Before little Grégory Villemin was found bound hand and foot in Vologne, no one was really interested in Bernard Laroche. He is the cousin of Jean-Marie Villemin, and was raised by grandparents Jacob after the death of his mother.
“Before the murder, Bernard was considered a son by Monique Villemin. Laroche gave Albert a hand and she in the field behind their home, he brought them wood”, specifies Patricia Tourancheau, author of the book Grégory – The family machination (ed. Seuil).
The young Bernard therefore grew up alongside the Villemin siblings; with Jacky, Michel and Jean-Marie, they make the 400 blows in the valley. One of their activities of choice, at the dawn of their adolescence, is to shoot at road signs.
“They did some bullshit together, adds the author. One day they even found themselves in police custody, with another Villemin brother. The three boys had been caught red-handed shooting at road signs. They all admitted having done the stupid thing, except Bernard Laroche who never, never admitted having done it”.
Apart from this anecdote, Bernard would go almost unnoticed in the blended family. “He was in the background, perceived as very helpful, rather amorphous. He too works at the factory, at night. In the family, we nicknamed Laroche “Popov” because of his mustache and, perhaps, also, of his commitment to the CGT.
In the early 1980s, Bernard Laroche lost his job at the factory. Unemployed, one day he meets his cousin, Jean-Marie, who has just become a foreman at Autocoussin.
He inquires about vacancies in his company, urges him to jostle a bit to find him a job… Jean-Marie replies, tit for tat: it’s not possible, old man.
“From there, their relationship is no longer as before, there is something broken,” remarks Patricia Tourancheau. The promotion of Jean-Marie Villemin, who became foreman at 21, did not pass. Bernard Laroche, a union member, never stopped asking for a similar position, which he did not obtain until September 1984. “And during those three years, there was resentment and jealousy towards of Jean-Marie”, adds the journalist.
The birth of the son of Bernard and Marie-Ange, in September 1980, will not help matters. Sébastien is the same age as Grégory: they were born just 10 days apart and their parents give them the same affectionate nickname, “Titi”. But the two toddlers are very different. Little Laroche suffers from a cyst in his right ear, an anomaly caused by his mother’s forceps delivery, and his health is fragile. Grégory exudes vigor, he is dynamic, charming and adorable.
A less vigorous son, a less astounding career… Is this the heart of a nagging hatred, capable of generating the worst atrocities?
Be that as it may, Bernard remains discreet. He and Marie-Ange are very close to Michel and Ginette Villemin, but also to Bernard’s uncle, Marcel Jacob, who lives with his wife Jacqueline just a few meters from their house.
So, when the crow begins to rot the Villemins, no one comes to suspect Bernard. Moreover, he too complains of receiving malicious calls.
In 1984, he was 29 years old, and lived in Aumontzey with his wife, Marie-Ange Bolle, and his son, Sébastien.
“At the time, we did not suspect him at all, states Thibaut Solano, author of La Voix Rauque (ed. Les Arènes). He was in the background, they did not see what motive Bernard would have had to do that, he was perceived as very helpful, rather amorphous”.
But shortly after the tragedy, a curious visit from his wife, Marie-Ange, will put the chip in the ear of the gendarmes.
“She had spontaneously come forward to give us statements, it was interesting, remembers Étienne Sesmat, then captain of the gendarmerie of Épinal. And suddenly she was married to a certain Bernard Laroche, so, one day, we heard Bernard, we called him”.
Obviously, Laroche has an alibi, and even several. At the time of the crime, he would have been, first at his aunt Louisette’s, then at the supermarket to buy 150 bottles of wine with a friend: there was a promotion.
At the gendarmerie, Bernard is still subject to the “dictation” ritual, imposed during each hearing in the case in order to unmask who is hiding behind the crow’s writing. Because the investigators have one certainty: “The crow, we know that it is someone who has hidden his game well, and that we are going to have a surprise”.
Laroche’s writings go to the writing expert, Mrs. Jacquin-Keller, the same evening.
“She calls us back the next day, and says to us: for me, it is very likely that he is the crow”, continues Étienne Sesmat.
The former gendarme adds: “We realize that he has the profile; he is socially close to the Villemins, he lives near Aumontzey, he has a debonair look, he is a helpful man, who could correspond”. Without forgetting that Christine Villemin revealed to the investigators the embarrassing advances of Bernard Laroche towards her.
