Sunday, 7 January 2001. That afternoon, after getting off of work, 21-year-old Laurent Duban wanted to go out for a ride. In Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, just outside of Paris, Laurent set out with his scooter. Soon after, he vanished.
Laurent was born on the 12th of June, 1979, in La-Celle-Saint-Cloud, a western suburb of Paris. He was characterized as tall, standing at 1m78 (or 5’10). Handsome, with light brown hair and blue eyes, he had two well-known scars: one, shaped like a comma, on the right side of his chin, and another on his calf.
Laurent resided in an apartment in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. At the time, he was employed as the sous chef in a restaurant, located right outside the city. For him, it was more than just an employee. “Cooking was his passion,” remembered Laurent’s mum Catherine. “He wouldn’t have skipped a day of work for the world.”
Laurent Was Active
Besides his passion for the culinary arts, Laurent admired going out in his free time — not extraordinary for someone his age. He was a famous young man, with many friends of both sexes, and active social life. Laurent was told to be found, in particular, of the nightlife.
The workday, for Laurent, was a regular one. He came to the restaurant that afternoon and completed his orders for the week. After he finished up for the day, he decided to take a ride on his scooter. He drove around in the commune of Issy-les-Moulineaux in the Hauts-de-Seine department.
Brutal Crime Rate
Issy-les-Moulineaux, only about 7 kilometers from the 14th arrondissement, is a southern suburb of Paris. At the time, it had a community of about 53,000 people. The region is relatively comfortable — its rate of brutal crime is lower than the average for Hauts-de-Seine, which isn’t high, to start with. In 2014, there were zero cases of homicide, or attempted homicide, reported in the commune.
Around 6 PM, Laurent attempted to call a friend, but she didn’t pick up. Laurent left a message on her answering machine: “C’est Chaud, Je te rappellerai.”
Je te rappellerai means “I’ll call you back”. C’est Chaud means “it’s hot”, but colloquially, it’s a manner used to reflect anxiety or worry. It’s difficult to give a precise English equivalent, but banking on the circumstance, you might define it is as “this is crazy” or “this is bad”. (Note: I am not a born French speaker, so there may be some nuances to the phrase which I’m missing).
What’s weird is that the sentence, according to one source, was an “uncharacteristic” aspect for Laurent to say — he said it almost “like a code”, the site says. Also, according to another article, Laurent sounded afraid.
Nobody knew it then, but that answering machine message would be the final known trace of Laurent Duban. Records would exhibit that this was the final time the cellphone was used at all. What Laurent did after he left that message stays unknown. He vanished soon after, and he has never been seen since.
It’s not obvious precisely how long it took for Laurent’s family to notice his disappearance — hours, a couple of days — but it wasn’t a lengthy time. When they looked through his vacant apartment, they discovered that he’d left behind his passport, as well as 3500 Francs in cash.
“What is obvious is that he did not run away,” told Catherine Duban. Laurent’s family reported him missing to the Judicial Police of Paris.
Could Laurent have decided to flee without anything? It was probable, but as time passed, the wish of such appeared less and less likely. There was no action on his bank account, nor any usage of his cellphone. And Laurent’s family was obvious he’d have called them if he had left voluntarily.
“He had the right to leave, to abandon everything. But he would have given us a clue, after all this time. I’m confident of it. Something occurred that night of 7 January,” said Mrs. Duban.
When a young adult vanishes, police frequently tend to believe it’s voluntary without substantial evidence of a crime. In France, adults have the right to select to vanish without contacting family or friends. Those who vanish without any situations to suggest a crime has happened, or other circumstances which would make their disappearance “worrying” are frequently presumed to be exercising this right. In cases which aren’t deemed “worrying”, the family once had a right to ask the police to perform a sort of limited search officially known as the RIF, or Recherche Dans l’Intérêt des Familles (“Search in the Interest of Families”), to make certain the person was alive. (This is no longer the case — the RIF procedure was discontinued in 2013). Otherwise, though, the law prioritized a person’s liberty to vanish of their own free will.
