Israeli police divers dredging a Tel Aviv river on Thursday pulled up a red wheeled duffel bag they said holds the body of a 4-year-old French girl believed killed by her mother's lover — a man who happens to be the child's grandfather.
The search for Rose Pizem and the tangled tale of her short life have riveted the nation for weeks — and given rise to much public soul searching over how a child could disappear for months without anyone's noticing.
Autopsy results were pending, but police clearly believed the body inside the bag was the blue-eyed, auburn-haired Rose, who disappeared in May.
"We found the girl's body, but it needs to undergo tests so we can be completely sure it's her," Police Commissioner David Cohen told reporters. Avi Nauman, police commander in the Tel Aviv area, told reporters that there was "a terrible stench coming from the suitcase."
Rose's 45-year-old grandfather, Roni Ron, initially told police he had struck and killed the little girl in a fit of rage and threw a suitcase containing her body into the Yarkon River. But recently, he said he confessed under duress. Both he and the girl's mother, 23-year-old Marie-Charlotte Renault, have been in police custody for weeks.
The girl's father, Benjamin Pizem, told Associated Press Television News from his home in suburban Paris that Israeli police informed him about the discovery of the body.
Father: 'I was shocked'
"I was shocked when I saw the images on television of the suitcase," he said, adding he had nothing further to say until the body was identified.
The autopsy, which police had said would be completed Thursday, was delayed after Ron and Renault's lawyer petitioned to have a representative present.
Much remains a mystery about Rose's life and death, but investigators, neighbors and social workers have painted a harrowing picture of a maltreated child surrounded by generations of dysfunctional adults.
Central characters in the dark drama are a young French mother and her estranged husband's father, who usurped his son's place in the woman's life and fathered two more daughters with her, becoming Rose's de facto stepfather as well as her grandfather.
Renault met Pizem, Ron's estranged son, in Paris when they were both still in their teens. After Rose was born in 2003, the couple traveled to Israel with their child so Pizem could reconcile with his father.
But Renault became smitten with the young grandfather, and the scorned Pizem went back to France, taking the girl with him. Renault suspected he abused her — a charge he denies — and brought her back to Israel.
Police investigators said Rose suffered a range of emotional and developmental problems. They said she had difficulty speaking, wasn't toilet trained and often banged her head against the wall.
For two months, Rose's disappearance went unnoticed by authorities, until Ron's mother notified social workers that the child had vanished in May and she feared for her well-being. Ron was arrested three weeks later.
He first told investigators he killed Rose by accident and dumped her body in the river. He later changed his story several times, saying he had trafficked her to Palestinians, sent her to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish boarding school and arranged for her to go abroad.