Remains of two-year-old Émile Soleil, who vanished without trace eight months ago, were found little more than 100 yards from his grandparents’ house in French Alps, local mayor suggests

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

A French mayor has suggested that remains belonging to a little boy who vanished without a trace eight months ago were found little more than 100 yards from his grandparents’ house in the Alpine village.

Ramblers discovered the bones of two-year-old Émile Soleil close to the isolated family home from where he went missing last year. A source told MailOnline that only part of the body was found, with some bones and the skull being recovered. 

While a key investigating source said Émile’s remains were found in countryside, some two miles away from the hamlet, its Mayor said they were discovered within its boundaries.

François Balique told Le Figaro newspaper that they were found ‘on a path between the Church and Chapel’ of the village, without specifying further.

Vernet is made up of Haut-Vernet (High Vernet) and Bas-Vernet (Lower-Vernet) and there is a Saint Pancras Chapel, as well as two Roman Catholic churches – Saint Martin’s in Haut Vernet and Saint Martha’s Bas-Vernet.

Mr Balique said the area where Émile’s skull and bones were found had previously ‘been thoroughly searched by gendarmes,’ suggesting they had since been moved back into the village.

Such a move would add an extremely disturbing element to the progress of the investigation, said the source.

Ramblers discovered the remains of two-year-old Émile Soleil (pictured) close to the home

The road to Haut-Vernet is blocked by a gendarmerie checkpoint at the village of Le Vernet, France, pictured today

The road to Haut-Vernet is blocked by a gendarmerie checkpoint at the village of Le Vernet, France, pictured today

The Alpine hamlet of Le Haut-Vernet in France pictured today, after French investigators found the remains of the toddler who went missing last summer

The Alpine hamlet of Le Haut-Vernet in France pictured today, after French investigators found the remains of the toddler who went missing last summer

The entrance of the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet, near where Émile went missing

The entrance of the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet, near where Émile went missing

‘It’s unlikely animals would bring human remains back into the village where someone went missing,’ he said.

‘This leads to the theory that a person has brought Émile’s remains back, and potentially very recently,’ the source added.

On Sunday, the whole of Vernet was blockaded by police, with nobody allowed in or out.

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 Haut 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.

Police closed off the village on March 27 to everyone except investigators and residents

Police closed off the village on March 27 to everyone except investigators and residents

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

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

Police closed off the village on March 27 to everyone except investigators and residents, and restrictions remain in place as cops gather further information about the remains found today.

A cause of death has not yet been established. 

A source told MailOnline: ‘It is being analysed, along with his bones, in an attempt to establish the cause of death.

‘The deceased’s teeth have all been recovered too, but some other elements of the body are gone.

‘Drones and sniffer dogs are combing the entire area of countryside to try and find more.

‘It may be that body parts were taken away by wild animals, but no theory is being ruled out,’ the source added.

José Morale, mayor of La Bouilladisse, the town near Marseille where Émile’s family live for most of the year, said: ‘We will do our best to support them.

‘For the parents, it’s very complicated. There is no relief, the sadness is infinite, we are all dejected.’

While a key investigating source said Émile’s remains were found in countryside, some two miles away from the hamlet, its Mayor said they were discovered within its boundaries.

François Balique told Le Figaro that they were found ‘on a path between the Church and Chapel’ of the village, without specifying further.

Vernet is made up of Haut-Vernet (High Vernet) and Bas-Vernet (Lower-Vernet) and there is a Saint Pancras Chapel, as well as two Roman Catholic churches – Saint Martin’s in Haut Vernet and Saint Martha’s Bas-Vernet.

Mr Balique said the area where Émile’s skull and bones were found had previously ‘been thoroughly searched by gendarmes,’ suggesting they had since been moved back into the village.

Such a move would add an extremely disturbing element to the progress of the investigation, said the investigating source.

‘It’s unlikely animals would bring human remains back into the village where someone went missing,’ he said.

Restrictions remain in place as cops gather further information about the remains found today

Restrictions remain in place as cops gather further information about the remains found today

There had been no trace of Émile since he went missing eight months ago

There had been no trace of Émile since he went missing eight months ago

‘This leads to the theory that a person has brought Émile’s remains back, and potentially very recently,’ the source added.

There had been no trace of Émile since he went missing eight months ago, 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.

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

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

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