For several years in the early 1980s, an unknown man repeatedly harassed and threatened Jean-Marie Villemin and his family in hundreds of letters and phone calls. The man, nicknamed Le Corbeau (“The Crow”) by the media, especially hated Jean-Marie. The Crow not only knew tiny details about Jean-Marie, like how he was a factory foreman, but also intimate family secrets. “Every single word we said at home,” remarked a relative to the media, “he knew.”
On the afternoon of October 16, 1984, Jean-Marie’s 4-year-old son Grégory went out to play in front of the family’s rural home in Vosges. A half-hour later, The Crow called up Grégory’s uncle and boasted of taking the little boy and putting him in the Vologne river. Police launched a massive search effort, finding Grégory’s body, his hands and feet tied up with rope, in the Vologne the same night.
The next day, an anonymous letter that had been sent the day before arrived for Jean-Marie. It read, “I hope you die of grief, boss. Your money can’t give you back your son. Here is my revenge, you stupid bastard.”
After taking handwriting samples from Jean-Marie’s family, police suspected that the murderer was one of his cousins, a 30-year-old man named Bernard Laroche. Laroche, it was suggested, had a grudge against Jean-Marie because Laroche was less financially successful and had a mentally-retarded son. Laroche was taken into police custody the next month, after his sister-in-law told police that she had seen Laroche driving with Grégory.
The case seemed like it was just about solved, but Laroche denied having anything to do with Grégory’s murder. In February 1985, his sister-in-law admitted that she had only accused her brother-in-law because she was pressured by the police. Laroche was deemed innocent and let go. Jean-Marie, however, was not convinced. He openly announced to the media that he would kill Laroche, and sure enough, fatally shot his cousin a month later.
Jean-Marie was sentenced to five years in prison for Laroche’s murder. He told the authorities that it was revenge for Laroche killing his son. Laroche swore on his death-bed that he was innocent, and a few months after his death, another letter from The Crow arrived at Jean-Marie’s parents’ house. The killer was still on the loose, and vowed to “do the Villemin family in.”
Meanwhile, Grégory’s mother Christine had become the main focus of the investigation. Not only did her handwriting show some similarities to the letter sent the day Grégory was murdered, but she had been spotted at the post office that day too. Police also found cords like the ones used on Grégory in the Villemin’s basement. In July 1985, Christine was detained by the police, but later let go and freed of any charges.
In recent years, investigators have turned to DNA testing in an attempt to identify The Crow and Grégory’s killer. In a DNA test conducted in 2009 on the last Crow letter, investigators found the prints of a man on the letter itself, and another set of prints from a woman on the letter’s stamp. Neither set of DNA prints matched with Gregory’s parents, although some have dismissed the prints anyway, arguing that they could belong to anybody who touched the letter.
Some 30 years later, Grégory Villemin’s murder remains controversial and hotly debated. There are still people who believe that Bernard Laroche was the killer, while others insist that it was Christine Villemin.