France: The Murder of Nathalie Villermet
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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones.
On Thursday night the 14th of October 2010, Nathalie Villermet (Veal-luhr-may) was about to head home after a long day at work. She owned and managed a hotel-restaurant on the outskirts of Paris. The Clos des Roses (Cloh-deh-Roze) was her pride and joy, and it was a well-oiled machine. She called home just after 8pm to tell her partner, Marc Destrebecq (Dester-beck), that she was about to cash up and that she would see him soon. She usually called before she left, so Marc would know she was on her way.
But Nathalie never made it home that night. As the hours rolled past, Marc was confused, and the later it got, he became increasingly concerned. It was entirely out of character for Nathalie to stay away. At first, Marc thought he’d misunderstood her. Nathalie had many friends and loved socialising. He turned over every word of their conversation: perhaps she meant she was leaving work soon, to go out with friends. Marc called the restaurant, but Nathalie’s staff told him she wasn’t there and that she left soon after calling him – about 8:30.
After looking for her the whole night, Marc went to the gendarmerie at Versailles to report Nathalie missing. He provided a detailed description of Nathalie and her vehicle, as he could not find either.
What neither Marc nor the police knew, was that Nathalie would never come home again. Within hours of Marc reporting her missing, her body was discovered in Marly forest, outside of Paris. She had been brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave. It was incomprehensible that anyone would want to harm the vibrantly friendly hotelier of Mesnille-le-Roi?
Nathalie’s small hotel only had ten rooms. On the night of her murder, they were all booked out. From the start, police believed the killer was one of the guests at Clos de Roses. The case unfolded like a game of Clue, with all too many suspects but no answers.
Nathalie Villermet was a friendly, kind-hearted person who loved spending her time surrounded by other people. Everyone knew her by her sparkling smile, and she had many friends. She lived with Marc Destrebecq, her partner of 25 years and father of their two grown sons. By all accounts, Nathalie and Marc had a loving relationship. Nathalie met Marc when she was in her early twenties – they worked together at a restaurant where Marc was a barman and Nathalie a waitress. Marc was immediately drawn to the beautiful, energetic Nathalie with her intense blue eyes. After dating for two years, in 1988 Nathalie gave birth to their first son. Two years later the youngest completed their family of four. Theirs was always a happy home, a place where their friends were always welcomed with open arms.
In 2005, Nathalie bought a small hotel-restaurant in Le Mesnil-le-Roi, called Clos des Roses – it was a dream come true. Having worked most of her life as a waitress, she finally owned her own place. Nathalie, who ran the business with Marc and their son Anthony, was determined to make it a welcoming place for guests.
The family-owned-and-managed Clos des Roses soon became the heart and soul of Le Mesnil-le-Roi. Mainly a residential area, Le Mesnil-le-Roi is situated on the left bank of the river Seine, on the outskirts northwest of Paris. With the river on the one side and the forest of Saint Germain-en-Laye on the other, this hamlet is rarely visited by tourists and locals prefer it that way.
The Clos des Roses was pretty much the only restaurant and bar in the area. It also served as a Tabac, a place where people went to buy cigarettes, newspapers, bus passes, postage stamps, and lottery tickets. Most customers stayed for a quick drink or a bite to eat whenever they came around.
Nathalie had a way with people. She had a friendly, but firm hand with customers who had had enough to drink, without causing a scene. Regulars respected Nathalie and always felt welcome at the Clos des Roses. She knew how to create a warm atmosphere and spending most of her time at the Clos des Roses, didn’t feel like work. When she was there, she was in her element – happy.
The hotel part of the business wasn’t luxurious, nor did it attract many tourists. It became more of a boarding house, a place of refuge for people who had fallen onto hard times. Some of the longer-term residents were referred there by social services. It was a constant source of income for Nathalie and Marc, and they never showed anyone away.
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~ Now, back to today’s episode ~
Thursday night, the 14th of October, was like any other night behind the bar at The Clos de Roses. Nathalie served drinks and talked to customers, and by eight o’clock, she was ready to call it a day. She called Marc and said she would finish cashing up for the day and leave. But she never made it home.
