This is the story of what is quite possibly France’s most notorious true crime case. Wealthy socialite Ghislaine Marchal was discovered murdered in the cellar of her beautiful mansion. In what was a very violent attack, she had been stabbed 20 times. Yet somehow, she apparently managed to write the name of her killer on the cellar wall in her own blood. Amazing. Police had their perpetrator. Case closed, right? Wrong. There would be several inconsistencies with this theory, including a grammatical error in her bloody message that many thought the victim would never make, as she was an avid writer and reader.
So did the killer write the message in Ghislaine’s blood in an attempt to frame someone else? I’ll let you decide what you think — because while the murder happened back in the early 90s, there are new developments and an ongoing court battle happening right now in 2022.
This story reads like a murder mystery novel — unfortunately it’s very real and the consequences to the victims have been very real.
We’re going to start our story with Omar Raddad since this case has been dubbed the Omar Raddad affair pretty much all around the world. Omar was born in Morocco in July of 1962 and this is where he spent the majority of his time growing up. His father would move to Europe when Omar was just a baby so that he could work as a gardener, and send money back home to his family in Morroco. Omar was 1 of 6 children, so instead of going to school, he would have to help around the house and work side jobs to earn any money for his family.
When Omar would grow up, he would decide to follow in his father’s footsteps and move to Mougins, France to work as a gardener as well. He thoroughly enjoyed living in France and his job gardening, even though he spoke practically no French and was completely illiterate.
His first gardening job was a part-time position working on the property of a woman by the name of Madame Pascale. It was while working here that he caught the attention of Madame Pascale’s neighbour, Ghislaine Marchal. Ghislaine really liked Omar’s work, so she asked him if he could work in her garden on his days off from Madame Pascale’s. Omar was very thankful for the extra work and income, so he agreed.
As you can imagine, Ghislaine was a very wealthy woman with a beautiful home, yard and servants. She was born in 1926 to parents who were involved in the World War 2 resistance and were caught and deported. Sadly, her father would actually die during the deportation and her mother would raise her alone. She didn’t grow up in a wealthy family — she knew exactly what poverty felt like. When she was a very young woman, she married a man and had a son but the marriage didn’t last long and they would ultimately divorce. But she would meet a wealthy man named Jean-Pierre Marchel, who owned a company that provided automobile parts all around the world. The pair fell in love and were married — and Ghislaine became wealthy almost overnight.
When Jean-Pierre died, Ghislaine inherited everything. She got the company, the house and all of the money that came with it. She would spend half of her time at her primary residence in Switzerland and the other half at her vacation property in France. You know you’re incredibly wealthy when you can afford a gardener for your vacation home you’re only at half the time.
Ghislaine was a local socialite — she would fill her days by sipping on champagne and lying by the pool. She attended all of the important events in town, dressed to the nines and was said to be a very attractive woman, especially for her age. I hate to even say that because women of all ages are beautiful in their own way — but that’s how she was described by those who knew her. People would whisper and gossip about several wealthy men that Ghislaine was rumoured to be dating over the years — though no one would ever see her with any men.
Her villa in France was called “La Chamade” and it was an incredible property built in the mountainous alps of Mougins. Omar would split his time between tending to Ghislain’s garden and his first client Madame Pascale. Gardening was only supposed to be a temporary gig until he could save up enough money to be financially secure in Morroco, however, he would meet and fall in love with a young woman named Latiffa. Now the plan was to stay in France, marry Latiffa and begin a family.
Of course, even though he had two gardening jobs, money was still very tight. Gardening doesn’t pay a whole lot. Omar and Latiffa would move in with her parents who lived about an hour away from where he worked so that they could save money. At one point, her parent's home became a little cramped and uncomfortable for the newly-wed couple, so Ghislaine offered Latiffa a position as a housekeeper and a place to stay in her room. Both Madame Pascale and Ghislaine were incredibly kind to Omar and his wife — acting almost like a second mother to them more than their employers.
When Latiffa became pregnant with their first child, the couple decided to move into their own home so that they could have some privacy away from their work and raise their child together. In 1991, when all of this happened, things were really looking up for Omar. At just 27 years old, he had a home to live in with his beautiful wife and baby — and he loved his gardening job.
