On September 5th 2019 we reached the 7th anniversary of the Annecy shootings, (or the Chevaline killings), where 3 members of a British family and a French citizen were mysteriously shot to death on the tarmac Route Forestière Domaniale de la Combe d’Ire close to the small village of Chevaline, Haute-Savoie, near the southern end of Lake Annecy in France. The perpetrator has never been identified or caught. The four people killed were Iraqi born Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, who held a Swedish passport, and a local French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45. The al-Hillis’ two daughters, Zainab, 8 and Zeena, 4, both survived the attack although Zainab was severely injured.This blog is a close study of this particular event but it has alerted me to these type of killings which often attract a great deal of speculation and conspiracy theories.
The Annecy murders have been compared to the “Dominici affair”, a triple murder which took place in France in August 1952. The location is 250 km south of Chevaline near the small town of Lurs on Route 96, (now the D4096). This was the roadside shooting murder of Sir Jack Drummond and his wife Lady Anne. Their 10 year old daughter Elizabeth was bludgeoned to death with the murder weapon, a war surplus .30 M1 carbine. Like the al-Hilli family 60 years later, the Drummond’s were on a camping holiday.
Just over a year before the Annecy murders on July 19 2011, Xavier Baligant a 29 year old Belgian was returning home from a camping trip in France with his two young children. He stopped at the Aire-de-Malvaux rest area on the A31 just south of Nancy in the early hours to use the restroom. He was mysteriously shot and killed in front of the facility whilst his children slept in the car. His killer used a Swiss Schmidt- Rubin 7.5mm bolt action rifle and both the killer and weapon have never been found. This was also compared to the Annecy murders especially as the killer used a military surplus Swiss firearm. No connection other than the style of the murder has ever been established.
In November 2013 two masked men entered the house of a man and woman who owned a popular campsite in the village of Lathuile. This was just 3km north of Chevaline. They shot and killed the woman and badly beat her husband.
In October 2014 Jean-Francois Hauteville, 47 was shot dead with a rifle while he sat in his van alongside a quiet road near Neuvecelle, 100 km to the North East of Chevaline. An associate was implicated but he hanged himself whilst in police custody. Just 29 km to the east of Neuvecelle is the village of Ballaison.
On March 27th 2019 the body of Daniel Forestier, 57 was found in a remote parking area close to this village. He had been shot five times in the head and torso. Married with two children he ran a café and wrote spy thrillers. He had allegedly worked for the French external intelligence agency, the DGSE for 14 years. There is a great deal of speculation surrounding this recent murder. I intend to return to France in October to study these incidents. Are there patterns, is the region an important factor….
In July this year in the UK, Gurinderjit Rai was executed with a shotgun whilst parked in a lay-by in rural Hampshire. His murder is still under investigation. Separate blog.
The Annecy murders attracted a great deal of invented theories and intrigue and a reluctance amongst some to accept random chance. That factor plays a significant role in some cases but these killings are a difficult jigsaw to solve. Do the killers have anything in common even if their motives differ. Is location more significant than we realise. If we use Annecy as an example I have discovered similarities with an event in the UK that might surprise you.
The Hungerford Massacre occurred 32 years ago when a local man, Michael Ryan shot and killed 16 innocent people on August 19th, 1987. Most of his victims were murdered inside the Berkshire market town. Ryan was a poorly educated, troubled loner, suffering with psychotic tendencies. His quiet and private demeanour concealed his inner frustrations. At the two gun club ranges where he used his legally licenced firearms he was seen as a safe and trusted shooting enthusiast. Outside this environment he was the antithesis of the responsible shooter; carrying firearms in his car and on his person at work locations. He admitted to one employer that he would go out at night in his car shooting at roadside structures. Thames Valley Police found bullet penetrated examples after his rampage. 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. The image below was taken in 2008, the site was just south of Hungerford. The structure has since been replaced.
The two brutal events 25 years and 750 miles apart would not appear to have anything in common. A closer look however reveals some features of interesting similarity. These are simple factual characteristics that might provide an insight into the Alps killer who remains a mystery. As a result this murder has drawn so much speculation and stimulated so much intrigue and opinion. Conspiracy theories have been rife, drifting away from the simple facts. I have visited both murder sites.
The circumstances surrounding Ryan’s first victim is often lost in the descriptions and image of Ryan stalking around the streets of Hungerford, killing his victims with a semi-automatic assault rifle. His first victim however was 7 miles from Hungerford; 35 year old Sue Godfrey from Burghfield Common near Reading who was by chance picnicking in Savernake forest park with her two young children. She had entered Savernake on Grand Avenue, a tarmac road that runs the length of the forest close to the small town of Marlborough.
Looking at both cases :-
Both murder scenarios were perpetrated in the summer months, on weekdays in fine weather within forest parks known and promoted for their beauty. Both locations offered signed and easy public access on tarmac roads. The two images above are views of the Savernake and Combe d’Ire parking locations.
Both victim’s cars were parked in the small roughly hewn parking areas to the side of a tarmac road. The locations were quiet but not remote. All the victim groups had not visited the locations before and had simply gone as a result of friendly suggestion; the al-Hilli family by their camp site manager, Sylvian Mollier by a friend and Sue Godfrey by her father.
