• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The smiling boy whose murder haunts France

Dan MacGuill · 25 Apr 2013, 16:31

Published: 25 Apr 2013 16:31 GMT+02:00

Who’s Grégory Villemin?

He was a four-year-old boy found drowned in the Vologne river near Docelles, in eastern France in October 1984.

Why has he been in the news this week?

On Wednesday, a prosecutor in the city of Dijon announced that much-anticipated DNA tests on Grégory’s clothes, and on cords used to tie up his hands and feet, had been inconclusive.

The news came as an “enormous disappointment” for his parents, and prolonged what has been a 29-year mystery, filled with anger and despair at having their hopes dashed repeatedly.

These recent developments have once again gripped France, and the smiling face of Gregory has been omnipresent in newspapers, magazines and on TV this week.

Tell me more.

The “Affaire de Grégory”, as it’s become known, has fascinated and horrified the French public for almost three decades, and inspired at least seven books on the subject of his murder.

Here’s what we do know. On the evening of October 16th, 1984 Grégory’s parents – Christine and Jean-Marie Villemin – received a chilling, taunting phone call from an unidentified person, informing them “I have taken the boy.”

After a massive police search, Grégory’s body was found in the Vologne river, about 7 km from the family home in Lépanges-sur-Vologne.

The day after, the couple received an anonymous letter addressed to Jean-Marie. “I hope you die of grief, boss. Your money can’t give you back your son. Here is my revenge, you stupid bastard.”

We don’t know who sent the letter. But for four years before the murder, the Villemins had been plagued by anonymous phone calls, some of which they managed to record.

However, voice experts still haven’t been able to identify the caller. Years later, DNA tests, (of which there have been many) on saliva traces under the letter’s stamp were also inconclusive.

Are there any suspects?

Yes, quite a few. Initially the main suspect was Bernard Laroche, the first cousin of Jean-Marie Villemin, but that lead reached a brutal end.

Laroche’s 15-year-old sister-in-law had denounced him to police, claiming to have circumstantial proof he had murdered Grégory. Furthermore, handwriting analysis suggested Laroche had a strikingly similar signature to that found at the bottom of the letter sent on October 17th.

However, Laroche’s accuser later recanted and in February 1985, a judge freed Laroche from suspicion. But the same day, a furious Jean-Marie Villemin vowed, in front of journalists, that he would kill his cousin.

Incredibly, police refused to offer Laroche protection and, true to his word, Villemin shot dead his cousin on March 29th, as he left work.

Villemin was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 1993 for the killing, and Laroche’s widow, Marie-Ange, successfully sued the French state in 2002, for their failure to prevent Bernard’s death.

Does it get any worse?

I’m afraid so. In 1985, local suspicions began to turn to Christine Villemin, Grégory’s mother. She had been seen in a post office on the day of the murder, and cords identical to the ones used to tie up Grégory were found in the basement of the family home.

Story continues below…

Further handwriting analysis also seemed to implicate her, and she was held under suspicion in July of that year, before being released. A judge eventually took the rare decision to issue an order forbidding her prosecution, which largely served to clear her name.

What’s happened since then?

There have been several rounds of DNA testing and voice analysis checks, all of which have promised to reveal the identity of Grégory’s killer, but all of which have disappointed.

On April 16th, French daily Le Parisien revealed that traces from the cords used to bind Grégory would be tested and compared with DNA samples from 10 individuals interviewed over the years, as "persons of interest" in the case.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that the tests had shed no further light on the killer’s identity.

There may be more twists and turns to come, however unlikely, as Gregory's parents - pictured here just five weeks after the murder of Grégory - live in hope of police one day finding their son's killer.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French fuel crisis latest: 4,600 petrol stations run dry
Photo: AFP

Some 40 percent of petrol stations run dry in France.

France hit by fresh strikes as nuclear workers join protest
Photo: AFP

Trains, flights, nuclear power, fuel depots and oil refineries are all hit by a new round of strikes.

French hiker found alive after five nights in Pyrenees hole
Photo: AFP

A "miracle" survival story from the Pyrenees.

How the fuel crisis is harming the French economy
Photos: AFP

Experts are saying the current fuel crisis will have "serious consequences" for French business. Here's how.

France to see 90,000 security staff on patrol at Euro 2016
Members of French riot police take part in a mock terrorist attack exercise at the Georges Pompidou stadium in Valence. Photo: AFP

France has vowed to do "everything possible to avoid a terrorist attack" at the Euro 2016 tournament.

List of French targets found in Adeslam's home
Photo: AFP

Areas of Paris, Marseille and Toulouse were on the list of possible targets for an attack.

The trials and tribulations of moving to rural France
Moving to rural France is not all rosé and cheese. Photo: Philippe Rouzet/Flickr

Moving to rural France can be a dream come true, but it doesn't always work out as planned.

Opinion - Strikes in France
Why the French are right to go on strike
Opinion: Why the French are entirely right to go on strike all the time. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

There are good reasons why the French go on strike a lot.

LATEST: Where in France the petrol shortage is biting
Photo: Essence

The latest estimates say some 4,000 of the country’s 12,000 petrol stations are now out of fuel or running low.

IN PICTURES: The fuel crisis around France
Photo: AFP

The fuel crisis in France has made for some striking photos.

Society
Opinion: Why the French are absolutely right to go on strike
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
National
Here's why both sides despise France's labour reforms
National
Who is really to blame for the fuel crisis in France?
How to avoid running out of fuel if you're coming to France
National
Here are the parts of France hardest hit by the fuel shortages
Travel
It will soon be time to say 'au revoir' to the Paris Metro ticket
Culture
Revealed: The ultimate sex map of France
National
Migrants at Calais camp given dignity in death
International
How good is security at Charles de Gaulle airport?
Culture
How to make a traditional French cassoulet
Culture
IN PICS: Commuter trains in Paris get royal makeover
International
Terror attack 'likeliest cause' of missing EgyptAir plane
International
Who was on board the missing EgyptAir flight from Paris?
Lifestyle
New map reveals Paris flat prices by Metro station
Culture
Paris: Here's how to find French cinema in English
Culture
How to say 'OUCH' in French (and ten other sounds)
National
Get ready: France to be hit by week of transport strikes
Culture
France readies for first national 'motorway party'
National
Is this the eco-solution to France's wild-peeing plague?
Sport
Paris mayor wants Seine to be 'swimmable' before Olympics
National
IN PICTURES: Police car torched in Paris protests
National
Why there's another rail strike in France and more to come
National
Why does 'everyone in France hate the police'?
2,733
jobs available