It was rumoured that Omar may have had a difficult time managing money and possibly had a gambling addiction — though his wife would say he would never spend money that they needed or didn’t have. She would confirm that yes, he enjoyed gambling — but he took care of the family first and would only gamble with his wins. It wasn’t anything that became a big problem.
So now that we’ve set the scene for who the key players are, let’s talk about the day that would change everything for Omar and for Ghislaine.
It was June 23rd, 1991. Ghislaine woke up, had a shower and decided to crawl back into bed to read the newspaper and eat breakfast. Around 11:48 am, she had a phone conversation with her friend Erika, where they made plans to get together for lunch the following day. The conversation ended around 11:50 a.m, as Ghislaine had to get ready to meet up with other friends for a birthday lunch. This would be the last time anyone heard from Ghislaine, as she would not make it to the luncheon. Of course, when she didn’t know — her friends were worried about her and phoned to see if she was okay — however, there was no answer. Her friend even goes as far as to show up at her front door, but again the door goes unanswered.
The following day, on June 24th, Erika showed up around noon for the lunch that was planned the previous day. She rang the doorbell of Ghislaine, and there was no answer. At this point, her absence was very much noticed and her friends contacted her security team to ask them to perform a welfare check. When they arrived, they found both the property gate and the front door unlocked, with the house keys inside. The alarm was not engaged. There was a small gift sitting on the table at the entrance — likely the gift she was going to bring to the birthday lunch she missed. The house was very dark, with all of the lights out — and it was absolutely silent.
As the security team walked through the home, they noticed that there was a breakfast tray with dirty dishes on it found in the sink. All of the blinds in the home were closed, except for the blinds in the master bedroom. Ghislaine’s reading glasses and diary were found lying on her bed, which had not been made. From their first appearance, it looked like she had woken up and had breakfast in bed while she wrote in her diary. Then she took the breakfast tray back to the kitchen and just simply disappeared from there. There was no sign of Ghislaine anywhere in the home or on the property — and it didn’t appear as if anything was missing or there had been a break-in.
The whole house is searched throughout the day, and later in the evening one of the staff remembered there was an area of the home that had not been searched yet. It was the cellar door, which was locked from the outside. The likelihood of Ghislaine being found behind this locked door was very slim, but they had to make sure. They find the key to the cellar in a cigar box. They unlock the door and push it open but it only opens about 2cm as it appears something is pushing back against the door. When they push further, they find a large folding bed that is on wheels which has been propped up against the door, as well as a metal pipe. Someone clearly did not want the person on the other side of the door to get through.
The cellar was pitch black. On the floor right inside the room was a large puddle of blood and the body of Ghislaine Marchal. She was wearing her nightgown, which was pulled up over her head and she was naked from the waist down. She was face down on the ground with her arms out above her. Strangest of all was a message written on a metal door that led to the wine cellar. It was written in blood about 1m from the ground, and said, “Omar m’a tuer” roughly translating to “Omar killed me”.
As security walked around taking note of everything they saw, they discovered more writing on another door and it looked as if it was never finished. It said “Omar m’a t” — which presumably was supposed to be the same sentence written on the first door, but it was never finished. It looked like whoever had written the bloody message, gave up and fell as they were writing it, streaking blood down the wall as they fell.
Immediately the number #1 question became — who is Omar? It didn’t take long to figure out that the Omar in question was likely Omar Raddad, the long-time gardener of the property.
The day following the discovery, on June 25th, Omar was arrested while he was celebrating Eid el-Adha, which is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Islam. He went with the police without any protesting — though he said he had no idea why he was being arrested. He kissed his wife goodbye as he was led into the police car and told his wife he’d be back in a little bit.
At the station, he was photographed before being questioned. No scrapes or wounds were found on his body. In the interview room, he was described by Captain Cenci as being someone calm and thoughtful. He was shown photos of Ghislaine’s battered body as well as the writing in her blood left on the wall. The graphic images seemed to shock him as Ghislaine was someone he had been very close with. Omar told investigators that he would tell them whatever information they needed to know — he said he loved Ghislaine as if she were a 2nd mother to him and he would never hurt her.
The police weren’t so sure.
