Viewers of‘s Murder in the Alps were left stunned after learning the secret American ex-husband of the British mother slaughtered in the 2012 massacre died on the same day.
The documentary explores the September 2012 case, which saw Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old Iraqi-born British tourist and his wife Iqbal shot dead in front of their two young daughters in a forest car park close to Lake Annecy, near‘s border with Switzerland.
Iqbal’s mother was also killed in the execution-style attack, as was a French cyclist who apparently stumbled upon the scene on a remote mountain road.
French investigators have struggled for more than nine years to identify a motive for the killings.
During the show, family and friends of Iqbal’s first husband James Thompson explained how he had suffered a heart attack and died while driving his car- on the exact same day as the massacre.
Many of those watching were left stunned, with one writing: ‘Literally jaw dropping episode! #MurderInTheAlps.’
Viewers of Channel 4’s Murder in the Alps were left stunned after learning the secret American ex-husband of the British mother slaughtered in the 2012 massacre died on the same day
Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old Iraqi-born British tourist and his wife Iqbal were shot dead in front of their two young daughters in a forest car park close to Lake Annecy, near France’s border with Switzerland
Another commented: ‘Was not expecting that! Husband number 1 dies on the same day too #murderinthealps.’
A third added: ‘Strange how the wife’s ex husband died on the same day #MurderInTheAlps.’
In the documentary, which aired last night, American relatives of James explained how they first came to know Iqbal when she married him in 1999.
Years before she married Saad, she had moved to Louisiana to live with Jim Thompson where she used the name ‘Kelly’.
Many of those watching were left stunned to learn that Iqbal’s ex-husband died the same day as the massacre
His son Joshua explained: ‘My dad back then was the best, very charismatic, very sociable.
‘When he told me about Kelly, I was probably 12 or 13. He said she’d be staying with us for a while.’
Joshua said Kelly ‘fit into the family very easily’, adding: ‘They were very happy and it was all just very loving. They cared for each other.
‘I never saw a frown on her face. I loved her man, she was a good lady. I wish she could have stuck around a bit longer.’
The couple got married in July 1999, with James’ sister Judy Weatherley confessing she had been stunned by the decision by her brother.
Iqbal lived as Kelly in the US for 18 months, with Judy saying: ‘We fell in love with her from day one, but we could feel the pressure on her.’
However she recalled how Iqbal left the US suddenly, adding: ‘I just remember she came and told me she had to leave, and it just broke my heart.
Previous suspects and ‘witnesses’ arrested over the case
During the course of the investigation, several individuals have been questioned but none has been charged.
Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid: Arrested on suspicion of murder in 2013 but released after police found there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime.
French former soldier Patrice Menegaldo: Questioned in April 2013 – though police later maintained this was as a witness, not a suspect.
Menegaldo took his own life in June 2014 and left a suicide note that referred to ‘feeling like a suspect’.
Iraqi prisoner known as Mr S: Questioned after he claimed to have been offered ‘a large sum of money’ to kill Iraqis living in the UK.
Former local policeman Eric Devouassoux: Arrested in February 2014 in connection with the tragedy but later cleared.
Convicted killer Nordahl Lelandais: Questioned in connection with the case while being suspected of two murders that happened nearby.
After a review, authorities said they no longer believe Lelandais was connected to the al-Hilli family case.
He was later convicted for the murder of Corporal Arthur Noyer, 23, and faces another trial this year after he admitted killing Maelys de Araujo, eight, in August 2017 – though he maintains both deaths were accidental.
‘I told her I didn’t understand, and she just hugged me and cried.’
Joshua confessed he had known very little about why Kelly was leaving, adding: ‘I just thought she went to be a dentist in Iraq.’
After she left the US, Judy never saw her again, adding: ‘It was just so all of a sudden but I didn’t want to question her.’
It is believed she never told her second husband about the marriage and instead kept it secret.
She certainly lied about it when she married Saad in Surrey on August 28, 2003, two years after abandoning her first husband.
Signing herself by her maiden name — Iqbal Al-Saffar — she failed to declare her first marriage to officials at the register office in Weybridge.
Under UK law, those who have been married previously must produce documentary evidence of their divorce. Instead, Iqbal declared that she was a ‘spinster’ — the legal term for an unmarried woman — raising the possibility that she did not even tell her new husband about her previous marriage.
The attack on the Al-Hillis happened on 3.45pm on September 5 2012.
Iqbal, her husband Saad, and her mother were each shot in the head several times while in their BMW car at a layby close to Lake Annecy, eastern France.
More than two dozen spent bullet casings were found near their British-registered BMW estate car.
The Al-Hillis’ daughter, Zeena, four, hid in the footwell of the vehicle and was unscathed, while her sister, Zainab, seven, was shot and pistol-whipped but recovered.
Sylvain Mollier, a 45-year-old French cyclist thought to be an innocent bystander, was found dead nearby after being shot seven times at point blank range.
It is not clear if Jim was aware of the development when around 3pm local time in Natchez, some seven hours later, he came out of an antique shop and told a friend he was not feeling well.
According to local newspaper reports, 60-year-old James Dudley Thompson stopped at a red light and sat dead in the driver’s seat for 45 minutes — until onlookers realised he hadn’t simply broken down.
However his family and friends questioned the death in the documentary, with one of James’ friends, Cecil Martin saying: ‘It was strange to me he did not have a post mortem test, it was just declared he had a heart attack.
‘That’s unusual to happen here in the US. If it’s a questionable death, it’s automatically required. I don’t know, I find that strange.’
Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, (left) his wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were gunned down in their BMW car on September 5, 2012, alongside French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, (right) who also died in the bloodbath
In the Channel 4 documentary, the family of Jim Thompson described their shock at his death on the same day as his ex-wife Iqbal
Jim’s sister Judy said she believed ‘someone was after’ Iqbal, whom she knew as Kelly, and pointed to the ‘FBI, CIA or secret service’
How did events on the day of the 2012 gun massacre of a British family and French cyclist in the Alps unfold?
During the morning of September 5, 2012, Iqbal, her mother Suhaila and her daughters, Zainab and Zeena, were seen picking apples together.
Around 1pm the family left the campsite and drove towards the village of Chevaline.
After 3:45pm an RAF veteran overtook another cyclist on a heavily forested road south of Chevaline in the French Alps.
Moments later he pulled into a car park and found Mr Mollier lying dead beside the family’s bullet-ridden BMW, which still has its engine running and was in reverse.
He spotted injured Zainab walking towards him before collapsing. He put her in the recovery position and called for help.
The cyclist saw the dead bodies of Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and his mother in law Suhaila, inside the car, which was locked.
Each of them had been shot twice in the head while Mr Mollier was shot seven times.
Around 4:20pm police arrived but did not disturb the crime scene because forensic experts from Paris were on their way. More than two dozen spent bullet casings were later found near the vehicle.
Zainab was taken to hospital in Grenoble while her sister Zeena remained hidden, cowering under her mother’s legs in the rear footwell for eight hours before she was discovered.
Around 11pm a family who had been camping next to the al-Hilli’s told police the couple had two children leading to a rescue mission involving helicopters and search dogs to find Zeena.
A helicopter fitted with thermal imaging flew over the BMW but failed to detect Zeena.
Around midnight on September 6, the police eventually opened the vehicle’s doors and discovered the four-year-old cowering under her death mother’s legs.
Judy added: ‘I just felt like there was something more to it – maybe someone was after her. The FBI, CIA, secret service. Whatever.’
Questioning Iqbal’s sudden decision to leave the US, and the deaths of both Iqbal and her ex-husband Jim on the same day, Cecil added: ‘I think she came over here to escape, something ordered her back over there.
‘Or that they threatened the family to make her go back. They had a hold of her, I don’t know who it was.’
Judy said: ‘She probably told him what was going on in her previous life.
‘I know Jim knew something because he told me I’d understand later. I knew that things weren’t right.’
Cecil added: ‘She had told him something the family didn’t want to get out and they took care of it.’
Judy added: ‘I knew this sounds really crazy but I think somehow he was poisoned.’
Joshua said: ‘Everyone has skeletons in the closet. Everyone has secrets.’
The FBI requested to exhume Jim’s body later, however the family refused the request.
Joshua said: ‘I disagreed [with his body being brought up]. I was told he was killed of a heart attack ad I didn’t think anything of it.’
Many of those watching the documentary were shocked by the programme, with one writing: ‘This has got more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel.’
‘What a fascinating documentary!’ another added.
The film comes months after the lead prosecutor said investigators are close to solving the brutal 2012 murder.
‘I think we’re nearly there’, Annecy public prosecutor Line Bonnet said in an interview with Swiss dailyTribune de Geneve.
‘We’ll succeed thanks to scientific evidence’, she said.
‘This is not a cold case at all’, said Bonnet, who took up her post in September 2021.
She said three people were working on the murder full-time.
‘They decided to start from the beginning again and check all the sealed files’, she added.
‘We’re regularly detaining people so we can close the doors, one after the other.’
The man held for questioning in January had taken part in a recent reconstruction of the crime scene as a witness.
Local newspaper Le Dauphine Libere identified him as the mystery motorcyclist who had been seen near the murder site in 2012.
Prosecutors declined to confirm if it was the same man.
The motorcyclist was tracked down in 2015 after police trawled through all the 4,000 mobile phone numbers logged in the area on the day of the murders and rang each one.
Meanwhile Jim’s son Joshua described how his father had been in a ‘very loving’ relationship with the woman he knew as ‘Kelly’
Meanwhile Jim’s friend Cecil Martin said he felt it was ‘strange’ he hadn’t had a post mortem after his death
Prosecutor Lise Bonnet originally said there had been ‘inconsistencies’ with the man’s alibi, but these were resolved before he was released.
An e-fit photo of a ‘prime suspect motorcyclist’ with a goatee beard was released in November 2013 and showed him in a distinctive black helmet, of which only about 8000 were made.
The image, mainly produced by two forest rangers who briefly spoke to the man, finally led to a first arrest of the biker – a businessman from the French city of Lyon – in 2015.
He told police he had been on his way home from a paragliding trip in the Alps and was released without charge for the first time.
Jean-Christophe Basson-Larbi, the arrested man’s lawyer, said his client had been wrongfully arrested and been ‘put through hell’.
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