Bernard Laroche and his wife Marie-Ange were placed in police custody on November 31, 1984.
“There, he unrolls his schedule for October 16, reports the former head of the investigation. He tells us: I went to my aunt Louisette, where I found Murielle Bolle, my sister-in-law, who was there. In accordance with the procedure, to verify this alibi, we hear, at the end of Bernard’s police custody, the person who is cited. And there, Murielle tells us the opposite”.
This is the famous hearing from November 2 to 3, during which Murielle allegedly told the gendarmes that she had been picked up that afternoon by her brother-in-law on leaving school. In the car was also Sébastien, his son. All three would then have taken the road to Lépanges, where Bernard would have put a little boy in the vehicle, before dropping him off a little further.
Doubt, at this stage, is no longer allowed for the investigators, who transmit their information to the magistrate.
On November 7, Judge Lambert decides to arrest Bernard Laroche: he is indicted for “murder” and placed in pre-trial detention.
The next day, Murielle Bolle retracts and proclaims: “Bernard, he is innocent”.
Therefore, it is an almost total mess in the file: we no longer know who is right, who is wrong, and above all, if it is the good suspect who sleeps in prison.
On February 4, finally, the “little judge” decides: Bernard Laroche is released. At the same time, the gendarmerie of Lépanges is divested of the investigation, which will now be entrusted to the SRPJ of Dijon.
The blow is difficult to take for Étienne Sesmat. “The judge, in my opinion, was under the influence of several people, in particular the lawyer for the Bolle family, the journalist Jean-Marc Bezzina, and the police commissioner Jacques Corazzi, who found there the opportunity to place his pawns facing the gendarmes solicited in a highly publicized case. So, Jean-Michel Lambert, under pressure from these people, abandons the Bernard Laroche track, to focus on Christine Villemin, “argues the former gendarme.
For him, the Laroche track was certainly not dug enough. “He stayed three months in prison, and he was never seen by a single psychiatrist, we left him to his fate, and we did not dig anything on this track, while Christine Villemin, she, was later entitled to 8 colleges of psychiatric experts during his short detention, to try to find a flaw in his behavior, his personality”.
For Grégory’s parents, the news is even more difficult to bear. However, at the start, they were miles away from seriously considering that Bernard could have attacked their child.
“At the very beginning, Jean-Marie Villemin did not believe it at all, explains Patricia Tourancheau. It was his cousin, the last person he could have thought of. But as the investigation progressed, Jean Ker, the journalist from Paris Match, brought several pieces of information to the attention of the Villemins. One day, he had them listen to several minutes to which he had had access and which he had managed to record, in particular those of Bernard Laroche with the gendarmes and that of Murielle Bolle”.
When they hear the young girl tell her version of the facts, in front of the gendarmes, Jean-Marie and Christine radically change their minds. “For them, it’s absolute proof, continues Patricia Tourancheau. They are then convinced and firmly believe that Bernard is the author of the murder”.
The release of the suspect, after only a few weeks of detention, therefore seems, for them, incomprehensible. And this misunderstanding will soon give way to implacable anger. “From the start of the investigation, Jean-Marie was devastated, and it was necessary to calm him down several times, and tell him: trust the justice system”, notes Étienne Sesmat.
The click really took place a few weeks after the release of the suspect, specifies the journalist Patricia Tourancheau: “One Sunday evening, Jean-Marie and Christine Villemin return from Albert and Monique’s house. On the road, they hear, on RTL that an expertise in writing would accuse Christine of being the author of a letter from the crow”.
Under the shock of the news, the young woman loses one of the twins she was expecting. She was then hospitalized for several days. “At one point, at the clinic where Christine was cared for, arrives Grégory’s babysitter who adores the Villemin couple, and who adored the child. She explains to Jean-Marie that she received the day before the visit of the commissioner and the PJ of Nancy, seized of the investigation recently, and that they asked him funny questions”, tells us again Patricia Tourancheau.
For the young babysitter, the police are already convinced that it was Christine who killed Grégory. Jean-Marie fumes. First, the release of Laroche; now it is his wife who risks ending up in prison. It’s too much for the bereaved father.
