But what about Ghislaine Marchal's spelling mistake?


To most of the people crammed into the courtroom in Nice, France on 24 January 1994, it seemed like an open and shut case.

He’d stabbed her, left her for dead.

And in her final moments she’d written the killer’s name in her own blood…

Omar Raddad denied having anything to do with the murder of Ghislaine Marchal.

On the way to court on the first day of his trial, he’d even boasted to police officers he’d be free in a matter of days.

But now the prosecution launched its attack, Omar Raddad’s innocence looked less and less certain.

The court heard how he’d come to France from Morocco. Like so many others, he wanted work.

And luckily for Omar, he’d found it. As a gardener for the rich and glamourous Ghislaine Marchal.

Ghislaine was 65, a widow who lived alone in a luxury villa near Cannes and spent her time doing crossword puzzles by her pool and lunching with her friends.

On Sunday 23 June 1991, she’d been invited to a birthday lunch for her friend Colette’s husband, Marius.

But Ghislaine didn’t turn up.

The following morning, Ghislaine still wasn’t answering Colette’s frantic calls.

Colette got in touch with the police. And it wasn’t long before they’d found Ghislaine… her dead body sprawled across the floor of her basement, wearing nothing but her bath towel.

She’d been hit over the head with a plank of wood and stabbed 18 times across her chest and abdomen. But before dying, it seemed she’d pushed a collapsible bed up against the basement door to stop her attacker returning.

And then, in her last moments, she’d used her own blood to write a message on the basement door with her fingertips…

Omar killed me.

Time of death was put at about lunchtime.

No weapon had been found. And neither had any fingerprints. Or any sign of a break-in.

Straight away, Omar was arrested and charged with Ghislaine’s murder.

And now, after an investigation that had lasted the best part of three years, here he was in court, insisting he was innocent.

First, there was the question of motive.

Omar Raddad needed money.

Soon after his arrest, he’d told police he visited prostitutes.

Only the week before Ghislaine’s murder, he’d seen the same prostitute twice, at a cost of 1, 400 francs.

The prostitute had described him as a nice, quiet guy. But said he could lose his temper if he didn’t get what he wanted.

He was also a gambler, a regular at Cannes’ famous Casino Croisette.

Famous casino La Croisette, Cannes (Photo: Alamy)

Omar Raddad was living beyond his means. He had a wife to support, family back in Morocco.

And he was out of money.

Desperate, he’d asked Ghislaine for an advance on his gardener’s wages.

Ghislaine had refused.

Within days, she was dead. Had Omar lost his temper and killed her when he hadn’t got what he wanted?

Then, there was the question of alibi.

That day of the murder, Omar had taken off work. And he’d used his time off to do some extra work for another rich woman living nearby, Francine Pascale.

Francine corroborated. Omar had worked for her that day.

But what about his lunch break?

Omar claimed he’d cycled back home, stopping at a local bakery to buy a baguette on the way, and bumping into his next door neighbour. Then, he’d eaten his freshly-bought baguette in front of a quiz show on telly.

Except, when questioned, the two women who worked in the bakery denied having served Omar that day.

And his neighbour denied bumping into him.

The more the lawyers talked, the worse it looked for Omar.

But still, he maintained his innocence.

Maybe because of Ghislaine’s dying message.

Or maybe despite of it.

There was something strange about the message Ghislaine had written in blood with her fingers. Something that didn’t quite add up.

What she’d written was, Omar m’a tuer.

Which, translated into English, would say, Omar me to kill.

Tuer is the infinitive of the verb ‘to kill’.

Which sounds exactly the same as what she should have written, which is tuée, or in English, killed.

Omar m’a tuer (Omar me to kill) is wrong, grammatically speaking. Omar m’a tuée (Omar killed me) is correct.

The message written in blood at the crime scene (Photo: Alamy)

The mistake was a glaringly obvious one to French speakers. And Ghislaine was a well-educated, well-read woman.

It was the kind of mistake a foreigner would make.

And Omar was not a native speaker of French.

The prosecution argued Omar had killed Ghislaine and then tried to cover his tracks by making it look like he’d been set up.

The message in blood was a killer’s bluff.

Except that there was no way Omar could have written the message, with or without the spelling mistake.

Omar Raddad was illiterate, couldn’t read or write at all.

Someone else had written the message. And either that person had wanted to throw suspicion over Omar, or that person had been Ghislaine herself.

But if Ghislaine, why the glaring error?

None of it made sense.

Omar’s defense lawyers said the message in blood proved Omar was innocent.

They also admitted Omar had no money.

But then they asked a question. If Omar needed a wage, why would he kill the goose that laid the golden eggs?

Ghislaine might have refused him an advance, but at least she could be depended on to cough up when the time came.

She paid him 8,000 francs a month (about £800). Which wasn’t bad.

Without her, Omar would be without an income altogether.

Omar in court with his lawyer (Photo: Alamy)

And in this case of unanswered questions, there were even more unanswered questions.

Like what happened to Ghislaine’s body?

Ghislaine had made plans to be buried after her death. She’d even bought the plot of land where she wanted to be laid to rest.

So why had her family been given permission to cremate her? And to cremate her before the investigation was over?

Had Ghislaine’s family wanted her dead to get their hands on her fortune, and were they now wanting to destroy any evidence of foul play?

And what about the door to the basement? It was the only way in and out of the smallish room. Ghislaine’s blood was smeared over it, as well as splatterings of male DNA.

DNA that did not belong to Omar.

If he’d killed Ghislaine in the basement, as the prosecution were suggesting, how had he left without going through the door?

And what about Ghislaine’s housekeeper?

She was known throughout proceedings as Liliane R.

Only days before she was killed, Ghislaine had fired Liliane for stealing bottles of wine and towels from her…

Liliane had a boyfriend who was known locally as Pierrot le Fou. Fou means mad or crazy in English. He’d earned the nickname because of his behaviour when drunk.

And Pierrot had already done time for killing a man. He’d served five years for strangling a man during a fight in Paris ten years earlier.

‘I strangled him easily,’ Pierrot still liked to boast.

Pierrot le Fou wasn’t illiterate. But he was poorly educated.

Had he murdered Ghislaine and then scrawled the message in blood, complete with spelling mistake, to implicate Omar?

All the evidence was heard in court.

The jury retired to consider its verdict…

But more questions had been asked during the trial than had been answered.

Had Omar been set up? Or had he himself murdered poor Ghislaine Marchal?

In the end, Omar Raddad was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

A year later, he appealed on the grounds the evidence against him was unsound.

The appeal was denied.

But to this day, many people believe Omar to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. They didn’t necessarily think he was innocent, but they believed he shouldn’t have been convicted on such inconclusive evidence.

After seven years in jail, Omar was pardoned by president Jacques Chirac in 1996. He was free, but he was technically still guilty in the eyes of the law.

Omar is set free in 1996 (Photo: Alamy)

Omar has been trying to clear his name ever since.