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“L’affaire Flactif”: How Racist Motivations Were Overlooked in a Family Homicide


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“L’affaire Flactif,” as it is known in France—the Flactif case—was one of the most terrifying murders that France has ever seen. Firstly, because two adults and three children (ages 6, 9, and 10) were literally massacred; secondly, because the motive, which seemed to be rather ridiculous, was in fact extremely complex.

If we stuck only to the facts reported by the police and the media, we might believe that David Hotyat murdered an entire five-person family for the sake of a chalet and a few knickknacks (a camera, telephone, DVD, etc.). We would think that it was a murder committed out of jealousy.

But here is the rest of the story. Born in northern France to a blue-collar worker and a housecleaner, the thirty-year-old Hoytat had been seduced by an ad extolling the merits of a chalet in a beautiful village in the Hautes-Alpes, which was being rented for an unbeatable price. After discussing it on the phone with the property developer, Hoytat turned up in the village of Le Grand-Bornand, the site of the chalet, with his wife and their three children.

Unfortunately, as soon as they arrived, the developer, Xavier Flactif, told them that the house wasn’t yet ready, and offered to settle them into one of his numerous small apartments while they waited. The Hotyats accepted, not suspecting for an instant that they were entering into a trap. They would never move into the chalet of their dreams. Worse still, Xavier Flactif would go on to rent the chalet to wealthy vacationers, forcing the Hotyat family to uproot themselves and move multiple times.

In truth, Xavier Flactif was an unscrupulous man—a greedy crook who didn’t pay his workers and never followed through on his real estate deals. He built chalets, sold them, and pocketed the money, going from client to client without ever finishing the construction. The clients found themselves with incomplete houses and the workers never received their payments.

Flactif was also a gambler who liked to show off his money. He bought exorbitantly priced cars, threw lavish parties, and brought his family on luxurious vacations on the other side of the world. And, of course, he commissioned the construction of an immense chalet that loomed over the whole village.

The judge who presided over the case described Xavier Flactif as a “friendly thug who sometimes pushed legal limits, but with whom you could always sort things out.” David Hotyat’s jealousy was cited as the motive for the crime, while racism was completely dismissed.

Born to a Chadian father and Guadeloupean mother, Xavier Flactif was adopted at the age of three by loving parents. Not a single journalist had the courage to mention the hatred, clearly racist in nature, that factored into this case—and yet it is a perfect example of the violence that the material success of a foreign-born French person can provoke for some people in France. Over the course of the trial, it emerged that more or less everyone in the village hated Xavier Flactif. Firstly, because he was rich and dishonest; secondly, because he was Black, and because the success of a Black person often does not sit well with others. It also emerged during the course of the trial that the people of the village had given Flactif unflattering nicknames that were racial slurs.

What is also fascinating about this case is the role played by David Hotyat’s wife, Alexandra Lefèvre. She is often pointed to as the real instigator of the murder, a sort of bloodthirsty, behind-the-scenes Lady Macbeth. But I didn’t want to draw upon Alexandra Lefèvre in creating the character of Anna Guillot. Alexandra Lefèvre didn’t seem to me like an interesting person to write about. She lacked contrast and complexity, with no light to balance out the darkness.

Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is haunted by the murder her husband committed. Her own humanity emerges, and she ends up so submerged in guilt that she ends her own life. Alexandra Lefèvre, on the other hand—a loud, vulgar blabbermouth—never let any vulnerability show through. Over the course of the trial, when facing the judge, she appeared cold and emotionless, as though she had memorized her lines. If I had constructed Anna Guillot’s personality based on that of Alexandra Lefèvre, I would have deprived the reader of the opportunity to identify with her, which would have defeated the point of my novel.

I researched this case extensively. I read countless articles, watched tons of news clips and televised talk shows, listened to radio broadcasts, etc…This case had fascinated the media and the French; I had no shortage of options to choose from when it came to research. Then I put all this information into a folder labeled “Documentation,” and I never opened it again.

Three months later, I finally went to work.

At first, I concentrated on what had stayed with me from all the information that I had gleaned about the Flactif case. I forbid myself to look at the documentation and instead concentrated on my own thoughts to see what had remained and what had emerged.

This is often how I proceed when I’m writing something based on real facts or people: I stuff myself with information, and then I let myself forget. I write from my damaged memories. It’s important to no longer know anything when you start writing a novel—to trust what has disappeared, to work with what escapes you. To become as vulnerable as the characters you’re creating.

And so I waited until the elements that I did remember showed up in my consciousness, and I structured my novel around this “material.” Like, for example, the murderer’s phobia of blood: How could a man guilty of a quintuple murder fear blood? He was so phobic about it that he fainted!

And the theft of insignificant objects (telephone, DVDs, furniture, computer, perfume…), several of which belonged to the children. Hotyat stole anything and everything to dispossess the other man of even his most minor belongings, reducing him to nothing.

Or the little boy’s baby tooth, found in between the slats of the floor, which attests to the unbearable violence of the attack.

These are sordid details, important ones, with great symbolic significance.

These are sordid details, important ones, with great symbolic significance.

Class warfare is also a part of this case. The Flactifs’ offer to hire David Hotyat’s partner as their housekeeper was an inadvertently cruel one.

We cannot forget that when the two men had first met, they became friends. David Hotyat was fascinated by Xavier Flactif’s charisma and social status, and Flactif had a real affection for his tenant, even though he kept moving him from apartment to apartment.

And then Flactif offered a housekeeping job to the wife of his own friend! The humiliation had begun. David Hotyat would come to feel dispossessed and emasculated, all because of a man whose success and flamboyant personality he had already envied. It was a convergence of two oppositional currents.

From then on, David Hotyat could not see any way to get out except by getting rid of what had caused him pain. He was blinded by rage. His wife, Alexandra Lefèvre, stoked his bitterness every day by belittling him, pointing out his failures and blaming him for all their problems.

In prison, David Hotyat found solace in reading the Bible, particularly the Psalms of David. He never gave an explanation as to the motive of his quintuple crime, and spoke little. He would say only that he recognized himself in the seventy-three Psalms of David.

I read all seventy-three; I’ve forgotten almost all of them. But I remember one: “I am deaf, I do not hear. I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.”

From then on, David Hotyat lived in a completely silent world, never managing to find the words to explain the tragedy.

The silence is also what remains for us. This is where the novelist’s work begins, at the very heart of this absence of words. We inhabit the silences and try to give meaning to what so often escapes us.

—Samira Sedira (translated by Gretchen Schmid)

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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