It is not every day that someone who is presumed dead – and declared dead – decides to come in from the cold. But that’s exactly what happened to a long-dead French punk rocker.
12. A Shocking Telephone Call
High-profile French lawyer Christian Etelin has defended Islamic terrorists, far-left bombers, and members of the mob. But in November of 2017, after a long career, the 74-year-old lawyer was finally ready to retire. He sat at his desk one night contemplating the end of his time in the law.
Then he got a telephone call from a dead man.
11. Dead Men Do Tell Tales
The man on the other end of the line was Gilles Bertin, a nihilist punk singer who was responsible for a stunning bank heist 30 years ago. Etelin was shocked – Bertin had been declared dead decades ago, after an intense manhunt. Could it really be the one time punk rock god?
10. Camera Silens
Gilles Bertin sang with a Bordeaux band called Camera Silens. Camera Silens had many fans in the left-wing anarchist scene. The group was active from 1981 to 1988, when they suddenly took part in a bank heist and got away with 12 million francs.
The band was considered successful, but that did not translate into making money. Some of the band members contracted the HIV virus after sharing dirty heroin needles.
9. The Heist
Eventually Camera Silens decided that since they were probably destined for early graves, they should go out in style, by conducting a huge armed robbery on a bank. They spent two years planning a bank heist, intending to blow all of the money quickly. The band proceeded to stole 12 million francs from Brinks in Toulouse. The brash band members called a newspaper shortly after the robbery to boast about their crime.
8. The Arrests
Although no one was injured in the robbery, the band had made off with an enormous amount of money.
All of the players were caught within a year – except for Bertin. A few of the robbers died from AIDS-related illnesses, while the rest went to jai. Eventually they were released and went back to the real world.
Very little of the stolen money was ever apprehended.
7. Bertin Given 10-Year Sentence
After a long manhunt, Bertin was tried in absentia, where a ten-year sentence was handed down. As the years passed, police and family had given up hope of ever finding Bertin. His family, including a son in Bordeaux, never heard from him again. The authorities declared Bertin dead in 2010.
Etelin was aware of all of this when he was speaking to the person identifying himself of Bertin. Could it be true?
6. Bertin Returns
Bertin quickly came out of the shadows to prove himself to Etelin. He wanted help with his defense, because Bertin had made a major decision: he intended to turn himself in.
The years on the run had not been kind to Bertin. He is blind in one eye because of hepatitis brought on by drug addiction. He developed AIDS and in 1994, his partner Nathalie died from the disease, and their son was essentially an orphan.
5. Life on the Run
For 28 years, Bertin lived a life dominated by a fear of being caught. Shortly after the bank heist, Bertin took bags full of cash and hightailed it to Portugal. He used the money to open a record store.
Several times fans recognized Bertin, but he always denied being the lead singer of the Camera Silens.
4. “Didier Ballet”
After 10 years as an unassuming record store owner who resembled a dead French rocker, Bertin went on the run to Spain. The paranoid singer thought he was being trailed by French police.
In Spain, Bertin went by the name Didier Ballet. He had a child with his Spanish girlfriend and worked as a Bartender in Barcelona. Only his girlfriend knew his true identity.
3. The Turning Point
Bertin told the BBC he nearly died of hepatitis, but in Barcelona physicians saved his life, despite the fact that he had no identifying documents or money. Bertin thought the event was a sign that he needed to face his past.
Bertin returned to France. Although the statute of limitations on his sentence runs out in 2024, Bertin still wanted to turn himself in.
2. Suspended Sentence
Although Bertin was facing up to 20 years in prison, he told the BBC he was doing it all to show his 7 year old son how he had been wrong. He has also reunited with his first son, who is now 30 years old.
A French court sentenced Bertin to a five-year suspended sentence.
1. Advice to the Young
Bertin believes he was on destructive, pointless path and he urges young people not to romanticize his choices. “I made mistakes but I am not that same person now – at 57 I am more mature and have nothing to do with that period in my life.”
As for Etilen, the call from the dead man has shelved all thoughts of retirement, at least for the time being.