Nation’s shock over chamber of horrors (19.08.96)

The Independent, 19th August 1996

by Louise Jury

Belgium reacted with anger yesterday as details emerged of the death by starvation of two kidnapped eight-year-old girls and the ordeal of two others rescued from the country’s House of Horrors.”It is truly horrible … unimaginable,” one spectator told Belgian radio as police continued their excavations at two houses linked to Marc Dutroux, the electrician of Sars-la-Buissiere who will appear in court today.

The families of Laetitia Delheze and Sabine Dardenne, the two girls who were rescued from a concrete dungeon beneath Dutroux’s terraced house on Thursday night, gave thanks for their escape. But those of the dead girls, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, bitterly condemned the failure of the authorities to act on the case of the missing children sooner.

Dutroux had been convicted in 1989 of raping underage girls and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. But he was released after three years for good behaviour.

“Julie and Melissa are victims of organised paedophilia, sacrificed by the scepticism which has reigned in Belgium towards groups of evil-doers who are capable of kidnapping children … and sexually abusing them,” the families said through their lawyer, Victor Hissel.

“It was paedophilia which killed our daughters but, equally, it was the incredible generosity shown to paedophiles by those who are responsible for protecting our children.”

Michel Bourlet, the prosecutor in the case, said Marc Dut-roux claimed to have given money to associates to feed the girls during his detention in police custody on another matter.

Even up until the discovery of their remains on Saturday, hope had been held out for them. “We still had a spark of hope to find them alive,” Anne Thily, the examining magistrate, said.

Finding the two girls’ bodies brought to seven the number found dead in a string of mysterious disappearances dating back to 1989. Six other children were still missing after Laetitia Delheze, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, were rescued from their four-metre by three-metre prison last week. Laetitia was kidnapped 10 days ago and Sabine had disappeared on 28 May.

While still nervous at admitting the possibility of a nationwide paedophile ring, Mr Bourlet said that police had now pooled the files on all 15 children. Dutroux had admitted further kidnappings.

Meanwhile, Laetitia and Sabine finally rejoined their families after medical examinations. Laetitia looked pale and drawn but greeted neighbours and the media from an open window, saying that she was fine. “I feel good and I can smile again,” she said.

But her mother, Patricia, described her daughter’s ordeal on Belgian television, saying that she had been tied by the neck and feet with chains and raped three times.

“They had to take a bath with that man and all that … They raped her,” she said. “The kidnappers mainly talked to Laetitia. Sabine, after two- and-a-half months, thought her parents were no longer looking for her. My daughter tried to cheer her up.”

Police had searched the house on Tuesday when they arrested Dutroux but failed to discover the girls in the dungeon, which was sound-proofed.

1 comment
  1. Troyhand said:,6321915
    Daily News [Kingsport, Tennessee, USA] – Aug 19, 1996
    Third Person Charged In Belgian Child Sex Scandal
    By Bert Lauwers

    NEUFCHATEAU, Belgium (Reuter) – Belgian police hunted for more missing children Monday and a third suspect was charged as public outrage mounted after the discovery of the buried corpses of two eight-year-old child sex victims.

    The two girls died of starvation earlier this year after being kidnapped in June 1995, and the fate of two abducted teenagers remained unnown as police stepped up their investigation into the widening child sex scandal.

    Michelle Martin, wife of Marc Dutroux, a convicted child rapist who was released early for good behavior and has now been charged in this case, was charged Monday with being an accomplice in the abduction and illegal imprisonment of children, assistant magistrate Jean-Paul Pavanello said.

    The scandal broke open Friday when police rescued Laetitia Delhaz, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, from a cell in a house owned by Dutroux in the southern city of Charleroi. Both girls had been sexually abused.

    Dutroux, 39, a convicted child sex offender, and associate Michel Lelievre were formally charged the same day. A fourth person, Brussels businessman Jean-Michel Nihoul, is due to appear in court Tuesday.

    National euphoria at the rescue of the two teenagers, however, turned to dismay and anger at the weekend when Dutroux led police to the buried bodies of two eight-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, who died of starvation early this year after being kidnapped in June 1995.

    Dutroux also admitted abducting teenagers An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks at the Belgian port of Ostend in August 1995.

    The fate of Marchal and Lambecks is unknown. But prosecutor Michel Bourlet, who is leading the investigation, said events were now moving swiftly.

    As police hunted for more missing children, public anger erupted at the fact that Dutroux had been released for good behavior 10 years early in 1992 from a 13-year sentence for rape and child abuse.

    “How can Belgian justice ignore the fact that pedophiles are often the most docile prisoners,” Marie-France Botte, a specialist on child sex abuse said in a statement. “Haven’t they seen international studies that show more than 50 percent of child abusers re-offend within 48 hours of release.”

    Victor Hissel, the lawyer representing the parents of Julie and Melissa, castigated the judicial system’s lenient treatment of child sex offenders in remarks to reporters Sunday.

    “Julie and Melissa are victims of organised pedophilia, sacrificed by the skepticism which has reigned in Belgium toward groups of evil-doers who are capable of kidnapping children… and sexually abusing them,” he said.

    Newspapers and members of the public talked of reintroducing the death penalty, which was erased from the statute books in June after lying dormant for many years.

    There were also barbed comments about Melchior Wathelet, the justice minister in 1992 who released Dutroux against the public prosecutor’s advice.

    “I have lost all my faith in Belgian justice. They should make these people suffer,” Jaston Claude, 70, said in Neufchateau.

    Police twice visited the house belonging to Dutroux in the village of Sars-La-Buissiere where Julie and Melissa were imprisoned but failed to find them.

    Gino Russo, Melissa’s father, told Belgian television he hoped the deaths would lead to a change in the law. “I hope Julie and Melissa didn’t die for nothing,” he said.

    At least 15 children have disappeared in Belgium in the past six years. Seven have now been found dead, six are still missing and only two – Delhaz and Dardenne – have been rescued.

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