A French man charged with the murder of two lesbian women managed to escape jail in a cardboard box, prison authorities have admitted.

Jean-Pierre Treiber is awaiting trial for the murders of Géraldine Giraud, 36 and Katia Lherbier, 32, in 2004. Their burnt bodies were found in a well near Treiber’s home in the village of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Forensic tests could not find a cause of death but it is thought they were suffocated or poisoned.

The murders gripped France, as Giraud was the daughter of film veteran Roland Giraud, 63, and actress Maaike Jansen.

Treiber, 45, was arrested when he was found to have the women’s credit cards three weeks after their disappearance. He denies any involvement in the killings.

He escaped Auxerre prison on Tuesday morning. Having been put in charge of the prison’s workshop, which makes a number of items such as stationery, he packed several boxes with paper and pens before climbing inside one and closing the lid. He was then driven to freedom by an unsuspecting driver who failed to report that the tarpaulin covering his trailer had been opened and some boxes had been disturbed.

Although Treiber’s absence was noted by guards a few hours later, it was not until the evening it was realised he had escaped. Another inmate was found to have escape on a lorry the same morning.

It is thought the former forestry worker may be hiding in the Forêt d’Othe and officials believe he has the skills to survive for days or even weeks in the wild.