But Omar had an alibi that he quickly provided to the police to prove his innocence. On the day of the murder, Omar was working next door at Madame Pascale’s harden. He didn’t typically work on Sundays, but he needed the money and by working on Sunday he was able to take the holiday off on Monday. He left Madame Pascale’s home around noon to grab some lunch. He stopped in at a bakery to buy some bread around 12:05 pm, and then he drove around 5.5km to his house to eat. He said that when he arrived back at his house, his neighbour was outside and although they did not engage in conversation, this neighbour did see him so he could verify his whereabouts.
Omar said he went inside to eat his baguette with some cheese and he watched TV while enjoying his lunch. Then he left to go back to work around 12:40, arriving back at Madame Pascale’s home around 1:10 pm. This was confirmed by Madame Pascale’s daughter and son-in-law.
“He was an excellent worker and a kind boy” according to Madame Pascale. She confirmed he returned after the lunch break to work — and there was nothing on his clothing that would indicate he had murdered someone. He also wasn’t acting any different or unusual.
Finally, Omar said that he called his wife from a pay phone, who was out of town with the children at the time — and he would give them directions to the payphone so they could confirm.
This is what had been recorded and written down by the investigator but it should be noted here that there was a massive language barrier. Again, Omar hardly spoke any French at all. He spoke Arabic. Apparently translating was so difficult that they had to utilize another prisoner at the jail who happened to speak both Arabic and French.
Omar would spend the night in jail. The next day, he went with the police back to his home to retrieve the clothing that he said he was wearing the day that Ghislaine was murdered. They had not been washed yet and the police wanted to have them tested. No blood would be found on the clothing or on the shoes that he was wearing.
They release him from custody, leaving him at his home — and on the way back to the station, they decide to stop at the bakery that Omar had said he stopped for bread on the day of the murder. Unfortunately, no one working at the bakery remembered him ever being there, so this put a hole in Omar’s alibi. The neighbour also reportedly did not remember seeing Omar come home for lunch — so again, another issue with Omar’s alibi and now the police are convinced that he is the one that killed Ghislaine.
Omar told police the directions to where the phone booth was located — the one he used to call his wife — and estimated he called around 12:45 pm. According to data provided by France Telecome, there was a call was placed at 12:51 pm to his in-law's home on that day. This proved that he was close to his home using the payphone at this time — however, the police were sure that he had killed Ghislaine so they didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to this detail.
Omar is arrested, placed in custody and charged with the murder of Ghislaine Marchal on June 27th. Police believed that Ghislaine was likely killed for money — Omar needed money to fund his gambling habit, so he asked Ghislaine and when she said no he went into a fit of rage and killed her. Ghislaine’s wallet was found in the home but it was empty. This was strange because she withdrew 5,000 francs just two days before her murder — but nothing was found in her wallet, and the money wasn’t found anywhere in the house. This set the scene for a strong motive for money.
Police believe that on the day in question, Ghislaine was to attend the birthday lunch with friends. In the morning, she went to the cellar to put on the pool cleaning system. Omar was on lunch and approached her to ask for an advance on his paycheck. When she said no, he used a hedge trimmer to hit her. She ran into the cellar where she locked the door. Then she wheeled over the bed in front of the door and propped up the metal pipe. She knelt down on the floor and used her blood to scrawl her killer’s name on the door. Then she went to the boiler room and wrote it again, and returned to the cellar where she laid down and died.
Of course, this was only what the police envisioned happening. There wasn’t much evidence at all to make any conclusions.
The following day, Ghislaine’s autopsy results came back and while they provided some answers, they also created many new questions.
Whoever killed Ghislaine, did so in a very angry and violent manner. She suffered blunt force trauma and had five large happening wounds on her head. There was also a v-shaped wound on her throat. She suffered 10 wounds to both her chest and abdomen that were caused by a weapon that had a blade measuring between 15 and 20 cm long, and 2 cm wide maximum. 3 of these stab wounds pierced her liver. She had two wounds on her left thigh, and one of these wounds had a blood trail that dropped down to the floor, meaning that she was lying down when she received it.
It was also very clear that Ghislaine had fought back as she had many injuries, bruising and fractures to the hands and one finger was almost torn off. Her body was covered in bruises and scratches. On her nightgown, there were traces of cement from the cellar floor and dust, which indicated that she had likely been dragged. The medical examiner said she had likely laid on the floor wounded for 15–30 minutes before she would have died. Her time of death was estimated to be around noon, meaning she would have been killed very shortly after hanging up the phone with her friend.
