Four adults assassinated by a killer with a 60+ year old Luger...Multiple suspects from different nations...Theories ranging from a lone
madman to an international espionage conspiracy.
Five years on the mysterious murder case in the French Alps is still unsolved. The killer remains on the loose and the French police seem nowhere
nearer to solving the case. Even the initial target of the murders remains uncertain.
Why was Saad al-Hilli, his mother and his wife all shot in their family car, engine still running, in a secluded Alpine forest? The assassin did not
fire randomly at their vehicle. The victims were killed with precision in cold blood using a World War II pistol..
What circumstances possessed someone to beat and shoot a child of seven?
Was a French cyclist an innocent victim slain by the killer and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he the original and intended
Let’s revisit this intriguing mystery...
The Chevaline ‘Alpine’ Murders
On Monday the 3rd September 2012 the al-Hilli family from Britain arrived in
Saint-Jorioz at Le Solitaire du Lac Camp Site in France. They were intending to stay for a week’s break enjoying themselves in the French Alps.
On the 5th September 2012 three members of the British family and a French cyclist were found murdered on a remote road - Route Forestière Domaniale
de la Combe d'Ire near Chevaline, Haute-Savoie towards the southern end of Lake Annecy in France. On reaching the top of this mountain road it becomes
dangerous and so vehicles are forced to turn around and head back the way they came. Making a getaway very difficult without a high risk of being
Despite 5 long years of investigation it seems that the French and British police remain stumped.
The attack occurred at a parking spot around 3:45 pm (local time). The bodies of Saad al-Hilli (50) his wife Iqbal (47), her mother Suhaila al-Allaf
(74) and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier (45) were all discovered by a British national resident in France, Brett Martin. The al-Hilli’s and Mollier
had passed him earlier on the road to this rather remote spot. Martin also believed the killer had passed him coming back down the mountain road on a
motorcycle as he escaped from the area.
When Brett Martin (pictured) finally arrived at the scene it was one of
carnage.Saad was dead, shot four times, twice in the head. His wife, a dentist,
was dead in the backseat of their car, also shot four times, also twice in the head. Her mother, Suhaila al-Allaf, was dead, too. Shot three times,
twice in the head. Al-Hilli's eldest daughter, seven-year-old Zainab, was then spotted stumbling and then collapsing in front of the family’s BMW
car. Only Zainab it seemed was still alive, though barely. She had been shot once in the shoulder and then clubbed in the skull with the butt of the
gun. So hard that part of it had broken off and had been left at the crime scene. A clue, perhaps, that the assailant had run out of ammunition.
Sylvain Mollier, the French cyclist, was discovered murdered near the car having been shot seven times. He had been shot in the head twice like the
other adults found dead at the scene.
** Note : Multiple news sources over time have differing reports of the number of shots fired and bullets used
The youngest daughter, four year old Zeena, was not discovered for a further 8 hours. She had avoided getting hurt by curling up underneath her dead
mother's skirt where she remained undiscovered for eight hours until forensic examinations took place. Even a helicopter with heat seeking equipment
sent out to search for the missing child failed to spot her hidden in the BMW.
The French police initially believed two killers had been involved at the murder scene. A laptop computer and two mobile phones were also discovered
in the family car. The assassin had fired 21 bullets. Seventeen of them struck human targets. Not one shot had hit the al-Hilli’s vehicle.
These murders had all the hallmarks of a professional ‘hit’. But what could have been the motive?
It seemed obvious at the time. Saad al-Hilli had been targeted ....and having taken his family with him they became victims too. The French cyclist
was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What other explanation could there be?
The Chilling Facts
The ballistics report confirmed the shots were fired through the closed windows of the BMW saloon. Saad Al Hilli’s body was discovered, slumped over
the steering wheel. His wife and mother-in-law left lifeless in the passenger seats behind him. Zeena, the younger daughter, lay unmarked hiding
under her dead mother.
Was the killer unaware of the second child or had he/she decided to spare her life?
The initial conclusion was this must surely have been the work of a highly trained, professional hit man. But why was a family from Claygate, Surrey
killed in cold blood with an antique pistol?
The French police seemed none the wiser.
Lt. Col Bertrand Francois, of the local gendarmerie made no early arrests. Nor could he deduce who was shot first.
