Manuela Gonzalez, a 53-year-old woman nicknamed the “Black Widow” of the French Alps, appeared in court as her murder trial began on Monday in Grenoble.
She stands accused of the 2008 murder of her late husband, 58-year-old metal worker Daniel Cano, who police say she drugged and then burned to death in his car. Gonzalez’ arrest attracted media attention when similarities surfaced between Cano’s death, and Gonzalez was implicated in the poisoning of four of her previous partners, two of which were fatal.
Gonzalez continues to deny involvement in Cano’s death.
“I continue to say that I am innocent of what I have been accused and that will be shown in court,” said Gonzalez, a former driving instructor.
Cano’s burned remains were discovered in his car, which was also burned, near the house the two shared in Villard-Bonnot, France.
Investigators believe Cano had taken a large dose of sleeping pills, and that the fire was started deliberately.
Investigators later uncovered that there had been tension between the couple, both gamblers. Gonzalez re-mortgaged their house for 165,000 euros ($229,000) without discussing the matter with Cano. It also emerged that a month before his death, there had been a fire in Cano’s bedroom while he was sleeping alone.
The bedroom fire was blamed on the family dog knocking over a candle, but the couple’s son testified to prosecutors that he had heard his father say, during an argument several days after the incident, “Manuela, don’t take me for an idiot, there was no candle in my room.”
As prosecutors continued to investigate, they discovered that four of Gonzalez’ previous partners had been poisoned, and two of them died as a result.
In 1983, her then husband spent three months in hospital after having ingested large quantities of anti-depressants.
A year later, a jeweler Gonzalez was involved with spent time in a hospital after drinking tea she had laced with morphine derivatives. She poisoned him as part of a plan to persuade him to write her a check for the equivalent of 12,000 euros, and was convicted and served a two-year prison sentence as a result.
In April 1989, another lover died in his garage from what was declared a suicide caused by asphyxiation from exhaust fumes from his car.
In 1991, another of Gonzalez’ partners died as from fumes caused by a fire at an apartment they shared. Gonzalez was accused of causing the death, but the charges were dropped three years later.
Prosecutors representing Cano’s brother and sister say Gonzalez’ past will play a pivotal role in the trial, while Gonzalez’ lawyers are expected to argue that the suspicious past incidents were dealt with by the authorities and should not be considered relevant to this case.
A verdict is due in court on Friday. Gonzalez faces a life sentence if she is convicted in the murder of Cano.
Image via Wikimedia Commons