Thirty-year-old corpse discovered in cellar of €35m Paris mansion

Work on restoring an abandoned €35m mansion in one of the most prestigious areas of Paris has been suspended after the discovery of a corpse that had been decomposing in the basement for 30 years, local media have reported.

Minutes from Les Invalides and the French prime minister’s official residence, and backing onto the former home of Yves Saint Laurent, the vast but crumbling complex at 12 rue Oudinot in the heart of Paris had been empty for more than 30 years.

Behind a bricked-off facade, Le Monde said, ivy sprouted from the cracked walls and broken shutters of four imposing buildings once lived in by the poet and playwright François Coppée. A once-elegant garden had been untended since the mid-1980s and was now completely overgrown.

The stuff of estate agents’ dreams, the hôtel particulier – billed as “the last truly significant property in the capital’s most sought-after neighbourhood” – finally sold in January by its owners, a discreet Dutch company, at an auction that lasted barely 15 minutes. The buyer, Jean-Bernard Lafonta, paid €35.1m (£29.9m) – nearly six times the reserve price.

Lafonta, a former director of the French investment firm Wendel and now head of his own industrial holding group, lost no time in February starting work on restoring the property, protected by a strict preservation order, to its former glory, residents told Le Parisien.

But then workmen surveying the site stumbled across the body. “Everyone was devastated to learn it had been there so long, without any of us knowing,” said Sabine Lebreton, the vice-president of a local association dedicated to preserving the mansion.

Le Monde said the corpse, the discovery of which was only recently made public, came to light as workers removed a pile of planks and rubble in one of the mansion’s cellars. Traces of wounds including broken bones and knife cuts prompted police to open a murder investigation, the newspaper said.

Papers found on the body allowed authorities to identify the man as Jean-Pierre Renaud, and his death was dated to about 30 years ago. “He was someone of no fixed abode, with a drink problem,” a police source told Le Monde.

“We could imagine a fight with someone else living on the margin … But it’s unclear whether he died in the mansion or was brought there, and we may never find out who was responsible. It’s quite possible the murderer is himself now dead.”

Renaud’s children have been located and informed of their father’s death, police said, and Lafonta, the new owner, has declined to comment. Work on the abandoned mansion is expected to start again after the summer.