French police were checking on Saturday a report of a mystery woman who was seen with missing Swiss six-year-old twins and their father in Corsica before he committed suicide, as the girls mother said she had still not “lost hope.”
An investigator said they were “taking seriously” the account of Olga Orneck, a resident of the small ferry port of Propriano, who described how the four had attracted her attention on the morning of Feb. 1 as she went to buy her newspaper.
“I noticed them because Propriano is a small village where strangers are spotted immediately, especially at this time of year,” she said in a telephone interview.
Orneck said the girls wore pink track-suits and parkas and were eating croissants or chocolate pastries. One had spectacles and a pink and white hat.
“The woman was aged 45-50 with brown hair and was wearing a black three-quarter-length coat and white trousers,” Orneck said. “She wasn’t from Propriano or I’d have recognized her.”
Orneck said both the woman and the man, whom she identified as Matthias Schepp immediately from a photograph afterwards, were eating croissants and chatting as if they knew each other well.
Orneck contacted the police in response to an appeal for witnesses after Schepp threw himself under a train in southern Italy two days later, having written to his estranged wife saying he had also killed the girls.
She was “100 percent certain” it was Schepp she had seen and “95 percent certain” the girls were his daughters Alissia and Livia, she said.
The mother of the two girls said she had still “not lost hope” of finding her children.
“I am destroyed, desperate, but I must continue to be strong. I will do everything necessary to find Livia and Alessia or at least to discover the truth,” ANSA news agency quoted Irina Lucidi as saying. “Time is passing, anguish is growing, but despite everything, I have not lost hope and I hope to once again see my girls.”
Earlier on Saturday, police said they hoped Lucidi could help them in the hunt on Corsica, while their Italian colleagues searched for the GPS from their dead father’s car.
“The mother’s presence will enable us to visit all the places the family went on holiday a few years ago,” a police investigator said.
He did not say if police had approached Lucidi, who pleaded on Friday for the hunt to continue, more than two weeks after Schepp failed to return Livia and Alessia to their Swiss home on Jan. 30.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, Schepp said in his last letter to his wife, postmarked the day of his death in the Puglia town of Cerignola: “I will be the last to die. I have already killed the girls. They did not suffer and now they are resting in a tranquil place.”
“You will not see them again,” it read.
French police, who were being joined by Swiss colleagues on Saturday, say Schepp had returned alone from Corsica, which he knew both from holidays and his work with a tobacco company.
They have been scouring the island between Propriano in the southwest, where Schepp arrived with the twins, and Bastia in the northeast, from where he left.
Meanwhile, Italian police were concentrating their hunt on a canal not far from the station at Cerignola, in Puglia, where Schepp committed suicide.