CHEIRY, Switzerland -- The mystery surrounding the macabre deaths of 48 cult members in Switzerland deepened yesterday with the assertion that a presumed ringleader of the Order of the Solar Temple, for whom an arrest warrant on murder charges had been issued, had been identified among the dead.
But there was still no clue as to the whereabouts of Dr. Luc Jouret, the 46-year-old Belgian founder and head of the sect, who is also wanted on murder charges. It has not been established whether he was also among those who died in Switzerland in a deadly scenario that was apparently coordinated with five other grisly deaths on property owned by the cult leaders in Canada.
Swiss television reported yesterday that several family members had identified the body of Joseph di Mambro, 70, a French-Canadian reputed to be the financial mastermind of the cult, and that of his wife, Jocelyn, among 25 badly burned bodies recovered from three chalets at the Alpine ski hamlet of Granges-sur-Salvan, 100 miles from here.
More than a half-dozen of the bodies in Granges-sur-Salvan remain unidentified, but Television Suisse Romande reported yesterday that the police had received the dental records for Dr. Jouret and would soon be able to tell whether he too had died there.
When the police issued international warrants on Friday for Mr. di Mambro and Dr. Jouret, it was assumed that they were on the run after organizing the deaths. On Saturday, moreover, Swiss investigators said publicly for the first time that their initial suspicion of a mass suicide had been replaced by a belief that at least some of the dead had been murdered.
But if Mr. di Mambro is among the dead, the question of Dr. Jouret's whereabouts becomes all the more important in determining how the deaths occurred. Both Mr. di Mambro and Dr. Jouret were seen near the sites of the fires hours before they broke out, Swiss investigators say.
They declined to confirm a Swiss television report that relatives had identified only Mr. di Mambro's personal effects in the embers at Granges-sur-Salvan.
But Mr. di Mambro's name also figures in another baffling twist: His passport and his wife's arrived at the Interior Ministry in Paris over the weekend in a package addressed to Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, the ministry said without elaboration.
That was not the only French connection. Police investigating a farmhouse in D'Aubignan in southern France that had been used by the sect in August found on Saturday that it had been booby-trapped to explode on the same night that the fires occurred at the farmhouse in Cheiry, 48 miles north of Geneva, and in Granges-sur-Salvan.