DNA lead revives 25-year-old French murder mystery

23rd October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Investigators said on Thursday they may have a new lead in one of France's darkest criminal mysteries, the murder of a little boy twenty-five years ago, after finding DNA on a poison-pen letter.

Four-year-old Gregory Villemin was found tied up and drowned in the Vologne river in the Vosges mountains in eastern France in October 1984.

The next day, a letter arrived at the home of his parents, who had been receiving anonymous hate mail, claiming responsibility for the murder and calling it "revenge."

Gregory's killing sparked a 17-year legal saga that transfixed France. But the case was wrapped up in 2001 without identifying either the murderer or the sender of the mysterious letters.

Prosecutors relaunched the probe last December in the light of new DNA testing techniques and the results of a five-month expert analysis were filed with the state prosecutor in eastern Dijon on Thursday.

The experts found two sets of DNA on a threatening letter sent to Gregory's family nine months after his murder, prosecutor Jean-Marie Beney told AFP.

"We found two identifiable sets of DNA on the sealed evidence: a woman's DNA on or under the stamp of a letter from the poison-pen writer, and a man's DNA on the same letter," he said.

Experts also managed to identify Gregory's DNA on the sleeve of the anorak he was wearing the day he died -- analysed along with his hat, tracksuit, the rope used to bind his hands and feet and a syringe found at the crime scene.

According to an expert quoted in Le Parisien newspaper, the next step would to be compare the DNA prints with those of each protagonist in the case, as well as all investigators who handled the pieces of evidence.

The DNA tests were carried out at the request of the boy's parents, Christine and Jean-Marie Villemin. A source close to the enquiry said the DNA found on the letter did not match that of either parent.

The Villemin family's lawyer Marie-Christine Chastant-Morand said her clients "still hope to discover the truth."

The death of "Little Gregory," as he became known, sparked one of France's most notorious post-war murder mysteries, as police sought to untangle a web of family hatreds and local jealousies.

A cousin of the child's father, Bernard Laroche, was charged with the murder a month after the boy's death, based on evidence given by a teenage sister-in-law.

He was released after she withdrew her claims, only to be shot dead in March 1985 by Jean-Marie Villemin, who spent two and a half years in prison for the crime. The poison-pen letters did not stop with Laroche's death.

Prosecutor Beney said Thursday that there were no plans at the moment to exhume Laroche's body to carry out fresh DNA tests on it, but he added that DNA might be taken from members of his family.

Christine Villemin was herself charged with the murder in 1985. But she was finally cleared eight years later and all charges against her dropped.

The couple now live with their two children south of Paris, where Jean-Marie works as a technician for a car parts supplier. They continue to insist Laroche was responsible for their son's death.

A lawyer for Laroche's widow Marie-Ange, who is to publish a book on the case next month, called on Thursday for the investigation to be fully reviewed to establish her late husband's innocence.


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