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The Hotel de Ville (city hall) and the Bartholdi fountain in Lyon, France. (Vincent Formica/Office du Tourisme de Lyon)
The Hotel de Ville (city hall) and the Bartholdi fountain in Lyon, France. (Vincent Formica/Office du Tourisme de Lyon)

Famed French chef turns up dead in freezer Add to ...

Jean-François Poinard's exacting nature and passion for food helped make him one France's great chefs in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, years after his retirement, he is in the news again, this time as the murder victim in a macabre domestic assault.

French police found Mr. Poinard's body in a chest freezer in his home in the French gastronomic capital Lyon. They say his battered corpse had been there for two years and that his girlfriend, Guylene Collober, 51, has admitted she beat him to death in November, 2008.

"It was an altercation gone wrong," prosecutor Marc Desert said. "It would have been a banal affair if there hadn't been a cadaver lying in a freezer for two years."

Mr. Poinard, 71, represented the fourth generation of one of Lyon's "great cooking dynasties," according to the newspaper Le Progrès. The paper said he owned several "excellent restaurants" in the city from the 1960s to the early 1990s, including the prestigious Restaurant de Paris and the Panier à Salade. It described him as a "passionate and exacting chef but also a true bon vivant who was as well-liked out of the kitchen as he was respected inside it."

Mr. Poinard took up with Ms. Collober, 51, after his retirement. The pair moved into their home in central Lyon six years ago. Police discovered his body after Ms. Collober told her daughter during a drunken evening that "something unfortunate" had happened to Mr. Poinard.

She had made a similar comment to her son a year earlier. But Ms. Collober's daughter realized she hadn't seen her mother's boyfriend in nearly two years and called the police.

When the police arrived at her home, Ms. Collober collapsed in tears and said, "I think you'll find what you're looking for." They discovered Mr. Poinard's body in the fetal position in a freezer and covered with plastic bags. Ms. Collober at first blamed the death on extortionists, but later admitted to beating her partner to death and keeping his corpse in the bathroom for several days before buying a freezer to store the body.

Mr. Desert said the case was likely one of long-term domestic violence. He said Ms. Collober "has an unusual personality with pathological tendencies: narcissistic, possessive, violent."

He said she isolated Mr. Poinard from his friends, family and neighbours, whom he rarely saw. Reports said that when the neighbours did see him, he was often covered with cuts and bruises.

The caretaker at Mr. Poinard's apartment building said she heard frequent quarrels between the couple but didn't pay much attention when the arguments stopped.

"Because I hadn't seen Mr. Poinard for a year or two I assumed they had split up," she said.

Mr. Desert said investigators were performing an autopsy to confirm Ms. Collober's version of events.

She is scheduled to appear in court Thursday on charges of voluntary injury causing involuntary death.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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