From what the public prosecutor and police in Haute-Savoie have been saying, the disturbing case of the Chevaline murders from 18 months ago appear to have been carried out at complete random by a lone gunman
This former local policeman aged 48 and living in the neighbouring village of Talloires had, according to police, “no direct link” with the unfortunate protagonists of the drama. Anyone who has had the chance to visit this beautiful part of France will find it hard to associate the exceptional beauty of Lake Annecy and its dramatic surroundings with such an horrific event.
The suspect was arrested around 10am as he was leaving his house, according to a police source close to the case, adding that his house had been raided.
“This inquiry, which will possibly not be the only one, is the result of witness accounts gathered, most notably after the transmission on the 4th of November 2013 of a police-artist sketch of a motorcyclist seen close to the scene of the crime and who was actively sought by the inquirers,” said the Annecy public prosecutor Eric Maillaud. According to Mr Maillaud, the suspect – who is being held by authorities from Chambéry – bears a “strong resemblance” to the police-artist sketch of the man wearing the distinctive “goat” style motorcycle helmet.
The man’s arrest can last up to 96 hours, after which he must be released or (as is the expected outcome) be charged for an “organised gang murder” (meurtres en bande organisée).
According to the prosecutor, the man in question is a former town policeman from Menthon-Saint-Bernard – another village with an idyllic location on the shores of Lake Annecy about 4km from Talloires. The mayor of the village – Antoine de Menthon – confirmed that the man in question had his licence revoked last June, was removed from public duty and was “requested to leave his communal lodgings”.
The man has been described by those who knew him as a “taciturn Savoyard” and a “gun enthusiast”, living on the margins of local society. On Tuesday afternoon, gendarmes raided a house in Talloires. Journalists witnessed them searching the garden with the aid of a metal detector – possibly looking for a weapon which has not yet been recovered.On the 5th of September 2012, 50-year-old Iraqi-born British engineer Saad al-Hilli was murdered along with his wife (47) and his mother-in-law (74) on a small forest road near Chevaline. They had been holidaying in the area. Sylvain Mollier – a cyclist who appears to have happened upon the incident – was also murdered. The two daughters of the family – seven-year-old Zainab and four-year-old Zeena – survived the massacre.
The public prosecutor in Annecy had described the murderer at the time as a “seasoned killer”, “very experienced”, who didn’t hesitate to reload his weapon three times in the course of the slaughter to dispatch his victims with a bullet between the eyes. The gun used was an old 7.65 calibre Luger P06 – used by the Swiss army.
In Britain, meanwhile, Surrey police failed to comment on the dramatic turn in the enquiry. They had been working on the theory that the murder was a professional hit linked to the victim’s brother and to the fact that al-Hilli had been working for the British Ministry of Defence.
The transmission of the police-artist sketch prompted over a hundred telephone calls, of which forty were described as “useful”.