Marc Dutroux is a Belgian serial killer and child molester, convicted of having kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls during 1995 and 1996, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. He was also convicted of having killed a suspected former accomplice, Bernard Weinstein, later proved insane.
He was arrested in 1996 and has been in prison since then. His widely publicized trial took place in 2004. A number of shortcomings in the Marc Dutroux investigation caused widespread discontent in Belgium with the country’s criminal justice system, and the ensuing scandal was one of the reasons for the re-organisation of Belgium’s law enforcement agencies.
Before The Kidnappings
Marc Dutroux was the eldest of five children; his parents, both teachers, emigrated to the Belgian Congo and returned to Belgium in 1960. They separated in 1971 and Marc stayed with his mother but left at age 16, working briefly as a prostitute serving men. He married his first wife at the age of 19; they had two children. He divorced her in 1983.
At this point, he already had an affair with Michelle Martin. The two would eventually have three children together; they married in 1989 while both were in prison. They divorced in 2003, again while in prison.
An unemployed electrician, Marc Dutroux had a long criminal history involving car theft, muggings and drug dealing; his is the classic life story of a sociopath.
In February 1986, Marc Dutroux and Martin were arrested for abducting and raping five young girls. In April 1989 he was sentenced to thirteen and a half years in prison; Martin received a sentence of five years. Showing good behavior in prison, he was released on parole in April 1992, after having served slightly more than three years. Upon releasing Marc Dutroux, the parole board received a warning letter written by his own mother to the prison director.
After his release, Marc Dutroux was able to convince a psychiatrist that he was disabled, resulting in a government pension. He also received sleeping pills and sedatives from the doctor, which he would later use to quiet the abducted girls.
He came to own seven houses, most of them vacant, and he used three of them to torture the girls he kidnapped. In his house in Marcinelle near Charleroi (Hainaut), where he lived most of the time, he started to construct a concealed dungeon in the basement. Hidden behind a massive concrete door disguised as a shelf, the cell was 2.15 metres (7 feet) long, less than a meter (3 feet) wide and 1.64 metres (5.38 feet) high.
Abductions and Arrest
Some of the following describes the events as alleged by the prosecution.
Julie Lejeune (age 8) and Mélissa Russo (age 8) were kidnapped together on June 24, 1995, probably by Dutroux, and imprisoned in Dutroux’s cellar. Dutroux repeatedly sexually abused the girls and produced pornographic videos.
17-year-old An Marchal and 19-year-old Eefje Lambrecks were kidnapped on August 22, 1995 while on a camping trip in Ostend, probably by Marc Dutroux and his drug-addicted accomplice Michel Lelièvre, who was being paid with drugs. Since the dungeon was already in use, Dutroux chained the girls to a bed in a room of his house. His wife was aware of all these activities. The prosecution alleged that Marc Dutroux killed An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks several weeks later, but the exact circumstances of the murder are unknown.
In late 1995, Dutroux came under investigation for his involvement in stolen luxury cars. He was in custody from December 6, 1995 until March 20, 1996. It is likely that Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo starved to death during this time.
Sabine Dardenne was kidnapped and imprisoned in the dungeon on May 28, 1996 on her way to school, probably by Dutroux and his accomplice Michel Lelièvre. She was 12 at the time. On August 9, 1996, the two men kidnapped Laetitia Delhez (14) when she was walking home at night from a public swimming pool. A police investigation found an eye witness who could remember part of a license plate which matched Dutroux’s.
Marc Dutroux, his wife Martin and Lelièvre were arrested on August 13, 1996. A search of his houses did not turn up anything. After two days, both Dutroux and Lelièvre confessed. Then Dutroux led investigators to the dungeon hidden in his basement. Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez were found alive there on August 15.
In an interview conducted several years later, Ms. Dardenne related that Marc Dutroux told her that she was being kidnapped by a gang, that her parents did not want to pay, and that the gang therefore was planning to kill her. He presented himself as the “good guy” protecting her from the gang. He let her write letters to her family, which he read but never posted.
On August 17, Marc Dutroux led police to another house of his, in Sars-la-Buissière (Hainaut). The bodies of Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo as well as Dutroux’s supposed accomplice Bernard Weinstein were found in the garden. An autopsy found that the two girls died from starvation. Dutroux had crushed Weinstein’s testicles until he revealed a money hiding place, then he drugged him and buried him alive. Dutroux told police that he had killed Weinstein because he had failed to feed the girls during Dutroux’s time in custody. Finally, Marc Dutroux told police where to find the bodies of An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks. They were located on September 3, 1996 in Jumet (Hainaut), buried under a shack next to a house owned by Dutroux. Weinstein had lived in that house for three years.