We are on March 29, 1984, and Jean-Marie Villemin is about to commit the irreparable. He grabs a rifle and goes to his cousin’s home. In front of his wife Marie-Ange, and his little boy Sébastien, he shoots Bernard Laroche with a buckshot bullet in the chest. His package carried out, he rushes to the clinic, and lets go of his wife: “I did this for you”, before constituting himself a prisoner.
To the investigators, he explains that he did not intend to kill his cousin by going to the steps of his house this afternoon, simply to make him “scared” to push him to tell the truth. But in front of Bernard who “couldn’t care less”, he would have lost his temper. And he assures her: Christine was absolutely unaware of the gesture he was about to perform. “I killed him in a moment of aberration and total despair”, confided Jean-Marie Villemin much later, in the afterword to the memoirs of his lawyer, Me Thierry Moser.
But the version leaves some doubtful to say the least.
For Me Jean-Paul Teissonnière, Murielle Bolle’s lawyer, Christine would not really be a stranger to Bernard’s fate, although it was Jean-Marie who finally pulled the trigger. It would almost be an act carried out in concert.
In her book The Forgotten Tears of Vologne (ed. L’Archipel), Marie-Ange Laroche, Bernard’s widow, also mentions the shotgun that the couple allegedly bought on November 3, 1984 in Saint-Dié-des -Vosges, paying with a check in the name of Christine…
“That day, everyone wonders what role she possibly played in this drama. Did she know, did she encourage him, did she made revelations to him? And that was the question that haunted everyone ..”, writes the widow again about Grégory’s mother.
She also criticizes the version of Jean-Marie Villemin, who speaks of an unpremeditated act and claims that he simply wanted to “discuss with her husband”.
“If there is one thing of which I am still absolutely certain, today, twenty five years later, it is that Jean-Marie Villemin lied to his wife by telling her in his own way the story of his crime. I rectifies: his assassination”, explains Marie-Ange Laroche in her book.
However, did the Villemins have a plan? The widow is also convinced. She mentions in particular a call, recorded for the purposes of the investigation, between Gilberte Blaise, Christine’s mother, and an unknown correspondent, which takes place just 15 minutes after Bernard’s assassination.
At the end of the line, Gilberte explains that at this time, her son-in-law is probably holding Marie-Ange and Sébastien hostage, so that Murielle repeats her testimony in front of him and that he records it.
“And if Murielle refuses?” asks his interlocutor
“Jean-Marie will kill Marie-Ange”, replies the maternal grandmother of little Grégory.
Even more disturbing: it would not be the first time that the Villemin couple tried to attack Bernard Laroche. One night, Jean-Marie and Christine reportedly posted themselves in front of the Aumontzey war memorial, patiently waiting for the suspect to pass. “They knew that Bernard Laroche was hiring at that time, and they will both post themselves with a gun to try to kill Bernard Laroche for the first time”, explains Patricia Tourancheau.
That night, Jean Ker, the Paris Match journalist, is gripped by a terrible presentiment. He knows that the Villemins are ready for revenge. He starts looking for them all over the valley, and intercepts them.
“It was February 24. It was 4:25 a.m. Grégory’s father had an American hunting rifle,” reports journalist Jean Ker in Paris Match.
It was there that he would have dissuaded the couple from completing their plan for revenge.
Since Bernard’s release, the Laroche couple also received particularly virulent anonymous missives. Here is an excerpt from the contents of one of these letters, signed: “a vigilante crow”:
“Laroche, assassin and your accomplices, you can rejoice, you have greased the leg of your devil’s advocates… One day, you too will die of grief”
The author could never be identified.
Today Étienne Sesmat regrets one thing. That nothing was done to protect the Laroches, although the vengeful ire of Jean-Marie Villemin was, at the time, obvious to many people.
The former gendarme himself tried to reason with the father of the family, in vain.
“Jean-Marie Villemin became disgusted with the work of justice, he who never had any suspicions about his wife… He was absolutely desperate, and he decided to take justice into his own hands. I regret not having prevented him from doing that enough, but I was forbidden to listen to him any more… If I had been able, I could perhaps have prevented him from committing this gesture which has everything changed. Because if we are still talking, 38 years later, about the Grégory affair, it is because Bernard Laroche is dead”.
He continues: “When I learned of Bernard Laroche’s death, the sky fell on my head, and I knew it was going to fall on me, which was personally difficult… But that’s nothing compared to to what the Villemin family experienced in this affair”.
