Police have searched the home of the grandparents of missing French boy Émile Soleil, whose disappearance in July drew comparisons with BBC drama The Missing.
The two-year-old vanished without trace from the property in Haut-Vernet, an Alpine hamlet south of Grenoble, exactly four months ago.
There has been no trace of him since July 8. Now MailOnline has learned that detectives searched the holiday home of Émile’s maternal grandparents, Philippe and Anne Vedovini, who are in their 60s, on Tuesday morning.
‘The raid was part of an operation that saw every bit of the house examined,’ said an investigating source.
‘Phones and computers were examined… Forensic checks also included taking DNA samples, and some objects were confiscated.’
Two-year-old Émile disappeared without trace from the property in Haut-Vernet, an Alpine hamlet south of Grenoble, exactly four months ago
Investigators have extended their enquiry to other parts of France after a thorough search of the countryside around Vernet yielded nothing. Pictured: French gendarmes are briefed before taking part in a search operation
Simultaneous raids also took place on properties in other parts of France, some of them linked to Émile’s extended family.
All of the searches were sanctioned by judges.
There was no initial comment on what was found during the raids, with judicial police simply confirming that the judicial investigation was ongoing.
Émile was officially in the care of Mr and Mrs 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.
‘Émile was seen walking alone on the asphalt road next to the family home,’ said the source. ‘The grandfather was cutting wood about ten meters from the child.’
Mr Vedovini is known as a devout Roman Catholic and strict authoritarian who brought up 10 children, including Émile’s mother, who is now known by her married name of Marie Soleil.
The family have not commented on the specifics of Émile’s disappearance, but in an interview with Christian Family (Famille Chrétienne) magazine last month, Mr Vedovini said: ‘Obviously I come across as a dominator who terrorises everyone… All of this is false, but I don’t care.
‘The media hurts us, but the people around us are truly extraordinary.’
The 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 walker passes in front of gendarmes who are resting for a few moments before continuing the raking on July 13
Volunteers take part in a search operation for two-and-a-half-year-old Emile last seen on July 8
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 notorious 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’.
A source involved in the search for Émile said: ‘You make a lot of enemies when you’re an ally of Éric Zemmour and groups like Action Francaise and Bastion Social.’
A countryside search for Émile was carried out after the little boy disappeared, but it yielded nothing.
Lead prosecutor Rémy Avon said that the ‘physical search’ could go no further, but ‘the judicial investigation into the causes of the disappearance will continue, in particular by analysing the considerable mass of information and elements collected over the past four days.’
Émile’s father, Colomban Soleil (pictured), 26, was arrested for ‘an attack on foreigners’ in 2018
He 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.
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.
Émile’s family are all devout Catholics, and have called on people to pray to Benoîte Rencurel – a French shepherd said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary from 1664 to 1718.
Gendarmes meticulously search the outskirts of the village of Vernet on July 13, 2023. They have been unable to locate the boy
The police have released a photo and description of Emile, who is almost 3ft tall, with brown eyes, and blond hair.
He was wearing a yellow top, white shorts with a green pattern, and hiking shoes at the time of his disappearance.
Residents of Vernet have meanwhile been referring 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 on Wednesday: ‘Everybody is saying it – Vernet feels like a village of the damned.’