and a fireman (who was easily identified by the police from the emblem on his uniform, which he insisted on wearing during the sex act). Their ages ranged from 24 to 73.
Equally revealing were the excuses these closet somnophilliacs offered after they were arrested.
Perhaps only in the machismo backwaters of pastoral France could so many men attempt to justify the rape of a sleeping woman by arguing that her husband retained the right to decide who had sex with her.
Their nonchalance was summed up by one of the accused, named in court papers as Simon M.
Disputing that abusing an unconscious woman with her husband’s approval constituted a criminal offence, he responded to police questioning by saying insouciantly: ‘She is his wife. He does what he wants with his wife.’
As Mme Zavarro told me: ‘Many of the men said (after being arrested) Dominique gave his permission. That’s good enough for me.’
Perhaps we should expect no more in a country where, as recently as 2020, the appeal court found an unwell woman of 66 to be the faulty party in a divorce case because she had violated her ‘marital duty’ to have sex with her allegedly aggressive husband.
To this day, Dominique P insists he adores Chantal, also now 70 years old, describing her as ‘a saint’.
So, what do we know of them, and what possessed him to offer up the woman he professes to love as a plaything for droves of strange men?
Marquis de Sade: The libertine 18th-century nobleman wrote shockingly explicit accounts of violent eroticism
The couple met in Paris, in their teens, and were married by their early 20s. He worked as an electrician before starting an estate agent business. They had three children and now have five adored grandchildren.
One of their daughters, now in her 40s, who is also said to have been secretly filmed in a state of undress by her father, says they were ‘a very close family’.
The father she knew — or thought she knew — was ‘an extremely sociable person, well-liked, seen as kind-hearted, always ready to help’.
It was a façade he maintained after he and Chantal closed their failing company, in 2013, and retired to Mazan, paying about £1,100 a month to rent a pretty Provencal chalet, with a swimming pool, on a quiet country lane on the outskirts of the village.
Villagers quickly warmed to jovial, silver-haired ‘Doume’, who enjoyed playing boules with locals and touring the countryside on his racing bike, while Chantal looked after their grandchildren and pottered around in the garden.
However, after his arrest, Dominique P claimed to have had a troubled childhood. He told a psychiatrist that he had been raped by a doctor when he was hospitalised, aged nine, and that he saw his brutish father sexually abuse his disabled adopted sister.
It has also emerged that his 50-year marriage was not always as idyllic as it appeared. At one point, his lawyer tells me, Chantal left him for another man and they were divorced. They remarried in 2007.
According to Mme Zavarro he doesn’t pretend this excuses the shameful way he treated her.
She says he began drugging Chantal and filming himself abusing her for his own gratification in 2011 while they still lived in Paris.
However, when they moved to Provence, Dominique P’s perversion plumbed new depths and by 2018 it had ‘intensified’.
After sedating Chantal with strong tranquilisers, prescribed by his GP for his supposed insomnia and crushed into her dinner, he would rig up his bedroom camera and open the door to the procession of strangers he procured, via an internet forum for likeminded people.
Now a luxury hotel, the village’s imposing chateau was the family seat of the Marquis de Sade
To avoid arousing his neighbours’ suspicion and reduce the risk of his wife waking up, he made them follow a strict set of rules.
They were instructed to leave their cars in the boules club car park, 75 yards away, and walk to the house. So that they had no strong odour, they were forbidden from wearing scented aftershave or smoking before they arrived.
Before touching Chantal they had to rinse their hands in warm water so that she didn’t feel a chill. Though she occasionally stirred as she was assaulted, it is remarkable that she never woke up.
Fearing they might accidentally leave an item of clothing in the bedroom afterwards, however, the men were made to undress in the kitchen.
Disgustingly, and presumably to heighten his pleasure, Dominique P also forbade the men from wearing condoms, causing his wife to suffer gynaecological problems.
When she sought treatment, her doctor asked her, with a knowing smile: ‘What do you and your husband do all day?’
It was one of many missed clues to her debasement.
An E-FIT which was said to ‘bear a strong resemblance’ to Dominique P
Noticing that she was frequently forgetful and slurred her words on the phone, her children urged her to see three neurologists during the 10 years of abuse, but they found nothing wrong with her.
Meanwhile, as she told me this week, her elderly next-door neighbour saw her health deteriorate.
‘When she arrived, she was a healthy-looking woman — quite pretty for her age and always well presented — but she got thinner and thinner,’ she said. ‘She would say, ‘I feel so ill and tired all the time and I don’t understand why’.’
The neighbour, whose husband developed a disliked for the ‘overbearing’ Dominique P was also curious as to why he habitually left the electronic gates to the property wide open at night.
‘I just assumed that he must be expecting friends to visit, although I couldn’t understand why they would come so late,’ she said.
The true explanation became hauntingly clear to her in the autumn of 2020, when Dominique P was finally arrested — for using a pencil camera to film up the skirts of female shoppers at a supermarket in the nearby town of Carpentras.
When police searched the chalet, they found his secret stash of rape videos — hundreds of them, dating back to 2011.
As he had meticulously labelled each one with the attacker’s internet code name, the date they visited and the type of sexual abuse they carried out, investigators had a relatively easy task in tracking the alleged culprits down.
