French police opened a murder probe Thursday after their search for a missing family yielded a severed leg then five buried bodies -- believed to be those of a mother and her four children.
A 50-year-old business manager, his 49-year-old school assistant wife and their children -- boys aged 21, 18 and 13 and a girl aged 16 -- went missing from their home in the western town of Nantes earlier this month.
Before the family's disappearance, the father told acquaintances that he was a secret agent and was leaving to join a witness protection scheme.
Police probing the disappearance found a section of human leg in the garden of the grey stone two-story house on Thursday morning then gradually unearthed five bodies throughout the day, Nantes prosecutor Xavier Ronsin told journalists in the city.
Three bodies, those of mother , 49, and her two oldest sons, Thomas, 21 and Arthur, 18, were exhumed first from under a patio of the house.
A fourth body, that of 16-year-old Anne, was exhumed with those of the family's two dogs".
A fifth body, that of 13-year-old Benoit, "in all likelihood killed by a firearm" had been dug up.
The family had settled their children's private school fees, claiming they were planning to emigrate to Australia. However, they could find no records suggesting the family had made any major bank transactions or passed through a port or airport.
Locals described a quiet and respected Catholic bourgeois family with no history of odd or criminal behaviour.
The father sold advertising space, while his wife Agnes volunteered for church activities and taught the Catholic catechism to school children.
The couple were originally from the wealthy Paris suburb of Versailles. Their sons Thomas and Arthur were students, while Anne and 13-year-old Benoit attended the Perverie Sacre Coeur private high school.
Police had sealed off the house and were conducting a painstaking forensic examination behind a screen of black plastic sheeting on Thursday.
Autopsies on the five bodies will be conducted at Nantes' institute of forensic medicine on Friday.