After looking for her everywhere, calling everyone he could think of, Marc reported Nathalie missing at 7am. When a report came into the Gendarmerie of Versailles around midday of a body found in the woods near Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche (Sun-Nom-La-Bruh-tesh), it didn’t take officers long to connect the dots.
On Friday morning, a group of mushroom foragers came upon a grisly scene. One of the men saw a pair of ladies’ boots, partially covered with twigs and foliage. On closer inspection, he realised it was a dead body. Police were called to the scene, where they determined that the body fitted the description of a missing person, 46-year-old Nathalie Villermet.
When she was found, Nathalie was lying face-down in a ditch, her hands tied behind her back with her own belt. Her body was covered with branches and leaves in a clumsy attempt to conceal her. She had severe head injuries, and her face was unrecognisable. She had no form of identification on her, but it didn’t take police long to link the discovery to Marc’s missing person’s report.
Forensic experts set out to examine the scene in the forest: a wide area was cordoned off as the search for evidence began. If Nathalie had been attacked at the scene, there would have been a lot of blood, but investigators only found small traces around her body. The scene was a dumping site, not the murder site. Nathalie’s white Renault Kangoo van was nowhere to be found, and all law enforcement agencies in the area were notified to look for it.
A row of gendarmes spread out to fine comb the direct area around the body. Immediately they found a fresh tyre print and some footprints made by a man’s shoe. Within 50 metres from the body, they found what was likely to be murder weapon: a sturdy tree branch, about 90cm long, covered in blood.
Further testing confirmed that the blood was Nathalie’s. It was peculiar that the piece of wood had been shaped, sharpened at both ends. It wasn’t a weapon of opportunity, but a weapon that had been fashioned to inflict serious harm. It became clear that the murder took some planning.
The post mortem examination determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Nathalie’s pants were undone, and her bra was unfastened. Although she had not been sexually assaulted, the medical examiner concluded that there was a sexual motivation behind the murder.
Her belt was removed from her waist and used to tie her hands behind her back. On the belt, was Nathalie’s DNA, as well as a sample of Nathalie’s DNA mixed with the DNA of an unknown male.
Police knew that Nathalie was murdered sometime after leaving work at 8:30pm and before 11:30am the following day when her body was discovered in Marly forest. Investigators interviewed everyone in Nathalie’s life: her partner Marc, their sons, regular customers at Clos des Roses as well as all guests, staying at the hotel on the night of the murder. All male patrons were asked to provide a DNA sample to test against the profile found on Nathalie’s belt.
A staff member from the bar at Clos des Roses confirmed that when Nathalie left at 8:30pm, she had the days’ money with her: an amount of about 200 EUROS. Nathalie made no secret of the fact that she was taking the money. Anyone could have overheard her. There was no money found at the crime scene, so police wondered if the motive was theft?
The guest who stayed in room number five, Veronique, told police that she was friends with Nathalie. She said that she was in her room at 8:30 and saw Nathalie leave from her window. But Nathalie was not alone. One of the other hotel guests was with her – the occupant of room number 6: 46-year-old divorced father-of-two, Patrice Chevalier (Par-trees Ché-vahl-lee-air). According to Patrice, on Thursday night, Nathalie had agreed to give him a lift to his girlfriend’s place in Poissy, 15 minutes away. At the time, he had been staying at her hotel for two years, and they knew each other well. Patrice’s girlfriend, Elise, confirmed that he was with her all night and only left around 5am the following morning.
The next morning, Patrice heard that Nathalie had not made it home the night before and helped Marc and their sons in their search for her. When investigators asked Marc about Patrice, he was surprised. Marc didn’t suspect Patrice had anything to do with Nathalie’s murder whatsoever. He knew him well and trusted him. Patrice often walked Nathalie to the van, and she occasionally gave him a lift somewhere. Nothing about the situation gave Marc any reason to doubt Patrice’s story.
Police had to concede that Patrice Chevalier was probably not Nathalie’s killer. They continued questioning other guests at the hotel. The man in Room 9, Fabrice, was known to have a violent temper and he had recently fallen out with Nathalie. She accused him of taking money from the till in the bar, something he denied. Nathalie confided in Marc that Fabrice had an aggressive streak and she was scared of him.