She was cremated a few days after the autopsy was conducted, which stopped the defence from being able to conduct further tests. I’m really surprised that the courts allowed this to happen.
Investigators weren’t really sure what was used to kill Ghislaine — they believed the perpetrator had likely used a wooden beam to hit her in the head, but they weren’t sure what they had used to stab her. No weapon was found at the scene — but they thought that gardening sheers may have been used.
Prosecutors were going to have a really hard time with this case. They didn’t have any physical evidence tying Omar to the scene of the crime. There weren’t any liftable fingerprints at the crime scene and no trace of Omar’s presence was found on the victim or in the cellar. The only thing they really had was inconsistencies in his alibi and the message written in blood that named him as the killer.
But Omar denied killing Ghislaine and believed that someone was likely trying to frame him. The writing on the wall wasn’t totally a smoking gun. There were some strange things about the message — the main one being the grammar. The sentence “Omar m’a tuer” (“Omar killed me”), is not properly conjugated; it should read: “Omar m’a tuée”. Some people have taken issue with the misspelling because Ghislaine was known to be an avid reader and writer. Would she have really misspelled this sentence? Several documents including her diary were examined to see how she would typically write — and at some points, she did make errors in her writing. So it’s not impossible that she would make a mistake.
But there are other issues with the bloody message. The prosecution brought in an expert witness who testified that a handwriting comparison was done and it was most likely Ghislaine’s handwriting, however, the defence team had their own expert witness who testified that it absolutely was not her writing.
One of the biggest things that stuck out to me is — if she is alive and writing on the wall with her blood, why would she write in the past tense as if she has died? She wrote that Omar killed her — but she would have been alive at the time of writing it. Unless she knew her injuries were so severe that she would die from them.
And why write the message twice? Maybe the first one was unreadable?? If Ghislaine re-wrote it, there wasn’t any indication that she had dragged herself to the second door to write another message. From the way that her body was positioned, with her gown up over her head and blood dripping down to the floor, it looked as if she was dragged. So did Ghislaine really write the message or did the killer write it, and try to frame Omar? No matter what, we know that Omar didn’t write it because he is illiterate.
There are also issues with the crime scene — so let’s take a moment to talk about that. Ghislaine was found in the cellar, which is almost always locked and the key was found in a cigar box. There was a bed frame and metal rod pushed against the door — which would make sense if she ran downstairs away from her attacker, shut the door and propped up the items to keep them from getting in.
This would mean that Ghislaine was likely the only person in the cellar — and that she locked herself inside when she was alive. But then how did the key get back in the cigar box? Did someone set up the scene in the cellar and then put the key back away? And if she wrote the message herself, then laid down to die — why was her robe covering her head? She wouldn’t have left it that way if she died down in the cellar.
These are all very important questions that the prosecution didn’t even bother to try to answer. In their eyes — Omar did this. It didn’t matter if none of it made any sense.
As you can imagine, this story blew up in the media. Everyone was talking about it. That bloody message written on the wall, the violent murder of a wealthy socialite — and all of the mysteries surrounding what really happened to her. There were people who fully believed Omar to be the killer, including Ghislaine’s family. But there were also a lot of people who believed Omar was innocent and was being treated unfairly due to racism in the court system. He was a poor immigrant who could hardly speak French.
Omar maintained his innocence and was being held behind bars without bail — so he burned a blanket in his cell in protest. He was transported to a hospital for smoke inhalation and burns on his body, but he survived. Then he went without food for 36. He only ended his hunger strike because his father asked him to. He just wanted someone to listen to his pleas of innocence, but no one was listening.
Thankfully, his pleas did reach the media and one journalist dug a little deeper than the police did. This journalist discovered that the police went to the wrong bakery to confirm Omar’s alibi. Remember — Omar had said he stopped at a bakery for a baguette for his lunch, but the baker said they did not remember him being there. According to this journalist, the police had gone to the wrong bakery. The right bakery, the one that Omar had actually visited that day, backed up his alibi and said that Omar was a frequent customer of his. He would also say that the police never came to question him about Omar.
