Mayor of French village where toddler disappeared one month ago: ‘We could be dealing with a madman’

The mayor of the village where French toddler Emile Soleil went missing has theorised a “madman or someone Machiavellian” is behind the two-and-a-half-year-old’s disappearance.

Today marks exactly one month since Emile vanished from his maternal grandparents’ home in Le Vernet in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, triggering a massive search operation in the idyllic French hamlet.

An extensive search operation – involving drones, sniffer dogs, and helicopters – was launched to find Emile, but police announced they were calling it off eight days later as Emile’s whereabouts remained unknown.

In a new interview, the mayor of Haut Vernet, Francois Balique speculated that Emile was “necessarily moved” from the village by one or more adults, adding that it could be the work of a “madman or someone Machiavellian”.

He told C News: “When we see that we have not found Emile in the town, it means that he has necessarily been moved. It cannot be otherwise. [He] could only have been moved by adults, by one or more adults. Either we are dealing with a madman, or we are dealing with someone Machiavellian.”

Mr Balique also said he had done everything in his power to ensure the search for Emile succeeds, hoping that the people responsible for Emile’s disappearance are “punished”.

Shortly after the search for Emile was called off, on 13 July, Mr Balique told French newspaper Le Figaro the “best hope” for the toddler is that “he’s been kidnapped and is alive”.

The local politician, who has served as Haut Vernet’s mayor since 1977, added: “We could consider that someone wanting to cause harm to a child passed by the area, that he saw this beautiful little boy and took him away. He couldn’t survive alone in the wild, that’s for sure.”

Police have ruled out an animal attack, and also confirmed nothing turned up after all the homes in Haut Vernet were searched. In an update on 19 July, investigators said they are looking into the possibility Emile was hit by a combine harvester while walking in the long grass.

The mayor of Haut Vernet, Francois Balique (AFP via Getty Images)
The mayor of Haut Vernet, Francois Balique (AFP via Getty Images)

So far, Emile’s disappearance remains shrouded in speculation, with no verifiable explanation for what happened to the little boy on 8 July.

Emile, who is from Bouches-du-Rhône near Marseille, was staying with his grandparents on the day he disappeared. They were getting ready for a family outing and noticed Emile was missing when they went to put him in the car.

Police and the gendarmes combed 97 hectares of land in their search for Emile, as helicopters played his mother’s voice “as loudly as possible” over the area, while looking for clues that might lead to Emile’s discovery.

In the wake of the incident, locals feared their village was “cursed” as they recalled earlier tragedies that had occurred in Le Vernet, including a gruesome murder and a devastating plane crash that left 149 people dead.