Police were immediately suspicious of the man, mainly because the money Nathalie had on her was missing, and took him in for questioning. They wondered if he had stolen money again, and that Nathalie’s death was a result of a confrontation. Fabrice denied any involvement in her murder. He also emphatically denied ever taking money from Nathalie. Fabrice claimed he was alone in his hotel room the entire Thursday evening and that he had made several phone calls. Investigators were able to confirm that by following up on phone records made from Fabrice’s room that night. That was enough evidence to convince police that he was not the killer either.
Then results came back from the post mortem examination. Investigators were surprised to learn that the male DNA found on Nathalie’s belt belonged to her tenant and employee, Patrice Chevalier from room number six. He was re-interviewed and asked how his DNA could be on her? Patrice did not seem concerned in the least. He thought for a moment, then recalled that he was working with Nathalie on that day – painting a room at the hotel. According to Patrice, while Nathalie was on a ladder, she felt dizzy and lost her balance. He stopped her from falling by grabbing hold of her hips. Patrice recalled that he had touched her belt while holding her, steadying her.
The story didn’t stop there. Patrice made a shocking revelation, saying that, at that moment when she had quite literally fallen into his arms, they kissed. It wasn’t the first time, as they had been having an affair for a couple of weeks at the time. In fact, they had been intimate on that same afternoon, in one of the rooms at the hotel. A hotel staff member confirmed that Nathalie and Patrice painted a room that day, but could not imagine them having an affair.
Patrice told police that Nathalie’s relationship with Marc was not as happy as it seemed from the outside. And that it was Nathalie who initiated the affair with Patrice. In his police statement he said:
“She would joke and tell me she wasn’t wearing any underwear. I liked her, but I wouldn’t hit on her in principle.”
Police were sceptical about Patrice’s claim of an affair. They decided to ask Marc, who was extremely distraught over Nathalie’s death, about the state of his relationship with her. Marc said that they were happy and got on just fine. Marc also said that he and Nathalie were talking about finally tying the knot – after being together for almost 25 years. They never had any problems and were extremely fond of each other.
But police couldn’t only take him at his word and decided to tap his phone. Before long, they obtained evidence that Marc was having an affair, with a woman named Claudine. A month after Nathalie’s murder, one of Marc’s phone conversations with Claudine stood out to investigators. Claudine wanted to know where Marc wished to meet and he said that she should come over to his place, as he had been travelling to Versailles for 19 years to see her, it was about time she made some effort to come to him.
To investigators, it seemed like Patrice Chevalier was not lying after all. But they had to hear what Marc had to say about his clandestine personal life. They took him in for questioning and played the recording of his phone conversation to Claudine back to him. Marc insisted that they were only friends. She was a former employer of his, and they had kept close contact over the years. Nathalie knew Claudine well, and they were both, as a couple, close to her. Claudine also denied the affair and echoed Marc’s description of their relationship.
With no further evidence of an affair or any indication that Marc had anything to gain by Nathalie’s death, he was ruled out as a suspect. Police concluded that his relationship with Claudine was a close friendship, nothing more.
The investigation was back to square one. That is until the results of forensic tests on the murder weapon came back. On the wooden stick soaked with Nathalie’s blood, was the DNA of the last person who saw her alive, Patrice Chevalier. Again, Patrice had a story: he said that when Nathalie gave him a lift, they had car trouble. Nathalie stopped, and he got out to see what was going on. That’s when Patrice found a twig stuck in one of the wheels and struggled to remove it. He looked around and found the bigger stick to flick it out. He said he left the stick in the car. Perhaps the killer found it in the car and used it to attack Nathalie.
Investigators didn’t buy Patrice’s story and realised they needed to find a way to disprove it. Firstly, the stick had been sharpened at both ends, it was not a stick one would pick up next to the road. The stick was sent for further analysis, to determine if the type of wood was local to the area where Patrice said he had picked it up from. Testing showed that the stick came from a goat willow. Experts searched the surrounding area where Patrice claimed they got stuck and could not find a goat willow anywhere nearby. The chances of him picking up the stick next to the road were slim.
