Relatives charged over murder mystery that has gripped France for three decades

Four-year-old Gregory Villemin was found drowned with his hands and feet bind in the Vologne river in 1984

The great aunt and uncle of a four-year-old boy murdered 32 years ago in France have been charged with his kidnap, raising said that he hoped a suit that has gripped the country could eventually be solved.

Gregory Villemin was seen drowned with his hands and feet bound in the Vologne river in the Vosges mountains of eastern France on 16 October 1984.

The case of Little Gregory is one of Frances most high-profile unsolved murders, a saga of household 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 abduct and an additional charge of imprisonment when they appeared in tribunal in the eastern city of Dijon. They were both remanded in custody.

Both have denied any participation, Dijon prosecutor Jean-Jacques Bosc afterwards 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 during a certain time before his death, the public prosecutor said.

Gregory Villemin was procured drowned in the Vologne river in France in 1984. Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/ Reuters

The potential breakthrough in the case received from handwriting and linguistic analysis of threatening letters sent to Gregorys mothers, information sources close to the investigation said.

Examination of a letter sent to Gregorys father in 1983, a year before the son 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 selections with those in the earlier letter.

The lawyer for Marcel Jacob said on Friday that he should not have been charged because there was no new proof 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 sons father Jean-Marie Villemin, was also arrested this week but was released on Thursday.

The childs 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 assassination was jealousy towards the boys father, Jean-Marie Villemin, who had just been promoted to foreman at his factory, and his 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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