She s known in France as the “Black Widow of the Riviera” or “la femme diabolique”: a 54-year-old Frenchwoman who police believe preyed on older, lonely men, mostly on the French Riviera, by romancing them, poisoning them and, in the process, killing at least two of them.
Detectives knew the Parisian-born Patricia Dagorn was a con artist when she was arrested and convicted in 2013 on charges of fraud, theft and kidnapping involving an 88-year-old retired, widowed teacher in 2011. What they didn t suspect until recently was that Dagorn was a serial and allegedly deadly “poisoner” of vulnerable old men, all or most named Robert, apparently like her father, a police source in Nice told PEOPLE.
Dagorn was already in prison serving a five-year sentence when she was taken from her jail cell this week and charged with murdering two old men and poisoning “with premeditation” at least two other elderly men on the French Riviera. Police said the new charges against Dagorn include “administering harmful substances with premeditation to vulnerable people” in cases involving victims in 2011 and 2012. At least one other case is still under investigation, police said. One of her alleged victims was 85 when he died; the other was 65; both were reportedly widowers.
Dagorn’s pattern involved signing up for dating services, both online and those described as “matrimonial agencies,” and seeking older men named Robert. Her online emails to her prospective victims always began “Cher Robert.” She then quickly seduced them, often moving in with them within days.
After slipping drugs like Valium or methadone into their food, Dagorn would often get them to sign over their wills or properties, police said. A woman identified as Maryvonne told Paris Match that she recalled meeting Dagorn when she came to sign up for Maryvonne’s Nice-area dating agency a few years ago.
“She said she was a jeweler living in Cannes,” said Maryvonne, who checked online and said Dagorn’s name was listed on a organization of local jewelers. Dagorn also told Maryvonne she was seeking men over 55. Two of her alleged surviving victims were both saddened and horrified by what they thought was great luck in finding love late in life.
A man from the town of Frejus, about 45 minutes west of Nice, told a local newspaper that his “fairy tale of love” ended abruptly not long after he met Dagorn in January 2012. He found Valium in one of her bags and his doctor then discovered traces of “poison” in his blood. “I was on my way to death without even knowing it,” he said. Her first known victim echoed him. “Three days of love almost cost me my life,” Robert, the widowed retired teacher, told Agence France-Presse.
Robert lives in Annemasse, France, not far from Geneva, Switzerland. Police say the rest of Dagorn’s victims come from Nice or nearby on the Riviera. Dagorn’s lawyer, Cedric Huissoud, said his client denies all the charges and accusations.
“She’s a very fragile person who’s led a very difficult life and been in many precarious situations,” Huissoud told PEOPLE Wednesday. “She grew up in a foster family, and that’s never easy. She’s had a hard time of it.”
But Virginie Combepine, the lawyer for Robert the teacher, disagrees with Huissoud. “She is this petite woman who seems harmless but in fact is very manipulative and Machiavellian,” Combepine told Le Parisien. “She drew her victims into a real web.”
A photo of Dagorn from 2011 shows a woman in sunglasses with short reddish hair, standing jauntily in jeans and a T-shirt bearing a picture of Marilyn Monroe on a boat in Cannes said to belong to one of her “conquests,” according to Paris Match.
According to an investigation by Paris Match in 2013, Dagorn was born in Paris to a father from Perigord in the south and a mother who was from Brittany and worked as a maid in Paris for a while. The magazine reported that Dagorn grew up partly on her mother’s farm in Brittany. When Patricia was 14, Dagorn’s father, Robert, took Patricia camping at a nude resort in the south of France, and the magazine found a photo of her there, posing nude in sandals.
Dagorn’s lawyer told PEOPLE that he did not know if the man named Robert who raised Patricia was her biological father or foster father. Not long after the photo was taken, Patricia left home and embarked on life as a sometimes violent juvenile delinquent on the streets of Paris.
When she was 21 she met a man named Luc Caron who would become her husband and the father of her two sons. Caron, who served time for rape of a minor, told Paris Match that he found Dagorn on the streets of Paris and “rescued her from the gutter.”
“She had the face of an angel,” Caron told Paris Match. “I fell blindly in love.” One of Dagorn’s two sons, Guilhem, now 24, is estranged from his mother. He told Paris Match he and his brother had a miserable childhood, watching videos all day as his mother “spoke of nothing but money” and his father was violent toward her.
Guilhem reportedly last saw his mother in 2010 in Cannes when she was in the process of seducing an older man. She referred to him as a pigeon, Guilhem told . “She said she wasn’t interested in him; she just wanted to profit off him.”