The UK Investigation
Saad Al-Hilli was a freelance industrial designer and had worked for a technology
firm Surrey Satellites Technology Limited (SSTL) as part of a team working on an undisclosed project for European Aeronautic Defence and Space.His
family had moved from Iraq in the early 1970s to the UK and it was suspected that the murders may have been part of international ‘intelligence’
French Prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, stated that detectives had found data on Saad’s computer that “went well beyond anything he would have needed to
carry out his work”. Raising the question, was he [Saad] just inquisitive or was he attempting to sell confidential information? The possibility
was making the case a lot more complex than it first seemed. The police would not confirm what the data they found was. Although according to the BBC
it was not believed to have been defence related.
British detectives had been working with their French counterparts on this case. So Eric Maillaud and a French team came to England to pose questions,
scour records and seek answers. They believed, in the immediate aftermath of the killings, that someone had planned to end the life of Saad al-Hilli.
“Without a doubt,” Maillaud told reporters in Surrey on Sept. 13th 2012, “the reasons and the causes have their origins in this country.”
A few days earlier on Sept. 10th 2012, a British Army bomb disposal unit was sent
to the al-Hilli’s home. Neighbours were evacuated for just under 4 hours whilst a search of the premises took place. The Army had been called "due
to concerns around items" found at the address. Something potentially hazardous had been found in a garden shed behind the house. The police never
confirmed what it was. The bomb squad left, and nothing more was said about what was or wasn’t found in Saad al-Hilli’s house.
Zaid al-Hilli Questioned
Zaid al-Hilli found out his brother and sister-in-law had been murdered a day after the shootings, on September 6th 2012 from a friend . He had been
in a dispute with Saad over the estate of their late father. They were contesting a large inheritance including property in London and in Spain.
Zaid said he and his brother remained civil about it and had avoided a family feud by leaving their lawyers to issue claims and counter-claims.
The following day he was called in for questioning by the British police. He was asked to account for his whereabouts between August 25th and
September 5th 2012. Officers also asked to see his mobile phone and his laptop computer.
Zaid was well aware of his brother’s work with satellite systems. However he was
rather bemused with the theory that Saad was killed, and got his family killed, because he was selling secrets. In fact he found it totally
Zaid harboured no doubts about his brother selling industrial secrets. He stated Saad wasn’t involved in classiﬁed optics or encrypted
communications technology and was far too outspoken to have been a spy. In fact Zaid felt that his brother and their family were the unsuspecting
victims in all of this. If someone wanted Saad dead then it would have been much simpler to have eliminated him in England.
After two weeks as a guest of the local constabulary and with no evidence pointing to any involvement in his brother’s death, Zaid was finally
allowed to return home.
But then, on Friday, September 28th, the police knocked on Zaid’s door again with a warrant to search his home. They found nothing of immediate
interest that could link Zaid to his brother’s death.
October 2012 arrived and Eric Maillaud, released some interesting details from the investigations.
First was that Saad had recently changed the locks on his home in Surrey, England. The second was that police had found a “Taser” in his house. It
is an offence to possess, purchase, acquire, manufacture, sell or transfer such a weapon, without lawful authority. Such authority is only granted to
HM Police Force in the United Kingdom. Possession of such a device risks a heavy sentence including jail.
What was Saad doing with a weapon capable of jolting a man with 50,000 volts?
Maillaud played down the find expressing an opinion that Saad had it more as a ‘precaution’rather than because of any particular threat on his
life. With no hard evidence connecting Saad’s work to his murder, and a fruitless search of Zaid’s home, the British trail of investigations was
hitting a dead end.
Was Sylvain Mollier the Target?
Despite some media sources claiming the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, had been
shot first, police experts insisted that they were unable to determine the order of the shootings. They suggested that the killer had moved
frantically from one victim to another, returning to shoot again to make sure each was dead.
Initially it was thought that Mollier had been an innocent passer-by. However, the fact he had worked in a metal factory which produced components for
the nuclear industry fuelled speculation that he was actually the intended target of the assassin.Sylvain Mollier was a local man. He was on extended
paternity leave from the Cezus metal factory where he worked when he was killed. The industrial complex where Mollier was employed lies at the bottom
of the valley below Ugine, Savoie. The factory is owned by Areva, a company involved with processing nuclear materials.
