Bodies Found in Swiss Glacier Could Solve a Mystery From 1942


The New York Times Articles

The mystery has haunted a sleepy village in the Swiss Alps for 75 years: What happened to Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, who left home on Aug. 15, 1942, possibly to milk their cows, and were never seen again?

An answer may have surfaced last week, when a ski resort worker came across two mummified bodies, buried in ice and dressed in well-preserved clothes from the World War II era, near the two-mile-long Tsanfleuron glacier in the western Alps.

Although DNA tests were being conducted to verify the identities of the bodies, Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, 79, one of the couple’s two surviving children, expressed certainty that her parents had at last been found.

“You can’t understand the relief this means for me,” she said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know my parents; I was 4 years old. But to know where they were was always a question in my mind.”

All she remembers of the day her parents disappeared, she said, was her aunt weeping at the bottom of the stairs in their house. “She took me in her arms and held me tight and she was crying,” Ms. Udry-Dumoulin recalled.

The eldest brother, then 13, went to work for a baker; a second brother went to work for a shoemaker and later became a priest, spending decades in Madagascar; two became stone masons; and a fifth worked as a restaurant chef. All five sons have died.

Ms. Udry-Dumoulin lived with her aunt, and when she married she moved to another village about 40 minutes away. The siblings were never close, she said. “They were busy with their own lives,” she said.

Each Aug. 15, to mark the disappearance, some of the siblings would climb the glacier to pray, she recalled. “For us, our parents were always beside us when we were up there,” she said.

Ms. Udry-Dumoulin, who has had a heart attack and a stroke, said she was no longer able to climb all the way up the glacier.

But now, she said with a laugh, her parents have descended from the glacier, via a police helicopter. “I’m impatient to see them even if they are mummified and black after the 75 years they slept together in the glacier,” she said.

In a phone interview, Stéphane Vouardoux, a spokesman for the police in the Canton of Valais, where the couple disappeared in 1942, said that DNA testing was underway on the bodies and on objects found near them.


Mummified remains found recently on a Swiss glacier. DNA tests were being done to determine if they were those of a Swiss couple who disappeared in 1942. CreditGlacier 3000, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We still do not know for sure if these are the Dumoulins, and we have doubts, though the circumstantial evidence suggests that could be the case,” he said, noting that 280 people from the area had disappeared since 1926 without a trace after vanishing in mountains, lakes or glaciers.

The discovery of the bodies was a matter of chance. Mr. Vouardoux said that a worker for Glacier 3000, which runs cable cars and ski lifts, was walking in the picturesque mountainous area off the trail, near a ski lift about 8,600 feet above a ski resort, Les Diablerets, when he spotted two black rocks he had not noticed before.

When the worker got closer, he suddenly saw the bodies, Mr. Vouardoux said. After several forensic police specialists were dispatched to the scene, he said, they broke through the ice and discovered a book, a backpack and a watch.

Bernhard Tschannen, the chief executive of Glacier 3000, said the discovery appeared to have been made possible by the effects of global warming, which he said was causing the glacier to lose up to half a meter, or 1.6 feet, a year. “They were lying together, half in the glacier and half exposed,” he said, adding, “We believe they were walking between Valais and Bern and fell in a crevasse.”

Mr. Vouardoux said that the Dumoulins — a shoemaker and a teacher — had apparently vanished while traveling to a chalet in Bern, although family lore has it that they had gone to milk cows. Their disappearance troubled their hometown, the village of Savièse, for three-quarters of a century.

“Something happened to them,” Mr. Vouardoux said. “We don’t know what that is. This mystery has haunted the village, and this may finally bring a much-needed sense of closure for the village and the family.”

The theory, he said, is that the couple fell into a crevasse.

Search parties combed the area for two months, to no avail. “We spent our whole lives looking for them, without stopping,” Ms. Udry-Dumoulin told a Swiss newspaper. “We thought that we could give them the funeral they deserved one day.”

Local legend has it that the glacier at Les Diablerets is inhabited by devils and that has spooked local residents for years. But Mr. Vouardoux said that residents of Savièse, a village of 7,000 people, were known more for their appreciation of wine, their fondness for theater and their tenacity.

Mr. Vouardoux said that he was determined to solve the mystery for the sake of the two surviving children, noting that the village credo was: “We never give up.”

Ms. Udry-Dumoulin, an observant Catholic, said of the family’s plans: “We will arrange a funeral for them as if they had just passed away. The religious aspect is very important for me.” She said she hoped to bury her parents in the cemetery where her five brothers are interred.

The couple’s youngest child — Ms. Udry-Dumoulin’s younger sister, Monique — was also relieved at the news, she said.

The police said that bodies continued to be discovered as glaciers recede. Last year, the body of a German skier who disappeared in 1964 was found in the area.

In 2015, the remains of two Japanese climbers who disappeared during a snowstorm in 1970 were discovered in the Valais area, near the Matterhorn glacier.

And in 2012, three brothers who had been missing since 1926 were found by British climbers on the Aletsch glacier.