The last, tragic journey of Matthias Schepp

Livia and Alessia Schepp

Police cannot say whether two twin girls, whose father committed suicide, are still alive

News LAST UPDATED AT 16:32 ON Wed 16 Feb 2011

Police officials from Switzerland, France and Italy meeting in Marseille today to pool leads about the possible whereabouts of the missing six-year-old twins, Alessia and Livia Schepp, have been unable to offer their distraught mother any hope that they might still be alive.

The investigation remains active, but no recent witness sightings could be confirmed.

All this week, the girls' Italian mother, Irina Lucidi, has been on the island of Corsica, led there by a supposed sighting of the girls on a ferry from France.

Lucidi has been pleading with locals to come forward with any clues they might have as to the twins' whereabouts. She has also been flying with police investigators over the island by helicopter, pointing out the seaside locations where the family once spent their holidays in happier times.

Police have been scouring the 'U Stazzu' campground near Tamarone beach, as well as wells, woodlands and coves near Cap Corse, an achingly beautiful peninsula of rocky cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean sea.
 
The heartbreaking story has captivated the Italian and French public over the last two weeks as one gut-wrenching clue after another has surfaced, dashing hopes of ever finding the girls alive.

Only now is a clear picture emerging of the 43-year-old Canadian-born Matthias Schepp's last movements - a despondent four-day voyage to seaside locations in France and Italy where the family had vacationed together in the past, before throwing himself under a train.

The chilling story begins on January 28 when Schepp picked up the girls from his estranged wife's home in the Swiss village of St Sulpice, near Lausanne.

It had been a difficult separation for the couple, who both worked at the Swiss headquarters of the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris. Each had moved into separate homes in the same village and had arranged joint custody. It was his weekend to have the girls.

According to Swiss news reports, Schepp had been seeing a psychologist. He was fearful his wife planned to move to Brussels where her brother is a surgeon and another close relative works as an EU functionary.

Until Sunday evening, January 30, all appeared to be in order. The girls were spotted playing with neighbouring children in St Sulpice.

But then, at 3.50 pm, Schepp sent Lucidi a text saying that instead of returning the girls that evening as planned, he would take them directly to school on Monday morning. According to police inquiries, he was still in the Lausanne area.

Lucidi texted him back at 6.20 pm saying she would prefer that he bring them to her house at 7.0 am before going to school. By this time, we now know, Schepp had actually driven across the border into France and was near Annecy. At 7.40 pm - by which time Schepp was already near Lyon - Lucidi sent him another message saying that next time they ought to organise it better. There would never be a next time.

When he didn't return the girls to their mother on the morning of January 31, Lucidi contacted local police, who began searching in and around Lausanne.

Then, three days later, on February 3, came the first blow: Schepp's body was found. He had committed suicide by stepping in front of a train in Cerignola in southern Italy. The town is near the Gargano National Park in Puglia where the family had once holidayed together.
 
What was he doing there? And where were the girls? Both spoke French and Italian so they could have easily asked for help had they been abandoned alone.

Their mother hoped they were still in Switzerland, since Schepp didn't have the girls' passports or car-seats with him when his body was discovered.

When Italian police found Schepp's car, a business management CD was still inserted in the stereo, but the keys and GPS unit had been taken out. They would later be found mangled and torn apart along the train tracks where he died.
 
An international police hunt for the missing girls was launched. Photos of the smiling six-year-old blonde twins began to appear in newspapers in Italy, Switzerland and France. Then came a new break in the case.

Five days after Schepp's death, police began discovering letters that he had posted to his wife on the day he died - eight in all ­ containing about 4,500 euros in total. In one of the letters, he complained he wanted to talk reasonably with his wife but had only received responses from lawyers.

Losing his head was bad enough, he wrote, but losing his daughters was too much. He said he was going crazy but it was too late for help. He told his wife he had always loved her.

Two more letters, containing another 1,500 euros, were later found in a post box that had ceased to be in service. In one of these letters, Schepp confessed to the worst case scenario. Italian newspapers printed the following portions of the letter, citing family sources:

"My dear, I wanted to die with my daughters," Schepp wrote, "but it didn't go that way... I will be the last to die." He wrote that he had killed the children. "You will not see them again; they did not suffer and now rest in peace in a tranquil place."

The word 'not' was written in capital letters and underlined several times. He also told his wife that he hoped she would not commit suicide.

Until this point, police and family members had held out hope that he had given the girls to someone to look after. Schepp's written confession made investigators fear the worst. But Lucidi insisted that her mother's instinct told her they were still alive.
 
But where are the girls or their remains? Police began the painstaking process of piecing together every detail of Schepp's movements between Sunday January 30 when he left Switzerland and his suicide in Italy on February 3.
   
Swiss police discovered from Schepp's computer records that he had studied suicide techniques, poisons and how to handle a weapon. He had also checked the ferry schedules to and from Corsica.
 
According to French police, Schepp withdrew €7,000 in cash in Marseille on January 31, sent a despairing postcard to his wife, then boarded an overnight ferry that evening to Propriano, Corsica.

One witness has reported seeing two girls who fit the description in the ferry's play area, yet sniffer dogs and forensic experts scoured the ferry and found no biological traces.

Schepp disembarked on the morning of February 1, but it is unclear whether the girls were with him or not. A witness in Propriano reported seeing the girls in a black Audi like Schepp's that morning. Another witness reported seeing the girls at a bar with Schepp in the company of a blonde woman. The mysterious blonde woman remains the only hope left that perhaps the girls were left with someone.
 
At 6:30 pm on Tuesday, February 1, Schepp purchased a ferry ticket back to France and sailed back to the port city of Toulon. He then headed east, crossing into Italy the next morning, February 2.

The next day he was spotted in Vietri sul Mare, on the Amalfi coast south of Naples. A restaurant owner has reported exchanging pleasantries with the man, who came in alone and spoke good Italian with a French accent.

Schepp - if it was him - ate a pizza, a piece of homemade cake and left a €12 tip. It was his last meal before he drove 100 miles across Italy to the Adriatic coast and threw himself under a train in Cerignola. · 

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