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Bodies found at missing family home

French police have exhumed five bodies from a freshly dug grave at a house in the north-western city of Nantes - believed to be a family who went missing almost three weeks ago.

The gruesome discoveries began on Thursday morning when investigators dug up a human leg believed to belong to one of the sons from under a porch overlooking the family's back yard.

By the evening, they had exhumed four more bodies. Nantes public prosecutor Xavier Ronsin said they are believed to be those of Agnes Dupont de Ligonnes, 49, and her four children: Arthur, 21; Thomas, 18; Anne, 16; and Benoit, 13.

The father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, remains unaccounted for, said the prosecutor.

Bullet wounds were found on the bodies. Formal identification and the cause of death will be determined through post mortem examinations planned for Friday, added Mr Ronsin.

The entire family disappeared without trace on April 3 or 4, and Ronsin said police are now working on the assumption they were kidnapped and killed.

Carcasses of the family's two dogs were also found in the pit, he added. Bizarre notes and emails obtained by the investigators have only confused the situation.

A letter found in the house suggested the family wanted to move to Australia, while an email sent by the father to someone close to the family said he was a secret US agent and that he was to give evidence in a drug case, Ronsin said.

The family home showed no signs of struggle, Nantes police spokesman Laurent Chavannes told journalists.

Clean, with just a few brown-coloured stains that are being analysed to determine whether they could be blood, the house had apparently been emptied of much of its contents, he said.

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