Alps murder mystery: wife's ex died on same day. Coincidence?

Jul 9, 2014
Jack Bremer

Latest twist in al-Hilli investigation: Iqbal was married before - and the man died hours after she was shot

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Did the al-Hilli family, murdered in the French Alps on 5 September 2012 by a gunman who has never been found, die because 47-year-old Iqbal al-Hilli's first husband, an American who neither her friends nor family knew about, ordered her killing?

That is the extraordinary – and, it has to be admitted, fanciful - possibility put forward this week after it was revealed that Iqbal had been previously married in her early 30s to an oil worker called James Thompson and that Thompson died near his home in Mississippi on the very same day that Iqbal, her husband Saad and her mother Suhaila were gunned down in the woods near Lake Annecy.

"As far as Iqbal is concerned, we have discovered some surprising things," Lt-Col Benoit Vinnemann, who is leading the French police investigation of the multiple murder, is quoted as saying by France 24 and others.

The cause of death of James Thompson was officially registered in his home town of Natchez, 175 miles north of New Orleans, as a heart attack, apparently sustained while driving home from visiting an antique shop. 

But in the light of his ex-wife dying on the same day, in brutal circumstances, some members of his family have said they suspect there might have been foul play.

French police say they are waiting for further news from their Mississippi counterparts. "We still do not have the response to certain questions," said Vinnemann.

Thompson's daughter, Joy Martinloch, is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying: “If you wanted to kill somebody and get away with it you would do something that people would accept like a heart attack. They would accept he was a bit overweight, that he had stress issues, he was pushing 60. It’s possible.”

Joy said there had even been speculation that a poison dart might have been used to kill her father. "My aunt [Thompson's sister] said, in the middle of her grief, that someone had said something about a dart. She thought a couple of people had said something about poison, that this was not a heart attack.”

But why would anyone want to kill Thompson? Is it possible he ordered Iqbal and/or her new husband's death and committed suicide, either because the contract killing had not gone according to plan or simply out of overwhelming guilt?

It was the Annecy prosecutor in charge of bringing the al-Hillis' killer to justice, Eric Maillaud, who, in a flight of fancy shared with reporters, raised the latter possibility. 

“Factually it is very strange that they [James and Iqbal] both died on the same day. The percentage of chance is very slim," the Daily Telegraph quotes him as saying.

“One could imagine anything, including that the ex-husband had her killed because he was disappointed that she had left him and then he committed suicide with a drug that gave him a heart attack without leaving any trace because he couldn't stand having ordered the murder so he decided to die at the same time as her. Why not?"

There are, of course, many good reasons why not – the best being that Thompson and Iqbal's relationship was, according to his family, clearly a marriage of convenience, designed to get her a Green Card so she could remain in the States. 

The February 1999 marriage was annulled in December 2000, three years before she met and married Saad al-Hilli in Britain and 12 years before she and Saad died in a hail of bullets, leaving their two young daughters orphaned. Why would James Thompson suddenly want her dead all those years later? 

Eric Maillaud concluded his hypothesis by admitting the police had "no evidence to back this up" and that "as things stand, nothing allows us to think Iqbal was the main target". 

The search for the al-Hillis' killer, and for the motive, goes on.

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