Who murdered little Gregory Villemin? And who is behind the cruel letters sent to his grieving family?
The call came shortly after 5 in the afternoon of 16 October 1984.
Michel Villemin answered.
‘I’ve taken Gregory and drowned him in the Vologne river,’ a hoarse-sounding voice said down the line.
Straight away, Michel ran to his brother’s house, just down the road from his own.
Jean-Marie Villemin was 26. His wife, Christine, 24.
Gregory was their son.
He was just 4-years-old.
When Michel got to Jean-Marie and Christine’s house in the tiny, rural village of L’epanges-sur-Vologne, he found the family in a state of panic.
‘Gregory’s gone!’ Christine cried.
Gregory had chubby dimples. And a big, big grin.
He’d been playing in a sandpit in the family’s garden that afternoon. His mum and dad had both been inside.
When Christine checked on him at 5, he’d vanished.
The police were called. Michel explained about the call he’d received.
And four hours later, Gregory Villemin’s body was found. In the Vologne river.
Just like the caller had said.
The very next morning, a letter arrived in the post for Jean-Marie Villemin. Post marked by the local sorting office.
I hope you die of grief, the letter said.
Postmarked the day before Gregory had been kidnapped and murdered.
This was a crime that had been planned. And planned thoroughly.
The police’s first lead was the mystery caller. Who was it that called Michel to alert him of the crime?
But that hoarse voice at the end of the phone was a voice the Villemin family knew well.
Because he’d called them many times before.
Over the last three years, all the Villemins had answered the phone to him on several occasions.
He’d insult them, laugh obscenities and then hang up.
And he never said who he was.
Now, he’d moved on from phone calls to letters.
In the months after Gregory’s death, the letters kept coming. Taunting, cruel letters.
Newspapers in France nicknamed the mysterious sender ‘le corbeau’ – French for the Crow, after a slang term for someone who sends letters without signing them.
But who was he?
Money won’t bring back your son, one letter read. That’s my revenge, you bastard.
Revenge for what?
Before long, police had a suspect. Jean-Marie and Michel’s cousin, Bernard Laroche.
Bernard lived in the same small village.
But while Jean-Marie was successful, had a top job as a foreman at a local factory, Bernard was in and out of work, struggled to make ends meet.
And while Jean-Michel’s son had chubby dimples and a big grin, Bernard’s son had severe disabilities.
Could Bernard have killed Gregory out of jealousy?
Could Bernard be the Crow?
And then, a witness came forward. A teenage girl who said she’d seen Bernard kidnapping Gregory.
Bernard was arrested.
Only for the teenager to admit she’d been lying. She told journalists the police had pressured her into saying she’d seen Bernard do it.
Bernard was released.
Not that it mattered to Jean-Michel. He was convinced Bernard was guilty.
So he shot him in the middle of the village’s main street.
And as Bernard lay dying, he swore he was not guilty, that he had not kidnapped and murdered little Gregory Villemin.
Eventually, Jean-Michel was sentenced to four-years in prison for murdering his cousin Bernard. The judge ruled there were extenuating circumstances, that the entire Villemin family had been under a huge amount of stress.
But then, a few months after Bernard’s death in 1985, another letter arrived.
From the Crow.
The matter seemed settled for once and for all.
Bernard Laroche could not have been the Crow. No one can post a letter from the grave.
That was the last letter ever sent by the Crow to the Villemin family. It promised to ‘do the entire family in.’
The Crow was still on the loose. He wasn’t Bernard.
And if the police had ever suspected dad Jean-Marie, now they knew it wasn’t him, either.
He was in custody when the letter was sent.
Suspicion fell instead on Gregory’s mum, Christine.
She’d been the last person to see Gregory alive. And the day before he was murdered, she was seen visiting the village post office. Was she posting the letter that would arrive the day after the murder…the letter from the Crow?
Of course, lots of people visit lots of post offices in lots of places. And of course she was the last person to see Gregory alive. She was his mother.
The evidence was circumstantial. It was flimsy.
Even handwriting analysis was inconclusive.
True, there were similarities with the Crow’s handwriting and with Christine’s. But there were similarities with Bernard’s, too.
It fitted perfectly with the standard handwriting taught in French schools.
A dead end.
The case remained unsolved. And remained open.
By 2009, advances in science meant the letters from the Crow could be analysed for DNA.
Nothing conclusive was found. Except for two sets of fingerprints. One belonging to a man, the other to a woman.
But neither set of fingerprints belonged to anyone known to be involved in the case. Not Barnard Laroche, Christine, Michel or Jean-Marie Villemin.
No one knows whose prints they were.
On 16 October 1984, someone kidnapped and murdered a child. Or perhaps it was more than one person.
Whoever it was enjoyed taunting the little victim’s family.
And to this day, no one knows or understands why.
Possibly, no one ever will.
Before Gregory’s disappearance, Jean-Marie and Christine had been recording the phone calls from the Crow…