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'Sophie: A Murder In West Cork' Examines A Brutal Killing In An Idyllic Irish Town

French television producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered in her remote Irish vacation home in 1996. A Parisian court convicted her neighbor, Ian Bailey, for the killing. But with more questions than answers, Ireland has refused for decades to extradite him.

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier G

On Dec. 23, 1996, Sophie Foster, a resident of the small Irish town of Schull, found the bloody and battered body of her neighbor, Sophie Toscan du Plantier. A Frenchwoman, Toscan du Plantier had a second home in the remote town in West Cork. When her body was discovered, she was clad in a ripped and torn nightgown and boots. She was tangled in briars on the path that led to her home, and her head wounds were so severe it was difficult for an acquaintance to identify her. The Gardai (the Irish police) and a pathologist ruled her death a homicide, theorizing she'd been struck several times with a bloody piece of slate found at the crime scene. 

But who would want to murder du Plantier, a 39-year-old French television producer who was well liked, if a bit private, by the residents of Schull?

A new three-part Netflix docuseries, "Sophie: A Murder in West Cork" examines the decades-old case and the many twists and turns that have left many feeling justice has not yet been done. 

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier G 1

Who Was Sophie Toscan du Plantier?

“We wanted to put Sophie back at the centre of the story,” the director John Dowers told The Independent . “In so many of these true crime series, the victim is just a cipher for all the other action.”

Indeed, Toscan du Plantier's unique sense of self, her loyal friendship, and her love for her then-15-year-old son are a persistent theme in the documentary. Married to the successful film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier (whose credits include The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) the couple lived an often glamorous life of premieres and parties, but at heart Sophie Toscan du Plantier preferred a simple and quieter existence. As the documentary reveals, it was the remoteness and almost brutal nature and weather of Schull that attracted du Plantier. The home she chose had no heating and the windows and doors rattled in the harsh winds. 

Who Is Ian Bailey, The Main Suspect In The Case?

Ian Bailey had been a successful young journalist in his native England, but, the documentary explains, after a contentious divorce his career declined and he moved to Schull in 1991. There he worked as a freelance journalist and lived with his partner, the artist Jules Thomas. Even before Toscan du Plantier's murder, Bailey had a negative reputation in the small town. Interviews with residents in the documentary reveal his reputation as a loud and unstable man with an outsized ego. He'd sometimes recite his own poetry at the local pub in a booming voice, much to the chagrin of fellow patrons. 

Ian Bailey G

When Toscan du Plantier's body was found, Bailey inserted himself into the case immediately, writing lurid stories about her life and romantic partners that didn't ring true with those who knew her. His house was within walking distance to Toscan du Plantier's and a witness, Marie Farrell, put him on a bridge close to the victim's home on the night of the murder, though Farrrell would controversially recant that statement a decade later. When the Gardai questioned Bailey he had several scratches on his hands, arms, and faces, wounds that he alleged came from cutting a Christmas tree down on his property. He has claimed never to have met Toscan du Plantier but many witnesses have claimed that's untrue.

Where Does The Investigation Stand Now?

Despite being the main suspect in Toscan du Plantier's murder, Ian Bailey has never been charged in Ireland, and he has maintained his innocence. However French law dictates that if a French citizen in murdered abroad, a trial can be held in France. Ireland refused to extradite Bailey, but a Paris court convicted him of murder, in absentia, in 2019. He's not allowed to leave Ireland and has stayed, for the last 25 years in the tiny town of Schull. 

In 2019 he was earning a living by selling pizza and poetry at a local farmers market. In 2021, he split with Thomas, after admitting to domestic violence, and the same year was convicted of drug driving after an incident in which he was stopped in West Cork and found to have cannabis in his system.

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