‘It’s rare to have so much evidence in a rape case, even if the victim was unconscious [and] remembers nothing,’ says Avignon crime department superintendent Jeremie Bosse Platiere.
Police arrested and charged 51 suspects before the case was formally closed. They are expected to be tried for rape alongside Dominque P, who could be jailed for 20 years, sometime next year.
Since they will be put on trial together, the courtroom at the Palais de Justice in Avignon may not be able to accommodate them and another venue may have to be found.
However, at least 32 more men are thought to have raped Chantal but escaped detection.
To establish that she had, indeed, been unconscious during the attacks and to ascertain other evidence, police had little choice but to show the videos to her. The experience was devastating. Her daughter describes it as an ‘earthquake’.
Until the moment that the first video was played, Chantal had steadfastly refused to believe her husband could have debased her so grotesquely. Confronted with the inescapable truth, she collapsed with shock and grief.
‘I was his thing,’ were the only words she could utter. She is now undergoing psychiatric treatment and, inevitably, has filed for divorce.
This week, a source close to the case showed me a still photograph taken from one of the videos. The image I saw will forever haunt me.
The scene is a bedroom with peach-coloured wallpaper, lit by a table lamp. Partially covered by her knitted pink nightgown, Chantal lies on a rumpled bedsheet with her eyes tightly closed.
Her vulnerability is heartrending. She is oblivious to the presence of the stocky young man crouched behind her, who hasn’t bothered to remove his grubby white socks before setting about her.
The man in this picture, a 29-year-old agency worker named as ‘Charly A’, is accused of returning to rape Chantal on six occasions.
On his first three visits, he reportedly claimed, he assumed she was a willing party and couldn’t understand why she was immobile. Belatedly, however, he realised what he was doing.
The other men trotted out equally lame explanations.
To this day, Dominique P insists he adores Chantal, also now 70 years old, describing her as ‘a saint’ (pictured is a stock photo of Mazan)
The journalist, Nicholas F, said he assumed, by her husband’s presence, that Chantal was complicit. Didier, a 66-year-old pensioner, said he didn’t feel guilty because it was ‘an involuntary rape’.
Grocery store worker Jerome V said it had been his only means of having sex during the Covid-19 pandemic. Electrician Patrick N, 54, cited the law of ‘usufruct’, a long-forgotten edict giving people the right to use their ‘property’ as they wished.
Truck driver Dominique D was one of the few to hold up his hands and admit to being ‘turned on by a victim completely submissive’.
One of the last people to rape Chantal, Hamida N, likened himself to a ‘robot’ who fell under her husband’s control. And so, the litany goes on.
It is stomach-churning to envision this banal procession of inadequate men using Chantal like a rag doll. Dominique’s callous disregard for his wife, as they did so, is beyond comprehension.
Yet his lawyer insists, without irony, that he really does love and care for her.
‘I’m sure of it,’ , Mme Zavarro told me. ‘He talks about her all the time, when I’m with him. With remorse. With shame. With consciousness of how serious this is.
‘He is not a thuggish man. He is a good conversationalist, quite cultured, and he adores his wife and family. But there is a dark side. He is a Jekyll and Hyde.’
At the trial, she says, her client won’t deny his terrible crimes, but he intends to explain them to his wife and children.
They will not forgive his betrayal. The daughter he is accused of filming recently published her account of the story to highlight this type of crime, which, she says, is on the increase.
‘The family medicine cabinet is becoming the preferred arsenal of abusers,’ she says. While he admits the charges relating to Chantal, however, Dominque P denies that his voyeurism extended to his daughter.
He will also deny two graver charges dating back to the early 1990s: the rape and murder of a young woman and the attempted rape of another.
Given that both victims were Paris estate agents, allegedly lured to meet him on the pretext that he was interested in buying property, these cases are similar to that of Suzy Lamplugh, the London estate agent murdered by a mysterious client calling himself Mr Kipper in 1986.
The internet site that facilitated Dominique P’s twisted fantasies is operated by a Toulon-based businessman, named in the French press as Isaac S. It boasts of being the country’s ‘leading chatroom’, but it has become an uncensored cesspool where perverts and criminals exchange messages and post explicit photos and videos.
The section where Dominique P advertised his wife to would-be rapists, and arranged for them to attack her, is called ‘a son insu’, which translates as ‘without her (or him) knowing’.
Amazingly, it is still up and running, and frighteningly simple to access.
On Tuesday, I needed only to invent a false code name, age, city and postcode to log in, joining 64 other users who were either posting compromising photos and videos of women, or commenting on them and rating them from 1 to 10.
Captured clandestinely, through open bathroom windows, the slats of venetian blinds and from other sneaky vantage points, they prove that this horrendous case has done nothing to quieten the marketplace for sexual objectification.
Whether the birthplace of sadism will rethink its libertine values, when 52 ordinary Frenchmen stand shoulder to shoulder in the dock to face charges of defiling an unconscious woman, remains to be seen.
Additional reporting: Rory Mulholland
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12251667/What-story-man-drugged-wifes-suppers-raped-strangers-reveals.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 ‘What story of man who drugged wife’s suppers so she could be raped by strangers reveals’