Investigators looked at cell phone tower evidence to establish Patrice’s movements on the night. He said he was at his girlfriend’s place in Poissy all night and left at 5am Friday morning. However, evidence showed that between 10pm and 2am his phone pinged at Morainvilliers (More-ahn Villy-ear), which is a 15-minute drive west from Poissy. Then his phone went off the radar, only to reappear at 4:46am at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche (Sun-Nom-La-Bruh-tesh) South of Poissy – close to Marly Forest where Nathalie’s body was found.
Police questioned Patrice’s girlfriend, Elise, again, asking about his whereabouts that night. Elise stuck to her original story that Patrice was with her the entire evening. However, once she understood the implication of covering for him, she admitted that he was never there. She told investigators that Patrice had asked her to lie. Elise said:
“I wanted to protect Patrice. He told me that he was going to do something with friends. In case of trouble, he asked me to say that he was with me all night and that he left the next morning. It was like a favour I did for him. I never thought he could do anything bad.”
To make things worse, Elise said that Patrice had asked her to cover for him, on Thursday afternoon – BEFORE the murder. Nathalie’s murder was no accident or rebuffed advance that turned deadly, he had planned it. He had fashioned a murder weapon and secured an alibi. But after Elise came clean, it all came crashing down.
After squashing his alibi, police arrested Patrice Chevalier. Again he had a story, explaining why he had asked Elise to lie for him. He said that he partook in a robbery with four other men. They went to Honfleur to settle a debt, so to speak. He was driving the getaway car and didn’t want to name his accomplices, as a code of honour among thieves. Police called him out: admitting to committing a robbery would be less serious than being accused of murder. Surely, if the robbery was his alibi, he would give them more details. But he refused. Patrice was full of it, and investigators knew it.
The robbery story didn’t make any logistical sense. Honfleur is on the coast of Normandy, about a two-hour drive from Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche. His cell phone movements indicated that he was in the outskirts of Paris all night.
Police secured a search warrant and paid a visit to Room No. 6 at the Clos des Roses. They conducted a thorough search of Patrice Chevalier’s belongings and found a pair of jeans stained with Nathalie’s blood. Patrice was ready with an explanation. He said that Nathalie had had a nose bleed once when he helped her load the van. Forensic examiners tested it again: the blood was NOT consistent from blood one would expect to find from a nosebleed.
In Patrice Chevalier’s room, there was even more damning evidence. Police found five different cell phones, with more than fifty photos of Natalie. All of the pictures had been erased shortly before the search, but police were able to retrieve them. The images were all stolen photos of Nathalie’s thighs, legs and breasts, none had her face in the frame. It was evident that it was taken under a table or behind her back. She was clearly unaware that the photos were being taken. Confronted with the evidence, Patrice shrugged it off, saying that many men take pictures like that. He admitted, however, that, quote ‘her body did something to him’ end quote.
A friend of Nathalie’s told investigators that in the time leading up to her murder Patrice became relentless in his romantic pursuit of Nathalie. She was not interested and was planning on asking him to leave the hotel at the end of the year. Nathalie had had enough. But because she was kind, she did not want to kick him out before Christmas, she felt sorry for him. Patrice most likely knew he was about to lose his job and his home, and wanted to try one last time to seduce Nathalie. If she refused, he would end things HIS way.
As evidence was stacking up against Patrice Chevalier, investigators looked into his background. Patrice was born in Poissy, not far from Le Mesnil-le-Roi. His father was an electrician, and his mother worked in a laundry. As a baby, he was left with his grandmother in Normandy and only joined his parents in the Paris suburbs when he was six years old.
Patrice stayed with his parents for about five years, before he was sent to a boarding school that assists at-risk-youths from lower-income families by providing training in various trades. He trained as a miller, but never completed the course. When he dropped out, the school helped him to get a job at a printing press. After a year and a half, he was made redundant. Out of options, Patrice applied to join the army, where he worked as a delivery driver. After the military, he never quite settled into any one job, working in sales and even had a short stint as a realtor.
In France, one’s accent says a lot about your social background. Patrice spoke in a titi Parisien accent, an almost extinct 1920s street-kid twang. The best example would be the character Gavroche in Les Misrables. Because of the way Patrice spoke, people didn’t really take him seriously, he was like a caricature of a Parisian thug.
