Eighteen years already : On 8th May 2003, « the baby of the canal » was recovered from the water in Coulon (79, France)

Publié le Mis à jour le

On 16th july 2003, Alice Géraud, a journalist at ‘Libération’ newspaper wrote : ‘She has no name. No age. No face. The gendarmes say ‘the girl’, sometimes ‘the woman ‘. The village priest prefers calling her ‘the mother’. They know nothing about her, only that she must have given birth to a boy  around the end of April or the beginning of May. The body of the newborn baby was found on 8th of  May in the water of a canal in the Marais Poitevin.

The 8th of May 2003 was a day more like summer than spring in the Marais Poitevin. Particularly in Coulon (Deux-Sèvres, France), the ‘ capital town ‘ of the ‘Green Venice‘.On that day, the second largest wetland of France offered pleasant walks to the numerous strollers, especially along the canal on the right bank of the River Sèvre Niortaise, usually called ‘Rigole du Grand-Coin‘. It is in the middle of the afternoon that a man noticed something floating in the water, tangled in the weeds He and his friends pulled out a  Centrix black triangle bag  attached to a weight. Inside the bag, there was an ordinary  garbage bag in which they discovered the body of a newborn child.

A special team ‘Grand Coin’

A special team named ‘Grand Coin‘ composed of 6 gendarmes from the ‘brigade de recherche‘ of Niort was formed. The gendarmes were charged with the task of identifying the child and finding his mother. Under the supervision of the examining magistrate of Niort, they made hundreds of checks. They checked all the camp sites, gîtes and hotels of the region, investigated all the rumours about this case. Divers  meticulously inspected the canal, looking for the slightest clue. As Coulon is situated on the limit of three départements, the investigation continued in Charente Maritime and Vendée. The investigators even called upon hypnosis to help jog a witness’s memory. He might have witnessed  unusual activity near the canal where a stroller fished out the bag.

This bag has received a great deal of attention from the investigators. They were even prepared to question all the owners of such a backpack. It is a promotional product bearing the logos of the companies that distribute them widely, a logo which had been carefully cut out. It had remained at the bottom of the water for at least ‘nine to ten days‘. ‘It was badly damaged‘ ‘, they explained. One can only imagine the state of the newborn who bore no traces of physical trauma. ’Just the body of an infant. A boy of European type. With no clothes, no distinguishing feature. And without a past, of course ! ‘Alice Géraud pointed out.

The autopsy provided no certainty. On the mother’s side, the investigators were looking for a woman who might have been pregnant during this spring. They compared the declared pregnancies and the registered births in the three départements. But she may have hidden her condition and / or have given birth to the baby on her own. They also cross-checked  the case with previous infanticide files and abandonments of children in their jurisdictions.

The town stands in for the family.

During the investigation, Father Michel Châtaigner, the village Priest, wrote to the mayor asking for the body of the baby to be ‘buried with dignity‘ and wished : ‘The mother’s religion should be respected. That is if she is found. ‘ The investigators did not find her.

Finally, as provided for by the law, and taking into account the duration of the investigation process and if the identification has not been possible, the body must be taken back to the town where it was discovered. On the 13th of May, the mayor, Michel Grasset spoke to the town council : ‘The local authority will have to take the responsibility if necessary. Cremation is prohibited should the famility claim the body at a later stage.

At the beginning of October 2003 the little body was indeed given back to the town of Coulon. He was buried on Wednesday 15th 2003 in the local cemetery after a solemn ceremony, in the presence of the Town Council, the local priest, a vicar, representatives of the Gendarmerie and the State, together with a number of inhabitants. The town bore all the burial expenses (coffin, transport of the body, funerary slab, wreath of flowers …)

Since that day anonymous people have regularly put flowers on the tiny grave of  ‘the baby of the canal.


Gilles PETIT