..."Go, park yourself!" -- a new, if so-so neologism...

Jan 9, 2011

Joanne and Robert Hall, murder at the chateau (1)

You study philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, and you see yourself as a midrange intellectual all your life, and you cringe at the notion---what are the professional expressions?---sex, drugs, and rock'n roll?---no, not quite---blood and bosom?---doesn't sound right---boobs on the third page?---no, sounds wrong, too---anyhow, you get the gist, we mean the notion that sex and crime sell, and nothing else.

chateau in France where Joanne Hall got murdered by her husband Robert
Château de Fretay

And then you start a blog, and you have these meters installed that tell you which search terms work, and it takes only a few days to discover that sex is infinitely more attractive than your musings about the weather. And it takes a few month to discover that crime also works. Now we have Mark Weinberger on our right column, nothing more than a malpracticing nosedoctor from Illinois, and he is almost outdoing the naked girls (also working: politicians who are "not gay", or Arab princes who rape their servants to death, but are "not gay" either).

Time to turn the page to another episode, Murder at the Chateau, and it's really quite a story. Joanne and Robert Hall are involved, he as the murderer, she as the murderee (we mean, you know, like invitee, but when it ends badly), and it happens in France, and it's all very French, in particular because the couple are English.

Joanne and Robert arrived 10 years ago with a dream: create a golf course in the lovely French countryside. They buy the chateau (looks more like a big farmhouse, but that's OK, the French call any larger private dwelling a "chateau," especially when it has a tower, which this one doesn't, OK, bear with me) with its 100 acres of grounds (ca. 41 ha). Robert never learns French, also quite typical. They are very much liked in the community. That's non-standard for non-speaking Brits who linger too long.

Let's stir some blood now (from the Guardian story):

On the evening of 4 September, Sourdain [the local mayor] got a call from the gendarmes – something had happened at the château. It is a French custom for the gendarmes to call the mayor, as the representative of the people, to the scene of a crime or a terrible accident. He arrived to see the oldest son, Christopher, 22, with the gendarmes as they stood in protective suits breaking up a big block of concrete. Robert Hall was inside the house, crying.

"After 24 hours, concrete is like biscuit," Sourdain explains. We're sitting in his office in the village of Le Chatellier, two miles from the chateau. "So the gendarmes were crumbling it with their hands. And after a while they discovered a ring. They asked Christopher, 'Is this your mother's ring?' He said, 'Oui.'"

Robert Hall had told the gendarmes that 24 hours earlier he'd had a drunken argument with Joanne during which she accidentally fell, hit her head, and died. Then, during the hours that followed, he set her body on fire, put her remains into a builder's bag, poured in concrete and hauled it on to the back of a lorry. All this happened behind the house, near the back gate, next to a row of half-built holiday cottages.

Then he stopped. He telephoned Christopher. He said he was going to commit suicide. Christopher called the ambulance, who called the gendarmes, who called the mayor.

And now lets stir some more blood. Flashback. Joanne is still alive, it's 2008, and they have an appointment with Fabrice Fourel (recall the couple wants to build a golf course):

Fabrice Fourel works in a bright office in the nearby village of Saint-Étienne-en-Coglès. Posters advertising successful Brittany tourist endeavours line the walls. I am sitting, he says, exactly where Robert and Joanne Hall sat when they came to him in a flap regarding their golf project, in September 2008.
"They were lost," he says.
Fabrice's job is to be the middle man between prospective tourist businesses and the labyrinthine French bureaucracy.
"What were the problems?" I ask.
Fabrice sighs as if to say, "Where do I begin?" "They wanted to clear some trees. French law says you have to plant three trees for each one you cut down, not necessarily on your property, but in the region." He pauses. "It was a big problem. In fact, the administration was angry with the Halls because they didn't follow the procedure. We had to calm everything."
 "How many trees would they have needed to plant?" I ask.
"Around 20,000," Fabrice says.
Fabrice says people basically already have all the trees they want. If you go to people and offer them trees, they tend to say no. And that wasn't the only problem. The Halls needed sprinklers, enough electricity for thousands of visitors…
"We quickly noticed a gap between the financial needs for such a project and what they had," Fabrice says. "A project like that could cost €20m (£17m)."
"Was it a big gap?" I ask.
Fabrice indicates with his hands a very big gap.

It's getting unbearable now, so we have to stop. Stay tuned.

PS: We can't find pictures of the tragic couple on the internet, please help.

PSS: Now the washed-up scriptwriter from Kazakhstan chimes in:
-"I tell you, my next novel will be titled: 'Murder at the Chateau'."


Stewart Cook said...

Fabulous article - well done. Still quite a shock for the expat community down here, but one rather gets the impression that the couple were the 'running away from soemthing' brigade, as opposed to the 'attracted to France' per se.

I look forward to the next installment!

(I can't find any photos of them either - odd, as I am sure that there were when the story first broke'.

Stewart Cook said...

PS Have just spotted your 'They Won' photo - love it - I sure that it was well deserved.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to be careful about the way you write about these kinds of stories, especially when mentionning names of the people involves. The way that is written i find very disrespectful towards Joanne and her children. They should not have to suffer for what their father has done.
And before you make judgements on the family, maybe it would be a good idea to find out more about them on a more personal level.

Anonymous said...

Robert Hall was definitely not well liked in England; he had been bankrupt on more than one occasion, always on the dodgy side of business dealings - kitchens, (stolen?) BMW cars etc leaving a lot of innocent hard working people short of the money he owed them. Try the Huddersfield examiner for more info about him. His father had a long-standing, reputable business in the Manchester area - Harry Halls cycling gear.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy newspapers because most of what is written is utter crap written by people with egos bigger than their brains. If you don't know the truth about a subject or a person then you should not write about it. By all means set yourself up as a novelist of fiction but leave the real lives of people who you never knew out of it. Hopefully the family of Joanne and Robert Hall will never read the rubbish written above.

Anonymous said...

your a twat writing this! I know the whole family and you, 'Author' need to think about the family of the people you write about you piece of shit!

Michael Ampersant said...

Such are the vagaries of the internet. If you don't want to get written about, you better don't kill people.

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