Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Belgian police investigating an alleged kidnaper and serial killer named Marc Dutroux missed evidence of a basement dungeon containing two kidnapped teenagers. Charges of police corruption and incompetence soon followed, leading to a major reorganization of Belgian law enforcement.

Summary of Event

A Belgian parliamentary committee investigating the Marc Dutroux serial killing case determined that the abductions, Torture torture, rape, and murders of at least two girls could have been prevented had police not made numerous mistakes during its investigation of Dutroux prior to his arrest in August, 1996. Police had neglected to follow a tip about missing teenage girls, leading to a public scandal that began when the news media reported on the investigation the day after police raided Dutroux’s home. Two days later, he confessed to the killings and abductions. [kw]Police Bungled Serial Murder Case, Belgian Media Reveal How (Aug. 16, 1996) [kw]Murder Case, Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial (Aug. 16, 1996) Police corruption;Belgium Dutroux, Marc Rape;and Marc Dutroux[Dutroux] Kidnapping;by Marc Dutroux[Dutroux] Police corruption;Belgium Dutroux, Marc Rape;and Marc Dutroux[Dutroux] Kidnapping;by Marc Dutroux[Dutroux] [g]Europe;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [g]Belgium;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [c]Murder and suicide;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [c]Violence;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [c]Corruption;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [c]Law and the courts;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] [c]Families and children;Aug. 16, 1996: Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case[02760] Nihoul, Michel Weinstein, Bernard Dardenne, Sabine Delhez, Laetitia

Accused serial murderer Marc Dutroux being led into a Belgian court in 1998.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On August 15, after deciding to act on the tip about missing girls, police found two teenage girls locked in a soundproof concrete dungeon inside Dutroux’s house. The youngest girl, twelve-year-old Sabine Dardenne, was kidnapped on May 28 and kept in the basement by Dutroux for more than two months. Fourteen-year-old Laetitia Delhez was abducted on August 9. Both girls reported being sexually assaulted by Dutroux.

A few days later police exhumed the bodies of Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo, two eight-year-old girls who disappeared in June, 1995. They were found in the backyard of one of Dutroux’s seven homes. Also found were the remains of an accomplice—Bernard Weinstein—who Dutroux insisted was at fault for the girl’s deaths. Dutroux said Weinstein kidnapped the children and failed to feed them while Dutroux was jailed for several months for vehicle theft. Dutroux admitted to drugging Weinstein and burying him alive next to the girls.

Police had searched Dutroux’s home in Charleroi during a separate investigation into stolen cars before his arrest, but they failed to notice a dungeon in the basement of the house; Dardenne and Delhez were in that dungeon. Further investigations revealed rampant government and police corruption and incompetence in the months before the arrest. In 1993, police ignored a tip from an informant who told them that Dutroux offered him the equivalent of about five thousand U.S. dollars to kidnap young girls and that Dutroux was selling girls into prostitution. Police also ignored a tip that came from Dutroux’s mother. She had contacted prosecutors to report that her son was keeping young girls in the basements of his unoccupied houses. Despite these disturbing, detailed tips, the police did nothing, and more girls disappeared.

The scandal would bring more surprises. Additional accomplices, including Dutroux’s second wife, Michelle Martin, were arrested, and the media revealed that Dutroux had been convicted in 1989 for the rape and abuse of five young girls. He received a thirteen-year prison sentence but was released for good behavior after serving only three years. Shortly after his release, young girls began to disappear around the neighborhoods where Dutroux’s homes were located.

The public was outraged at the news that the girls were murdered at the hands of a convicted rapist and child Child abuse abuser who had been released early from prison. The public also condemned police for not acting on the tips from informants about Dutroux’s activities after his release from prison.

Investigators also uncovered evidence of a related child-sex ring and arrested a number of people connected with Dutroux, including Michel Nihoul, Michel Lelièvre, and nine police officers. Nihoul was a businessman who admitted to arranging orgies at a Belgian chÂteau that catered to government and police officials. Lelièvre was identified as an accomplice in the kidnapping of two girls.

In October, 1996, Jean-Marc Connerotte, the investigative judge in the Dutroux case, was dismissed. The supreme court of Belgium removed him because he was involved in fund-raising for programs that helped search for missing children, particularly children who had been kidnapped by Dutroux. The court ruled that Connerotte lacked objectivity.

Connerotte’s dismissal, and the incompetence of the police and government in handling the case, led to the largest peacetime marches in Belgium since World War II. About 300,000 people marched throughout the city of Brussels, demanding serious reforms of the political and judicial system. Suspicion of a government cover-up was high. The protests and heightened scrutiny led to a parliamentary committee investigation into how law enforcement and the courts handled—and mishandled—the case. The committee’s final report was clear: The young girls who were murdered might have lived had police properly investigated the tips they received. The official inquiry demanded a change in laws, including a reinstatement of the death penalty in Belgium.

To further complicate matters, the case dragged on in the legal system, reinforcing suspicions of a cover-up. Dutroux and his accomplices were scheduled for trial in 2000, but the trial did not begin until 2004. On the third day of the proceedings, Dutroux testified that two Belgian police officers helped him kidnap two of his victims. He also blamed his accomplices in the deaths of some of the victims and hinted that he was merely one part of a large Pedophilia pedophile network led by codefendant Nihoul. Dutroux also claimed the case involved other prominent Belgians, including bankers, members of the royal family, and high-ranking government officials. Investigations into these claims did not go far, however, because the accusations lacked accompanying evidence.

Dismissed judge Connerotte testified that he received death threats during his investigation of the case, and that the inquiry was severely hampered by the government’s protection of suspects. Finally, on June 17, 2004, the jury reached a verdict. Dutroux was found guilty of six counts of kidnapping and rape and three counts of murder. His accomplices were found guilty on offenses that included kidnapping and murder. Dutroux received a sentence of life in prison and his codefendants received sentences ranging from five to thirty years.

Impact

The notoriety of the Dutroux abduction and murder case brought worldwide attention to Belgium, and Dutroux became the most despised person in that small nation. The incompetence of the police force and its bungled investigations brought scorn from around the world.

The Belgian parliament’s inquiry into the bungled case led to court hearings, which then led to discussions of critical government and police reform. However, it was not until after Dutroux escaped for three hours in April, 1998, after overpowering a police officer that the government finally agreed to take action and restructure the justice system. The 1998 escape also prompted the resignation of three officials, including the justice and interior ministers. Police corruption;Belgium Dutroux, Marc Rape;and Marc Dutroux[Dutroux] Kidnapping;by Marc Dutroux[Dutroux]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bisin, Sandra. “Belgium: The Pedophilia Files.” In Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide to Media Mirages and Establishment Lies, edited by Russ Kick. New York: Disinformation, 2003. Collection of essays on cover-ups and conspiracies. Bisin’s essay on the Marc Dutroux case provides a general overview and coverage of police incompetence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dardenne, Sabine, with Marie-Therese Cuny and Penelope Dening. I Choose to Live. London: Virago Press, 2005. Excellent memoir by Dutroux abductee Sabine Dardenne, who describes her eight-day ordeal in the dungeon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sarre, Rick. “The Belgian Disease: Dutroux, Scandal, and System Failure in Belgium.” In Policing Corruption: International Perspectives, edited by Rick Sarre, Dilip K. Das, and H. J. Albrecht. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005. In this collection of essays on criminal investigations, the chapter by Sarre focuses on investigative failures and government and police misconduct and incompetence in the Dutroux case.

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