French police investigating the murder of a boy aged four more than three decades ago have arrested three of his relatives, leading to hopes of a potential breakthrough in a case which has gripped the country.
On the night of October 16, 1984 Grégory Villemin’s parents, Jean-Marie and Christine, received a phone call from an unidentified person informing them “I have taken the boy.”
A police search was launched and Gregory’s body was eventually found in the Volgne river, eastern France a few miles from the family home. His hands and feet had been bound.
The next day, an anonymous letter addressed to Gregory’s father, Jean-Marie, was delivered to his house which read: “I hope you die of grief, boss. Your money can’t give you back your son. Here is my revenge, you stupid bastard.”
More untraceable phone calls followed but the killer has never been found.
Various members of Gregory’s extended family have fallen under suspicion since then and the boy has become known as “Little Gregory” in France, where his death is one of the highest-profile unsolved crimes of the modern era.
On Wednesday morning this week, police arrested Marcel Jacob – Gregory’s great uncle – and Mr Jacob’s wife in the Vosges mountains, close to the German border. Ginette Villemin, half-sister of Gregory’s father, was also detained in the same region, police sources told AFP. The child’s grandparents were questioned but later released
Local newspaper L’Est reported that the arrests were on charges of being an accomplice to murder, failing to denounce a crime and failing to help someone in danger.
The case has been hugely complicated from the start, perhaps explaining why it has dragged on for so long.
Bernard Laroche, a cousin of Gregory’s father, was charged with the murder a month after the body was found, but later released. However, he was shot dead in March 1985 by Gregory’s father, Jean-Marie, who spent two-and-a-half years in prison for that crime.
Gregory’s mother, Christine, was herself charged with her son’s murder in 1985. She was cleared eight years later.
Prosecutor Jean-Jacques Bosc said in a statement on Wednesday that the arrests “target people very close to the heart of this case and aim to clarify certain points and to provide answers to questions we have.”
Thierry Moser, a lawyer acting for Gregory’s parents, said: “This is a giant step on the path to the truth.”