New police analysis techniques may have led to a breakthrough in one of France’s biggest murder cases of modern times raising hopes that the killer of a four-year-old boy murdered 32 years ago will finally be identified.
Grégory Villemin was found, fully clothed with his hands and feet bound, drowned in the Vologne river in the Vosges mountains of eastern France 7kms from his home village of Lépanges-sur-Vologne on October 16, 1984. Earlier his mother had rung police to report him missing from a sand pit in the garden where he had been playing.
The case horrified France and has haunted it ever since with many twists and turns, including a series of police errors.
Jealousy amongst family members in the small village of 900 has often been cited as the most likely motive but there have been no convictions. The day after Grégory’s murder his parents received a letter that said: “I hope you die of grief. Your money cannot bring him back. I have been avenged.”
Several family members also report receiving menacing phone calls over the years, from someone calling themselves ‘le Corbeau’ (‘The Crow’) often in a deep husky voice, and hundreds of poison-pen letters were received, including to investigators.
Now the boy’s great aunt and great uncle – Jacqueline and Marcel Jacob, both 72, have been charged with the kidnapping and confinement followed by death of Grégory. They were remanded in custody when they appeared in court in Dijon. Both deny involvement and their lawyers say there are no grounds and no ‘scientific proof’ for the charges.
However Dijon prosecutor Jean-Jacques Bosc told journalists that the couple had not been able to present a satisfactory alibi to show it was not them who had made ‘The Crow’ calls.
The development came from the use of new analysis techniques on the anonymous letters and voice calls, which led detectives to conclude that the authors were “a man and a woman”, said Mr Bosc.
Progress, he said, had also been made thanks to the use of the latest artificial intelligence contained in a programme called AnaCrim, which places all the suspects in time and space and unearths inconsistencies. It took eight months of work by specially-trained analysts.
The data reportedly includes 400 DNA prints and 2,000 anonymous letters gathered over three decades. One hundred witnesses have also now been questioned, some of them for the first time.
However, Mr Bosc said that investigators were still unable to say who had killed Grégory nor how he died but that the murder and kidnapping was a “collective act”.
Ginette Villemin, 61, the sister-in-law of the murdered boy’s father Jean-Marie Villemin, was also arrested but later released. The boy’s paternal grandparents were also questioned as witnesses.
In 1993, Grégory’s father was sentenced to five years in prison for shooting dead one suspect – Bernard Laroche, a cousin – after the dead man’s sister, aged 15 at the time, accused him of the murder before retracting a few days later.
The boy’s mother, Christine Villemin was then accused of her son’s murder but later cleared. In 2004 both Grégory’s mother and father were awarded €35,000 each for miscarriage of justice.
BFMTV crime reporter Dominique Rizet who has followed the case closely says that the parents moved to the Paris area to rebuild their lives and have since had three sons.
The case was re-opened in 1999 and then in 2008 when new DNA traces were discovered on letters. But the public prosecutor at the time at the Dijon Appeal Court, Jean-Marie Beney said their analysis did not advance the case.