The revelations by self-confessed child killer Michel Fourniret are the latest to hit France and Belgium, which are still reeling from two high-profile cases - the Dutroux case in Belgium and the Outreau paedophile trial in northern France.
Michel Fourniret, dubbed the "Ogre of the Ardennes" after the forested border region between France and Belgium where many of his confessed crimes occurred, may yet turn out to be one of France's worst serial killers in recent times.
By his own admission, he says he has killed nine people, mostly
young women and girls.
Police think the list of Fourniret's crimes may grow
The 62-year-old forest warden confessed after his wife, Monique Olivier, gave information to the police, apparently fearing a conviction similar to the 30-year sentence handed down to the spouse of paedophile and murderer Marc Dutroux last month.
She is under arrest in Belgium on charges of failing to help a person in danger, and aiding and abetting the abduction and unlawful imprisonment of a victim.
Michel Fourniret was convicted to seven years in prison in 1987 by a French
court for rape and indecent assault of minors, but was freed after a
few months because of the length of time he had already spent in custody.
1983-1987: In prison in France
1992: Moves to Belgium
June 2003: Arrested in Belgium
June-July 2004: Wife Monique Olivier denounces him, Fourniret admits nine murders
During that time, he met Monique Olivier, then a prison visitor. He later moved to Belgium and got a job as a school supervisor without Belgian authorities finding out about his past.
He was re-arrested in Belgium in June 2003 for abduction of
minors and sexual misconduct when he was identified by a 13-year-old girl. She said she had been bundled into his van after he asked for directions.
But he only confessed to the string of murders last week, after his wife made her accusations against him. He still denies having committed any crime between 1990 and 2000.
That revelation prompted the French government on Tuesday to announce the creation of a commission that would look at ways of improving psychiatric treatment of released prisoners who may become recidivist sexual predators.
"In a certain number of cases, we can't just let them free like
that, without either compulsory treatment or admitting such people
to a psychiatric hospital," Justice Minister Dominique Perben told
But according to the French prosecutor in the case, Rheims-based Yves Charpenel, "there have been no failures" in the judicial system in the absence of a follow-up of Michel Fourniret.
"This was a normal reduction of sentence; Michel Fourniret had behaved like a model prisoner," Mr Charpenel told AFP news agency.
"At the time there were no laws to ensure the traceability of sexual offenders, so in my view there were no failures of the system, given the judicial context at the time."
A law passed in 1998 sets out an obligation to follow up sexual delinquents, which was reinforced by a later law in March 2004 which creates a national register of sex offenders and is due to come into force in the autumn.
The case has also highlighted the need for better co-operation across the European Union, where the absence of many border controls means criminals can travel unhindered, observers say.
EU states already share information on convictions under a
so-called mutual legal assistance convention from 1959, but some
governments feel this is not working as well as it should, Reuters news agency reports.
In the meantime, judges and police forces on either side of the Franco-Belgian border have been co-operating and dividing the workload.
They will have to decide in the long run how and in which country Michel Fourniret will be tried.