Gendarmes and cops are not the only ones to engage in a media squabble in this affair, with decidedly multiple ramifications.
And the act of Jean-Marie Villemin could have been influenced, despite himself, by his lawyer at the time, Me Henri-René Garaud. “The Villemins were screwed between the legs of a far-right lawyer who defended Jean-Marie by pleading self-defense, he legitimized that we shoot at everything, he was a bit like the Gilbert Collard of the corner… “, develops with Planet Me Frédéric Berna, the advice of Jacqueline Jacob.
On the other side, the Laroches are defended by CGT lawyers, Mes Paul Prompt and Gérald Welzer. “So, the thing created a cleavage between the Villemins on the right and the Laroche / Bolles but also the Jacobs who were inserted, on the far left side, continues the lawyer. This cleavage was maintained by the dingo , Judge Simon, who was anti-Semitic, anti-communist and we see in his notebooks that he insulted, moreover, the lawyers of Laroche / Bolle”, enrages Me Berna, before adding:
A single certainty, today, dominates the file: the assassination of Bernard will remain, forever, the decisive turning point of the Grégory affair. But also of the life of his wife, Marie-Ange.
In her book, she delivers in a dramatic style her distress, and her deep conviction: her husband is innocent.
After her husband’s death, Marie-Ange swears that no man other than Bernard will ever see “her beautiful blond hair” again. A few days after the tragedy, she went to the hairdresser and had her hair cut. Wherever she goes, she gives the image of a grieving widow, madly in love with her husband… with whom she was, moreover, pregnant at the time of the tragedy.
Precisely, on March 29, at the beginning of the afternoon, she decided to exceptionally pick up Bernard at the factory: usually, it is Uncle Marcel Jacob who picks him up to bring him back to Aumontzey. But Marie-Ange has an idea in mind: she has just learned of her pregnancy, and she wants to tell him.
Informed about the return trip, Bernard exults. The couple is happy, finally, after weeks, months of anguish punctuated by police custody, suspicions, and the temporary detention of the father of the family.
Arrived in front of his pavilion, the couple barely had time to get out of the car that Jean-Marie Villemin would have landed, rifle in arm.
Sébastien, 3, watches the scene from the living room window, before going out on the porch, accompanied by Lucien, Marie-Ange’s brother.
“It’s your fault if they’re after Christine,” Jean-Marie says to his cousin. According to Marie-Ange, Bernard then tries to reason with him. “Calm down, go home, we’ll talk,” articulates Laroche.
The blow goes off. Bernard collapses on the floor of the garage, and succumbs a few minutes later.
For the mother, the scene is unbearable.
One of the first things that Marie-Ange Laroche will do, according to her own account, will be to throw in the trash the food processor that Jean-Marie had given to the couple as a wedding gift.
And on Bernard’s grave, she had this sentence engraved:
“Bernard, innocent victim of blind hatred”
Because Marie-Ange is convinced of the innocence of her husband, it is an understatement to say.
She even mentions several events that she says completely discredit him as a suspect. Starting with his personality: Bernard was, according to his wife, an admirable man, an exceptional father, an attentive husband. Far from the portrait of an embittered “hot rabbit” that gossip gives him.
Besides, she knows her alibi is solid. The day of the murder of little Grégory, at the time when the child disappeared, Bernard assures us that he was in Aumontzey, at his aunt Louisette’s, where Murielle Bolle ended up joining him after being dropped off by the school bus. .
After a drink at Michel Villemin, he had made an appointment around 4:30 p.m. with a friend, a certain Jean-Pierre Zonca, in front of Louisette. The project was to go together to buy wine on promotion at the Champion supermarket, 150 bottles exactly.
But at 5:35 p.m., still no Jean-Pierre on the horizon. Bernard would therefore have decided to go to the supermarket in Laval-sur-Vologne, 8 kilometers away, alone with his young son Sébastien.
In the minutes of his hearing of October 31, Laroche assures the gendarmes:
Bernard Laroche – I went to the Champion store in Laval around 6 p.m. There were hardly any customers left. I asked where the wine lots were. The cashier advised me to take two shopping carts which I did. I helped myself and went to the cash register pushing one shopping cart and pulling the other. There I realized that I had forgotten my checkbook in the car. I left S by the trolleys and went to get my bag from the car.
