Almost ten years ago, on August 9, 1996, Marc Dutroux, an unemployed Wallonian electrician, abducted 14-year old Laetitia Delhez from nearby a swimming pool in her hometown of Bertrix. Miraculously, an eyewitness provided police with part of Dutroux' car license plate. And so, on August 13, police burst into his house in Marcinelle, near the drab industrial city of Charleroi, and arrested Dutroux and his wife Michelle Martin. Two days later, Dutroux showed police investigators a hidden dungeon in the basement of his house, where both Laetitia Delhez and another girl, 12-year old Sabine Dardenne, who had disappeared on May 28, 1996, were found - alive but near-starved.
It was the beginning of the unfolding of a tragedy which utterly shocked my country.
For it appeared that Dutroux had kidnapped, on June 24 of the year before, 8-year old Julie Lejeune and 9-year old Mélissa Russo, see photo below, kept them in the same hidden dungeon, and repeatedly sexually abused them and produced pornographic videos of his exploits. Barely one month later, on August 22, he abducted 17-year old An Marchal and 19-year old Eefje Lambrecks and, his cellar already in use, locked them up tied to a bed in his house, with his wife Michelle Martin fully aware of this, and abused the girls in similar fashion. Older girls apparently not being his knack, he killed both An and Eefje several weeks later and resumed his affairs with Julie and Mélissa in early fall 1995. From December 6, 1995 to March 20, 1996, he was in custody for his involvement in car theft, and at some time during his absence and deliberately unattended by his wife, the young girls starved to death. They must still have been alive though in late December 1995, for a police officer searching Dutroux' house for evidence concerning the car theft, heard children crying, but, not being able to locate the place where the sound came from, dismissed the impression.
In retrospect, it seems unbelievable that as late as 1995 and even for some months in 1996 Dutroux was still a free man. For already ten years earlier, in February 1986, he and his wife had been arrested for abducting and raping five young girls. Sentenced to thirteen and a half years in prison in April 1989 he was released barely three years later in 1992 because he had shown "good behaviour" in prison. When he was set free, Dutroux' own mother wrote the prison director a letter warning for the consequences. A free Dutroux was somehow able to convince a psychiatrist that he was disabled, and hence could lay claim to a welfare check of 80,000 Belgian francs a month (back then worth some 2,000 US$), as well as prescriptions for sleeping pills and sedatives from a concerned doctor. Dutroux now had his hands free to chase his victims on a government allowance and he had also the means to quiet them. It was the beginning of a grand career of auto theft, abduction, rape (a.o. of three Slowakian women), drug dealing, molestation and murder. In time, he would acquire five cars and seven houses, of which he used three to torture the girls he kidnapped, and had it not been for that anonymous witness who remembered three numbers on a license plate in that hot summer of 1996, he might still have been in business today.
His trial began on March 1, 2004, some seven and a half years after his arrest, an unusually long period during which quite a number of key witnesses of his affairs died in mysterious circumstances. Some three months later Dutroux was sentenced to life for the murder of An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks and Bernard Weinstein, an accomplice who at some time had become superfluous. During the trial, Dutroux kept insisting that he was but a small element in a europeanwide pedophile network with accomplices amongst businessmen, police officers, doctors, and even high-level Belgian politicians, a charge which all of Belgium's exclusively leftist press did their utmost best to ridicule. At some point, the jury publicly protested the presiding judge's perceived rushing of the victim's testimonies and his handling of the debates.
On Friday June 9, 2006, at 01.30 in the morning, two young girls, Stacy Lemmens (7) and Nathalie Mahy (10) disappeared during the aftermath of a street party in the eastern Belgian city of Liège, the largest Wallonian city and a Parti Socialiste stronghold. It is also known as "Palermo on the Meuse", and this metaphor is well earned since, according to Urban Audit Liège, it has the highest crime rate of all European cities in the EU of 27, with 256.13 recorded crimes per 1,000 population (numbers of 2001). Anyway, all through the night, the two stepsisters had been with Cathérine Dizier, unemployed and the natural mother of Nathalie, and Thierry Lemmens, an unemployed steel worker and the natural father of Stacy, in and around Café "Les Armuriers" in a sloppy neighborhood called Saint-Léonard. At the time of the abduction, Cathérine Dizier and Thierry Lemmens were partners, having a child of 1 together, apart from children they had with different other partners. The natural father of Nathalie Mahy is Didier Mahy, a state employee. The natural mother of Stacy Lemmens is Christiane Granziero, a prostitute with four other children from different men.
