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Catholic World News News Feature

Swiss Guard chief apparently killed by corporal May 05, 1998

VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- Vatican officials are evidently convinced that Cedric Tornay, a vice-corporal in the Swiss Guard, killed his superior, Colonel Alois Estermann and his wife, then himself, in a shocking burst of violence yesterday.

The Vatican is handling the autopsy and investigation of the crime by itself, without asking for help from Italian officials, in an indication that the case is clear-cut. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that Tornay had apparently acted in "a moment of madness."

"That is the only hypothesis," a Vatican official confirmed. "There is no reason to advance any alternative."

Colonel Estermann-- who had been appointed to head the Swiss Guard earlier in the day-- was found dead in his own apartment, after neighbors reported a loud dispute. The bodies of Mrs. Estermann and Tornay were also found on the floor. All three had died of gunshot wounds.

A neighbor, the wife of another member of the Swiss Guard, found the bodies when she came downstairs to investigate the loud noises she had heard in the Estermann apartment. Finding the door open, she discovered the three bodies.

Tornay's body was found sprawled on top of his service weapon, a 9- mm pistol. Six shots had been fired. No other weapon was found on the scene.

Early reports from the autopsy indicated that at least two bullets had been found in Estermann's body. Both appeared to match the ammunition found in Tornay's weapon.

Sources at the Vatican indicated that Tornay harbored a keen resentment against his superior because Estermann had reprimanded him in February for infractions against the rules of the Swiss Guard. Tornay had reportedly told colleagues that he felt he was not receiving adequate recognition for his work.

The apparent murder-suicide came just two days before a group of Swiss Guard members were to be recognized by the Vatican for their outstanding service. Tornay's name was not on the list of those receiving honors. (The awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely in the wake of the killings.)

Just over an hour before the fatal encounter, Tornay gave colleagues a personal letter, which he asked them to relay to his family. The Vatican has indicated that it will be up to Tornay's family to decide whether or not the contents of that letter should be made public.

Reports in Rome suggested that Tornay had been romantically involved with a young Italian woman. But Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls refused to comment on those reports, saying that the evidence was not yet clear.

The Swiss Guard have declined to comment on the tragedy, out of respect for their slain leader.

Alois Estermann had been named to head the Swiss Guard after serving for months as acting commandant. Traditionally the office of commandant is held by a Swiss nobleman, and there were reports in Rome that the Vatican was searching for such a candidate, but it was impossible to find a qualified Swiss nobleman willing to serve for a modest salary. In an interview with the Rome news agency I Media just prior to his death, Estermann rejected those rumors, saying they were "the fantasy of a journalist" and "without foundation." And Navarro-Valls said simply that Estermann was "the best adapted candidate for the job."

The low salary and unspectacular living conditions offered to the commandant might have convinced other potential candidates to seek employment elsewhere. But Estermann had told I Media that he was delighted and honored by his appointment. It is true that he could have made more money in the Swiss military, he conceded, "but here, one lives well."

The shooting was the most spectacular act of violence inside the walls of the Vatican since May 13, 1981, when Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Ironically, it had been Alois Estermann who leapt onto the "Popemobile" to hold up the wounded Pontiff on that occasion, while the vehicle raced to the hospital.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, will preside at a funeral service for Colonel Estermann and his wife on Wednesday, May 6, in St. Peter's Basilica.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls reminded reporters that the Vatican, as a sovereign state, had the authority to conduct its own investigation into the affair. Although the victims are Swiss citizens, he added, the government of Switzerland had indicated its full confidence in the Vatican's ability to handle the inquiry. If any special forensic tests are unexpectedly required, Navarro-Valls continued, the Vatican would enlist the help of independent Italian firms.

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