France's unlikely new folk heroine, Anna de Portal, 51, and her daughter, Marie-Agnès, 24 (PEOPLE, Feb. 3, 1975), had just spent more than a month under guard in the psychiatric wing of a Toulouse hospital. Upon their release they frolicked briefly on a Mediterranean beach, then resumed undaunted the struggle to reclaim their family estate.

The struggle has already cost the life of Mme. Portal's only son, Jean-Louis, 22. He was fatally shot Jan. 10 by local police after he had fired on them as they stormed the Portal château.

His mother and sister were arrested then for their part in a two-year defiance of legal authorities. It began when the 314-acre Portal estate, bankrupt and decaying, was sold in a court auction for a chanson—$80,000. In the hospital the Portal women were allowed to see only their lawyers, but Marie-Agnès—in a television interview through wire mesh that covered her window—cried out, "We have not killed anyone! We have not stolen anything! Why are we locked up?" All France listened and wondered.

Three court-appointed psychiatrists declared the women legally irresponsible and potentially dangerous. Many of the Portals' neighbors had considered them complètement dingue—"absolutely looney"—ever since the recently widowed Léonce de Portal, 65, had married Anna, his 26-year-old housemaid, in 1950.

But the French press began to portray Anna as a combination Joan of Arc and Alfred Dreyfus, and in February the Minister of Justice released the Portals in the custody of a psychiatrist.

Two days later they were on a TV panel show, armed with stacks of documents "proving" the estate still belonged to them, and ignoring the admonitions of their lawyers that they were committing slander. They are also accusing the police of murdering Jean-Louis. The Portals' pathetic little guerre was obviously far from finie.