Sophie: A Murder in West Cork

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June 30 marks the premier of Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, Netflix’s newest true crime documentary about the 1996 death of French TV producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier outside of her vacation cottage near County Cork, Ireland.

Sophie was found brutally murdered on December 23, 1996 by her neighbor Shirley Foster. Dressed in her nightgown and boots, the 39-year-old socialite was beaten in the skull so viciously that her face was almost virtually unidentifiable. A blood-stained cement block was later found nearby, but no leads came out of the discovery.

Despite being found fairly soon after her murder, the responding Dublin-based pathologist was unable to reach the rural crime scene until 28 hours after Sophie’s death was reported. Subsequently, the elements wrecked havoc on her body. Yet, this small hiccup in investigative protocol was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg— as the case began to unfold, gross discrepancies between the findings of Irish and French authorities led the murder to become impossible to definitively solve. Now, 25 years later, Netflix is weighing in on the eventual verdict that English journalist Ian Bailey was guilty of killing Sophie.

Bailey became a prime suspect in the murder after he arrived on the crime scene asking questions that alarmed the authorities. He then called the Dublin papers to report that he had an on-the-scene exclusive about the murder and ultimately revealed details that had not been announced during the initial crime scene investigation. Bailey stated that Sophie was French and that she had been throwing wild parties in her cottage and conducting affairs with “multiple male companions.” Although neighbors who routinely observed her comings and goings quickly debunked these claims, Bailey had already begun to inflict damage to the Du Plantier name.

Days after the murder, people noted that Bailey had an injury to his forehead and scratches on his forearms. He told investigators that he had cut down a Christmas tree on December 22— the day that Sophie died— and had scratched his arms in the process of felling the festive decoration. Interestingly, investigators were unsuccessful in replicating his injuries after cutting down a tree themselves. Bailey also added that the scratch on his forehead came from a turkey that he had killed for Christmas.

Bailey was arrested twice by the Irish police (garda), but the Director of Public Prosecutions did not lay any charges. Bailey sued six newspapers for libel but lost the case in 2003. He also lost a wrongful arrest case against the Irish Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and police in 2015. Finally, in 2019, Bailey was convicted of murder by the Cour d’Assises de Paris and sentenced to 25 years in prison

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork features exclusive interviews with Bailey— interviews that are now the basis of a lawsuit that Bailey filed against Netflix. Nonetheless, anyone who views this documentary is sure to develop their own opinion of who may have killed Sophie as well as whether or not the way in which the Irish and French authorities handled the case was a gross miscarriage of justice.

You can stream all three episodes of Sophie: A Murder in West Cork on June 30 via Netflix. For even more coverage on Sophie’s case, you can also listen to the podcast West Cork, which is reported and hosted by former NPR producers and investigative journalists Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey.

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