Mother cleared in 'little Gregory' murder case

A FRENCH court yesterday dropped murder charges against the mother of 'le petit Gregory' whose death by drowning eight years ago remains unsolved.

The case, revealing unsavoury tensions in a small French village, was one of the most famous faits divers, crime stories that became real-life soap operas, of the 1980s. Another murder was added when Jean-Marie Villemin, the father of four-year-old Gregory, shot dead a cousin who had been charged with the boy's murder, then released.

Yesterday's ruling by the Dijon appeals court put at least a formal end to suspicions surrounding Christine Villemin, the mother.

It had been expected after a prosecutor reported last year that inquiries had turned up no evidence to convict any killer. Henri-Rene Garaud, Mrs Villemin's lawyer, said the decision was 'a total rehabilitation' for his client.

The couple refused comment, saying they would remain silent until Mr Villemin goes for trial for shooting Bernard Laroche, his cousin. The case was moved to Burgundy from the Vosges where the original crime was committed because of the passions raised by the little boy's murder.

Gregory's bound body was found floating in the Vologne river on 16 October 1984, about four miles from the family home in the village of Lepange.

A low level of adrenalin found by the autopsy suggested that whoever tied him up and pulled a bonnet over his face before throwing him there had not frightened him and was probably someone he knew. The boy disappeared while playing outside the house, according to the testimony given by his mother.

Before the body was found, Gregory's uncle, Michel Villemin, said an anonymous telephone caller, known in French as a corbeau or 'crow', who had been pestering the family for three years with calls and anonymous letters, telephoned to say: 'I have taken revenge on the boss and I've kidnapped his son. I strangled him and threw him in the Vologne.'

There emerged a history of bad relations in the village, with rivalries and jealousy between various branches of the Villemin family. The father received a letter at work saying: 'I hope you die of grief, boss. It's not your money which will bring back your son.'

Suspicion in an investigation which was distinguished only by the lapses and ineptitude of the police and judges involved - the inquiry was handled by two police forces and three different examining magistrates - at first fell on Bernard Laroche, depicted as the poor relation of the Villemins.

Jean-Michel Lambert, the first examining magistrate who became known as le petit juge, 'the little judge', relying on evidence by a sister-in-law, charged Laroche with murder three weeks after the crime was committed.

When the sister-in-law retracted her evidence, Laroche was freed on 4 February 1985 but Jean-Marie Villemin, still convinced that his cousin had killed the boy, shot him dead with a hunting rifle on 29 March.

Christine Villemin was singled out as the next suspect after investigators concluded that some recordings of the 'crow' could have been a woman disguising her voice. The mother was charged with the murder in December 1986.

Maurice Simon, the second magistrate, took the case over in January 1987 and interviewed a total of 170 people. His inquiries swung suspicion back on the murdered cousin. A third magistrate, who took over when Mr Simon fell ill and retired, ordered handwriting analyses which found some similarity between Laroche's hand and that of the 'crow'.

In the meantime the Villemins, who now have other children, had to leave their village.

In the local cemetery, the inscription on Gregory's grave reads: 'Here lies an angel'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Anna Smaill’s debut novel, The Chimes, is a fusion of fantasy and romance
booksMan Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Sport
Ji So-Yun scores the only goal of the game
sport
Arts and Entertainment
One of the Pyongyang posters, the slogan of which reads: ‘Let the exploits of the northern railway conductors shine!’
art
Life and Style
Linguine with mussels and fresh tomatoes
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer