A former police officer and avid arms collector has been arrested in the mysterious 2012 quadruple homicide of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist near Annecy France.
French police say they arrested a man, named in the French press as Eric Devouassox, a 48-year-old “loner” and “taciturn mountain man” who matched a suspect profile picture released last year on suspicion of “organized gang murder.”
Devouassox was apparently fired last June from the Menthon-Saint-Bernard police station where he worked as a municipal cop. He was then reportedly asked to leave the communal housing compound where he worked because of his firearm collection. Neighbors interviewed by the French press reported that he had then gone to Geneva, Switzerland, to work as a private security guard. French police told reporters that his cell phone showed he was around the Annecy region at the time the murders took place. He was arrested in a private home in Lathuile, France, which is the site of another yet-unsolved murder when a woman was shot in her home last November. A second home in nearby Talloires, reportedly owned by Devouassox, was also being searched with metal detectors. Local French media reported that the garden had been dug up.
On Sept. 5, 2012, Saad Al-Hilli, 50, his wife, Iqbal, 47, and her mother, Suhaila Al-Allaf, 74, were found dead in their idling BMW in a forest clearing near the picturesque Lake Annecy in the French Alps. The body of Sylvain Mollier, 45, a French bicyclist, was also found riddled with bullets outside the car. Mollier’s blood was on Al-Hilli’s pant leg inside the car. Police discovered the family’s seven-year-old daughter, Zainab, alive outside the car, with severe injuries to the head and a gunshot wound to the shoulder after the assassin or assassins apparently pistol whipped her. Her four-year-old sister, Zeena, who was unharmed, was found hiding underneath her mother’s corpse in a state of shock in the back seat more than eight hours after the bodies were first discovered. Police and child psychologists will now show a picture of Devouassox to the young children to see if they recognize or remember him.
The two young girls, who are living with family in Britain, have not been able to give reliable accounts of what happened, say British and French detectives who are working jointly on the case. Police have chased a number of leads, including whether Al-Hilli was a money runner for Sadaam Hussein. They are also investigating Al-Hilli’s alleged aggressive anti-Semitic online behavior or whether the hits were part of a family inheritance dispute. Al-Hilli’s brother Zaid was arrested by British police last June on “suspicion to commit murder” but released after detectives failed to tie him directly to the murders. The two brothers were in a fierce dispute over property in Surrey. For a time, police even questioned whether the cyclist Mollier, who worked in a nuclear plant, was the intended victim and the Al-Hilli family simply got in the way.
The arrest of Devouassoux is the first French arrest in the case although chief detective Eric Maillaud told French reporters that it was still “impossible to say at this stage if the detained person has anything to do with the murders.” He also said in a written statement that the arrest comes after witness accounts related to the November release of a police sketch of a man on a motorcycle with a peculiar police helmet, of which only 8,000 were manufactured, who was apparently seen near the crime scene. “This questioning, which may not be the only one, is a result of witness statements collected after the release on Novmeber 4 of an artist’s rendition of a motorcyclist seen by forestry workers near the scene of the crime.” French media is also reporting that Devouassoux is an arms collector with a penchant for antique guns like the 7.65 Luger P06 weapon used to shoot the four victims.
French police can hold Devouassoux for four days without officially charging him with a crime. More than 100 officers in France and the United Kingdom have been working on the case. More than 800 witnesses in Britain, Iraq, Switzerland, Italy and France have been interviewed. Millaud says the arrest may not solve the case. “It could take two, three or ten years to solve this,” he told French reporters. “Or we many never know.”