But was Mollier involved in sensitive, highly-secretive projects?
The theory was explored but the factory he worked at does not appear to be a particularly sensitive installation. Sylvain Mollier was also a welder,
not a nuclear scientist, who rarely travelled far from home. Mollier was divorced with a new partner, younger than himself, who had just taken over a
successful and lucrative pharmacy business from her parents. He had just arranged to take a three-year break from his own job to care for their newly
born son. This meant he was effectively living off his partner. Her family was reportedly unhappy about this.
Another theory grew that someone was asked to rough up Mollier as a warning from the family. Then the confrontation escalated. Saad Al-Hilli may have
been shot as he tried to come to his aid. A conspiracy theory was developing that the authorities wanted to divert the focus elsewhere as Mollier’s
partner’s family are not only extremely wealthy but very well-connected.
In February 2014 local man, Eric Devouassoux, who seemed to match the e-fit image of the motorcyclist, was arrested. He had recently been sacked from
his job as a police officer. He was a trained marksman with a large collection of guns. But with no evidence to place him at the crime scene he was
released. Once again another avenue of investigation had hit a brick wall.
Saad al-Hilli Questioned is Again
In March 2013 Saad’s brother Zaid was once again questioned about his dispute with his brother over the family inheritance left by their father,
Kadhim Al-Hilli. This involved a number of properties and the equivalent of some £800,000 cash in a Swiss bank account. Geneva is less than an
hour’s drive from the murder scene.
Saad had put a legal block on his father’s will. This meant Zaid was frozen out from inheriting his share until various ‘unknown’ disputes had
been resolved. French detectives wanted to query Zaid about claims that he had tried to use an old credit card to withdraw cash from the Geneva
account shortly before the killings.
Surrey (UK) police however reiterated that “We have regular contact with him as the next of kin of one of the victims. There is nothing more than
that. He has never been arrested or considered a suspect.”
The Motorcyclist is Tracked Down
Some 3 years after the murders French police tracked down the motorcyclist who
had passed Brett Martin on the mountain road. French authorities eliminated him from their inquiries. The Lyon man was interviewed by detectives and
informed them he was in the Chevaline area to go paragliding. He was driving up the Combe d’Ire road around 3pm local time when two forest rangers
advised him he needed to turn around as the road would be too dangerous if he tried to proceed any further. So he headed back down the path, past the
area where the Al-Hilli family and Sylvain Mollier were gunned down. He was not forthcoming with any further information to provide a new lead in the
case. Investigators stated that his personal and professional profile excluded him from the list of suspects.
The motorcyclist said he did not "make the connection" between his presence near the scene of the killing and the identikit picture of him which was
circulated in November 2013.
A Suspect Commits Suicide
In June of 2014 Patrice Menegaldo committed suicide. He had been interviewed as a
witness in the case a couple of months before. Mollier’s sister Sylviane had been in an on-off, seven-year relationship with him. A year later it
was revealed that investigators were tracing Menegaldo’s movements in 2012. His profile fitted that of a professional hit man. Menegaldo had been a
foreign legion sniper.
Eric Maillaud the French prosecutor said Menegaldo, 50, was “at the top of the chain” as he tried to track down the killer. Commenting on
Menegaldo’s suicide he said, “He wrote a letter saying the reason was ‘I could not handle being a suspect in a murder. That doesn’t sound
very believable. It doesn’t make sense that a Legionnaire would kill himself after an hour in a police station.”
A Suspected Serial Killer is Questioned
In early 2016 53-year-old Michel Hecht from Belgium was named as a new suspect in
In 2005 Hecht was convicted of shooting at his brother Yves, sister-in-law Isabelle Mathieu and his 11 year old nephew Evan. He had fired at them
through the wooden walls of their chalet in Florenville, near Arlon in Belgium. He was also a potential suspect in the killings of British cyclists
Lorraine Glasby and Paul Bellion who were both shot dead in Brittany in 1986. French private detective Pascale Huche believed the close range shooting
of the al-Hilli family bore a remarkable similarity to the murders in 1986.
Iqbal al-Hilli’s Secret American Ex-Husband
Hours after the murders in the Alps, a man named James Thompson (pictured) left an
antiques shop he ran in Natchez, Mississippi, U.S.A. feeling ill. He also was divorced, amicably, from an Iraqi dentist he married in 1999, in a
marriage of convenience. The dentist moved to the UK, where she met and married Saad al-Hilli.