Several hundred pornographic videos with underage victims were found in Dutroux’s houses.
Shortcomings of the Investigation
Authorities were criticised for various aspects of the case. Perhaps most notably, police searched Dutroux’s house on December 13, 1995 and again on December 19, 1995 in relation to his car theft charge. During this time, Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were still alive in the basement dungeon, but they were not found. Since the search was unrelated to kidnapping charges, police searching the house had no dogs or specialised equipment that may have discovered the girls’ presence. However, one officer heard children crying.
Several early hints as to Dutroux’s intentions were not properly followed-up. Marc Dutroux had offered money to a police informer for providing girls, and told him that he was constructing a cell in his basement. His mother also wrote a second letter to police, claiming that he held girls captive in his houses.
There was widespread anger and frustration among Belgians due to police errors and the general slowness of the investigation. This anger culminated when the popular investigative judge in charge of the case was dismissed after having participated in a fund raising dinner by the girls’ parents. His dismissal resulted in a massive protest march (the “White March”) of 300,000 people on the capital, Brussels, in October 1996, in which demands were made for reforms of Belgium’s police and justice system.
A 17-month investigation by a parliamentary commission into the Marc Dutroux affair produced a report in February 1998. The commission found that while Dutroux did not have accomplices in high positions of police and justice system, as he continued to claim, he profited from corruption, sloppiness and incompetence.
Public indignation flared up again in April 1998. While being transferred to a court house without handcuffs, Dutroux managed to overpower one of his guards, take his gun and escape. He was caught a few hours later. The Minister of Justice, the Minister of the Interior, and the police chief resigned as a result. In 2000, Dutroux received a five-year sentence for threatening a police officer during his escape. In 2002, he received another five-year sentence for unrelated crimes.
There was speculation that Dutroux was part of a widespread network of pedophiles and Satanists, supposedly including prominent Belgians. This charge was in particular made by the parents of the abducted girls, as well as by Dutroux himself. Some sources, including Belgian police, have questioned the accuracy of such claims. Unhappy with the conduct of the investigation, the parents of Mélissa Russo and Julie Lejeune pulled out of the trial in 2002. In 2003, nineteen year-old Sabine Dardenne gave her first interview to the press. She stated that, based on her observations during her 79-day-long captivity, she thought that Marc acted alone.
The Marc Dutroux case is now considered so evil and infamous that more than a third of Belgians with the surname “Dutroux” applied to have their name changed between 1996 and the trial.
Dutroux’s trial began on March 1, 2004, some seven and a half years after his initial arrest. It was a trial by jury and up to 450 people were called upon to testify. The trial took place in Arlon, the capital of the Belgian province of Luxembourg, where investigations had started.
Dutroux was tried for the murder of An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks and Bernard Weinstein, a suspected accomplice. While admitting the abductions, he denied all three killings, although he had earlier confessed to the killing of Weinstein. Dutroux was also charged with a host of other crimes: auto theft, abduction, attempted murder and attempted abduction, molestation, and three unrelated rapes of women from Slovakia.
Dutroux faced a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Belgium abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 1996.
Martin was tried as an accomplice, as were Michel Lelièvre and Michel Nihoul. To protect the accused, they were made to sit in a glass cage during the trial. In the first week of the trial, photos of Dutroux’s face were not allowed to be printed in Belgian newspapers, for privacy reasons. Throughout the trial, Marc Dutroux continued to insist that he was part of a Europe-wide pedophile ring with accomplices among police officers, businessmen, doctors, and even high-level Belgian politicians.
In a rare move, the jury at the assize trial publicly protested the presiding judge Stéphane Goux’s handling of the debates and perceived rushing of the victims’ testimonies.
On June 14, 2004, after three months of trial, the jury went into seclusion to reach their verdicts on Marc Dutroux and the three other accused, which were returned on June 17 after three days of deliberation. Dutroux, Martin and Lelièvre were found guilty on all charges, while the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on Nihoul’s role.
Nihoul was later acquitted from the charge of being an offender on kidnapping and murder of the girls by the court. The jury was asked to go back into seclusion to give answer to the question whether Nihoul was an accomplice or not.
On June 22 Marc Dutroux received the maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while Martin received 30 years and Lelievre 25 years. Although Nihoul was acquitted of kidnapping and conspiracy charges, he was convicted on drug related charges and received 5 years.
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