More than nine years after the “massacre” of Chevaline, in Haute-Savoie, a person was taken into custody by the research section of Chambéry. It is a question of “carrying out checks of schedule”, indicated this Wednesday the prosecutor of Annecy, specifying that searches are underway at the home of the suspect. A serious lead likely to relaunch the investigation? For nearly a decade, the gendarmes have been trying to find out who killed the Al-Hilli and Sylvain Mollier family, and for what reasons. But the mystery remains unresolved. Update on the case.
What do we know about the macabre discovery?
On September 5, 2012, William Brett Martin went on a mountain bike ride on the heights of Lake Annecy. A former member of the Royal Air Force, the man owns a vacation home in the region where he visits regularly. At around 3.15 p.m., the British cyclist pedaled on the Chemin de la Combe-d’Ire, in the town of Chevaline, when he was overtaken by another cyclist. He then passed, in the opposite direction, a “green or dark-colored” 4 × 4 vehicle, then, a few minutes later, a motorcycle. Around 3:45 p.m., the former pilot arrives in the parking lot at the end of the forest road and discovers the crime scene. He then thinks of a car accident, but he quickly understands his mistake.
There, a little girl is on the ground. Shocked. Seriously injured. The child suffers from a fractured skull and a bullet shot to the shoulder. A few meters from her, a BMW registered in the United Kingdom. The doors are closed, the keys still on the ignition, the engine is running in a vacuum. Inside, blood everywhere. And three bodies, shot in the head. Further on, at the end of the forest path, is that of the cyclist who had passed William Brett Martin half an hour earlier.
Who are the victims ?
The cyclist, hit by seven balls, is called Sylvain Mollier. Aged 45, he lives nearby and works in a factory in Ugine (Savoie). On the day of the tragedy, he took advantage of his paternity leave to go for a ride on a mountain bike.
The other three victims are part of the same family. They are Saad Al-Hilli, an aeronautical engineer, 50, his wife, Iqbal, 47, and the latter’s mother, Suhaila Al-Hallaf, 74. Originally from Iraq, the family has lived in the United Kingdom for several decades. They had gone to Haute-Savoie the previous week to spend a few days of vacation, as they had been doing for three years. The family had registered his return to England for September 7, two days after the tragedy.
The couple have two young daughters. Zainab, the eldest, aged 7, is the one found on the ground outside the vehicle. Zeena, 4, is missing. Investigators decide to return to the scene eight hours later and discover that the child, safe and sound, had been hiding the entire time in the car, prostrate behind her mother’s legs. They are the only two survivors of the tragedy. But, so far, none has managed to accurately describe what happened. Nor to describe a suspect potential.
Who is the shooter?
Investigators have become convinced that the deceased cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, was killed first. He is probably a “collateral victim”. If the file contains many areas of mystery, the gendarmes nevertheless have one certainty, confirmed by the analyzes of ballistic experts: only one man fired. What Zainab mentioned, the only direct witness to the scene. The child, hit with the butt of a pistol on the head, gave few details during his hearing. But she spoke of “a bad guy”. Only one.
Is he a professional shooter? Or a mad shooter? The question remains unanswered to this day. The murder weapon has never been found. However, it has been identified, it is a Luger P06 automatic pistol, made in Switzerland and used until the 1960s. In other words, a collector’s weapon.
Investigators will then take a close interest in the biker, crossed by William Brett Martin before he discovers the crime scene. The robotic portrait, released in November 2013, was drawn up with the help of the testimony of forest guards who checked a man who was traveling, on the day of the killing, on a path forbidden to vehicles. In February 2014, a former municipal police officer, an arms collector, was arrested. However, he was released a few days later, when comparisons confirmed that his DNA did not match those taken from the car.
In 2015, a new twist. The biker, described in the composite, is in turn identified and then arrested. It is about a business leader, quickly excluded from the probable suspects. The man proves that he had simply come to paraglide in the area and that he had not passed the victims. The biker track is closed.
There remains that of the 4 × 4 which, again, will prove to be a dead end. The vehicle has a “right hand drive”. Investigators will then go through hours of video surveillance without ever being able to find the car in question, or identify the driver who was behind the wheel.
What avenues are envisaged?
Investigators first explored the trail of a family dispute between Saad Al-Hilli and his brother Zaid over their father’s inheritance. The two men had a complicated relationship. The day after the murder, the brother presents himself to the British police to exonerate himself. The theory, for a while mentioned, is as follows: the elder could have signed a contract and contacted a professional in order to have the younger brother murdered. Placed in police custody in June 2014, Zaid was finally released and this track was ruled out.
At the same time, the gendarmes are working on the theory of settling scores against a background of industrial espionage. The father worked on civilian satellites, which could have aroused envy. But, again, the theory cannot be confirmed for lack of evidence.
Last February, the dismantling of a freemason criminal lodge in the Paris region is likely to revive the affair. Its members, namely former officials of the General Directorate of External Security, are arrested while preparing to assassinate a sports coach. The link with Chevaline? 7.65 caliber ammunition was found at the sponsor’s home. However, it is the same type of cartridges used to kill the four victims.
There is still the local track, the one that investigators have been privileging since 2018. The Al-Hilli family could have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time, without it being targeted. For unknown reasons.