As police stood guard outside the family home in Surrey, resident Jack Saltman said the family had gone to France for around a week and a half to try to "get a bit of extra holiday in before the kids went back to school".
Mrs al-Hilli, he said, was a trainee dentist working at a local practice.
He described the girls as "absolutely gorgeous ... beautiful little girls" who would often come and chat with him in his garden.
According to a family friend, Mr al-Hilli's family moved to the UK from Iraq in the 1970s after their engineering business was looked upon "unfavourably" by Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.
He worked as a freelance design engineer and helped with designs for the Airbus A380 aeroplane.