A former soldier suspected of slaughtering a British family in the Alps has admitted ‘accidentally’ killing a nine-year-old girl at a wedding reception.
Nordahl Lelandais, 34, led police to the hidden remains of Maelys de Araujo, who was last seen six months ago.
Lelandais is suspected of being involved in up to 15 unsolved cases, including one involving the British Al-Hilli family – who were killed in 2012.
Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, from Surrey, were shot dead in a forest layby near Annecy along with a French cyclist called Sylvain Mollier.
The murdered couple’s daughter, Zeena al-Hilli, then four, was discovered hiding under her mother’s body inside the family’s BMW, eight hours after the shooting.
Her seven-year-old sister Zainab suffered serious head injuries after being pistol-whipped, but survived. Both orphans are now living with family members back in Britain.
Maelys had been enjoying a party with her parents and sister in Pont-de-Beavoisin, some 25 miles west of Chambery, when Lelandais is suspected of forcing her into his car boot.
Yves Coquillat, the prosecutor in nearby Grenoble, said today that Lelandais, who worked as dog handler in the French Army, had admitted ‘killing Maelys by mistake and then got rid of the body.
‘He also apologised to Maely’s parents. However, he refused to explain the circumstances of the death.’
Until today, Lelandais had fiercely denied any involvement in the horrific events of August 26th, when he had first popped in to the reception as an uninvited guest.
He is said to have changed his story after traces of Maelys’s blood were found in his black Audi car, despite him using powerful detergents to try and get rid of any trace of her.
Detectives were initially alerted to the suspect when he was seen ‘thoroughly cleaning his car’ a few hours after Maelys’s disappearance.
In September he was arrested for the ‘kidnapping, abduction, and arbitrary detention of a minor under fifteen years old’ but because there was no body, no murder charges were put forward.
The suspect, who was unemployed and living alone, had been remanded in custody in Grenoble, pending further court appearances and a possible future trial.
Police questioned more than 180 guests at the wedding after Maelys’ disappearance, but weeks of searches in deep woodland close to Pont-de-Beauvoisin led to nothing been found.
Detectives had described the search for Maelys as ‘like looking for a needle in a haystack’, even though sniffer dogs had been given her scent from clothes provided by her parents.
The prosecutor said Lelandais ‘killed the girl very quickly and then left the body near his home, before returning to the wedding reception.
‘Then he recovered the body and took it away and left it in the forest, in the Chartreuse mountain range,’ which stretches from Grenoble to the Bourget lake further north.
‘Gendarmes took a day to find Maelys’s body, using Nordahl Lelandais’s instructions. The searches were made very difficult by snow at night,’ said Mr Coquillat.
He added: ‘The dogs made it possible to find a child’s skull and bones.’
Police are already investigating whether Lelandais was behind the deaths of members of the Al-Hillis family in September 2012.