The Killer Of 4-Year-Old Grégory Villemin Remains A Mystery Decades Later

The following article includes information regarding the abduction and murder of a child.

In the late afternoon of October 16, 1984, four-year-old Grégory Villemin was outside his parent's newly-built home in the French village of Lépanges-sur-Vologne, playing in a mound of sand left by the builders. Although it was cold outside, The Guardian reports he was bundled up and wearing a knit hat his mother gave him.

Grégory's mother, Christine, was just inside the house ironing some clothes. At around 5:30 p.m., she went outside to bring Grégory in for the evening and was stunned to discover he was gone. She immediately got into her car and drove around the village, asking if anyone saw her son. Unfortunately, Grégory seemed to have vanished without a trace.

As reported by the Evening Standard, Grégory was officially reported missing by his parents, Jean-Marie and Christine, that same evening. At around the same time, Grégory's uncle received a disturbing phone call. According to the uncle, the caller, who did not identify themselves, said Grégory was abducted from his yard, and his body could be found in the Vologne River.

A subsequent search confirmed that the anonymous caller's information was partially accurate. Law enforcement officials found Grégory's lifeless body in the Vologne River. The Evening Standard reports the boy's knit hat was covering his face, and his hands and feet had been bound. BBC News reports a preliminary examination revealed Grégory was still alive when he was dumped into the river, and his cause of death was drowning.

Grégory Villemin's parents received threatening calls and letters

France24 reports that the next day, Grégory Villemin's parents received an anonymous letter, which said, in part, "I hope you die of sorrow, boss. Your money won't bring your son back. There's my revenge." Although the letter referred specifically to Grégory's death, Jean-Marie and Christine Villemin received threatening phone calls and letters prior to their son's murder.

As reported by The Guardian, the couple began receiving threatening calls and letters after Jean-Marie was promoted at the car seat factory where he worked. The couple believes the anonymous writer, who referred to Jean-Marie as "boss," was angry that he was promoted despite refusing to join the union. According to The Guardian, the information in the calls and letters indicated they were sent by family members or someone close to the family, as the caller and writer seemed to know personal details about them. However, the identity of the person was never confirmed.

One month after Grégory's body was found, Jean-Marie's cousin, Bernard Laroche, was arrested and charged with the boy's abduction and murder. The Guardian reports Larouch was implicated by his sister-in-law, Muriel Bolle, who claimed she was in Laroche's vehicle when he abducted Grégory and drove him to the river where his remains were found. Laroche was further implicated by handwriting experts, who determined he wrote two of the letters. However, the charges were dropped, and he was released when Bolle recanted her story.

Grégory Villemin's mother was arrested and later released

Although the charges were dropped, Jean-Marie Villemin believed his cousin Bernard Laroche was responsible for his son's abduction and murder. Shortly following Laroche's release, Jean-Marie shot and killed Laroche with his hunting rifle. The Guardian reports Jean-Marie immediately turned himself in and ultimately served three years in prison.

The second suspect in Grégory Villemin's murder was his mother, Christine. According to The Guardian, three witnesses came forward to report they saw Christine at the post office from which the threatening letter was mailed one day before her son was abducted and killed. Handwriting experts also concluded that Christine likely wrote the letter mailed that day. Authorities also suspected Christine because a string found in the cellar of her home matched the string used to bind her son's hands and feet. Christina was arrested and charged with murder in the death of her son. However, she was released from pre-trial detention after refusing to eat for 11 days. The charges against her were later dropped.

The lead investigator in Grégory's abduction and murder, Jean-Michel Lambert, was strongly criticized for his handling of the case and the suspects. According to The Guardian, Lambert was responsible for a number of procedural errors including failing to secure the scene where Grégory's body was found and failing to order a complete autopsy.

Authorities hoped DNA would help solve Grégory Villemin's murder

In 2004, The Guardian reports Christine and Jean-Marie Villemin filed a lawsuit, which blamed investigators for causing them "personal harm" due to their "entirely failed investigation" into their son's abduction and murder. Christine and Jean-Marie Villemin were ultimately awarded the equivalent of $39,000. Although former investigator Jean-Michel Lambert later became a judge and retired from that position, the criticism surrounding his handling of the case never waned. Lambert died by suicide in 2017.

In 2009, Reuters reported that French detectives collected DNA samples from some original evidence. Prosecutor Jean-Marie Beney said the trace evidence was found on the letter sent to Grégory's parents after he was killed. Although they have not yet identified a suspect using the DNA, authorities confirmed it came from a man and a woman. They also confirmed the DNA did not belong to either of Grégory's parents.

In 2017, authorities arrested three people in connection with Grégory's murder. According to BBC News, the suspects included Jean-Marie's aunt and uncle, along with Muriel Bolle, the sister-in-law of Jean-Marie's cousin, Bernard Laroche. Authorities said Bolle was the first of the three who were released. However, she did provide a DNA sample for further investigation. Law enforcement officials also confirmed Grégory's grandparents were questioned as possible witnesses.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The identity of Grégory Villemin's killer remains a mystery

BBC News reports the aunt and uncle, who are both in their 70s, are suspected of complicity in Grégory's abduction and murder, failing to report a crime, and failing to help a person who was in danger. In 2020, law enforcement officials reopened their investigation into Grégory Villemin's abduction and murder. Dijon prosecutor Thierry Pocquet du Haut-Jussé said (via The Guardian), "New interviews have taken place in the last few weeks. The investigation has been reopened and is going forward."

As reported by The Guardian, authorities revealed they have reexamined the threatening letters received by Grégory's parents using a Swiss method called "stylometrics." In addition to simply analyzing handwriting, the method compares multiple points, including style, use of punctuation, and "turns of phrase." Authorities revealed the method helped them identify a suspect in the case, who is expected to face criminal charges. The identity of that suspect was not revealed as of this reporting.