Again — none of this seemed to matter, because even with very little evidence, the charges would stay. The prosecution maintained that Omar had killed Ghislaine over money but the defence maintained Omar had no motivation for killing her. Omar always thought she treated him kindly. If he would have asked for money, she would have given it to him. Same with his other employer, Madame Pascale — so there was no reason to kill her over money.
In April of 1992, after being denied a release for the 5th time, Omar went on another hunger strike, this time lasting 25 days. While he was in custody he was moved to another prison in Nice, which apparently had unbearable conditions. Now Omar felt completely hopeless, so he tried to kill himself by swallowing a razor blade. Thankfully he survived when the guards found him in his cell and were able to save him.
However, only his life was spared — his freedom was about to be taken. On February 2, Omar Raddad was convicted of the murder of Ghislaine Marchal and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Many people believed there was not enough evidence to convict Omar and he was only found guilty due to racial and anti-immigration sentiments in France. Even throughout the trial, the judge would make comments about how he could not understand Omar when he was testifying.
Two years into his sentence, Omar would be partially pardoned after growing pressure and frustration from the Morrocan government. It was only a partial pardon, he most definitely was not exonerated — which means that he can be retried for the murder at any time. This reduced his sentence by four years and eight months. Two years later, Omar was released for good behaviour. He was also allowed to stay in France however he was not allowed to work as a gardener. Though technically a free man, he was seen as very much guilty by much of the France public.
There are some other theories about who may be the killer, if not Omar. Ghislaine’s maid would report a letter opener as missing — this could have been the weapon used to stab Ghislaine — but we don’t know, because it’s never been found. The maid has another interesting connection though — because there was another prisoner behind bars for an unrelated crime who admitted to the murder. It just so happened to be Ghislaine’s maid’s boyfriend.
As the rumours go — The maid was reportedly fired after Ghislaine found a substantial amount of money missing. So the Maid’s boyfriend decided to break in as retaliation and steal the money back. Ghislaine was supposed to be at that birthday party, which the maid would have known, however for whatever reason Ghislaine was home. So, perhaps the boyfriend panicked and killed her — then tried to frame Omar.
Allegedly, there was also another Omar in Ghislaine’s life. They were reportedly seen together in front of a casino, shortly before the murder — however, that other Omar was questioned and no charges were brought forward, so it seems to be a dead end.
There was also a witness who reported seeing a van parked outside of her home that appeared to be abandoned. When she peered inside the window, she thought she saw traces of blood inside and wooden boards. A few days later — the van was gone. The owner of the van was identified and it turned out to be a man who worked as a carpenter and painter — he claimed it was red paint in his van, not blood and this lead wasn’t really explored any further than that.
Thankfully, after Omar’s release, the investigation continued. In January of 2001, the wooden beams that were used to hit Ghislaien, as well as the doors that had the writing on them, were analyzed and two male DNA profiles were created. Neither of these DNA profiles matches anyone in the system — including Omar.
In 2016, new testing is done and four male DNA profiles are found. Again, no trace of Omar’s DNA has been found anywhere on the victim or in the cellar.
In June of 2021 — Omar requested a new trial, which is amazing. He obviously wants his name cleared once and for all if he didn’t do it. We will find out on October 13th if he will be granted a new trial. His lawyer wants to do more testing on the unknown DNA found at the scene to see if there are any familial matches in the database. And I absolutely love this idea — I love that they are using this technique to find killers who may not be in the police database. I’m all for it. I’ve done those DNA testing kits — if my uncle is a killer, lock him up — I don’t care. Hell — the golden state killer was finally identified this exact way.
And that’s where we’re at with this case. Ghislaine’s murder happened back in the 90s but we’ve come a long way in forensic technology and DNA testing. I hope to God this case is re-opened and a new trial is granted — not only for Omar but for Ghislaine. If Omar is innocent, he should have his name cleared. He was allegedly very close to Ghislaine, there’s no way she would want him sitting behind bars if he is an innocent man. And her family should want answers as well.
In my opinion, Omar should have never been charged to begin with. There is not even close to enough evidence here to convict someone of murder — and there are far too many unanswered questions. It can’t be that easy to frame someone else for murder simply by writing their name out in the victim's blood, can it?
About the author
Nikki Young is the host of the international true crime podcast, Serial Napper. Each episode features a different true crime story, told succinctly the way it happened. Serial Napper is available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.