Entertainment

Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries' Examines the Shocking Case of a Missing French Aristocrat

The third episode of this chilling reboot has us asking one question: Where the hell did Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès go?

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

When firing up a new episode of Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries, the reboot of the long-running kitschy true-crime series, it's difficult to know what aspect of the case will remain "unsolved" by the end. Sometimes, the entire incident is seemingly inexplicable; on other occasions, most of the details get ironed out and you're left to puzzle over one lingering detail. The third episode "House of Terror," which focuses on the 2011 murder of an aristocratic family in the French city of Nantes, is a strange combination of both types of episodes, providing plenty of information about the case while denying the viewer any real sense of closure. The more you think about the last detail, the more the entire case opens up.

Inevitably, that queasy sense of unease has sent many amateur detectives to Reddit, where r/UnsolvedMysteries has become a hotbed for speculation about violent crime and its fallout. Most of the theorizing centers around one question: What happened to Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès? The ending of the episode suggests that he possibly got away with the unspeakable crime of killing his wife, Agnès, and their four children, Arthur, Thomas, Anne, and Benoit, who were all found shot to death with two bullets from a .22 rifle. The implication is he could be in Europe, Latin America -- or anywhere, really.

Xavier, the charming son of a Count and the patriarch of the Dupont de Ligonnès family, is the prime suspect in the episode, and director Clay Jeter carefully builds a case against him through the brisk 45 minutes. Through interviews with the police, neighbors, and family friends, including a charmingly chatty close associate of Xavier's, the episode painstakingly presents the timeline of the events: the strange letter claiming that Xavier was working for the DEA after the family suspiciously disappeared, the discovery of the bodies buried ritualistically, the hidden, ruinous financial troubles plaguing the family, and the ongoing hunt for Xavier. Motivations emerge. Details click into place. Towards the end of the episode, Xavier is compared to "a master chess player," always two steps ahead of those after him.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

And then, like a character in a Gillian Flynn novel, he disappears while on the lam. After paying for meals with his credit cards and taking out money from an ATM while being pursued by the police, Xavier heads into the mountains, where his body is never recovered. It's suggested that he could have committed suicide, and it's certainly possible that his remains will be found one day. But it's also possible that he's out in the world somewhere. In 2015, a journalist in Nantes received a photograph with a note from someone claiming to be Xaiver, with the ominous message "I'm still alive," and there have been multiple "sightings" of him in recent years, including a monk at a monastery who simply resembled Xavier. Police have never been able to confirm whether or not he's alive. 

That type of open-ended resolution is ripe for wild theorizing. Could Xavier have been working with an accomplice? Is it possible that his cover for the DEA was blown and the murders were actually an attempt to frame him? Are any of his business partners or family members clandestinely helping him stay off the grid? While the more elaborate suggestions might strain credulity, veering into conspiracy-minded galaxy-brain territory, there are details, like the way there were no traces of blood or fingerprints found in the bedrooms or other parts of the house, that make the case sound like it sprang from the pages of a twist-filled crime novel. It's nearly intuitive to make leaps in logic and strange assumptions. 

Like many potential master criminals, Xavier is described at one point as "physically normal." This point gets hit repeatedly towards the end of the episode, as the interviewees try to make sense of how this "golden family" could have met such a gruesome, violent end. Despite its slightly more prestige aesthetics -- there's no host and the formerly overdramatic reenactments are now stylish and "tasteful" under the production house that also makes Stranger Things -- Unsolved Mysteries still seeks to chill audiences with a pulpy message of fear and paranoia. Xavier could be your friendly neighbor, the figure you passed on the street, or a helpful man at the grocery store. The most frightening mysteries often have the most mundane packages.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.