Murder of Grégory Villemin
24 August 1980
|Died||16 October 1984 (aged 4)|
near Docelles, France
Grégory Villemin (24 August 1980 – 16 October 1984) was a French boy from Lépanges-sur-Vologne who was abducted from his home and murdered at the age of four. His body was found four kilometers (2.5 miles) away in the Vologne River near Docelles. The case became known as the Grégory Affair (French: l'Affaire Grégory) and for decades has received widespread media coverage in France, where it continues to capture the public interest. The murder remains unsolved.
From September 1981 to October 1984, Grégory's parents, Jean-Marie and Christine Villemin, and Jean-Marie's parents, Albert and Monique Villemin, received numerous anonymous letters and phone calls from a man threatening revenge against Jean-Marie for some unknown offense. The communications indicated he possessed detailed knowledge of the extended Villemin family.
Shortly after 5:00 pm on 16 October 1984, Christine Villemin reported Grégory to police as missing after she noticed he was no longer playing in the Villemins' front yard. At 5:30 pm, Gregory's uncle Michel Villemin informed the family he had just been told by an anonymous caller that the boy had been taken and thrown into the Vologne River. At 9:00 pm, Grégory's body was found in the Vologne with his hands and feet bound with rope and a woollen hat pulled down over his face.
On 17 October the Villemins received an anonymous letter that said "I have taken vengeance". From then on, the unidentified author was referred to in the media as Le Corbeau "the Crow", French slang for an anonymous letter-writer, a term made popular by the 1943 film Le Corbeau.
Bernard Laroche, a cousin of Jean-Marie Villemin, was implicated in the murder by handwriting experts and by a statement from Laroche's sister-in-law Murielle Bolle, and taken into custody on 5 November 1984. Bolle later recanted her testimony, saying it had been coerced by police. Laroche, who denied any part in the crime or being "the Crow", was released from custody on 4 February 1985. Jean-Marie Villemin vowed in front of the press that he would kill Laroche.
On 25 March handwriting experts identified Grégory's mother Christine as the likely author of the anonymous letters. On 29 March 1985, Jean-Marie Villemin shot and killed Laroche as he was leaving for work. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 5 years in prison. With credit for time served awaiting trial and a partial suspension of the sentence, he was released in December 1987 after having served two and a half years.
In July 1985, Christine Villemin was charged with the murder. Pregnant at the time, she launched a hunger strike that lasted 11 days. She was freed after an appeals court cited flimsy evidence and the absence of a coherent motive. She reportedly collapsed and miscarried, losing one of the twins that she was reportedly carrying shortly after being questioned by authorities. Christine Villemin was cleared of the charges on 2 February 1993.
The case was reopened in 2000 to allow for DNA testing on a stamp used to send one of the anonymous letters, but the tests were inconclusive. In December 2008, following an application by the Villemins, a judge ordered the case reopened to allow DNA testing of the rope used to bind Grégory, the letters, and other evidence. This testing proved inconclusive. Further DNA testing in April 2013 on Grégory's clothes and shoes was also inconclusive.
On 14 June 2017, based on new evidence, three people were arrested—Grégory's great-aunt and great-uncle, as well as an aunt—the widow of Michel, who died in 2010. The aunt was released, while the great-aunt and great-uncle invoked their right to remain silent. Murielle Bolle was also arrested and she was held for 36 days before being released, as were the others who had been detained.
On 11 July 2017, the magistrate in charge of the first investigation, Jean-Michel Lambert, committed suicide. In a farewell letter to a local newspaper, Lambert cited the increasing pressure he felt as a result of the case being reopened as the reason for ending his life.
In 2018, Murielle Bolle authored a book on her involvement in the case, Breaking the Silence. In the book, Bolle maintained her innocence and that of Bernard Laroche, and blamed police for coercing her into implicating him. In June 2017, Bolle's cousin Patrick Faivre told police that Bolle's family had physically abused her in 1984 in order to make her recant her initial testimony against Bernard Laroche. In her book, Bolle accused Faivre of lying about the reason why she recanted her initial statement. In June 2019, she was indicted for aggravated defamation after Faivre lodged a complaint with police.
In popular culture
- "All of France is asking: Who killed petit Gregory?". The New York Times. 16 July 1985. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- MacGuill, Dan (July 12, 2017). "Gregory: The smiling boy whose murder haunts France 33 years on". the Local. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Hayden, Jade (November 25, 2019). "Who Killed Little Grégory? Netflix's new true crime doc is a tragic, chaotic story of murder". Her. Dublin, Ireland.
- Baudais, Pierrick (June 15, 2017). "Affaire Grégory : ce que déversait le corbeau". Ouest-France. Rennes, France.
- "Affaire Gregory : mort de Michel Villemin". L'Est Républicain. Nancy, France. March 22, 2010.
- Kraft, Scott (9 December 1993). "The Long Shadow of 'The Raven'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- Levin, Eric (January 27, 1986). "A Little Boy's Murder and His Father's 'revenge' Leave a Quiet French Valley in Turmoil". People. New York, NY.
- "La chronologie complète de l'affaire". L'Est Républicain. Nancy, France. May 8, 2017.
- Henley, Jon (August 28, 2017). "The murder of little Grégory: unsolved case that haunted France may soon yield secrets". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom.
- Cawley, Janet (August 11, 1985). "French Media Stretch Boundaries of Murder Mystery". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL.
- Knight, Lewis (2019-11-27). "Tragic true story behind Netflix crime series Who Killed Little Gregory?". mirror. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
- "Mother cleared in 'little Gregory' murder case". The Independent. 3 February 1993. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- "Judge reopens case of four-year-old Gregory, murdered in 1984". France 24. 6 December 2008. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- "Gregory Villemin child murder: Three held in 1984 French mystery". BBC. 15 June 2017.
- Blavignat, Yohan; Piquet, Caroline (14 June 2017). "Affaire Grégory : «plusieurs personnes ont concouru» au crime". Le Figaro (in French). Retrieved 16 June 2017.
- "Grégory case: Ex-investigator denounces "lies" in Murielle Bolle's book". Teller Report. November 12, 2018.
- "Affaire Grégory : l'ancien juge Jean-Michel Lambert retrouvé mort". RTL. 11 July 2017. Archived from the original on 14 July 2017. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
- "Murielle Bolle indicted for "aggravated defamation"". Teller Report. June 20, 2019.
- "Monique Villemin, grandmother of little Grégory, has died". Teller Report. April 20, 2020.