Remains of little French boy Émile Soleil who vanished without trace eight months ago aged two are found in the Alps just two miles from his grandfather’s house

Photo of author
Written By Maya Cantina
  • Detectives launched a frantic search for the boy after he went missing last July 

Remains belonging to a little French boy who vanished without a trace eight months ago have tragically been discovered in the Alps. 

Ramblers discovered the bones of two-year-old Émile Soleil close to the isolated family home from where he went missing last year.

The macabre discovery on Saturday was today described as a key breakthrough in a criminal enquiry that has baffled detectives since they launched a frantic search in the idyllic village of Le Vernet in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence back on July 8.

The mysterious case has drawn comparisons with hit BBC drama The Missing, in which a young boy vanishes while on holiday with his Family in France. 

A statement released by public prosecutors in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday said ‘genetic analysis identifies’ the bones as belonging to Èmile.

It added that ‘criminalistic analysis’ was also underway, and that gendarmes were carrying out ‘additional research’ in the area where they were found.

Ramblers discovered the remains of two-year-old Émile Soleil (pictured) close to the isolated family home from here he went missing in July last year

Gendarmes meticulously search the outskirts of the village of Vernet last July

Gendarmes meticulously search the outskirts of the village of Vernet last July

The search site is two miles as the crow flies from the house in Haut-Vernet, a hamlet south of Grenoble, where Émile was last seen with his grandfather, Philippe Vedovini, 58.

There had been no trace of Émile since, with investigators refusing to rule out any theory for the tragedy, including abduction and murder.

Émile was officially in the care of Mr Vedovini on the day of his disappearance, as his parents took a break.

A witness saw Mr Vedovini, a physiotherapist-osteopath, cutting wood outside his house around the time Émile is thought to have wandered off.

There was no immediate comment about the discovery of the bones from Émile’s family, who were all at Easter Sunday mass when told.

Mr Vedovini is a devout Catholic who gave up a vocation to become a monk, in order to marry his wife, Anne Vedovini.

They brought up 10 children, including Émile’s mother, who is now known by her married name of Marie Soleil after she married Émile’s father, Colomban Soleil, 26.

Last week, multiple French news outlets including Le Parisien and the highly respected investigative newspaper Le Canard enchaîné [The Chained Duck] reported disturbing new information about Mr Vedovini.

‘It is above all his past that raises questions,’ Le Parisien wrote, as it outlined details of a sex abuse scandal at a Roman Catholic school in the 1990s.

The macabre discovery on Saturday was today described as a key breakthrough in a criminal enquiry that has baffled detectives

The macabre discovery on Saturday was today described as a key breakthrough in a criminal enquiry that has baffled detectives 

Volunteers take part in a search operation for Emile on July 10

Volunteers take part in a search operation for Emile on July 10

It also confirmed that Mr Vedovini – who denies any wrongdoing and was not charged with any offence following the child abuse investigation – ‘has attracted the attention of gendarmes and constitutes one of their many lines of enquiry.’

Mr Vedovini was training to be a monk when he worked at Riaumont, a Catholic community that includes a boarding school for troubled youngsters in Northern France.

Situated at Liévin, in the Pas-de-Calais, it was run by Benedictine monks who received multiple complaints from former pupils between 2014 and 2017. 

They said they had suffered sexual abuse, including rape, in the early 1990s, as well as regular physical beatings.

Mr Vedovini, who was known as Brother Philippe when he worked at the school between 1991 and 1994, was implicated in the enquiry as an ‘assisted witness’.

The extreme-right wing political background of the family has also been examined by police. Émile’s father, Colomban Soleil, 26, was arrested for ‘an attack on foreigners’ in 2018.

A countryside search for Émile was carried out after the little boy disappeared, but it yielded nothing.

He appeared before judges in Aix-en-Provence, and was released from custody after pledging to maintain the peace.

At the time, Mr Soleil was an activist linked to Action Francaise, the far-Right nationalist and royalist group, as well as the neofascist Bastion Social.

Three years later, in 2021, both Mr Soleil and his wife stood as local election candidates in the Marseille area, supporting the Reconquest party of Éric Zemmour, the convicted racist and Islamophobe who tried to become president of France last year.

Their election slogans at the time identified them as ‘friends of Éric Zemmour’ who wanted to ‘clean out the system’.

Lead prosecutor Rémy Avon, who is heading the judicial inquiry into Émile’s disappearance said the possibilities that Émile had been murdered, kidnapped, or got involved in an accident were all being looked at.

He confirmed that Émile’s parents’ home, in the southern town of La Bouilladisse, near Marseille, was searched back in July, while the grandparents homes nearby, and in the Alps, were also raided.

The saga evokes the BBC series, The Missing, in which a young boy vanishes whilst on holiday with his family in France, only to be killed in a hit-and-run accident after chasing a fox.

French gendarmes take part in the search operation for two-year-old Emile in July 2023

French gendarmes take part in the search operation for two-year-old Emile in July 2023

Volunteers take part in the search operation for Emile on July 10

Volunteers take part in the search operation for Emile on July 10

Two gendarmes meticulously search the surroundings of a house on July 13 2023

Two gendarmes meticulously search the surroundings of a house on July 13 2023

This was an appeal for witnesses after the little boy went missing

This was an appeal for witnesses after the little boy went missing  

Émile’s family had called on people to pray to Benoîte Rencurel – a French shepherd said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary from 1664 to 1718.

Residents of Vernet meanwhile referred to the place as a cursed ‘village of the damned’ because of its links with disaster.

In March 2015, Vernet was also cordoned off following a horrific air crash in which 150 people died, including two babies.

Germanwings Airbus A320 was deliberately brought down by co-pilot Andres Lubitz, who had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies.

Many Vernet residents took part in high mountain searches for possible survivors at the time.

They also opened their homes to family and friends of those who perished in the disaster.

The inhabitants of Vernet were also shaken by the murder of a local café manager in the village 15 years ago.

Jeannette Grosos, who ran the Café du Moulin, was brutally killed by a customer in 2008.

Mayor François Balique said: ‘It was a real drama for the whole village – one which it has had a hard time recovering.’

One resident of Vernat said: ‘Everybody is saying it – Vernet feels like a village of the damned.’

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

Leave a Comment