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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album