Alps murders: Cops still stumped one year on

Almost exactly a year after the shocking and mysterious murder of several members of the British-Iraqi al-Hilli family and a French cyclist at Annecy in the French Alps, investigators have confessed that apart from the murder weapon, "they know nothing."

Alps murders: Cops still stumped one year on
Roadblock. A police officer stands near the scene of a quadruple murder at Annecy in the French Alps on September 5th, 2012. One year on, investigators still haven't solved the case. Photo: Clatot/AFP

The first anniversary of a quadruple murder in Chevaline in the French Alps will be marked on Thursday with police still struggling to explain the shocking and violent slaying.

"We know that a 7.65 calibre Lugar was the murder weapon, but apart from that we know nothing," British investigator Kevin Hurley told French radio RTL on Wednesday.

Acknowledging that the Chevaline case was the most mysterious he had come across in 20 years, the man from Scotland Yard admitted: "Neither do we know whether there was one killer, or if there were accomplices. And the real problem is that we still haven't found the motive."

In a case that has intrigued and horrified in equal measure, three members of the British-Iraqi al-Hilli family and Frenchman Sylvain Moller died on September 5th, 2012 in a woodland car park close to the village of Chevaline in the hills above Lake Annecy.

All four victims had been shot at least twice in the head during an attack in which the killer or killers unleashed more than 25 shots.

The ordeals endured by the al-Hilli's two daughters added to the particularly unsettling nature of the beauty spot massacre.

Zainab, then seven, was left for dead after being shot in the shoulder and repeatedly beaten around the head, apparently with the butt of an automatic pistol, yet somehow recovered after weeks of intensive care.

Her younger sister, Zeena, miraculously went unnoticed by hiding under her mother's skirt in the back of the family's BMW estate.

Incredibly, Zeena, then four, also escaped the attention of the first emergency workers to arrive at the scene and was to spend eight hours crouching under the legs of her slain mother before finally being discovered by forensic experts who had travelled from Paris to inspect the sealed-off site.

Twelve months on, investigators remain at a loss to explain why the two little girls, who are now with relatives after months in foster care, were made to endure such horrors.

In March, Eric Maillaud, the Annecy prosecutor who is in charge of an investigation being conducted in collaboration with British police admitted to The Local that the inquiry may never reach a definitive conclusion.

“Of course it is possible we will never find them, but it’s too early to conclude that,” Maillaud said.  “It’s out of the question that we will be thinking like that now.”

Despite the lack of a definitive theory as to a motive for the murders, investigators have concluded that Moller was not a target and died because he had the misfortune to arrive at the scene at the wrong time while out cycling.

A theory that the attack could have been the work of a lone psychopath also seems to have been dismissed.

Instead, the investigation has focused increasingly in recent months on the possibility that the slaying had its origins in a dispute between one of the victims, Saad al-Hilli, and his brother Zaid, over a family inheritance.

Maillaud has described the financial dispute as involving several million euros.

He said in June that investigators were trying to track the destination of calls made to Romania from Zaid al-Hilli's home phone in the weeks prior to the attack.

Shortly after that revelation, Zaid al-Hilli was arrested by British police and questioned on the basis of suspicion of conspiracy to murder. 

He was subsequently released without charge but remains under bail pending further enquiries.

Maillaud and his British counterparts are due to give an update on the progress of the investigation at a press conference scheduled for Friday in Annecy.

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British ambassador’s quest to reunite with Spanish woman ends in tears

Hugh Elliott, the newly appointed British ambassador to Madrid made headlines last week when he went public with a heartwarming story about the hospitality he received from a stranger on his first trip to Burgos in 1984.

British ambassador’s quest to reunite with Spanish woman ends in tears
HMA Hugh Elliott sad he had cried more than a little at the news of his old friend. Photo: British Embassy/FCO

He described how as a student he became stranded in the northern Spanish city after his bicycle failed to arrive on the same train as him, making his onward trip to a budget campsite impossible.

But on sharing his plight with a stranger in the bar he was offered a place to stay with a Spanish family who refused to take a payment for his board and lodging.

“It took five days for the bike to arrive. I spent all those days staying and eating with them as family without them letting me pay for anything,” recalled the ambassador, who arrived at the Madrid posting in August.

“How many countries would have welcomed a stranger like that?” Elliott asked in a video he posted on his twitter account on Tuesday.

READ MORE: UK ambassador looking to find friend who helped him when he was a hard up youngster in Spain

Hugh Elliott posted a clip on Twitter recounting the story and asked for help to find Lourdes Arnáiz. 

He asked for help to track down the woman who had shown such warm hospitality, whose name he remembered was Lourdes Arnáiz.

He asked the twittersphere for help to track her down after all these years so that he could properly thank her and her family all these years later.

On Friday evening he posted a new video with the update that his quest for news of Lourdes had been successful thanks to the huge response –

He said the reaction to his first video had been “totally unexpected, overwhelming and very affectionate”

“Thanks to your support, I now have news of her, but this is the sad part,” he said, visibly emotional. “I’m very sorry to have to say that Lourdes passed away at the age of 35 from Multiple Sclerosis. I had hoped for another outcome, but alas, it isn’t so.”

 Elliott said he had spoken to Lourdes’ brother, Alfonso, whom he also knew all those years ago and who lives in Burgos with his family and the pair had resumed their friendship and would meet soon.

But in the meantime the ambassador urged those who had been touched by the story to donate something to associations dedicated to helping those sufferers of multiple sclerosis, either as volunteers or through a donation.

“if this story has touched you, and I have to say that I have cried more than in a little, there's something that you can do.” 

He pointed out that there were several organisations in Burgos dedicated to helping those with the disease, as well in Santiago, the city he was headed for in 1984 as well as in Salamanca, where he later worked as a young teacher. There is also a national organisation, he said.

“Each one of us can contribute our ‘grain of sand’ with our time as a volunteer or with a donation. Thanks for your support and the interest that you have shown in this story and thanks so much for all your endearing messages,” he said.

The ambassador then tweeted a list of organisations in the places he mentioned that support multiple sclerosis suffers.