We first met René Koskas on 24 October 1999, the day we moved into our apartment at 57 Boulevard Barbès.  We arrived in the early afternoon in a removal van.  On the ground floor of the building on the corner of rue Labat, there was a furniture shop kept by René and Claire Koskas.  René Koskas was standing at the door of the shop and his wife Claire was inside.  We approached him to ask if we could use their delivery space to park for the afternoon.  He was polite and friendly, and he willingly agreed.  He invited us for a coffee at Le Celtique Café at No. 59.  He told us about his Association Mon Quartier - Ma Ville, Paris, Ile de France, which he apparently ran single-handedly from a shop-front office on rue Marcadet.  His principal projects were to block the creation of a vast hypermarket in Aubervilliers which he claimed would kill small businesses like his own in the North of Paris, and to protest against the massive presence of drug dealers in the Château Rouge district.  He seemed to know most people in the café and on the street.

Over the next two years, we would see him regularly in the street or at Le Celtique, well-dressed, portly, always busy and talkative.  His wife Claire we very rarely saw, and always inside the shop through the reflections on the glass. 

On the morning of the 5th of September 2001, I passed him in the hall of our building.  He was deep in discussion with a man we didn’t know.  As I passed they both lowered their voices.

At around three thirty that afternoon, we heard sirens.  When we looked out we saw two police cars and an ambulance arriving at the shop below.  People were stopping on the Boulevard to watch.  Within fifteen minutes the shop was cordoned off.  There were crowds of people on all sides, and rue Labat was blocked with ambulances and police vehicles.  Paramedics and police were hurrying in and out of the shop.  At about four thirty we saw Rene Koskas emerge from the shop, visibly shaken and accompanied by paramedics and police as far as one of the ambulances.  An hour later a body bag was removed on a stretcher to another ambulance.  By this time television crews had arrived and were interviewing people among the crowds on the boulevard.

This was how the events were presented on TV that same evening:

Police were alerted that a man had entered the shop at 57 Boulevard Barbès at 15h10, had attacked and killed the shopkeeper Mme Claire Koskas by stabbing her twice in the heart with a kitchen knife.  A shop assistant had stopped the killer and turned him over to police custody on their arrival at the scene of the crime.  A few minutes later the police discovered the corpse of a man in the stairwell of a neighbouring building and a wounded woman in an apartment of the same building who died later that afternoon, both stabbed with the same knife.  The first indications were that the arrested man, a thirty-eight year-old immigrant, was suffering from mental problems.

On the 13th of September, we joined a march in memory of Claire Koskas.  Around two hundred people were led by René Koskas from 57 boulevard Barbès to the Town Hall of the 18th Arrondissement.  By then, the events of September 5th were clearly established.  At mid-day, the killer had visited an elderly Algerian couple at 25 rue Simart. With a knife from their kitchen he stabbed the lady several times.  He then pursued her husband down the stairs of the building to the ground floor where he stabbed him to death.  Hiding the knife under his jacket he then proceeded East down rue Simart.  On reaching Boulevard Barbès, he entered the shop at no. 57, produced the knife and immediately attacked Claire Koskas who cried out for help. A young employee was able to disarm the killer and pin him to the floor.  Claire Koskas died before the first ambulance arrived.  After interrogation, the police quickly concluded that the killer was mentally unstable and he was immediately interned in a psychiatric hospital.

Was Claire Koskas assassinated? 
René Koskas was not the only person who considered that his wife had been the victim of a premeditated attack aimed at him.  He had powerful enemies.  He had spent years campaigning against the presence of drug barons on rue Myrrha; drug barons generally considered to be the richest and most powerful in all Paris, whose activities were mysteriously tolerated by the police force.  He had just lodged an appeal against the planning permission granted to the massive Carrefour hypermarket development for Aubervilliers.  The planning permission was the first granted to such a large-scale commercial development in the immediate vicinity of Paris and would set an important precedent, as well as laying the foundations for the commercial development of the communist-run suburbs north of Paris.  Réné Koskas claims he received a visit in July 2001, at his association office on rue Marcadet, from an anonymous woman who delivered a message: withdraw his appeal and he would be generously rewarded.  Otherwise, he would face the consequences.  When he got up from his desk to talk to her she climbed into a car, which sped away.  The appeal was not withdrawn and, in April 2002, it successfully blocked the planning permission, freezing a 20,000 square meter development, and consequently, several other commercial developments in Aubervilliers.

His wife’s killer had previously lived on rue Myrrha.  Before moving to Saint-Ouen with his wife and children he had continued to commute regularly to Château Rouge to see  “friends” on rue Myrrha.  He had no fixed occupation.  The only important evidence of his mental instability before the event was a visit he made to a G.P. in July 2001, with complaints of insomnia and hallucinations.  The doctor did not, however, see fit to recommend any psychiatric consultation. 

On the 5th of September, sometime in the early afternoon, he left his home in Saint-Ouen, took the Metro to Marcadet-Poissonière and went to the apartment of a couple on rue Simart, with whom, as far as the police could establish, he was not previously acquainted.  After his arrest they found a small piece of paper in his pocket on, which was written their names and address.  He stabbed them both to death with their own kitchen knife, the woman in the apartment, the man after a chase down the staircase of the building.  Yet, when he left the building, walking as far as Boulevard Barbès and past a security guard into the shop in broad daylight, he attracted no attention to his weapon or to any traces of blood on him.  He attacked Claire Koskas like a true professional: first stabbing to the side to draw the victim’s arms outwards, then stabbing the unprotected heart and finally stabbing downwards towards the stomach and the liver.  When the police arrested him, he appeared to them to be deranged.  Yet he was able to ask for a lawyer immediately.

The killer was declared insane under the procedure set up in French law by the Loi Guigou.  Under this law, the objective of which was to relieve an overtaxed judicial system, a criminal can be judged insane with only a brief trial, after which the investigation is closed.  A week after the murder a book of condolences placed inside the entrance of the shop was stolen and never recovered.  René Koskas put a note on the door which read: “stop stop stop”.

On the twelfth of April 2002 we interviewed René Koskas at Le Relais Barbès, 74 boulevard Barbès.  He had become lean and haggard and spoke unevenly and distractedly.  He wore a patent black leather outfit with a long black leather coat.  He had practically abandoned his shop and was devoting himself almost exclusively to his political activities.  His concerns were no longer local.  He was campaigning for the reform of the Loi Guigou, on behalf of “Victims of the State”.  He was campaigning for the reform of les Tribunaux de Commerce.  He was campaigning against pedophilia.  He consistently compared French society to a sick body in need of efficient antibodies.  The antibodies were the police and the judicial system.

In June 2002, he ran for election to Parliament as an independent candidate representing “Victims of the State”.  He balloted a little over one hundred votes and lost his deposit.  In July of the same year, his shop closed with a notice “Congé Annuel” on the door.  It never re-opened.  We have since heard that René Koskas is in a rest home.