In 1990, Patrice was in a devastating car accident. He was in a coma for six months, and after a long road of rehabilitation, he was ready to work, but could only find odd jobs. He was never quite the same after the accident. Before he used to be athletic and agile, but afterwards, he could not quite keep up with his usual pace. Despite his setbacks, he carried on with life as best he could. He got married and divorced, and married and divorced again. The failed marriages gave him two sons, whom he adored.
In 2007, Patrice lost his driver’s license because of a DUI incident and lost his job as a driver. In 2008, this downtrodden man moved into Clos des Roses. Nathalie Villermet took pity on him and offered him a job at the hotel. He did odd jobs, from maintenance to helping out in the restaurant. Sometimes he helped with deliveries, even though he did not have a valid driver’s license at the time. Because the Clos des Roses was a family business, all the employees and long-term tenants became a part of Marc and Nathalie’s family.
This quote is from Patrice’s first statement to police:
“I consider Nathalie to be a friend. She means a lot to me. She is a person I’d give my life for. It wasn’t me who killed her.”
He also told investigators about his accident and how he had lost everything: his family, his job, his home… He had to learn to walk and talk again, and he was finally living independently again. He was proud of his progress and said that he had Nathalie to thank – she was the one who had offered him a job and a place to stay. Why would he harm her? And why would he risk losing everything, if he had only just begun to live his life again?
By this time, police did not believe a word Patrice Chevalier said and spoke to people who knew him well. His ex-girlfriends all came back with stories about Patrice, saying he was a liar and a manipulator who could be violent at times. His ex-wife, Sandrine, said he used to calculate how many times a week they had sex. He kept a timetable, carefully logging their entire sexual history. According to Sandrine, he had an insatiable sexual appetite.
Three weeks after Nathalie’s murder, Sandrine came forward with a chilling story… She claimed that on the night of the 14th of October, she received a phone call from Patrice at 9pm. She thought it was odd, seeing as they had not been in regular contact. They had a short conversation earlier in the afternoon, why would he call again? When she answered, she realised that he must have pocket-dialled her because all she could hear was background noise. Then she heard a woman screaming. At the time she didn’t think much of it, perhaps he was at a fairground or something, so she left it at that.
But when Sandrine learnt about Nathalie’s murder and the fact that Patrice was the last person seen with her, she thought it could have been Nathalie’s final screams as he was killing her. He called at 9pm, 30 minutes after they left Le Mesnil-le-Roi. Did Sandrine inadvertently witness Nathalie’s murder?
Police realised that Patrice would keep on talking his way out of the murder unless they had irrefutable evidence. Eventually, they found her Renault Kangoo, a fair distance away from where her body was found. After examining the vehicle, forensic investigators reported that they found traces of Nathalie’s blood on the hood. Blood splatter evidence proved that she was struck while she was standing in front of her van. In the back were blood drops, from a person who was already deceased.
Fibres on the driver’s seat matched fibres from Patrice’s jacket that was found in his room. The same jacket with Nathalie’s blood on it. However, the tyre tracks didn’t match the tracks found at the scene in Marly forest.
Patrice refused to confess to the murder. He maintained that he had a strong connection to Nathalie and insisted that they were romantically involved. Everyone who knew Nathalie was adamant that she would never have had an affair with Patrice. Hotel employees corroborated her friend’s story that she was aware of his affection for her and had wanted to terminate his lease to put an end to the situation.
The first thing Patrice did when he was in prison, was to write a letter to Nathalie’s partner:
I give my deepest condolences to you and your children. My whole heart goes out to you. I have nothing to do with this horror. I think you know I was very fond of Nathalie and I would never cause her any harm. I’m thinking of you and hope that you’re holding up okay.
Marc finally came face to face with the man he once trusted. Patrice Chevalier’s trial started on the 25th of November 2013 and lasted for five days. The Prosecution reconstructed the sequence of events, as confirmed by evidence collected during the two-year investigation.
On the evening of the 14th of October 2010, Nathalie Villermet was finishing up at the bar of the Clos des Roses and called Marc to say she’ll head home as soon as she’d cashed up for the day. As she was ready to leave, Patrice asked for a lift to Poissy. Because he had been coming on to her, she was tentative, but when he told her he was going to his girlfriend’s place, Nathalie was quietly relieved and agreed to drop him off.
