Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s parents on life without her
It is 17 years since Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s violent death in Cork. For her parents, the pain and grief endures
Marguerite and Georges Bouniol, Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s parents, at their home in Paris’s second arrondissement. Photograph: Des Harris/The Picture Desk
Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photograph: Provision
Marguerite Bouniol, Sophie’s mother and her friend Marie Paul Bloc Daudet pause at the memorial cross that marks the spot where Sophie was murdered outside her holiday home at Toormore, West Cork. Photograph: Niall Duffy
Sophie’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, at a memorial mass for her in Goleen, West Cork. Photograph: Provision
Sophie’s parents after placing a bouqet of flowers by a celtic cross marking the spot wher their daughter was found murdered. Photograph: Provision
Sophie’s son, Pierre-Louis
Marguerite Bouniol, at her home in Paris. Photograph: Des Harris/The Picture Desk
Marguerite Bouniol at her home in Paris. Photograph: Des Harris/The Picture Desk
They would give anything to forget, to wipe it from their memories. When Georges and Marguerite Bouniol travelled to Cork to collect the body of their murdered daughter, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, at Christmas 1996, their son Bertrand told them not to look at her.
“I said, ‘We have to say goodbye to our daughter,’” Marguerite recalls. “Her face was crushed to a pulp. They’d tried to fashion a sort of mask with make-up, but it didn’t look like Sophie. They had to cut her beautiful long hair, because it was matted and tangled with blood. I said, ‘That’s not my daughter.’ I couldn’t kiss her. I couldn’t even hold her hand. I try not to remember, so I put photographs of her everywhere, to chase away that dreadful image.”
Sophie is ever present in the graceful, comfortable apartment where she grew up in Paris’s second arrondissement. An oil portrait of Marguerite’s grandmother hangs over the fireplace, above a sepia photograph of Sophie’s great-aunt Alice, who married a marquis. Everyone said Sophie looked like Alice, and she always hung a picture of the marquise in her bedroom.
Sophie’s oriental shawl is spread over the divan, worn thin with the years. Sophie’s favourite painting, a large abstract in pastel colours, hangs on the living room wall. “Here, I find Sophie as she was in life,” Marguerite says.
Seventeen years have passed in a blur of false hopes and disappointments. Georges (87), a retired dentist, and Marguerite, also in her 80s and a former deputy mayor of the arrondissement, seem to shrink before one’s eyes, their dignity and courage no match for the ravages of age and grief.
They heard it on the evening television news. A Frenchwoman on a visit to Ireland had been found dead in west Cork, the presenter said. “It’s Sophie,” Marguerite gasped. Sophie’s telephone didn’t answer. The housekeeper’s number was permanently engaged. A few hours later, the French foreign minister confirmed the awful news. In Cork, their hotel was filled with Christmas decorations and music.
Georges brings Marguerite a glass of water with her Parkinson’s medication. His manner is tender, though Marguerite says suffering has not brought them closer. “I can’t stop talking about Sophie. Georges has absorbed it in silence, so I don’t understand what he’s gone through. I’ve been selfish in my grief.”
Shortly after Sophie was murdered, Marguerite began wearing her daughter’s clothes. “It shocked the family,” she recalls. “It made me feel I was with her, as if she wasn’t gone.”
It was different for the men in the family. “I gave a photograph to her brother Stéphane in New York. He put it away. I asked his wife if they ever talk about it. She said she brought it up once and Stéphane was sick; he lost his lunch.”
Georges sits slumped in the far corner of the dining room, wiping tears from his eyes. Slowly, he enters the conversation. “We’re somewhere else. In the fog,” he says. “This couldn’t possibly have happened to us. We’re not alive. One cannot accept such things. It is a nightmare that never ends. We’ve been in a black hole for 17 years. It’s even worse now, because we realise the guilty person will not be punished. Every time the legal case seems to move forward, it falls apart.”
No one slept in Sophie’s house for a year after she was murdered. “I went alone the second year,” Georges says. “It was hard for me, but I wanted to show we weren’t afraid of the person who killed her. I had the impression we’d left her house to him, and I didn’t want that.”