December 1994 the five Allen orphans, Cleo, Philip, Jimmy, Penny and Marjorie, (all preadolescent except Cleo who was just eight years old) inherited a Lodge at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc (Ardeche, France), which they intended to operate as a hotel from which guests might go into the nearby cave to see 300 paleolithical paintings and engravings (dating 18,000 - 20,000 years before present time that recently were discovered. The five saw a warning message at the village post office, however, that on January 13, 1995, the Prefect of Ardeche was to sign an order prohibiting access to the cave. Philip, Jimmy, Penny and Marjorie decided to beat the deadline before Christmas Day to see paintings and little Cleo asked to tag along. Science Teacher Paleontologist Roger Whetmore offered to join them and to guide them in the cave.
Inside the cave in early December after seeing all the 300 paintings and engravings the clumsy overweight teacher caused a landslide that blocked the narrow passage, leaving only enough room for 8-year-old tiny Cleo to escape if she exhaled all the air in her chest and wriggled through the debris. The five trapped inside soon found themselves in real danger which led to the following harrowing, horrific adventure.
From the transcript of the testimony of the four orphans who were convicted and from further quiet talks with eight-year-old Cleo, Mary Eliska Girl Detective reconstructed what transpired in the cave to complete her final report:
The entire group of cave explorers became trapped by the landslide caused by the clumsy teacher. After consuming all the food and water they took with them from the Lodge, and approaching starvation after weeks, on January 13, 1995, at last Phillip made first radio contact with the Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardeche, France, village rescue team that had been heavily drinking and celebrating the Christmas and New Year holidays. With slurred voices due to their heavy drinking, the team said that starting January 13, 1995, the rescue team was not permitted to go inside the cave. It would take time, perhaps six weeks to submit paperwork in order to get approval from Paris. Engineers on the rescue team estimated that, even if they were to violate the new law, rescue will take a further ten days. After describing the situation to physicians, they are told it is unlikely that they will survive another 10 days without food and water.
Tiny Cleo, who was nearly skin and bones from starvation, was able to squeeze all the air out of her lungs to collapse her chest and then to wriggle through the tiny opening left by the landslide, thereby escaping to freedom outside the cave.
From inside the cave the science teacher asked physicians if any of those inside the cave would survive if they killed and ate one of their number. The physicians advised, reluctantly, that, yes, they would. When the teacher asked if the six should throw dice to select whom to kill and eat, no one on the rescue team was willing to give advice.
There is not a happy ending. Readers faint of heart should stop reading at this point and turn the page to read the ghost stories.
Phillip's battery was dead; his radio was turned off; the teacher took two red dice from his pocket, and of the five speluncean explorers still inside the cave, it was the science teacher who first recommended that the person to be killed and eaten by the others was to be chosen by throwing his red dice. All agreed the low total number would be "loser." Then each of the five inside took turns tossing the dice. The loser was the teacher who had changed his mind when he feared he might lose, and after losing was shot by Phil then beaten on the head with rocks by the other four Allen children, killed, then eaten. When rescued the four were handcuffed, treated for malnutrition and shock, then indicted for murder. Eight-year-old Cleo was required to witness the execution of her four siblings who had eaten the science teacher while trapped inside the cave.