Last week I attempted to refresh our understanding of the Al-Hilli killings in Annecy, France. This murder of a British Iraqi man, together with his wife and mother-in-law and a local cyclist who happened to be passing by shocked two nations. For nearly two years there has been no movement in the case. Police forces on both sides of the channel are baffled. It is not even clear what kind of murder we’re dealing with. The choices are not only between a professional hit for political reasons, a professional hit for family reasons or a professional hit for business reasons. Also in the mix are: a right-wing racist killing, a revenge killing of middle eastern origins, a revenge killing of European origins, a random spree of the psychotic gun-nut variety or a premeditated murder for reasons yet unknown.
In nearly all of these examples, either the Al Hilli family (in particular Saad Al Hilli), or the racial group to which they belong, is the intended target. Only in the last three examples can one widen the frame. The intended victim in these three versions could
also be the cyclist. It could be a distinctly local job with some Iraqi collateral damage that nearly included two little girls whose testimony is surely of vital interest, but who are probably still too traumatized to tell.
Then, last week things suddenly seemed to be hotting up. French police, after publishing an e-fit picture of a motorcyclist with a distinctive helmet who was seen in the vicinity around the time of the shootings, received a tip-off from the public. This led to the arrest of a local man who just happened to have a cache of WWII weapons of a similar type to the murder weapon and also happened, according to cell phone evidence, to be in the area at the time. I became optimistic enough to suggest that one of my own versions of events could turn out to be close to the truth. I asked my editor to republish the original 2012 blog with a fresh foreword. Bad move.
During all of last week, the suspect was referred to a lot in the press as an “ex-cop”. In truth he was still on active duty
at the time of the killings (he was later dismissed for financial impropriety), so if he had
turned out to be our man, significant quantities of excrement would have hit the proverbial fan at an international level. Were a few exiled Iraqis worth that much aggro? Mysteriously, a few days later, and before this question could be effectively addressed, he suddenly ceased to be a suspect and charges against him transmuted into illegal arms trading. The French police are now showing more interest in his portfolio of valuable properties and his business contacts than in his much-vaunted marksmanship skills.
And curiously enough, the investigators are no longer saying that his cell phone signal was in the immediate vicinity at the time of the crime either. It would seem they’ve changed their minds about what constitutes immediate vicinity or changed their minds about the time. Funny, I was under the impression that a call log contains precise metadata on time and place. I was further under the impression that if the police publicly claim that a person’s phone was in a particular zone at a particular moment, then they would have records to back up their assertion. I didn’t imagine that such information might suffer from the Heisenberg paradox: that the more we know about the location of a thing, the less we know about its motion and vice versa. This is usually only applied to the behaviour of spatial bodies and sub-atomic particles. I naively thought cell phones, because they emit a time code and
a location fix, must be an exception. Apparently they are not. Not French phones, and definitely not if they belong even to disgraced members of the police force.
The ex-cop, ex-suspect also had a gun-loving, gun-toting friend with a similar WWII collection. So, for a few brief hours, the investigating officer’s favourite “twin shooter” theory actually had not only the credence of two different kinds of trace on the cartridge cases, but two possible killers as well. Unluckily for Inspector Clouseau, man number two turned out to have a strong alibi for the time of the killings, even if it was one that didn’t stop him from trying to run away when he saw the police outside his house.
As for the Al-Hillis, I have seen no answers to the oddness of the running engine, the front passenger seat being empty, the passenger side door being closed and the little girl being outside the vehicle. I have seen no answers to the question of whether either of the two ex-suspects knew the murdered cyclist. The British end of the case is going nowhere. And as for the French police, they now have an embarrassment of crimes where they formerly had one, an embarrassment of weapons, none of which fit the crime and an embarrassment of motorcycles, none of which are the right one either. Meanwhile the real weapon or weapons, the real motorcycle and the elusive, special and rare police issue helmet are nowhere to be found.
There are a lot of Arabs in France and Lake Annecy is very deep and very large. Let’s not even think about it. Sorry to have bothered you. There’s nothing happening here. Move along, please.
© Edwin Drood
, February 2014