(*The black dot is the family's campsite, the red dot is the murder location.)
A passing cyclist, Frenchman Sylvain Mollier, 45, a father of three who lived nearby, at first the police believed, appeared to have stumbled across the scene, was also shot and murdered in the attack, his body found at the rest stop by the BMW's front wheels.
In the timeline of these murders on the country road, only several minutes (investigators believe) went by before a French hiker - who'd heard shots from a hiking path - discovered the scene and immediately called in Emergency on his cell phone. Bret Martin, a British man, a former RAF pilot, resident of
the area, was driving on this road, briefly saw a motorcycle zoom ahead and then the BMW with a man lying shot on the ground by it's wheels.
Martin pulled off the road by the BMW and discovered the daughter Zainab, outside on the ground bleeding, and attempted CPR. By the time the local police arrived Martin looked in the BMW and saw three victims: her father, mother and grandmother dead. The local police cordoned off the area, called in the police from the region HQ. In turn the regional police HQ who visited, were loathe to 'contaminate the scene', and called Paris - requesting a crime scene squad and homicide investigators. This quartet of murders was beyond their expertise and according to later reports they stood by afraid to investigate and paralyzed by ensuing orders from Paris to wait. When the Paris teams arrived it had been hours before any investigator had looked into the BMW and when the bodies were being taken out four year old Zeena was discovered on the back seat floor hidden under her dead mothers skirt cowering and traumatized after eight hours.
However, the fact Mollier had worked in a metal factory which produced components for the nuclear industry, in the following months of the investigation prompted increasing police speculation that it was he who was in the assassin’s sights.Later reports in French newspapers disclosed that Mollier was found with seven bullet wounds — more than any of the other victims – and, it was claimed, was also the first to die. But upon questioning by British and French police the colleagues of both men, al-Hilli and Mollier, have denied that either were involved in any secretive work. And besides, it would seem unlikely that Mr al-Hilli would take his whole family to such a potentially sensitive rendezvous.
Nonetheless, initial French police reports pointed strongly towards the murder being a professional 'hit'. In particular, since Mr al-Hilli, his dentist wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother in law Suhaila, 74, were each killed with a so-called double tap of two bullets to the head each — a classic hit man’s touch.
But it was revealed shortly after the murders that the murder weapon, a Luger PO8, thought at first to be a First World War relic — was liable to jam, comparatively easy to trace, and not the first choice of professional assassins. The gunman also left behind spent cartridges – a gift to detectives – and did not kill all the witnesses, as both daughters survived the attack.
Likewise, if the family were lured to the remote forest site - they were camping at a village not far away, it seems unlikely that they would drive circuitously around the winding lanes, doubling back on themselves and stopping to photograph the scenery. Photos recovered from a family digital camera found at the scene show the group smiling in front of a pretty flower-covered stone farmhouse.
Mr al-Hilli was reported to have changed the locks on his doors before he left, and frozen his father’s estate — blocking his brother Zaid from accessing his share of the inheritance until lawyers resolved the dispute.
But Zaid al-Hilli immediately handed himself over to Surrey police for questioning once his name was mentioned, and vehemently denied having anything to do with his brother’s death. In June of this year, Zaid, was taken in again and held for questioning in the investigation and then released.
Chevaline, where the murders took place, is just 40 miles from the Swiss city of Geneva. The Luger P08 was later discovered to be standard issue for the Swiss army between 1900 and 1945. So authorities at one time worked on the angle that it was Swiss related. In the past year, the combined French and British investigation has gotten nowhere. Theories have been investigated ranging from an Iranian hit squad to a lone pyschopath, to the possibility of Mollier's heiress partner's vengeful family.
Police inquiries into the case spread to a number of other countries including Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and Switzerland. The motorcycle Martin remembered seeing (as he said for a brief second) before he saw the BMW and the sprawled body of Mollier, has still not been identified or discovered. The two girls were in the care of a foster family which French investigators at first suspected was a contract killing. Just last month, the girl's aunt has gained custody over her nieces. Zainab, recovered from a coma after several months in hospital had suffered trauma and amnesia and being then seven years old only remembered part of the events. At one time attention was being focused on the possibility the gunman was a lone psychopath, rather than a professional hitman hired as a result of a financial dispute or international espionage. The combined forces were investigating three lines of inquiry, focusing on Hilli's work, his family and links to his native Iraq.
Mollier remained to investigators the 'unlucky cyclist' while they said that no stone was being left unturned yet the focus had remained on the al-Hilli family, and whether they were victims of an inheritance-related dispute, as opposed to Mollier.
However Mollier, a divorced father of two, was also involved in 'a bitter dispute' over a two million Euro inheritance, belonging to Claire Schutz, his partner 16 years his junior, and the mother of their child born just three months before the killings. Her family reportedly disapproved of the way Mollier was living off of her money and reportedly increasingly concerned about Mollier's potential claims over her inheritance.
Prior to the killings, Mollier also arranged to take time off work at a nuclear metal works factory, Cezus, for what French media described as paternity leave, but was also reportedly expected to last three years.
Family and friends in Ugine, the small Alpine town where Mollier lived and worked, said such theories were “nonsense”.
Like the rest of the Mollier family, many in the region are beginning to doubt that they will ever really find out what happened on the afternoon of September 5, high above Lake Annecy in the remote forested car park.
Eric Maillaud, the French prosecutor leading the inquiry, says that all theories are still being explored. But investigators appear still to be far from defining a motive, let alone an intended victim, and all the possible scenarios mooted so far have their flaws. Around 100 police officers in Britain and France have been investigating the killing of the family. French investigators came to the UK and searched the Hilli family home in Claygate, Surrey, in the wake of the deaths.Eric Maillaud, said last year that there would be no "quick solution" in finding the killers. But it's been a year and all they have are theories.
Cara - Tuesday