DNA breakthrough in 2012 French Alps murders which baffled police
Police are widening their search for handgun after DNA found on car belonging to Al-Hilli family broadens investigation
Two unidentified traces of DNA have been detected on the car belonging to the Al-Hilli family, whose brutal killing in the French Alps remains unsolved after more than three years.
Investigators – in a final throw of the dice – have also begun an international search for the last recorded owners of the 56,000 guns of the type used in the quadruple murders in September 2012.
“It’s a colossal task but necessary,” said the Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, who is spokesman for the inquiry. “We never give up. We remain confident,” Mr Maillaud told the newspaper, Le Parisien. “When you kill, you always end up talking to someone about it.” The number of gendarmerie detectives committed to the investigation has been shrunk from 80 to “around 20” but the two examining magistrates in charge refuse to declare the “Chevaline murders” to be a cold case.
The two traces of DNA found recently in a further forensic search of the Al-Hilli car may offer a new line of inquiry or they may prove to be another cul-de-sac. The traces, one found on the front bumper and another under the driver’s floor mat, match none of the victims and nobody on the European criminal data base.
On 5 September 2012, Saad a-Hilli, 50, a British-Iraqi satellite engineer, his wife Iqbal, 47, a dentist, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were found shot in the head in the family BMW estate two miles from the village of Chevaline above Lake Annecy. The body of a local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, lay nearby. Zainab al-Hilli, 7, was found at the scene with head and shoulder injuries. Her sister, Zeena, 4, was found unharmed after hiding beneath her dead mother’s legs in the back of the car for eight hours.
Lines of official investigation have included a family quarrel over the al-Hilli family inheritance; industrial espionage; an unprovoked attack by a lone psychopath; and an assault on the French cyclist which went wrong.
In the absence of official progress, more lurid theories have bred, and inter-bred, on the internet and in the media. The killings have variously been ascribed to the SAS, the CIA, Israeli intelligence, Iraqi agents and Saddam Hussein loyalists. There has also been speculation recently about a possible connection with Ms Al-Hilli’s American first husband who – by coincidence – died of a heart attack on the same day.
Most of these theories founder on the facts of what happened in a lay-by at the end of a winding forest road on a September afternoon almost 40 months ago.
Investigators know from clues at the scene that the lone killer was already near the lay-by when the Al-Hilli family arrived after a seemingly random drive from their campsite beside lake Annecy 12km away. The local man, Mr Mollier, was also on a random ride, on a route that he had never taken before.
Eyewitness accounts suggest that neither car nor bicycle was being followed. The killer fired a first volley of shots at the cyclist and at Mr Al-Hilli and his elder daughter, just after they stepped from the car. Mr Al-Hilli, already wounded, jumped into the wine-coloured BMW estate to try to escape but reversed the vehicle into the soft earth of the forest side. As the car span its wheels, the gunman calmly shot the three adults aboard in the head. He also shot Mr Mollier again several times.
His gun then appears to have jammed. He left seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli for dead after hitting her over the head with the gun handle.
The gun used was an unlikely weapon for a targeted killing. It has been identified, from fragments of the handle found at the scene, as a 7. 65mm Luger P06, manufactured between 1909 and 1947.
This type of gun was widely issued to Swiss army reservists and police in the 1920s and 1930s.
The international search now launched by French investigators amounts to looking for a needle in haystack. They want to trace the last known owner of all the 56,028 guns of this type that were made by the Waffenfabrik in Berne, Switzerland.
A similar request was made to the Swiss authorities two years ago with little result.
The investigating magistrates have now repeated the request and widened it to other countries.
Independent News Service