The al-Hilli’s had taken happy family photographs in Doussard village, just a small distance from Chevaline and just a short time before they reached the Combe d’Ire forest route. Sue Godfrey had stopped to purchase fuel in Froxfield on the A4 just short of Savernake and had briefly passed the time of day with the fuel station proprietor, Kakboub Dean.
Michael Ryan knew Savernake Forest, he had frequented the place before, sometimes dressed in camouflage, stalking unsuspecting visitors on fanciful military style clandestine missions. He had set out in the late morning on the day of his shooting spree with firearms and ammunition in his car. He had spotted Sue Godfrey and her children and decided to target her. The Combe d’Ire killer was positioned where his victims would have to stop at the end of the public access road. Despite all the speculation of an assassination there is no evidence proving that the al-Hilli family or Mollier were on site to meet anybody or they were lured or being followed. Both locations would as a matter of course attract innocent visitors on each respective day. The Combe d’Ire route has sometimes been inaccurately described. It is not a road that you can take by mistake, the route is clearly marked off a sharp bend. Once on the route, there are options to turn around, nobody is trapped on it.
All the victims were shot multiple times at close range with a handgun. Both perpetrators made no attempt to retrieve the spent cartridge cases ejected from their semi-auto pistols. Although it is thought that Ryan might have intended to rape Sue Godfrey, he didn’t. Both Saad al-Hilli and Sue Godfrey made desperate attempts to get away once the attacks were underway. Nothing was taken or stolen from any of the victims.
The children present at both shootings were spared despite Zainab al-Hilli being badly hurt.
A British cyclist, Brett Martin was first on the scene at Annecy, he had not heard any shots despite being close to the murder site. He had a holiday property in the area but it was his first ride on the forest route. He found Zainab al-Hilli badly hurt near her parent’s car. Myra Rose was the first to reach the vicinity of Sue Godfrey’s demise, she found her two children wandering around confused and alone. She had not heard any shots. She was visiting friends in Marlborough and had set out alone that morning to enjoy a walk in the forest.
There were no witnesses to either killings. Both killers were easily able to make their escape and they had a choice of direction. They were both long gone before the police arrived.
Once the authorities discovered it was Michael Ryan who murdered Sue Godfrey it was accepted that he had sufficient knowledge to use a semi-auto 9mm Beretta, (pictured above), to kill his victim. Sue Godfrey was defenceless and Michael Ryan was no “professional”. Speculation has fuelled the view in some quarters that the Annecy murders were perpetrated by a “professional” assassin but questions the use of a 7.65mm P06 Luger, (below). Whoever the perpetrator was this semi-auto hand gun was extremely efficient, the Luger is easy to operate and very accurate especially at close quarters. This gunman shock attacked his defenceless victims in the same brutal manner that Ryan killed Sue Godfrey.
The killings in both circumstances were disjointed and messy. Sue Godfrey had tried to flee, she was shot 13 times in the back and was found face down across a wire fence. Saad al-Hilli had parked forwards into the parking area and had got out of his car with his daughter Zainab. Saad al-Hilli was first shot in the back whilst desperately trying to get back into his car, his daughter Zainab was shot in the shoulder. The French cyclist Sylvian Mollier arrived just as the killer launched his frenzied attack, he was shot multiple times at close range in the face head and chest. Perhaps the killer, waiting for a random target was positioned in natural anticipation of a left-hand drive car. The al-Hilli’s right hand drive BMW momentarily confused him when Zainab stepped out; he was initially positioned on the wrong side of the car. He was on the driver’s side however when he started shooting. As Saad al-Hilli reversed his car in a wild wheel spinning arc ramming it into the bank the killer shot him, his wife and her mother through the windscreen and side windows whilst they sat trapped in the car. Zeena remained in the car and was eventually found unhurt and concealed in the rear foot well. It was oddly assumed that the killer failed to see her; he may well have been totally aware of the child but chose not to deliberately harm her.
Perhaps Ryan’s random attack in England’s Savernake forest and the way he cruelly murdered his victim is a clue to what happened in the forest south of Lake Annecy in France. Ryan was comfortable in Savernake and knew the location, perhaps the Combe d’Ire killer felt the same. Whilst totally unconnected there is perhaps an interesting trend apparent here. Had the al-Hilli group not arrived the victims might well have been the cyclist Brett Martin and the 3 French walkers in a car who arrived behind him.
In October 2015 I found evidence of gunfire damage and bullet debris on a steel forestry sign structure just 30 metres from the murder site. There was also gunfire penetration damage through roadside structures on nearby roads. This was promptly reported to the joint British and French investigation team but it was not reported to the Press. The Combe d’Ire structure was removed and sent to a French forensic facility in Paris. The gunfire damage perpetrated on this feature by two different firearms was determined to have taken place before the murder in 2012 and the embedded bullet debris did not match the murder weapon. This came as no surprise to me, it was the fact that it was there. This structure, subjected to damage by firearms in a public place had been overlooked throughout the entire period of the official investigation. The immediate area had undergone meticulous forensic investigation and searches, lengthy media reporting, filmed TV documentaries and public interest visits. It stood there only partly obscured by foliage, right alongside the experts and journalists offering their professional opinions. This perhaps begs the question; what else was missed and overlooked throughout the important initial investigation. The location contexts were different for the killers and their victims. For the gunman they were killing grounds. Ryan frequented Savernake; perhaps the Chevaline killer had done the same.
These images have never appeared in any other narrative or report.