This is a story the likes of which can usually be found in Hollywood movies or literary thrillers. It’s a story of one family’s struggle to come to terms with the mistakes that cost them everything, and the villain behind it all.
It’s been more than a decade since the family in this story has gone through their ordeal. They live a simple life now, but in days long past, they were once at the peak of high society. That all came crashing down, however, when one Machiavellian fraudster first entered their lives…
Our story today begins in a semi-detached house in Oxford, where an elegant, unmistakably aristocratic woman lives with her husband and three grown children. It’s a tight living space, a simple place for so formerly grand a family, but it’s the lot of them have left of their past grandeur.
Christine, who is 58, her 65-year-old husband Charles-Henri, and their three children, Guillaume, 35, Amaury, 32, and Diane, 27, used to live in a chateau near Bordeaux, France. They were part of an ancient family, one whose wealth had kept them going for centuries. We’re talking very old money here. But even old money spends…
Years ago, Christine had a plan for her golden years that would have seen her sitting in a vast, ancestral manor, surrounded by sunflowers in southern France. Unfortunately, that is not the case today, and it all comes back to 1999 when a man named Thierry entered their lives and made them question everything.
It was her husband Charles-Henri’s older sister Ghislaine, who first brought Thierry into their lives. She worked as the director of a Paris secretarial college, and Thierry was her deputy. He seemed a good sort, from good stock, who had rubbed elbows with some of the most respectable people in their upper-class world…
What they didn’t know at the time, however, was that the man’s claims, many of which seemed outlandish to say the least, were nothing more than the well-researched elements of a long-term scheme. He claimed he was a descendant of the Habsburgs and the son of an Olympic ice-skater.
Despite their misgivings about the verity of such claims, the family believed him. They believed much of what he said mainly because they had no reason to doubt him, yet anyway. So when he told them that he knew about a sinister plot against the family, they listened carefully…
Thierry Tilly’s stories of a sinister masonic plot against the Védrines family were enough to have them step back and take notice. Over the course of the next few years, Tilly ingratiated himself into their confidence. He even had them convinced that it was only he who could save them from what awaited them.
Tilly’s claim was that he was a secret agent and that he’d known their lives were in danger for some time. He said they were all bugged and had been followed and surveilled for some time by an evil network that included not only strangers but even member of their own family. He told them he had the tools to keep them safe…
One After Another
As incredible, as downright unbelievable as all of this seemed, the family was falling for it. It was almost as if their reason had left them, that they were under some sort of spell. Even the family matriarch Guillemette an 88-year-old and the older brother, Philippe, a retired Shell Oil executive, were so undone by paranoia, that they believed this man.
Believing that the whole family and the fortune were endangered, the family barricaded itself behind the closed shutters of Château Martel, their ancestral home. They cut off all contact with the outside world, except for Thierry Tilly of course. To be fair, their fortune was in danger, but the fox had already been in the henhouse for some time…
Charles-Henri, Christine’s husband and heir apparent, was an obstetrician. He was a learned man who had spent his career in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and yet it all failed him when it came to logically following Tilly’s ruse to its source. Any family member who spoke against Tilly or his motives was banished from the family. He had completely taken over from within.
The banished family member described Tilly’s control of them as if the conman had “opened their heads and taken out their brains.” He was like Rasputin, slowly using mental techniques and his trust within the family to cement the verity of his claims in their collective head. At one point, he even convinced the family that they’d have to leave France…for their own safety…
Tilly uprooted the family and helped facilitate their move to Great Britain, He told them that if they stayed in France, their lives would be at risk. After that, his methods became even more ruthless. Tilly beat, threatened, and humiliated Christine to obtain what he believed to be a “key” to a non-existent family fortune he claimed she possessed.
As if that weren’t enough, Tilly had turned Christine’s own children against her. He made them believe she had been working with those who meant the family harm. In March of 2009, Christine fled back to France. She told the police what had happened, that the man her family had trusted was nothing more than a criminal, and mercifully, they believed her…
Police arrested Thierry Tilly in Switzerland soon after, but his spell over the Védrines family was not yet broken. Such was his power over the family that it was a further six months before a lawyer who specialized in cult victims could persuade Charles-Henri and the children to return to Christine’s side in France. By then, the damage had been done.
So Many Fleeced
It’s hard to believe that 11 members of a wealthy, noble Protestant family could have been so thoroughly brainwashed over the course of a decade by one man, but there are reasons why Tilly’s brand of control worked so well. The main one was that the family was so insular, they didn’t need much outside counsel, so discussions within the family were all Tilly-driven…
“I heard someone on the radio talking about us and saying we were cultured, educated, intelligent and this should have armed us against Tilly,” explained Christine “But it didn’t. We were simply not armed to deal with someone who lied on such an extraordinary scale…” she added that perhaps they were naive, almost like hypnotized puppets.
Charles-Henri, who had originally inherited Château Martel, was devastated when he learned that he’d been tricked into signing away the property at Tilly’s suggestion. He thought he’d been signing for a loan, he didn’t find out until much later that he’d signed away his ancestral home and that the money for it was already gone…
Today the family is trying to rebuild their life in some way. Charles-Henri has returned to work as a doctor, his children are finishing degrees and opening their own businesses, and Christine has written a book about the ordeal. Charles-Henri is determined to get his family home back, even if it takes him the rest of his life.
As for Thierry Tilly, he is currently serving 10 years in jail for the kidnap, brutal treatment, extortion, and abuse of the Védrines family. Sadly, all of the Védrines’ property, the things they’d sold off at his suggestion, has disappeared. Their jewels, paintings, money, several properties, and most devastatingly, their family photos and heirlooms remain to be recovered.