It was a terrible scenario for any husband to find himself in – his wife had gone out for an early morning jog on her own and not returned.
Solo runners are an easy target for opportunist attackers and there had been a string of high-profile cases in the US.
At first, it looked as if Alexia Daval had suffered the same fate when she went missing from her home in a small town in eastern France.
So there was every reason for husband Jonathann to be concerned after reporting her disappearance to the police and prompting a frantic search.
Alexia, 29, a bank worker, and Daval, who worked in IT, lived in rural Gray-la-Ville.
They’d been together since Alexia was a teenager and while she was independent and outgoing, Daval was shy and quiet.
But they both had common interests, which included running. They also had another shared goal – they were trying for a baby.
Unfortunately, by 2017, they’d been unsuccessful after years of attempts and had sought medical help.
Alexia’s loved ones considered Daval to be the perfect son-in-law, so they quickly rushed to his side when tragedy struck.
He contacted police on 28 October 2017 to say that Alexia had gone out jogging that Saturday morning, around 9am, and hadn’t returned.
When he hadn’t heard from her for a few hours, Daval is reported to have said he drove along her usual route but there was no sign of her. He had alerted the authorities around noon.
The French community of Gray was tightknit, with only around 5,000 residents, so it was a huge shock that one of their own was missing.
A massive search began, with dogs on the ground and helicopters circling in the air – but two days later, all hope was lost.
Alexia’s partially burned body was found in local woodland, hidden underneath branches and foliage. It was far from her usual jogging route and her death was no accident.
A postmortem revealed that she’d been beaten and strangled. Alexia’s murder instantly became a very high-profile case in France.
Her death shocked the country at a time when the #MeToo movement – raising awareness of abuse against women – was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It also struck fear into locals who were worried about taking part in activities alone, like running or hiking.
People stayed indoors, fearing a predator was in their midst.
Daval joined Alexia’s parents, Jean-Pierre and Isabelle Fouillot, at a national televised press conference to pay tribute to his wife and make an appeal for information in connection with her killing.
He was distraught and tearful – and the public were heartbroken for him.
“She was my foremost supporter, my oxygen,” he sobbed as he stood with his in-laws. Daval looked broken by his wife’s death and wore his wedding jacket to her funeral.
As the investigation began, the French public united behind Daval and Alexia’s family. Women across the country honoured Alexia’s memory by going on symbolic runs to highlight violence.
In a show of solidarity, more than 10,000 people also held a silent march through the town of Gray in her memory. At the front of the crowd was an emotional Daval and Alexia’s family.
They made speeches about what a warm, loving woman she was. Alexia’s mum thanked everyone and told the crowd, “You are making Alexia into a strong symbol, one of the freedom for all women to enjoy running and to live.”
Daval broke down in his grief as he was flanked by supporters.
For weeks, there were no leads. Daval offered any help he could but there was no avoiding the fact that he was the last person to see his wife alive.
Officers listened as he admitted that he had argued with Alexia before she’d gone missing. They were trying for a baby and he told them that the frustration sometimes turned into tension.
It seemingly explained the scratches and bite marks on his hands that officers had noticed from the start.
Daval said that sometimes the disagreements with his wife would get physical, but he had not hurt her.
Officers were not sure about what Daval was telling them and in the following weeks, they focused their attention on him.
Alexia’s body had been covered in a sheet and they were convinced it had come from the marital home.
Neighbours made a statement to say that they’d heard Daval’s car leave the house in the early hours of the day Alexia was reported missing – despite the fact that he’d said he hadn’t gone anywhere.
Investigators found tyre tracks that matched the vehicle near where Alexia’s body was found and the GPS device on the car proved it had been driven. Daval was brought in for questioning and, three months after Alexia’s death, he confessed that he had killed his wife.
He said he’d had a heated argument with Alexia and, in his anger, he had slammed her against a wall, hit her multiple times and then strangled her.
Daval insisted it was a mistake and he was sorry. When the public found out that he was responsible, they were deeply shocked. His crocodile tears had fooled them all.
But Daval’s story would change further over the following months. After his initial confession, he withdrew it and even blamed his brother-in-law in a bizarre accusation about a family plot to cover up the “real” truth.
Then Daval confessed again that he had killed Alexia, although it would take until June 2019 for him to admit he’d set her body on fire.
Rumours and speculation were rife. Muscle relaxant drugs had been found in Alexia’s blood that didn’t make sense and raised suspicions with her family.
But they were never fully explained. The case continued to cause controversy, especially when Daval’s lawyer suggested that his client had killed his wife because she was “overbearing” and he’d felt pressure over their failed attempts to have a baby.
Daval suffered from erectile problems and the lawyer claimed that, in phone messages, Alexia had put her husband down over his impotence, blaming him for her not getting pregnant.
Daval’s lawyer said he’d felt “humiliated” and had acted to silence her. The victim-blaming against Alexia caused utter disgust in France and even politicians stepped in to condemn it.
As the case gripped the nation, the government put in place an emergency plan to combat domestic violence – highlighting that cases of attacks and deaths were going up.
Finally, in November 2020, Daval was in court and crowds gathered outside. When the judge asked him if he admitted to “being the only person implicated in the death” of his wife, he replied, “Yes.”
The prosecution said Daval had killed his wife and set fire to her body in an attempt to hide what he’d done. They suggested Alexia might have wanted to leave her husband and he had objected.
Daval’s defence said there would be no appeal. He was guilty.
Afterwards, Alexia’s mum spoke to reporters about her relief, saying, “It is a very good decision, exactly what I hoped at the height of our suffering.”
She added that it “would allow us to turn a page” as a family.
When Daval, 36, was sentenced, the prosecution said he had committed an “almost perfect conjugal crime” and deserved a long prison term.
“Jonathann Daval is a manipulator who, full of his own power, killed his wife because she wanted to leave him,” they said.
Daval’s lawyer claimed the murder was not premeditated and had been an “act of rage” during an argument. Daval was heard saying “Sorry, sorry” while looking towards Alexia’s parents.
He was sentenced to 25 years for his wife’s murder.
With Daval behind bars, many looked back in disgust at the charade he’d put on. Not only did he lie about what he’d done, he had openly encouraged the sympathy of the country by repeatedly putting himself in the public eye during memorial events.
Only Daval knows what happened when he attacked Alexia – but her death highlighted some important truths about domestic violence, which has helped other victims.