Dozens of dogs tested in French search for woman's forest killers

Elia VAISSIERE
The body of the 29-year-old woman was found Saturday in a forest outside the town of Villers-Cotterets (AFP Photo/ALAIN JOCARD)

Lille (France) (AFP) - French police investigating the death of a pregnant woman mauled to death by dogs while walking in the woods have carried out DNA tests on 67 dogs to try identify those that attacked her, investigators said Thursday.

Elisa Pilarski, 29, was found dead on Saturday in Retz forest about 90 kilometres (55 miles) northeast of Paris.

A post-mortem showed that she died of bleeding after several dog bites to the upper and lower limbs and the head.

Her death caused shock in France, sparking intense speculation about what might have happened.

A deer hunt with hounds was underway in the forest where Pilarski, a dog lover, was walking her own American Staffordshire terrier.

Frederic Trinh, the public prosecutor leading the investigation into her death, said Thursday that DNA tests had been carried out on 67 dogs -- 62 from the hunting club and five belonging to Pilarski and her partner.

But France's main hunting federation said that none of the tested hounds bore bite marks, a fact it said proved their innocence.

Antoine Gallon, the federation's communications director, argued that Pilarski's dog Curtis would have put up a fight if its owner was under attack, leaving marks on its adversaries.

The time of Pilarksi's death -- between 1 and 1.30 pm -- also put the hounds in the clear, he claimed, saying the hunt only began at 1.30 pm.

The police have launched an investigation against persons unknown -- a common procedure in France when no suspect has been identified -- for manslaughter due to carelessness or negligence.

Trinh said that police still had no main line of inquiry.

He confirmed that Pilarski had phoned her partner, who was at work, before the attack to tell him that she had come across "threatening dogs".

In a Facebook message she also wrote that a German shepherd was on the prowl but police had yet to identify that dog, Trinh said.

Pilarski's partner Christophe told France's BFM news channel that when he arrived on the scene around 45 minutes later he came across hunting hounds and a rider.

He then saw a pack of "around 30" dogs near a ravine where he found her body as well as the couple's own dog, whom he said had been bitten on the head.

- 'Conditioned to kill' -

Sobbing during the interview, he told BFM that what he initially mistook for a log turned out to be Pilarski's bare stomach.

She was "entirely undressed" and had been "bitten all over," he said.

"It can only be the hunt," he said, allegations the hunting associations have vigorously rejected.

France has more than 30,000 hunting hounds, grouped in 390 packs, according to the national hunting federation.

"These dogs are trained to hunt a particular animal and obey man in all circumstances," the federation said in a statement on Wednesday.

Eric Tramson, a dog trainer specialising in aggressive dogs, told AFP that packs of hounds are "conditioned to kill and can be dangerous."

But he said a dog could also turn on its own owner if attacked while on a leash.