Thirty-six years after he died, the unsolved murder case of four-year-old Grégory has reopened, with new witnesses being questioned this month.
Grégory Villemin was found drowned in the Vologne river in the Vosges mountains of eastern France on October 16, 1984. He was fully clothed with his hands and feet bound and a hat pulled over his face, 7km away from his home village of Lépanges-sur-Vologne.
Earlier that day his mother had rung police to report him missing from a sandpit in the garden where he had been playing, after receiving an anonymous phone call from someone claiming to have taken the boy.
The case horrified and gripped France, as twists and turns in the investigation indicated that infighting among family members in the small village where Grégory lived was a likely motive for his murder.
Mysterious threats before and after death
For years before Grégory was taken, his parents were hounded by anonymous, threatening phone calls that indicated the caller had some detailed knowledge of their extended family.
The day after his death, his parents received a letter saying “I hope you die of grief. Your money cannot bring him back. I have been avenged.” This was one of around 2,000 poison pen letters sent to family members and detectives throughout the investigation.
The threatening phone calls also continued with family members reporting receiving anonymous calls from someone with a deep, raspy voice who called themselves le corbeau (the crow).
As the years have passed, DNA tests on Grégory’s clothes, the ropes used to tie him up, and the stamps on the poison pen letters have proved inconclusive.
Throughout the investigation, Grégory’s paternal grandparents were questioned as witnesses, along with over 100 others.
His aunt, Ginette Villemin, was arrested but later released. His mother was also accused of her son’s murder but later cleared. And in 1993, his father was sentenced to five years in prison for shooting dead his cousin, Bernard Laroche, after Mr Laroche’s 15-year-old sister accused him of being the murderer, only to retract the accusation a few days later.
Jacqueline and Marcel Jacob – Grégory’s great aunt and uncle – emerged as the main suspects in 2017 after modern analysis techniques led police to believe that the letters and calls were orchestrated by a man and a woman. However, evidence was inconclusive and they were never charged with the crime.
The couple have always maintained their innocence.
Case reopened with new witnesses and technology
Now the case has been reopened with French media reporting that a new angle is being investigated – the possibility that Bernard Laroche may have kidnapped Grégory, before handing him over to the Jacobs.
A new suspect is also thought to be being investigated, but their identity has not been revealed.
Since the beginning of this month, new witnesses have been called with detectives and journalists who have worked on the case also expected to be questioned.
Advances in handwriting analysis may also yield new results. A Swiss company specialising in the subject has been called in to analyse some of the thousands of hand-written threats that have been sent to family members over the years.
Grégory’s aunt also key to case
Developments have also been made concerning Muriel Bolle - Bernard Laroche’s then-teenaged sister who initially told police he was guilty of the crime. Ms Bolle retracted her accusation and even published a book in 2018 called Breaking the Silence which maintained her and her brother’s innocence.
In it, she claimed that police had coerced her into making the accusation. The courts have since ruled that the original testimony Ms Bolle gave in 1984 is invalid as she was questioned without a lawyer present.
Neither Ms Bolle nor Mr and Mrs Jacob have so far been called to give evidence in the new investigations.
Former lawyer of Grégory’s parents, Mr Thierry Moser, told news source La Depeche it may take some time for new results to emerge.
He said: “Investigations have reopened and I am confident in the concrete and effective results of these investigations. But we still need to be patient.”