Gendarme – And then?
Bernard Laroche – Well, I came back to the cash desk and paid.
Gendarme – Do you remember the cashier? Was she blonde? Brown? She wore glasses?
Bernard Laroche – She wore an orange blouse, for the rest…
Gendarme – Next?
Bernard Laroche – I leave the supermarket. Around 6:10 p.m. And I go to the Renaissance hotel café in Bruyères. I had won the trifecta. I was going to touch him.
“Jean-Pierre Zonca simply forgot the appointment, as he will confirm to the investigators during his testimony. On the other hand, he will confirm that this appointment was indeed made with Bernard for Tuesday October 16 at 4:30 p.m. “, explains meanwhile the widow of Bernard Laroche in his book.
For Marie-Ange Bolle, this timetable is “good proof that between 4:20/25, time of his departure from Michel Villemin and 5:35 p.m., time of his departure from Louisette, Bernard Laroche did not leave Aumontzey and did not could never have been in Lépanges”.
However, some elements cast doubt on the character of Marie-Ange Bolle.
Already, his behavior, in the early hours of the investigation. She presents herself spontaneously to the gendarmerie, to accuse… Jacky Villemin, or rather, to report her “suspicions” to the gendarmes.
Auditioned again on October 22, 1984, she reconsiders these declarations for the less… astonishing:
Gendarme – Why did you present yourself spontaneously to the gendarmerie?
Marie-Ange Laroche – I told you, I thought I had an important revelation to make.
Gendarme – How could the fact of telling us that Jacky Villemin had left his home at 5:10 a.m. on October 16 be an important revelation? It has nothing to do with the crime.
Marie-Ange Laroche – I thought maybe it could help your investigation.
Gendarme -: It has nothing to do with the crime, you agree?
Marie-Ange Laroche – Yes, yes, it doesn’t matter.
Gendarme – So you had another reason for phoning us?
Marie-Ange Laroche – …
Gendarme -: You had time to think about what you wanted to say to the gendarmes, didn’t you?
Marie-Ange Laroche – No.
And then, the image sent back by Marie-Ange after the tragedy would not be quite the one that the couple sent back on a daily basis. The young woman was exasperated, according to some, by rumors of her husband’s infidelity, a thread on which the crow played, when he called the Laroches.
At the beginning of their union, in 1977, Marie-Ange, 20 years old, would have even left the marital home for a few months, settling in the neighboring town, in Granges. She was bored with Bernard, and dreamed of adventure, we whisper.
The widow remains no less branded by the tragedy. His life, and that of his children, have continued to be enamelled, since March 29, 1984, by grief. “An endless nightmare,” she described in her book, published in 2009.
A few months after Bernard’s assassination, she gives birth to a son. He will never know his father, but he will bear his name: Jean-Bernard.
If Bernard Laroche had confided to her that he wanted a girl, she says to herself “happy” that it is a boy: it is as if she found her husband through him.
But the birth does not really heal the wounds of the brood, haunted by crime.
Sébastien, “a child with a broken soul forever” grows up in the unbearable shadow of a crime he himself witnessed at the age of 3.
For his 7th birthday, says Marie-Ange in her book, his grandmother gave him a cowboy outfit. Later, the mother of the family will surprise him playing with it, pretending to kill the “wicked Villemin”.
Growing up, Sébastien would have got into the habit of regularly visiting his father’s grave, sometimes staying there for several hours.
Today, he is 42 years old: exactly the age that little Grégory would have been if he had not been murdered.
Sébastien’s brother, Jean-Bernard, 38, also bears the burden of the crime, in his own way.
On March 23, 2021, Bernard’s birthday, he poured it out in a public post on social networks:
“Today you would have been 66, but you weren’t given the chance to meet your grandchildren. I can’t even say that I miss your presence because I didn’t have the chance to get to know you and give you your gift for dads day every year, but one thing is certain I know that your presence would have done me good and I do everything to make you proud of me and I think that You would have been. You have two beautiful grandchildren and I think you would have been proud of them just like I am. Anyway, a big thought to you DAD on this very special day and don’t worry. no, we take good care of mum and I believe in you and I know that you are innocent”.
