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The Case of Accused French Serial Killer Nordahl Lelandais

Lelandais appears to have a lot in common with serial killers in the U.S.

Key points

  • Nordahl Lelandais is currently on trial for murder and officials in France suspect he may be tied to several unsolved cases.
  • Witness testimonies have revealed that Lelandais has a lot in common with sexually motivated serial killers in the United States.
  • One pattern that has emerged in Lelandais's case are his repeated lies. Although friends describe him positively, evidence suggests otherwise.
used with permission from iclipart
Source: used with permission from iclipart

The Night Stalker. The Son of Sam. The much-anticipated story of Jeffrey Dahmer. As U.S. true crime fans spend 2021 watching the ever-streaming sagas of serial killers who preyed on their victims in the 1970s, '80s and '90s — the heyday of American serial murder — France is watching the actual trial of an accused serial killer whose alleged crimes were a lot more recent.

Nordahl Lelandais, a 38-year-old former military dog handler, is charged with the April 12, 2017, murder of a 24-year-old soldier, Arthur Noyer. Mr. Noyer was last seen hitchhiking after leaving a club. He will later be tried for the murder of 8-year-old Marlys de Araujo, who vanished on August 27, 2017, while attending a wedding with her family. Law enforcement officials believe he could be linked to several more unsolved cases in the area although this had yet to be determined.

From a human perspective, this case is heartbreaking as all senseless murders are. From a forensic psychologist's perspective, it has been interesting to follow the testimony of various witnesses and see just how much in common Nordahl Lelandais appears to have with some of his sexually motivated, serial-killing compadres in the U.S.

A Story of Lies and Deception

For example, one of the things that becomes apparent from various testimonies is how much Nordahl Lelandais lied – and continues to lie. Lelandais now admits to killing both of the victims whose deaths he is charged with, but he says they were accidents. He claims that, after Mr. Noyer flagged him down for a ride after leaving a bar, the two of them got into a vicious physical fight after Noyer drunkenly accused him of stealing his cellphone. In an overly zealous attempt to defend himself, Lelandais unintentionally killed him. Panicking once he realized Noyer was dead, Lelandais says he disposed of the body instead of calling the police.

When his heartbroken best friend took the stand and urged him to tell the truth, Lelandais not only promised to do so but says he’s tried to do so all along. "I started to explain myself, but I misspoke. I don't necessarily find the right words, the right sentences. The truth, I try to say it from the beginning, but everyone says to me, 'No, it is not true.'" In other words, he tried to confess but no one would believe him.

This is what really happened. When first questioned by police, Lelandais denied ever meeting Arthur Noyer. When cell phone evidence linked the two of them, he insisted he dropped off a hitchhiking Noyer at a small town where he was visiting a girlfriend; she says the last time she was involved with Lelandais was in 2015, two full years before Noyer’s death. It was only when Noyer’s body was found six months later and Lelandais was linked through DNA evidence that he concocted his current version of the truth. Even after another friend testified that she got together with Lelandais the day after the alleged life-and-death battle with Noyer and saw absolutely no physical evidence that he had been injured or hit, he stuck with his story.

An almost identical pattern emerged with the death of 8-year-old Maelys de Araujo, whom investigators believe he lured into his car at a wedding with promises to show her his Belgian Malinois dogs. He initially denied having anything to do with her disappearance. After he fell under suspicion (his disappearance was noted and a video camera at a local town center captured an image of his car with a small passenger during the time he was absent), he continued to maintain his innocence. It was only after Maelys’ DNA was found in his car and blood stain was found in the trunk that he confessed to “accidentally” killing Maelys after she panicked during their drive and he “slapped” her, accidentally knocking her head against the dashboard and killing her. Autopsy results paint a much grimmer picture, indicating that he essentially beat her to death.

Same Song, Same Verse?

Read the testimony of his friends and you’ll see how much they liked and cared about Mr. Lelandais. His friend, Alexandra, described him as “considerate and sympathetic; it’s awful to say, but he was a great guy.” Sure, she noticed that he could be bitter and envious toward men who he thought were overshadowing him and he did seem to always need to present himself in a special or positive light. But nothing that would suggest he would hurt anyone.

His best male friend (whom, from all accounts, was the polar opposite in terms of his emotional stability, personal integrity, and work ethic), described Lelandais as pleasant, funny, helpful, and sympathetic – someone he could count on for help and with whom he trusted his wife and children. He never saw any warning signs of violent behavior in his friend at all. Yes, he did counsel Lelandais on his difficulty sticking to a job and he tried to get him to see that all relationship breakups did not have to be disastrous or ugly ones. But he says neither of these shortcomings impacted their friendship.

Not all of Lelandais’ associates described him so glowingly. One of his ex-girlfriends stated he harassed her and threatened her with death several times after a breakup and she eventually filed a complaint with the local police. And mental health professionals who’ve evaluated him since his arrest have uncovered a can of worms.

The tales he told friends about the “traumatic experiences” he had in the military in which he had to “kill without asking any questions, including children”? Not true. His best friends had no idea that Lelandais was regularly using drugs. Neither did they know about his penchant for child pornography, his sexual assaults on 4- and 6-year-old relatives (which he videotaped) and the molestation of a 14-year-old cousin at her father’s funeral. And they’ve heard a fellow inmate state that Lelandais told him that he sexually assaulted his 8-year-old victim before killing her and that he murdered Noyer because he refused his sexual advances.

If you’ve watched any serial killer documentaries, the terms the French mental health professionals are tossing around are likely to be familiar: antisocial personality disorder, sexual deviance. One psychiatrist called him a “dangerous personality with a perverse tendency.” In the United States, he might be called a sexual sadist and a psychopath.

The Bottom Line

Leo Tolstoy's begins his famous novel Anna Karenina by saying: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The same might be said of happy people. But we’re also finding that unhappy people, especially those who serially prey on others, have a lot in common in terms of how they think and what they do. The hardest part is to dig out the devil underneath the angelic façade.


If you're interested in forensic psychology and/or true crime, check out my latest book, Serial Killers: 101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask, and you youtube channel, Unmasking a Murderer.