Villers-au-Tertre: French authorities said a couple have been arrested after the bodies of eight newborn babies were found in a northern village, in what could be the country`s biggest infanticide case.
Police with sniffer dogs searched two houses in Villers-au-Tertre near the northern city of Lille after detaining the pair, both aged in their mid-40s, on Tuesday.
A local councillor said the new owners of a house in the village had called in police on Saturday after finding the bones of infants in the garden of their new home as they were digging there.
The house previously belonged to the parents of the arrested woman.
Police have found two bodies at that site, the councillor said.
Their inquiries led them to the couple`s home in the village around a kilometre (less than a mile) away, where six more babies` bodies were found, the councillor said.
A judicial source said the case could turn out to be the deadliest infanticide incident ever known in France.
The detained couple were respected in the community, the councillor said. The husband worked in the building trade while his wife worked as a nursing assistant.
The prosecutors` office in the nearby city of Douai was to open a judicial inquiry on Thursday which was expected to lead to the couple being charged, a legal source said.
Paramilitary gendarmes were deployed outside the house in Villers-au-Tertre where the babies` bodies were found, and sealing off the entrance to the building on Wednesday.
Officers at the scene confirmed that two dog handlers and five sniffer dogs had been working at both houses.
"I`m still in shock," the former mayor of the village, Daniel Collignon, said, describing the village as a very calm and rural place.
Neighbours also reacted with astonishment to the news.
"They are normal people, who even have a role in the community," said one. "It`s incredible."
Another neighbour, a man in his 50s, added: "These are attractive, helpful, polite and courteous people."
They had done nothing to suggest that they might be capable of abnormal behaviour, he said.
"The husband was even elected to the town council," he added.
As teams of journalists arrived at the scene, he, like several other neighbours who preferred not to be identified, insisted that the couple should be not be judged in advance by the media.
The couple had two grown-up daughters and were grandparents, said another local resident.
One teenage girl said the couple`s daughters were nice girls and described the mother as a simple, quiet woman "who wouldn`t harm a fly”.
Neighbours said they had lived in the village of 700 people for at least 15 years.
Prosecutors were to give a news conference about the macabre discovery on Thursday.
The incident is just the latest in a string of similar cases in France.
Previous cases over the last three decades have included mothers -- and sometimes their partners -- being convicted for having killed five, six, even seven babies.
The most notorious recent incident was that of 41-year-old Veronique Courjault, who in June 2009 was jailed for eight years by a court in Tours, central France.
She admitted to having smothered two baby boys born in secret at her expatriate home in South Korea in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999.
She was freed in May 2010, having served a total of four years in jail after the time she spent in remand since her arrest.