Best murder of the summer

The best murder of the summer waited until the vacation was almost over. On September 5, an RAF cyclist, Brett Martin, was biking in the Haute-Savoie, near Lake Annecy, when he came upon a car and a cyclist who, he thought at first, had collided with each other. The cyclist was named Sylvain Mollier. He’d been shot with a 7.65mm pistol, as police later established. He was dead. The cyclist then looked in the car, and saw vaguely what the police later discovered in more depth – the three adults in the car had also been shot with the pistol, at point blank range. A girl lay sprawled outside the car, severely beaten. She survived. When the police finally opened the car completely, they discovered another survivor, a four year old girl who hid in the footwell at the foot of her mother’s corpse. The family, it turned out, were emigrés from Iraq to Britain, where they had citizenship. Saad al-Hilli, the driver, “computer-assisted design for the firm Su
rrey Satellites, which is owned by the large defence and engineering contractor EADS”, according to the Guardian. His mother in law, a Swede who also came from Iraq, was also shot.

A compelling story, with all the elements that would make any aficionado of true crime buy papers to read about ongoing developments. All those developments are about the al-Hillis. The papers are full of theories that naturally focus on the spectacular deaths in the car, while the bicyclist, evidently a witness, gets an also ran mention…

All of which has the detective novel gears in my brain turning. It is an interesting fact that the media has already decided, as though a reporter was on the spot, who was the target here. Surely the family of Iraqis, with the father in some funny business.

But why assume this? As Machiavelli and Raymond Chandler have taught us, one crime can cover another. Why do we assume that the cyclist was the on-looker – and not the family? Why do we assume that the focus on the al-Hilli’s, which has turned up the grotesque enigmas that arise whenever one turns a microscope on the private lives of ordinary citizens, is the correct focus? Did Sylvain Mollier have enemies? Was this his regular bicycling route? Simple questions that are utterly lost as the police, arbitrarily, chose to follow the trail of the other victims in this murder.

Myself, I am not fooled. But then again, I’ve always thought Lee Harvey Oswald held some mysterious grudge against Governor John Connolly, but – being a bad shot – actually hit the other guy, an obscure politician who happened to be president of the U.S., except for the miracle bullet. But of course, nobody asked John Connolly any questions in the aftermath.