In 1988, a few years after Bernard’s death, Marie-Ange remarried Denis Jacob, her late husband’s cousin. A daughter, Neige, was born of this union in 1989.
Wedding of Denis Jacob and Marie-Ange Bolle – Photo by Pool BASSIGNAC/REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
But Marie-Ange keeps the mask of the widow, and her husband quickly feels neglected. He will never be able to replace a deceased person, and he feels almost jealous of the attention his wife pays to the memory of her first husband.
At the dawn of Jean-Marie Villemin’s trial, tensions are building up within the couple.
They are separating. Denis Jacob will commit suicide three years later.
In 1993, the father of little Grégory appeared before the assizes of Dijon for the assassination of Bernard Laroche. The media frenzy is unprecedented, public opinion abounds in the direction of the grieving father. And the hearings focus above all on this question: did Jean-Marie Villemin kill a guilty or an innocent?
To the great regret of Marie-Ange, who would like us to dwell more on the guilt of the accused rather than on that, alleged, of her late husband.
At the end of the debates, Jean-Marie Villemin is sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The affront too much, for Marie-Ange, who judges the sentence far too lenient and the trial, far too consensual.
Especially since the one who shot the father of his two boys comes free from the court: he has already served his sentence in pre-trial detention, at the Nancy remand center then in Saverne, between March 29, 1985 and December 24, 1987.
And the misfortunes are not over yet. Marie-Ange then knows another man, “of the worst kind”, with whom she lives “six years of hell”, during which she gives birth, in 1996, to a little girl, Laura.
“This case broke me, I lost my husband, no one knows what I went through…I tried to rebuild myself but it’s chasing us. I never mourned. What if I held on, it’s thanks to my four children and my lawyer Me Gérard Welzer, who has been by my side since 1984”, Marie-Ange told Parisian in 2018.
She specifies that she has not had contact with her sister, Murielle, for years. Their sororal relationship never really recovered from the accusations of the redhead in 1984… At least, according to her.
On a photo of Marie-Ange and Denis Jacob’s wedding in September 1988, we can see, in the background, the young Murielle, hilarious…
As for Bernard’s guilt, it has, to date, never been proven or ruled out.
A case was dismissed in April 1985, but because of the death of the indicted.
Judge Lambert, for his part, had affirmed that he was preparing, when Bernard was shot by Jean-Marie, to precisely dismiss the case more substantially in order to put him out of the case definitively.
But the dismissal pronounced in 1993 against Christine Villemin suggests that there were still many elements allowing to say that this track was probably the good one…
Thibaut Solano tempers: “The leads that lead to Bernard seem serious, now, does that mean that the person who kidnapped and killed Grégory is the same? I changed my mind several times. At first I thought to myself : you have to be alone, to be so crazy…”.
A report in the form of consolation, for Étienne Sesmat. “In 1993, Judge Simon and the President of the Court tried to save the sabotage carried out by Lambert in É pinal with the help of other ill-intentioned people. Justice concluded with this judgment, the ‘bible’ of the Grégory affair: that there exists, against Bernard Laroche, a very serious charge of having kidnapped Grégory”.
In 2017, Murielle Bolle and the Jacob spouses were indicted. For the ex-policeman, that means one thing: “Justice is convinced that Bernard Laroche kidnapped Grégory. Afterwards, who killed him is another question, but the whole problem of the case turns around this observation. Bernard Laroche is a central character, but as he died, we do not have the answers”, he breathes.
As for Marie-Ange Bolle, it has been years since she left Aumontzey and the house which then concentrated all her memories of life with Bernard.
During her mourning, however, she kept close ties with the Jacob couple, the neighbors. They were the only ones in the family, moreover, to still have the right to visit them…
“With the Laroches, there was a family tie, tells us Me Stéphane Giuranna, Marcel Jacob’s lawyer. When Bernard was murdered, they stayed in contact with his widow, but then there were moves. and the ties loosened”.
Bernard’s assassination will forever remain the tipping point of the Grégory affair. This is also the meaning of the name that the former gendarme Sesmat gave to his book, Les deux affaires Grégory (ed. Points): “First of all, for me, the first case, the most important, is: why Grégory died? Who killed him, and how? This central question, we tended to forget it. And the second case is: why this drift? Why these reversals, this indictment of Bernard Laroche, his assassination, the indictment of Christine Villemin?