Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Swiss Family Massacre Mystery Deepens

Xavier Baligant (left) and Saad al-Hilli

Xavier Baligant (left) and Saad al-Hilli

French police are pursuing new leads as they try to determine who was behind the massacre of a British family in a forest near the French Alps this summer. However, two very different theories about the crime have emerged that are leading investigators along different paths.

Police are now investigating whether there is a link between the Alps murders and the killing of a Belgian tourist near Nantes. But investigators are also looking into the mysterious past of Saad al-Hilli, the assumed target in the Alps massacre.

The similarities between the Alps murders and the killing of the tourist near Nantes began to emerge a few weeks ago when it was disclosed that the perpetrator in both cases used a Swiss-made pistol to kill his victims and spared the lives of children who were near the line of fire.

Police have recovered a Luger issued by the Swiss Army between 1930 and 1940 near the site where the family was murdered in the Alps. The killer used the Luger to kill al-Hilli, 50, his wife, and his mother-in-law. All three were British citizens who were originally from Iraq. Al-Hilli’s two daughters, 7 and 4, were in the car during the shooting. The seven-year-old was struck with the gun and suffered a fractured skull and a wound to the shoulder. The youngest daughter hid beneath her mother’s legs during the shooting and was uninjured. The killer also shot a cyclist, who police say may have arrived at the scene during the shooting and been shot so that he could not serve as a witness.

At least two witnesses saw a Peugeot SUV leaving the scene, driven by an adult male wearing a black shirt. Other witnesses said they saw someone on a motorcycle approaching the scene with the Peugeot SUV just before the shooing.

The perpetrator who killed Belgian tourist Xavier Baligant in 2011 also used a similar Swiss-made murder weapon to shoot his victim, ballistic reports showed.  The killer shot Baligant at a rest area along a highway as he was walking towards the restroom. Baligant left his sleeping children in the car. Baligant’s children remained asleep in the car while their father was gunned down just a few feet away. The fact that people in the vicinity of the shootings did not hear gunshots has prompted authorities to suspect that a silencer was used in both cases.

Police have said that they are comparing the murders as well as the victims, who were foreigners in France, were killed with the same type of Swiss-made pistol that probably had a silencer, whose children in both cases were left alive. In both instances the victims were tourists, who drove cars with foreign plates, and had been camping in southern France. Also, the killer shot both men several times at point blank range with a final shot to the head.

Police have been unable so far to find a motive for killing either man, particularly Baligant, who, as a divorced father, lived a quiet life, before it was abruptly ended. Police have admitted that they have more leads to follow relating to al-Hilli’s murder.

In an interview with Europe 1, Éric Maillaud, a French prosecutor, said that the fact that the Alps killer left behind a large cache of ammunition near the murder scene indicates that he is not a professional killer and that he more fits the profile of a “gun nut.” Maillaud said that police were  checking the records and allibis of  over 1,000 patients, who received care at psychiatric hospitals in France, Italy and Switzerland, to see if any of them fit the profile of the killer.

French investigators are also examining al-Hilli’s ties to Iraq, which he left when he immigrated to the UK as a child, and have formally petitioned the Iraqi government for his and his family’s records there, the Swiss newspaper Le Matin reportedHowever, Maillaud did not disclose specifics about what kind of information investigators are seeking from the Iraqi government.

Also of possible significance to the case, Al-Hilli’s father, who died last year in the Andalousie region of Spain, opened a Swiss bank account in 1984. Le Monde reported that Al-Hilli had a Swiss bank account with a blance of over one million euros ($1.29 million), and that the Germany’s anti-terrorist brigade had information about a connection between Al-Hilli’s family and Saddam Hussein, according to sources close to the investigation.

Earlier this year it was revealed that al-Hilli, who worked as an independent aerospace engineer contractor, had been under surveillance by British authorities since 2003, in the wake of the Iraqi invasion by U.S. and coalition forces. The Daily Mail also reported that Al-Hilli’s father had fallen out of favor with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and fled Iraq shortly before Hussein came to power.

Police are also investigating whether Al-Hilli brother, Zaid al-Hilli, might have a connection to the murders. According to French and British investigators, Al-Hilli was in a dispute over money and assets they had inherited from their parents, who died recently. However, Zaid al-Hilli’s whereabouts have been established in the UK during the time the murders took place. He also disputed claims that he was fighting with his brother about their inheritance, the London Evening Standard reported.

Mailaud has also refused to discuss the merits of reports and theories about Al-Hilli’s ties to Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime, which he described as “smoke” in telecast interviews.

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