Who killed the al-Hilli family? The true crime story behind the Channel 4 documentary Murder in the Alps

The shooting of a British family and a cyclist in the French Alps ten years ago stumped both local and international police forces

Who killed the al-Hilli family? The true crime story behind the Channel 4 documentary Murder in the Alps

Murder in the Alps airs on Channel Four in three parts at 9pm on Sunday 26 June, Monday 27 June and Tuesday 28 June

By Nick Duerden

In September 2012, a British-Iraqi family from Surrey were on what would turn out to be their final family holiday together, one that would end in the brutal murder of three of them. Saad al-Hilli, 50, and his wife Iqbal, 47, their daughters Zainab and Zeena, and Saad’s mother-in-law Suhalia, 74, were in the lakeside town of Annecy, near the Swiss border. It was a warm afternoon, and they’d stopped to pick apples. Earlier, Saad had gone paragliding.

Saad had parked his car, the engine still running, when someone approached them. He, his wife and mother-in-law were then shot dead at close range. Zainab, seven years old at the time, who was outside the vehicle, was also shot, pistol-whipped and left for dead. Zeena, just four, was hiding under her mother’s skirt in the back seat, unseen by the assassin. She would remain hidden there for the next eight hours.

At some point, a French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, happened upon the horrific scene. He was shot dead, too. The assassin fled. Moments later, another cyclist, former RAF pilot Brett Martin, arrived. Martin, a Brit, had a holiday home nearby. He took in the scene, which at first he thought must be an accident, before he saw the bodies, and the bullet holes. There was not good reception in this part of the town, and so Martin hastened back onto his bike and pedalled frantically down the hill, before being able to notify the police.

It was only as the true horror of the scene unfolded that its mystery deepened. Who were the al-Hillis, and why were they murdered in a manner that suggested a professional hit, an execution? And who possibly could have ordered their killing?

This became a true crime mystery that would go on to transfix the world and would continue to stump both local and international police forces. But now, as the 10th anniversary encroaches, authorities are hopeful for a breakthrough. As a three-part documentary about the terrible event, Murder in the Alps, about to begin on Channel 4 this Sunday, Annecy’s public prosecutor told reporters recently: “I think we’re nearly there.”

In the immediate aftermath of the slaying, initial enquiries led police back to Surrey, where they became increasingly convinced that a long-running feud between Saad and his elder brother Zaid was the obvious line of enquiry. The siblings had been feuding over their late father’s will, and the inheritance of the house in Claygate in which the al-Hillis lived. Zaid, then 57, had initially been taken in for questioning, but was later released without charge. He has always strenuously protested his innocence.

Mollier, the cyclist, would also interest the police. At first, it was simply believed that he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the fact that he’d been shot more than the other victims – his body had been riddled with seven bullets – and that some reports suggested it was he who’d actually been shot first – cast fresh doubts. Additionally, his partner Claire Schutz, who had recently given birth to their first child, had just inherited her parents’ multi-million pound pharmacy business. Might this be the real reason for the assassination, and the al-Hallis the unfortunate bystanders?

The enquiry itself then came in for criticism. There was suggestion that the crime scene had been disturbed, and that crucial clues were potentially missed. There were multiple other suspects too, among them a foreign legionnaire who had known Ms Schutz and who committed suicide after being questioned as a witness. A former police officer was called in for questioning after a number of guns were found at his property near the area, and even a local serial killer became a person of interest before being ruled out. Later, an Iraqi prisoner was questioned after it was claimed that he had been paid to kill the al-Hillis, but this too ultimately led nowhere.

Within this endlessly intriguing story, riddled as it was with plot twists, the actual human cost was often overlooked. Saad and Iqbal’s daughters, now teenagers, both survived the attack. While all those fascinated by this grisly tale might crave a satisfying climax to what has become a torturously long investigation, surely nobody craves it – nor deserves it – more than they.

*Murder in the Alps airs on Channel Four in three parts at 9pm on Sunday 26 June, Monday 27 June and Tuesday 28 June and will be available on demand on All 4

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White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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