Police Baffled by Horrific End of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez
July 4, 2008
Police baffled by horrific end of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez
As two talented biochemistry students and close friends, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez had come to London to develop their skills as specialists in infectious disease and environmental engineering.
Instead the two became the victims of an attack that, even by the standards of a city battling against the blight of knife crime, is among the most horrific in living memory.
The bodies of Mr Bonomo and Mr Ferez, both 23, were found late on Sunday evening, bound, gagged and with hundreds of stab wounds and other injuries. They had been tortured and beaten repeatedly with a blunt instrument.
Yesterday officers described the killings, which took place in Mr Bonomo’s flat in southeast London, as the most vicious they had seen.
Mr Bonomo, a student in the proteins that cause infectious disease, had been stabbed 196 times, with up to half the wounds inflicted after he was dead. Mr Ferez, who hoped to become an expert in ecofriendly fuels, had 47 separate injuries.
Police said that their ordeal had lasted a considerable time before the flat, and possibly the bodies, were covered in accelerant and set alight.
“This was a frenzied, brutal and horrific attack - I have never seen injuries inflicted to bodies like this before,” Detective Chief Inspector Mick Duthie, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, said yesterday as he called for public help in finding the killer, or killers.
“Everyone working on this case, including myself, senior detectives and support staff, has been deeply shocked by what we have seen.”
Officers admitted yesterday that they were at a loss to explain so incomprehensible a crime. Theories include a burglary gone wrong, a ritualistic killing or a case of mistaken identity. All police could confirm was that it was not suspected of being a professional hit, simply on the ground of the sheer, extraordinary, brutality of the killings.
Residents living near the smart block of flats in New Cross, in a cul-de-sac known to be less intimidiating than some surrounding neighbourhoods, said last night that they could not come to terms with what had happened. One said she had sent her eight-year-old daughter to stay with friends.
“We are so petrified, we don’t know what to do,” said a woman who would give her name only as Veronica. “You couldn’t imagine it. My daughter is simply too scared to stay at home.”
Neighbours said that they had initially believed there had been a fire, and had shouted inside the building in case there was anyone trapped. “When we heard no response, we presumed no one was there,” one said. “It’s just so shocking.”
Mr Bonomo and Mr Ferez were in their second year of masters degrees at the Clermont-Ferrand Polytech in the Auvergne region of central France, home to the country’s most promising young scientists. Both had been selected for the Undergraduate Opportunities for Research Programme, a three-month project on DNA, in the life sciences department at Imperial College.
Mr Bonomo, from the medieval town of Velaux, near Aixen-Provence, was described as a dedicated research scientist. A brilliant chess player and keen tennis fan, he was engaged to be married. A former president of the student union, Mr Bonomo had campaigned to reduce binge drinking.
Mr Ferez was known as an exceptional polymath and one of the brightest students in his year. He had already been awarded a place on a chemistry masters course at a university in Amiens, a gateway to a doctorate in his specialism. A fan of history, tennis and rock music, Mr Ferez had also worked as a technician at the Phillipe Pinel Hospital in Amiens.
Stephen Matthews, Mr Bonomo’s supervisor at Imperial, paid tribute to the two men yesterday. He said that their tightly knit research team was in total shock. “They were both very likeable chaps. Laurent was particularly mature, well-rounded and liked by the other students in his group,” he said. “It is inconceivable that anybody could have a vendetta against him.”
Professor Matthews said that Mr Bonomo was frequently the first researcher in the laboratory in the morning, while Mr Ferez’s lecturer praised his grasp of a wide range of complex subjects.
They said that both students spoke excellent English and, with a shared love of travelling, had come to London to broaden their horizens and improve their research skills.
The two, who arrived in the capital at the beginning of May, were due to return to their homes and families at the end of the month. Instead the Bomono and Ferez families yesterday flew to London to identify the badly burnt bodies formally.
Sir Roy Anderson, Imperial’s Rector, said: “Laurent and Gabriel had bright futures ahead of them and it is dreadful that their lives should end so soon. I would also like to offer my support to the Imperial community as we mourn the loss of two young members.”
Addressing a press conference at Scotland Yard, Mr Duthie admitted yesterday that his team had no leads as to why the two visitors, who had never been in trouble with the police in France or England, had been targeted.
One strong line of inquiry is a break-in at the flat six days before the murder. Detectives are exploring whether the burglar, who escaped with Mr Bonomo’s laptop, may have returned, possibly with a set of keys, allowing him to enter the building undetected and surprise the men.
Officers added that it remained unclear whether both men were in the flat at the same time. They said that Mr Bonomo may have opened the door, thinking his friend was there, and had then been overpowered. Mr Ferez, who was also living in South London, might then have been attacked when he arrived at the door, giving one possible explanation as to how one person might be able to subdue two fit young men.
It is thought that one or both of the students were playing computer games when they were attacked. One sighting has so far been reported of a white man running from the flat after the fire started.
Officers are awaiting the results of toxicology tests to see if the pair were drugged. Mr Duthie said that forensic examinations at the “extremely complex scene” were also continuing.
“Yesterday I had to spell out the heartbreaking details to the grief-stricken families about the way their sons died. One victim was stabbed more than 100 times,” the officer said.
“I do not know why they were killed or who killed them but I believe the person or persons responsible would have been blood-stained as a result. I need to build up a picture of the two young men and what they were doing in the hours leading up to their murder.”
Mr Duthie said that police knew that Mr Bonomo had spoken to his fiancée at 1am on the day of his death, but had little further details of the men’s last hours. He appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious to contact police.
Facts and theories
What we know
- Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, French bioengineering students, were on a three-month exchange from Clermont-Ferrand, France, to Imperial College, London
- The two, both 23, arrived in May. Mr Bonomo rented the one-bedroom flat in Sterling Gardens, New Cross. They were due to return to France this month
- Mr Ferez, a friend, was visiting and they appear to have been playing computer games when the attack took place The flat had been burgled six days before and Mr Bonomo’s laptop stolen. The theft was reported to police
- Both students were bound and tortured. They were stabbed in the head, neck, back and torso
- A fire accelerant was sprayed around the flat, which was set alight after the assault. There were no signs of forced entry
- Neighbours heard several loud bangs. A woman who lives opposite says she saw two men in hats banging on the windows
- A white male seen running away is currently the only suspect
The unanswered questions
- What was the killer or killers’ motivation? The strongest line is that it was a burglar returning to the scene
- Who were they? At the moment the police have no idea who the assailant or assailants were although witnesses reported seeing a the man running away
- Could it be a case of mistaken identity? Police are looking at who used to live in the flat to check for connections to criminal activity
- Were the students deliberately targeted? There is nothing to suggest they were involved in crime. Neither had been in trouble with the police before. It is possible that the killing could be linked to their life in France but they were unknown to French police
- Why the high level of violence? It could be the killer or killers were on drugs or were psychopaths. David Holmes, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, said they may have been victims of a “demonstration killing”, designed to send out a warped message. Officers are also looking to see if it was a ritualistic killing
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