Ex-judge in French child murder case found dead in apparent suicide

PARIS, July 12 (Reuters) - A retired French judge has been found dead at his home with his head in a plastic bag, a prosecutor said on Wednesday, in a new twist to a child murder case that has haunted France for three decades.

A judicial source said first indications suggested that Jean-Michel Lambert, 65, who was found dead at his home near Le Mans by emergency services late on Tuesday, had committed suicide.

"There was no trace of violence...(and) no trace of a break-in," said the Le Mans prosecutor in a statement.

Lambert had been the first magistrate in charge of the investigation into the 1984 killing of four-year-old Gregory Villemin, whose body was discovered, bound hand and foot, in a river.

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Gregory Villemin
This undated photo shows Gregory Villemin, a 4-year-old boy, who was found dead in October 1984 with his feet and hands bound in the Vologne river, near his home in a village in eastern France. Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
This undated photo shows Gregory Villemin, a 4-year-old boy, who was found dead in October 1984 with his feet and hands bound in the Vologne river, near his home in a village in eastern France. Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Jean-Marie (L) and Christine Villemin, parents of murdered 4-year-old Gregory, and her lawyer Henri Garaud are seen in this undated picture in Nancy, France. Gregory Villemin, a 4-year-old boy, was found dead in October 1984 with his feet and hands bound in the Vologne river, near his home in a village in eastern France. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen
Jean-Marie Villemin, father of murdered 4-year-old Gregory, surrended by French gendarmes as he attends the reconstruction of his son's murder in the Vologne river, in Docelles, eastern France, October 30, 1985. Gregory Villemin, a 4-year-old boy, was found dead in October 1984 with his feet and hands bound in the Vologne river, near his home in a village in eastern France. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen
Marie-Ange Laroche arrives to meet her lawyer, Maitre Welzer, in Epinal, Vosges, France, 24th April 1985. Laroche is the widow of Bernard Laroche, who was arrested on suspicion of the murder of four year-old Gr�ory Villemin in 1984, but released without charge. Laroche was later shot dead by the victim's father, Jean-Marie Villemin. (Photo by Armel Brucelle/Sygma via Getty Images)Epinal - Gregory's case. Arrival of
Christine Villemin visits her husband Jean-Marie Villemin at the prison in Saverne, France. He was convicted for the murder of Bernard Laroche, who was accused of murdering Gregory Villemin. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Christine Villemin, convicted for the murder of her son Gregory Villemin, leaves the Epinal courthouse concealed under a black cloth. She is six-months pregnant at this time. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Marie-Ange Laroche is the wife of Bernard Laroche who was murdered by Jean-Marie Villemin. Bernard Laroche was killed after being accused of the murder of Villemin's son Gregory. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Gregory Villemin was found murdered on October 16, 1984 in the Vologne River in France. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Albert and Monique, the grandparents of Gregory Villemin, visit the grave of their grandson. Young Gregory was found murdered in the Vologne River on October 16, 1984. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Albert and Monique, the grandparents of Gregory Villemin, visit the grave of their grandson. Young Gregory was found murdered in the Vologne River on October 16, 1984. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
Christine Villemin visits her son's grave in Lepanges-sur-Vologne, France. Her son Gregory Villemin was found murdered on October 16, 1984 in the Vologne River. (Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images)
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The murder, which remains unsolved, was followed by a revenge killing, and other highly-publicized twists and turns where relatives were one after the other accused of being guilty amid a series of anonymous letters.

The case was opened and closed again several times over the decades. Then, in June this year, it was back in the headlines as a couple in their 70s and a 48-year old woman, all relatives of the child, were placed under investigation.

Judge Lambert, who was 32 at the time, was often criticized for the way he handled the case between 1984 and 1987.

On Tuesday, a French news channel published what it said were notes from another judge who investigated the case and had severely criticized Lambert's work.

A month after Gregory's death, Bernard Laroche, a cousin of the child's father, was charged based on evidence provided by his sister-in-law, Muriel Bolle - the youngest of the trio put under investigation last month.

Laroche was freed after evidence against him was thrown out by prosecutors. But convinced that he was the murderer, Gregory's father Jean-Marie Villemin shot and killed him in 1985, and served four years in jail for the act.

Gregory's mother, Christine Villemin, also fell under suspicion because witnesses said they had seen her at the post office on the day that one of the mysterious letters was sent. She was later cleared. (Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Guilaume Frouin in Nantes; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Andrew Callus and Richard Balmforth)

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