Cult massacre baffling investigators

The Associated Press

GRANGE-PACCOT, Switzerland Some victims were shot repeatedly in the head, then hooded with plastic bags. One had needle marks and another was pumped full of bullets, suggesting chaotic carnage before a cult retreat was set aflame.

This is the scene emerging from autopsies of some of the 23 cult members found dead at the farm in the western Swiss village of Cheiry, among 48 bodies discovered in Switzerland on Wednesday, investigative judge Andre Piller told reporters Saturday.

"Someone or a group of people went completely berserk," he said.

"One person had two bullet holes in the head but no holes in the plastic bag on the head. Another had three bullet holes in the head and one bullet hole in the plastic bag," he said.

One body had eight bullet wounds to the head. "That was certainly homicide," he said.

Another containing large amounts of carbon monoxide indicated the person was still alive when the fire was set and breathed in the combustion by-product.

"There's a real disarray. We don't understand any more just how the drama took place," Piller said. "We have a lot of work to do."

Asked if all those found at the farm were murdered, he said: "We can't exclude that."

He left open the possibility that some members may have committed suicide.

Piller said that despite the global dragnet launched to find cult leaders Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret, "I don't know if they're alive or not."

There was no official confirmation of Swiss radio and television reports Saturday that di Mambro was tentatively identified among the bodies.

Of the 23 bodies found at the farm, only 13 had been identified, he said.

The scope of the investigation grew Saturday with discovery of an elaborate incendiary bomb at a villa used by the cult in southern France. The bomb was similar to the ones used to set fires at cult houses in Switzerland and Canada, Piller said. No one was at the villa near Toulon, and French authorities defused the bomb.

The bomb consisted of bottled gas fuel containers connected to electrical wiring that could have been detonated by a telephone signal, sources close to the French investigation said.

In Morin Heights, Quebec, Canadian police said Saturday that three family members whose bodies were found Thursday in a chalet co-owned by di Mambro and Jouret were killed several days before fire destroyed the chalet.

Antonio Dutoit and his wife Nicky were stabbed several times, and Dutoit apparently was beaten on the head with a blunt object, said Robert Poeti of the Quebec provincial police.

The Dutoits' 3-month-old son was found behind a water heater with a plastic bag over his head, authorities have said.

Dutoit, 30, was born in Switzerland and worked in Canada as di Mambro's gardener.

Syringes with traces or tranquilizers and poison were found in the house, police said.

Police say they think two other charred bodies found in the house on Tuesday and believed to be linked to the cult were those of adults who committed suicide.

In Switzerland, medical identification of the 25 bodies found in three burned chalets used by the cult in Granges-sur-Salvan in Valais canton was to begin this week, Piller said.

Identification of some severely burned bodies could take weeks.

Arrest warrants were issued Friday for di Mambro and Jouret on suspicion of arson and premeditated homicide.

Neither Swiss nor Canadian officials could back up a Radio-Canada report that di Mambro and Jouret were using the cult as a front for arms trafficking and money laundering. The cult is called Order of the Solar Temple in Canada and Order of the Solar Tradition in Switzerland.

Piller declined to disclose what he had found in financial documents he had been studying after learning of differences between members and the cult over money.

"We have looked into those sources of information," he said. "We will have some real surprises." But he declined to elaborate.

Three Canadian policemen arrived Saturday morning to help coordinate the investigations, he said.

Flanked by the chief coroner, Thomas Krompecher, and the Fribourg canton (state) chief of police, Pierre Nidegger, Piller corrected a statement he made last week that all the bodies had signs that they had been injected with a powerful substance that could have drugged or killed them.

Only one of the bodies at Cheiry had been injected, he said. Krompecher added that one of the 25 bodies recovered from the chalets in Granges-sur-Salvan also had been injected.

There were confirmed sightings of Jouret and di Mambro at the chalets just hours before the fires, an investigator said. The chalet fires as well as the fires at the farm and in Canada were started within 24 hours of each other last Tuesday and Wednesday.

A grocery store manager near the chalets at Granges-sur-Salvan said Jouret bought at least 50 or 60 garbage bags on Tuesday.

A 70-year-old French-Canadian who lived in Switzerland, di Mambro is co-owner with Jouret a Belgian-born doctor who also has lived in Canada of the luxurious complex that burned north of Montreal on Tuesday.

Swiss television speculated that Jouret and di Mambro made the deaths look like a mass suicide to quash revolt.

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