- The body of a 4-year-old French boy was found in the river, with feet and hands bound
- An unknown man took the responsibility for the killing and taunted the parents with letters and phone calls for four agonizing years
It happened over 30 years ago – Affaire Grégory, The Case of Grégory in English. In 1984, 4-year-old Grégory Villemin was playing on a pile of sand in the front garden of his parents home in Vosges – a mountainous area in eastern France, near its border with Germany. An half-hour later, an unknown man called little Grégory's uncle and bragged about kidnapping the boy and drowning him in the Vologne river.
Police imminently launched a search to Gregory, only to discover him drowned in the Vologne river, with his feet and hands bound with cords, on the same night. Just like the mysterious caller, who was nicknamed “The Crow" by French media, had proclaimed. The next day, Gregory’s father, Jean-Marie, received an anonymous letter from the same person saying, “I hope you die of grief, boss. Your money can’t give you back your son. Here is my revenge, you stupid bastard.”
“The Crow" harassed the mourning couple for four long years and neither his or Grégory's killer’s identity has ever been discovered.
A few days later, the local gendarmes, soldiers who work as police in small rural areas in French towns, found a hypodermic syringe and empty vial of insulin box near the riverbank. The use of insulin by the perpetrator could have rendered Grégory unconscious, but it would have been undetectable during the autopsy. Unfortunately, pathologists never looked for the needle marks on the body during the autopsy.
While there have been plenty of suspects and arrests, no one has ever been convicted for the murder. The French public hopes that advances in genetic science could help identify the killer and give some closure to the family of Grégory.
In the beginning, the primary suspect was Bernard Laroche, the first cousin of Jean-Marie Villemin. Police gathered handwriting samples from all the members of Jean-Marie’s family to rule them out, but handwriting analysis suggested that Laroche had a strikingly similar signature to that found at the bottom of the letter sent to the family. In addition, Laroche's sister-in-law told police that she had seen Laroche driving with Grégory, and police made the arrest.
The motive was jealousy – being financially less successful and having a mentally-retarded son, Laroche wanted revenge.
A year later, the sister-in-law admitted that she lied about seeing her brother-in-law with Grégory and that she was pressured by police to say so, after which the accusations were taken back and Bernard Laroche was discharged.
However, Jean-Marie was not convinced and openly announced to the media that he will kill Laroche. Man of his word, a month later Jean-Marie killed his cousin with a shotgun in front of his wife and served four years in jail for the revenge killing. On his death-bed, Laroche swore that he was innocent. On his gravestone, his family wrote: "Here rests Bernard Laroche, an innocent victim of blind hatred."
A few months after the killing, another taunting letter from "The Crow" was sent. This time to Jean-Marie’s parents house. The killer was still on the loose.
While Jean-Marie was in jail for the revenge killing, his wife and Grégory’s mother, Christine, appeared to the focus of the investigation. Suddenly, the handwriting experts saw similarities to the letter sent by "The Crow." Several people testified her being at the post office that very same day, suggesting she could very well be the person behind the letters. From the family’s basement police found strings that were similar to the ones used to bound Grégory. 1985, Christine was detained by the police, but later cleared of any charges.
There were numerous theories and speculations, not supported by evidence. One of them was that Christine drowned her son and then fooled police and the public with the taunting letters.
The question still divides French people. Many believing that Bernard Laroche was the killer while others insist that it was Christine, someone else, or even Jean-Marie.