In France Relatives charged in 1984 French child murder mystery

The great aunt and uncle of a little boy murdered 32 years ago in France were charged Friday with his kidnapping, raising hopes that a case that has gripped the country could finally be solved.

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Gregory Villemin was found dead in the Vologne river, on October 16, 1984 play

Gregory Villemin was found dead in the Vologne river, on October 16, 1984

(AFP)
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The great aunt and uncle of a little boy murdered 32 years ago in France were charged Friday with his kidnapping, raising hopes that a case that has gripped the country could finally be solved.

Four-year-old Gregory Villemin was found, his hands and feet bound, drowned in the Vologne river in the Vosges mountains of eastern France on October 16, 1984.

The case of "Little Gregory" is one of France's most high-profile unsolved murders, a saga of family jealousy and rivalries that burst back into the headlines when Jacqueline Jacob, 72, and her 71-year-old husband Marcel were arrested on Wednesday.

More than three decades after Gregory was found dead, the couple were on Friday charged with kidnapping and an additional charge of confinement when they appeared in court in the eastern city of Dijon.

They were both remanded in custody.

Both have denied any involvement, Dijon prosecutor Jean-Jacques Bosc later told a news conference.

For the moment they do not have an alibi that is "either confirmed or backed up", Bosc said.

Explaining the nature of the charges, he said Gregory would not have died unless he had first been kidnapped.

"Gregory was kidnapped from his parents' home and held for a certain time before his death," the prosecutor said.

Analysis of letters

The potential breakthrough in the case came from handwriting and linguistic analysis of threatening letters sent to Gregory's parents, a source close to the investigation said.

Handwriting analysis of a letter sent to Gregory's father in 1983, a year before the boy was killed, led to fresh suspicions about Jacqueline Jacob.

Another letter claiming responsibility for the murder, which was mailed before the discovery of the body and referred to "revenge", was submitted to linguistic analysis that compared the word choices with those in the earlier missive.

The lawyer for Marcel Jacob protested Friday that he should not have been charged because there was no new evidence against the couple.

"There is no material proof (against them), nothing," lawyer Stephane Giuranna said. "The cart has been put before the horse."

Ginette Villemin, 61, the sister-in-law of the murdered boy's father Jean-Marie Villemin, was also arrested this week but was released on Thursday.

The child's paternal grandparents were questioned in their home in the Vosges region as witnesses.

The family was from a modest background and investigators have long believed that the motive for the murder was jealousy towards the boy's father, Jean-Marie Villemin, who had just been promoted to foreman at his factory, and his attractive wife Christine.

A photograph of the smiling face of Gregory with his tousled hair still strikes a powerful emotional chord in France.

The murder has spawned a made-for-TV film, more than 50 university theses and 15 books.

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