published Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Police: Father wrote he killed missing Swiss twins

By JOHN HEILPRIN

Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — A letter sent to their mother brought out the worst fears in the search for the Swiss twins, who went missing almost two weeks ago.

“They are resting in peace, they didn’t suffer,” their 43-year-old father wrote, shortly before throwing himself in front of a train.

Swiss police say the search for 6-year-olds Alessia and Livia will continue until their fate is known, even as evidence mounts that they won’t be found alive. His letter did not say when or where he killed his children.

“Today we are always searching for Alessia and Livia,” Jean-Christophe Sauterel, spokesman for the Vaud cantonal police, told The Associated Press on Friday night. “It’s just what the father said. ... We don’t have proof.”

The latest blow is the Feb. 3 letter from Matthias Kaspar Schepp to his estranged wife. He wrote from Cerignola, Italy, that the girls were dead and he would now kill himself.

That same day a witness saw him throw himself in front of a moving train at 10:47 p.m. by the Cerignola train station, Sauterel told AP.

Police confirmed the letter’s contents Friday, three days after it arrived in the mail from Cerignola. She also received two despairing posts from him a week earlier that he had sent from Marseille and Toulon, France, saying he couldn’t live without her, and a series of puzzling envelopes containing thousands of euros.

Italian police found more envelopes containing euros that he tried to mail to his wife but put in unused mailboxes.

A day after she received his letter saying he had killed the girls, the mother still went before TV cameras to say there was new hope after police determined the girls were on the ferry to Corsica.

But her cousin, Roberto Mestichelli, said the family was devastated.

“There was never a thread of hope. There is no hope” of finding the girls alive, he told AP.

Six months ago he and his wife, Irina Lucidi, 44, had separated. In December, Schepp had taken the girls on vacation for several weeks, and there was no problem. He remained in their home; she moved out with the girls, but stayed in the neighborhood in Saint-Sulpice, an affluent community on Lake Geneva.

Then on Jan. 27, she e-mailed him: She wanted a divorce. Their marriage was over. That day he made out a new will that reportedly also spelled out his deadly plan.

Reached by phone at her home near Basel, Switzerland, his mother, Regula Schepp, gave AP a statement saying that he must have suffered a breakdown, and that he was a loving and caring father whose family meant everything to him. Schepp and his wife were both Swiss; he was born in Canada, his mother said, but the family only lived there for 1 1/2 years.

“We are united in the certainty that our son and brother could only have committed such terrible acts if he suffered a serious emotional breakdown,” the family said.

Parents can kill a child for many reasons, says Dr. Margaret Spinelli, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, who has edited a book about infanticide.

“It can be because of mental illness. It can be because of getting back at the spouse. Usually fathers kill older children, and mothers kill babies,” Spinelli said.

“That’s because the mothers have postpartum psychosis or some kind of postpartum illnesses,” she said. “And there really hasn’t been much or enough research on fathers who kill their babies or their children.”

The girls were reported missing by their mother the evening of Jan. 30. Alessia and Livia were spending the weekend with their father in his home, as they usually did every other week. The parents had agreed by phone and text message that he could keep them Sunday night, and he should drop them off at school on Monday morning in Saint-Sulpice.

But then she decided to check up on him; she still had the key to his home. When she drove by, there was no one there. She was alarmed and called the police, Sauterel said.

The girls had been playing outside their father’s home with a neighbor’s child in early afternoon, but by mid-afternoon they were in their father’s Audi A6 black wagon, speeding along Lake Geneva toward Geneva and on to the French border. They drove toward Marseille that night.

Police later found that on the same day Schepp received the e-mail from his wife, he began several days’ of Internet research from his work computer looking into firearms, poisons and suicide. He and his wife both worked at Philip Morris International’s Lausanne headquarters, he as an engineer and she as a senior legal counsel.

Investigators in Switzerland, France and Italy continued their search Friday for the girls, focusing on the French island of Corsica, where Schepp took them by overnight ferry from Marseille, arriving Feb. 1. French police say Schepp bought a single ticket in Bastia later that day and left Corsica alone on an evening ferry for Toulon.

In Marseille, French police put out a call Friday night for witnesses who might have seen Schepp parking his car in a garage for most of the afternoon or withdrawing thousands of euros from an ATM while driving alone in the car.

On Corsica, investigators were searching the city of Propriano, where the ferry arrived from Marseille, the towns of Macinaggio and Calvi, and spots where the family had vacationed together in happier times. They were flying over in helicopters, checking hotels and camping spots and interviewing people, the Ajaccio gendarmes’ office said, but had turned up nothing so far.

In Marseille, police have been probing pharmacies to find out whether Schepp may have bought sleeping pills or other drugs for use on his daughters, the prosecutor’s office said. Police checks on about 30 hotels turned up no sign of Schepp or his daughters.

———

Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome, Frank Jordans in Geneva, and Angela Doland and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

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