But when an adult’s disappearance is supposed to be under “worrying” conditions, police are authorized to use all the methods at their disposal, the same way they would for a lost child. The French organization APEV, or Aid for Parents of Victim Children, says that while looking for adults disappearing under “worrying” situations, “the police and gendarmerie services search for them with the exact rights as for minors.”
What precisely constitutes “worrying”? It banks on the circumstance. If there is an indication that a crime has occurred, or there is substantial reason to fear for the missing person’s safety and health, that would be deemed a “worrying disappearance”. APEV gives the following instances of what might lead police to deem an adult’s disappearance concerning: “Criminal kidnapping, a person with disabilities, a person with amnesia…” But that’s not a comprehensive list.
In any case, Laurent Duban’s disappearance was unique from the stereotypical case of a young adult just running off. Why would someone run away without taking any money? Upon hearing about Laurent’s disappearance, police considered it “worrying” and launched a full inquiry.
“We took this disappearance case very seriously,” told Commissioner Eric France let of the second division of the Judicial Police. “It’s obvious that this isn’t a case of a runaway.”
They initially attempted to trace Laurent using his cell phone. The last time that cellphone towers picked up Laurent’s cellphone was at 6 PM in Issy-les-Moulineaux, when he had left the message to his friend. It’s blurred why the phone stopped pinging at this time — it’s probable that it had been turned off, or that the battery died, but there’s no means of knowing for sure.
So police turned to old-fashioned techniques. They queried locals, asking if they’d noticed anything or had any other evidence. They spoke to Laurent’s friends, too, inquiring them about Laurent’s life and habits. Not just regional friends, either — some detectives traveled as far as Spain and the Balearics to talk to some of Laurent’s friends in person.
As months passed without any clue of Laurent, police expanded their efforts. They launched physical searches — the River Seine and its surroundings were surveyed carefully, as were empty lots in the region. But these actions were in vain — Laurent was nowhere to be discovered. Nor, for that matter, could they discover his scooter.
Laurent’s 22nd birthday came and went, and he stayed missing. By the end of October, his family was still searching, putting up flyers all around Paris and begging anyone with data to report it.
“We’re attempting everything possible, at our level, to try to discover him,” Mrs. Duban told to journalist Valérie Brioux of Le Parisien. “We’re living a daily nightmare.”
Police, despite their actions, were at a loss for an answer. But they had their assumptions. “We made the rounds of his life. This young man went out a lot,” said Commissioner Francelet. “We worry that his nocturnal outings led him to have some bad encounters.”
What these “bad encounters” might have been, he didn’t magnify. One can understand what he meant, but there was no substantial information to back it up.
As for Catherine Duban, by this point, she’d readied herself for the worst. For her, the waiting was the terrible part. “I expect it every day. The horror is not knowing what occurred to him. You imagine everything.”
She proceeded to put up posters around the city, wishing someone might know what occurred to her son. Laurent’s photograph, framed by a plea: Recherchons Laurent, disparu Depuis le 7 Janvier 2001. “We’re searching for Laurent, missing since the 7th of January, 2001.”
That was in October of 2001. Two decades later, Laurent is still missing.
Conclusion and Discussion:
APEV has a category on their website for unsolved disappearances of adults involving “worrying” situations. What makes the disappearances concerning differs in each case. But for all of them, the request is the same: “Help us discover them.”
Among the faces and names listed there, Laurent Duban, eternally 21-years-old, peers out. Anyone with any data in his case, or any of the others on the site, is begged to call the Judicial Police’s Central Office for the Repression of Violence Against Persons, in Nanterre.
Twenty years after his disappearance, there seems to be no answer to what occurred to Laurent that January night. Only 21 when he vanished, he would turn 42 next month.
So what occurred to Laurent Duban? Was he a fatality of foul play? If so, why? Was it associated with his “nocturnal outings”, as Commissioner France let put it? Where is his missing scooter? Was there any importance to his final message to his friend, or is it a red herring?
Unfortunately, there is fairly small information publicly available in this case. According to APEV, Laurent’s case stays under the inquiry of the Judicial Police, but it appears there have been few updates since 2001. The case also seemingly received limited press, besides one article in Le Parisien in October 2001. I tried to search archives of several regional newspapers and those of INA, but I was incapable of discovering any news reports on the case.
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