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Former judge in French child murder mystery found dead

The magistrate who investigated one of France's most high-profile unresolved murder mysteries has been found dead in his Le Mans home. His apparent suicide comes just weeks after the case took another dramatic twist.

Retired French magistrate Jean-Michel Lambert was found dead late on Tuesday with a plastic bag over his head. Prosecutors in the city of Le Mans, where Lambert lived, said they believed the former judge, 65, had committed suicide, as there were no reported signs of struggle or break in.

Lambert was the first magistrate to investigate the still unresolved murder of Gregory Villemin, a 4-year-old boy whose body was discovered, bound hand and foot, in the Vologne river in eastern France in 1984.

In an inquiry fit for a television soap opera, the boy's family and relatives would accuse one another of the boy's murder, even prompting a revenge killing. The case has been closed and reopened several times over the decades, and continues to spring new twists and revelations to this day.

Gregory Villemin France murder (Reuters)

Gregory Villemin was just four-years-old when he was found dead in Vologne in 1984.

"I'm devastated, Thierry Moser, the lawyer acting for the dead boy's parents, said upon hearing the news of Lambert's death. "It's infinitely sad ... I have no animosity towards him. I criticize the conclusions he drew from his investigation but I won't ever criticize the man," he added.

Lambert, who was 32 when he headed the investigation, was often criticized for his handling of the case and openness to speak to the media.

The mystery of Gregory Villemin murder

A month after Gregory Villemin's body was discovered, Bernard Laroche, a cousin of the child's father, was charged based on evidence provided by his sister-in-law, Muriel Bolle. However, she withdrew her claims a year later, leading to the evidence being thrown out and Laroche being released.

Laroche was then shot dead by Gregory's father, Jean-Marie Villemin, in 1985. The father, convinced that his cousin was the murderer, served two-and-a-half years in prison for the crime.

Lambert then charged Gregory's mother with her son's murder based on accusation she was seen at the post office on the day that a mysterious, anonymous letter was sent in relation to the murder. France's Supreme Court later dismissed the charges and the case handed to another magistrate.

Gregory Villemin Frankreich Dijon (picture alliance/dpa/P. Saucourt)

The reopening of the case into Gregory Villemin's death has once again caused a media frenzy in France.

Case back in court

The investigation was reopened last month, and saw Marcel Jacob, an uncle of Gregory's father, and his wife arrested in the Vosges mountains of eastern France.

The prosecution today is also looking into why Bolle ultimately withdrew her statement against her father-in-law, hinting that she may have been forced to do so by relatives. She has once again been placed under investigation.

Her lawyer, Jean-Paul Teissonniere, told the Agence France Presse news agency that he had intended to call Lambert as a witness.

The inquiry continues. 

dm/msh (AFP, Reuters)