Annecy massacre: back to square one for Chevaline, the scene of the most notorious unsolved crime in France | world news
Lake Annecy is so beautiful and peaceful that it’s easy to imagine bad things can’t happen here.
Today, mist sits on the water, and in the distance there are mountains rising into the sky.
It’s a pretty postcard in the sense that there are a lot of postcards of this scene.
But take a detour by the lake and turn off towards Doussard. Continue past Chevaline and you’ll find a different story – an echo of the horrific murders that still linger in people’s memories here.
As we drive, the snow accumulates on the sides and the road becomes icy and quickly treacherous.
Few vehicles pass through here. Even during the summer tourist season, this is an unfamiliar route, winding its way through the woods.
But in September 2012, it was there that four people were brutally murdered in one of France’s most notorious unsolved crimes.
Three of them were members of the same British family – Saad al-Hilli and his wife Iqbal, as well as Iqbal’s mother, Souhailia al-Allaf. The fourth victim is Sylvain Mollier, a local resident who was on a bike ride.
The Al-Hilli family was on vacation, camping at a nearby site. They had driven out and apparently stopped at a rest area to enjoy the view. While there, Saad, Iqbal and Souhaila were all murdered, along with Mr. Mollier.
The Al-Hilli’s two daughters, Zainab and Zeena, both survived.
Zainab, who was seven years old, was shot in the shoulder and then bludgeoned by the killer, using his pistol, possibly having run out of ammunition.
Zeena, who was only four at the time of the attack, escaped injury after hiding under the clothes of her dead mother and grandmother in the back of the car.
No motive was ever established. Indeed, it is not really known whether Mr. Mollier was shot because he had witnessed the murders of the family, or the reverse.
The investigation spread from France to Great Britain, then to Switzerland, Spain and beyond. In the end, its tentacles spread to 15 countries.
Saad al-Hilli’s brother was arrested after it emerged they had fallen out over money.
But police said there was not enough evidence against him.
In France, a photofit was created of a motorcyclist who was seen near the scene of the crime wearing a distinctive protective helmet.
After a thorough investigation, he was found claiming he had not heard of the case, despite huge media coverage. He too was later released.
Years passed, with no apparent breakthrough.
A few months ago, a the reconstruction was staged, apparently to confirm times and to see who might have been where, when. And then, in spectacular fashion, this week came the news that the motorcyclist had been arrested one more time.
We know that he is a man in his fifties, who lives in the suburbs of Lyon.
He was arrested at the Chambéry police station amid an explosion of interest.
His detention was extended and then, as suddenly as he had been arrested, the prosecutor announced the man had been released, and eliminated from the survey.
Another false dawn, then, in the history of this unsolved crime.
In a small cafe near Doussard, customers are talking about the business as we enter.
“Who knows who did it, maybe it was someone from here,” says a customer.
The one thing about these murders that everyone agrees on is that no one really knows.
“When I saw that a man had been arrested, I was reassured and I really thought it could be him, so this case could be solved”, says a resident of the district, eating and to have a drink at lunchtime.
“And now we are back to square one, with a family who will never know if anyone will be arrested and convicted for these deaths.”
It is as if this affair had returned to its starting point, with a mass of questions and no answers.
But at least there’s some solace – nearly a decade after those gruesome, brutal and confusing murders, the police are still on the hunt for the killer.