Rupert and I have just been to Albi, covering a murder trial. I won’t go into all the details here as am about to collapse after two days hard work but what it taught me is how much fun old-fashioned reporting can be.
I started off thinking the man was guilty, mainly based on newspaper stories I found on the internet. The fact that he looks like a sinister character from a Dickens novel doesn’t help either.
I spoke to the dead wife’s best friend, a charming lady, and was even more convinced of the rotter’s guilt. Then I met more people and heard their side of the story. Then I went to the lake where her body was found, and her house and suddenly it was no longer that easy. Neither Rupert nor I could understand how she could have ended up in that lake unaided.
Finally we met her neighbour. He was terrifying to start with. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. I could tell he was a hunting man by his cars and dogs and was slightly worried we might end up dead too. He huffed and puffed and then said: “If he did kill her he deserves a medal.” Then talked some more and eventually invited us in for coffee. It was one of those classic situations where just doing nothing gets you what you want.
My point is this. Nowadays it’s so easy as a journalist to rely on the internet. We all knock out stories without moving from our desks. But this was the real thing. We were Woodward and Bernstein in full flow. I felt like a proper journalist. One day a film will be made about us starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
It was all so exciting. Following the trail of the dead woman, talking to the people who loved and knew her. Discovering another side to her that was not revealed in court. And trying to work out how she ended up in that lake.
The article comes out in this week’s Sunday Times. I think we might write a book about the whole affair. An ‘In Cold Blood’ based in France profonde. Then maybe I can come out with Truman Capote’s immortal line: “When I think about how good this book is going to be I can hardly breathe.”
Even if I can’t, we might at least solve the mystery of the Lady in the Lake.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007