Iqbal al-Hilli had kept her ﬁrst marriage a secret and so it remained until French investigators announced it in 2014. Just hours after her
execution in France, her ex-husband, Thompson collapsed at the wheel of his truck and died. He was 60 overweight and had an unhealthy cigar habit.
It was almost certainly just an odd coincidence and footnote to the case.
Theories & Conspiracy Theories
• The ‘al-Hilli inheritance’ caused a family feud and Saad’s brother Zaid is behind the murders.
• The “real” target was the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, not the al-Hilli family. The French police are avoiding investigations in this
direction to avoid opening a can of worms due to Mollier’s partners family connections.
• A lone madmen went on a killing spree.
• Saad al-Hilli was attempting to sell ‘secrets’ involving his line of business and was eliminated before he could do so or because he had done
• Linked to theory above rumours involving Iraqi intelligence, MOSSAD, MI6 and the CIA have circulated.
• Suicide victim, Patrice Menegaldo, was the killer. Rather than face being charged he decided to end his life.
• Sylvain Mollier and the al-Hilli’s were entirely innocent parties who saw something they shouldn’t have. Resulting in their murders.
Investigations looked at CCTV footage from the ferry terminals and along the French autoroutes to see if anyone had followed the al-Hilli’s across
the Channel. But no one could find any vehicle that appeared in multiple photos with the family’s BMW. It seemed if anyone had tailed the al-Hillis
to Le Solitaire du Lac they were very skilful in evading CCTV cameras.
Records of mobile phones that had pinged the local tower on the day of the murder were scoured. With over 4,000 potential witnesses identified.
Possibly even the killer. But no real clues were found.
The only thing possibly left as a lead was a grey right hand drive BMW 4x4 reported by a forestry worker. This too has never been tracked.
It also seems that Saad had asked his daughter what she wanted to do the afternoon of the killings. Zainab had asked for a trip into the woods and he
had asked one of the camp groundsman for the best route to take. It’s quite possible he missed a turning and ended up in the mountains. Meaning no
one would have known the al-Hilli’s were going to be on that mountain road that afternoon.
This only leaves more questions as to who the assailant was and what their motive may have been for the killings.
As a rule, I don't do mysteries but wanting a break from the miserable fare here today, I took the dare.
This is an excellent, concise state of affairs about these murders. I was surprised at the amount of work that the various authorities put into this
case. Mirageman has made a very excellent presentation of this interesting case.
It's stories like this that disappear and then just get buried. In fairness it has had an update by a few major media outlets like the BBC in Europe.
But it's all been rather low key and resigned to the web.
I haven't bothered to list sources as the problem has been getting reliable information all in one place. A number of things first reported have been
proven to be wrong. Most media outlets have also abbreviated the story ever since the incident. So it's difficult to form an accurate picture of what
I have tried to post the whole story as I understand it. But I may have interpreted things incorrectly as well.
....one question that arises for me is why was a guy riding a bike up there if the weather was bad enough to turn cars around?
I don't believe it had anything to do with the weather. The early September weather in 2012 was pleasantly warm and sunny in that area of France.
My understanding was that the road into the mountains is not suitable for road vehicles at a certain point because it has never been developed. So it
disintegrates into nothing more than a mountain track.
There's a couple of little bits you missed out.
Firstly the guy who found them was ex-raf, prob just a coincidence but you never know.
Also they wanted for a forensic/investigation team to come in from Paris. This meant they didn't start looking at the car or evidence until 8 hours
after they were discovered. There was an equally qualified team of people alot closer than this.
Just a couple more tidbits there.
Fascinating mystery! I could not help but ponder whether the family may have seen the bicyclist on their way up and then turn around to find him on
the road. The assassin was paranoid that they had seen him, then simply tried to eliminate witnesses. Especially since the 7 year old was bludgeoned
outside the vehicle and the assailant had no clue that there was a younger child hiding.
It does indeed seem that the investigation should have been looking more into the biker's life rather than the family. Though I guess from what I read
in the OP, his significant other had connections and well connected, that were not happy with his relationship?
edit on 9 24 2017 by
CynConcepts because: (no reason given)
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