‘This man was freed from prison after three years and began again with the little girls’ (20.08.96)

The Independent, 20th August 1996

by Louise Jury

The little girls’ faces stare out from the posters. But the appeals for help in finding them have been replaced with two simple words: never again.As the investigations in Belgium’s own house of horror continued yesterday, anger was mounting.

When missing girls Laetitia Delhez, 14, and Sabine Dardenne, 12, were found alive in a makeshift concrete dungeon last Thursday, there was rejoicing. Joy turned to shock, however, when the bodies of eight-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo were exhumed from the garden of convicted rapist Marc Dutroux in Sars-la-Buissiere on Saturday. Their faces had become familiar to all from posters their families had distributed around the country in a desperate attempt to find them. Now the same photographs are on every newspaper’s front page.

As the full horror of the child sex scandal became apparent, the mood turned angry. There was fury at Melchior Wathelet, the former Minister of Justice, who allowed the early release from jail ofDutroux, the 39- year-old electrician at the centre of a suspected paedophile ring.

There was bafflement that the police could have visited Dutroux’s home in Sars-la-Buissiere near Charleroi in the south of the country and failed to find anything – even when he was arrested and served time for robbery last year.

But most of all there was a raging hatred for Dutroux himself, his second wife Michelle Martin – who was formally charged yesterday with being an accomplice in the abduction and illegal imprisonment of children – and the rest of the gang who have violated children in a country where the family is held sacred. A fourth person, Brussels businessman Jean-Michel Nihoul, is due to appear in court today.

“He should die,” said Corallo Sacra, as she gazed at the rising mound of flowers at the drive to Dutroux’s home. “For the sake of those little children, he has killed them and he must die. It isn’t normal what he did.”

It was a sentiment echoed throughout the village, whose 700 citizens can scarcely believe what was going on in their midst.

Dutroux had moved to the village with Ms Martin three or four years ago after his early release on good behaviour from a 13-year sentence for rape.

He had no acquaintances in the village and was regarded as a thief. When items went missing, they had the uncanny knack of finding their way to his house. It was robbery that put him away for the few crucial months last year when Melissa and Julie starved to death in his cellar.

“We knew he was a thief but nobody knew he was convicted for rape. People feel they should have been told. Everybody is shocked,” said neighbour William Capian.

Raymond Dougniaux, who lived next door to Dutroux, said: “He had a mechanical digger and he would be digging during the night and in the morning all the holes were full up. It took place from time to time but we never knew what he was digging.” Mr Dougniaux said Dutroux kept himself to himself but occasionally displayed a short temper.

In a macabre twist to the story unfolding in Sars-la-Buissiere, an old plaque on the wall overlooking the driveway to Dutroux’s house reads: “You who walk by here pray to God for all the dead.”

When Dutroux was arrested last Tuesday, people at first thought it was connected to the assorted vehicles of dubious origin he kept in his yard.

As outrage mounts, fuelled by fear that another six children missing in Belgium since 1989 may also have lost their lives to paedophiles, a clear demand is emerging: justice. For some, that is the return of the death penalty, which was formally abolished in 1991. But most want the guilty to stay inside for a very long time.

Alfred Vilain and his wife Alphonsa, had travelled from Lons carrying a petition demanding a penalty to be introduced which was fitting for crimes so incomprehensible. More than a thousand people have signed so far.

“People in Belgium are very angry,” Mr Vilain said. “This man was in prison before and he was free after three years inside and began again with the little girls.”

Mohammed Taleb, who lives in a village nearby, hugged his two children tightly as he said: “It’s horrible. Everybody wants to kill him.”

Andre Levacq, the local mayor, said they all felt sadness and revulsion. “For crimes like paedophilia, any attempt on the life, or security or health of children, people who are found guilty should stay in prison for the whole of their sentence,” he said.

“We don’t want to go back to the Middle Ages, we don’t want anything extreme. But we do want justice.”

Meanwhile Gloucestershire police, who investigated the Cromwell Street murder inquiry which led to the discovery of the remains of 10 young women and girls at the Gloucester homes of builder Frederick West and his wife Rosemary, were asked yesterday to give advice on the Sars-la-Buissiere case.

1 comment
  1. Troyhand said:

    Lawrence Journal-World [Kansas, USA] – Aug 20, 1996
    Sex offender freed early only to strike again
    * Marc Dutroux served only three years of his 13-year sentence, after which he went on another criminal spree.

    Brussels, Belgium (AP) – Two young girls are rescued from the secret horror chamber in the cellar of a jobless electrician’s shabby home. The bodies of two others who he says starved to death in the cellar are dug up on another of his properties. And the electrician admits kidnapping two more girls who disappeared a year ago.

    Police are looking for yet more missing girls. Since the details began to come out Thursday, a shocked nation is asking why Marc Dutroux, who was sent to prison for 13 years in 1989 for abducting and raping five girls, was set free three years later.

    A beneficiary of a controversial early-release program, Dutroux fooled social workers and psychiatrists who were supposed to keep tabs on him.

    “His formal behavior was aimed at bamboozling officials,” said Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck.

    De Clerck conceded that Dutroux succeeded, and soon had returned to his search for young girls to prey on.

    “Bring me a girl and you’ll get 50,000 francs ($1,500),” he told accomplices last year, according to investigating magistrate Michel Bourlet.

    In response to his offer, two 8-year-old girls were kidnapped in June 1995 on a bridge where they were playing, waving to passing traffic. They were never seen alive again.

    When the girls were delivered, Dutroux told interrogators, he had been putting the finishing touches on his secret cellar. Four yards by three yards, it had concrete walls painted white. Other than two mattresses, there was nothiing inside.

    The sliding doors hid it so well that two searches of the house by police last year failed to find the children, even though they were probably there at the time.

    In December, Dutroux was sent to prison on unrelated theft charges and he told accomplices to feed the girls. But when he was released this spring, Dutroux said, the girls hadn’t been fed, and had starved to death.

    He buried them in a yard in a nearby village, alongside the corpse of an accomplice who Dutroux believed tried to double-cross him.

    Meanwhile, Dutroux had abducted other girls. In the summer of 1995, he kidnapped two teen-agers, 17 and 19, when they returned from a night out on the Belgian coast. He held them in his house as well before they disappeared. Investigators hold out some hope the two are still alive, perhaps sent to brothels abroad.

    In May, a 12-year-old girl disappeared from her home and also ended up in the secret cellar. Another, 14 years old, vanished Aug. 9 near a swimming pool.

    The 14-year-old’s abduction provided the breakthrough police needed: Dutroux’s van was spotted near the swimming pool. He was arrested a week later, and after denying involvement for two days, he broke down and lead police to the girls.

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