Veronique saw the two of them walking to the van with Nathalie getting into the driver’s seat. As they were driving along, somewhere on the way to Poissy, Patrice then propositioned Nathalie, who didn’t want to have anything to do with him. She most likely pulled over to let him out of the car, and when he refused to get out, she jumped out to get away from him. Patrice, prepared with his wooden stick, caught up with her in front of the car and threatened her. When Nathalie still wouldn’t give in, he started hitting her over the head, again and again, until she dropped to the ground, unconscious. Blood splatter on the hood of her car proved that Nathalie was standing when she received the first blows to her head. During the struggle, he unwittingly pocket-dialed his ex-wife, who heard the screams. Investigators were never able to prove precisely WHERE the attack took place.
With Nathalie unconscious, Patrice took off her belt and tied her hands behind her back, in case she came to. He placed her in the back of her Kangoo van and drove off. At this point, blood evidence in the back of the van indicated, that Nathalie was no longer alive.
Patrice drove to the edge of Marly Forest, where he carried her into the woods and covered her body with branches and foliage. On his way back to the road, he threw the stick into the underbrush. It was a dark night, and he didn’t realise that he had left the stick right next to a footpath. Gendarmes had no trouble finding it. Patrice took the cash from the Clos de Roses Nathalie had with her, to make her murder look like a robbery gone wrong.
At 4am Patrice’s phone pinged off a tower near a location where a speed camera took a photo of Nathalie’s van. He parked the van about a mile from the Clos des Roses and walked back, going straight to his room.
It is unclear what happened in the deep dark hours of the night. The phone call to Sandrine occurred at 9pm, Patrice was back home just before 5am. Nathalie was no longer alive, and Patrice had her all to himself, driving around, looking for somewhere to leave her.
Patrice Chevalier’s defence attorney, Sophie Gallais, brought some doubt into the case and felt so strongly about her client’s innocence, that she insisted on an acquittal. The strongest point (arguably) was the fact that the tyre tracks found in the woods near Nathalie’s body were NOT made by her Renault Kangoo. Patrice did not own a car and did not have ready access to another vehicle. She also pointed out that Patrice’s shoes did not match the prints found at the scene in Marly Forest.
Patrice spoke in his own defence. Like in his statement to police, he called Nathalie a ‘friend of his heart’. He said that if it was not for Nathalie who gave him a job and a place to stay, he would have been on the streets. But his demeanour didn’t fit his heartfelt plea. His arrogance shone through. Throughout the trial, he rolled his eyes up to the sky, like he was the only reasonable person in a room full of idiots. He also claimed that he wasn’t impoverished and desperate, despite his earlier claims that Nathalie saved him from living on the street. Chevalier claimed that he was earning 800EUROS a month and his room at the hotel only cost 50.
“I had 800 EUROS of pocket money left after my odd jobs in the café. I know many families who would like to have as much!”
He challenged the Prosecution, saying that if he was guilty of Nathalie’s murder, why would he have left so much evidence for police to find? He wasn’t that stupid. His attitude, along with his titi Parisien accent, did not make him look very good.
With so much evidence against him, how could there ever have been a doubt as to his guilt? The thing is, he is a very convincing liar, and proof, even DNA, is only supporting a theory. He had an uncanny ability to refute the evidence, for instance, the blood evidence. It was never mentioned where the blood was. He was confronted with a statement like ‘we have found blood on your clothes belonging to Nathalie. Do you care to explain how it got there?” Somehow he knew it was on his sleeve, also which arm’s sleeve, in telling the story of her nosebleed. Also, the fact that he was the last person seen with Nathalie, something he didn’t try to hide, made police doubt his guilt. He didn’t try to hide or avoid interrogation, in fact, he gave them his full co-operation. He was extremely manipulative.
In the end, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Yvelines Assize Court. The judge made it clear after Chevalier was convicted, that there were no other suspects in the case and that he had no doubt whatsoever that justice was served. Today, Patrice Chevalier is serving his time in prison in his hometown of Poissy.
Marc has taken over management of the Clos des Roses, in memory of the woman who gave him a lifetime of joy and happiness. He hopes to keep her spirit alive in the place where she loved to make others feel like they belonged.
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