The next day, 38-year old Abdallah Aït Oud, a Moroccan with the Belgian nationality, turned himself in after having been notified by acquaintances that police sought him. They thought him to be the prime suspect since witnesses had seen him with both girls the night before. Aït-Oud claimed that he was innocent and only turned himself in to prove he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the two girls. Evidence was against him though: he had only a futile explanation for the numerous scars on his forearms, and his statements concerning his whereabouts during the night of 9 and 10 June were full of contradictions. After lengthy interrogations, he was therefore offically arrested on Wednesday, June 14. The key element that made him a major suspect though was that he had already been convicted twice of paedophilia, in 1994 and 2001.
Indeed, in a striking parallel with the Dutroux case, Abdallah Aït-Oud had been sentenced to jail for other, related facts, in his case the rape of a niece, as well as prematurely released. Aït-Oud started to abuse his niece when she was six and continued this practice until she was 14. It is curious that he was able to rape his sister's daughter for 8 full years without his sister seeming to object to it, but then we are talking about a culture in which paedophilia may be better accepted and/or in which women who mind men's businesses too much can be killed in order to preserve the all-important Family Honor. Anyway, in 1994 Belgian Justice finally sentenced him to five years imprisonment. Despite the fact that after the Dutroux arrest in 1996 the Belgian authorities solemnly promised the population that from then on paedophiles would have to serve their sentences, Aït Oud was released from prison two years early, in 1997. However, barely a couple of months later, on 7 September 1997, he was arrested again, this time for theft, and kept in prison until 2000. Apparenty a tough study, Mr. Aït-Oud upon release nevertheless resorted to his old practice, since in March 2001 he kidnapped and violently raped a 14-year old girl.
In an effort to reach out to this poor victim of a troubled past the doctors provided by the Belgian authorities then recommended Mr. Aït-Oud be sent not to jail this time, but to a mental hospital, from which they declared him fit for society in December 2005. He established himself in Stacy's and Nathalie's street in Liège, and the authorities apparently never bothered to notify the neighbours about the background of the newcomer. In the words of the inimitable Paul Belien, disclosing such information is illegal in Belgium, where the state cares more about protecting the privacy of criminals than about protecting the innocent children of law-abiding citizens.
On June 28, the remains of Nathalie and Stacy were found in a sewer near a railway line, close to where they were last seen. For all the efforts which had been undertaken to find the girls during three weeks, it came as an anticlimax that the crime scene was literally hundreds of yards from café "Les Armuriers". Police had gotten a tip from a Dutch newspaper, which said to have received an anonymous note with a computer generated road map on which the location of the bodies was indicated. The youngest girl, Stacy, had been strangled. The oldest girl, Nathalie, had apparently been raped, since her clothers were down, and then strangled. While at this stage there is still insufficient evidence to charge Abdallah Aït-Oud with the murder of the two girls - DNA testing might (or might not) reveal his guilt - further proof against him has come to light with the testimony of several other very young girls who say that Aït-Oud approached them the night before the crime, trying unsuccesfully to lure them with strange promises.
I could leave it at this and conclude this post with a dry remark, in which case I would only have made use of two horrifying tales to introduce some spectacle at this blog. In my humble opinion, while none of this would have detracted from the terrible truth, it would have been a show of bad taste. That is why I am working on a follow up post with some thoughts and conclusions my mind conjured up when taking into account the whole context of both affairs. For it is no coincidence that these crimes, as well as countless others which do not make it to the international news scene, happened in Wallonia. Were it only for Wallonia or indeed for Belgium, then I might still doubt the necessity to provide the theory I'm working on. But I'm convinced the lessons to be drawn from what happens in Wallonia apply to the whole of Europe.