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|Date||13 March 1982–|
9 November 1985
|Serial killing, mass shootings, robberies|
No. of participants
|At least three|
The Brabant killers, also named the Nijvel Gang in Dutch-speaking media (Dutch: De Bende van Nijvel), and the mad killers of Brabant in French-speaking media (French: Les Tueurs fous du Brabant), are believed to be responsible for a series of violent attacks that mainly occurred in the Belgian province of Brabant between 1982 and 1985. A total of 28 people died and 40 were injured. The actions of the gang, believed to consist of several people who assisted a core of three men, made it Belgium's most notorious crime spree. The active participants were known as: The Giant (a tall man who may have been the leader); the Killer (the main shooter) and the Old Man (a middle aged man who drove). The identities and whereabouts of the "Brabant killers" are unknown although one may have been killed after the last known robbery. Failure to catch the gang was a major impetus behind the reform of the Belgian police. There have been many theories of ulterior motives behind the crimes.
Overview of crimes attributed to the gang
- March 13: Theft of a 10-gauge fowling shotgun at a store in Dinant, Belgium. Two men were seen running away.
- May 10: Theft of an Austin Allegro; theft of a Volkswagen Santana from a car showroom
- August 14: Armed robbery of a grocery store in Maubeuge, France. Food and wine were stolen; while the goods were being loaded into a vehicle, two French police officers came on the scene. Both were shot and seriously wounded.
- September 30: Armed robbery of a weapons dealer in Wavre, Belgium. Fifteen firearms were stolen, including sub-machine guns. A policeman was killed at the scene; two others were shot and seriously wounded later.
- December 23: Armed robbery of a restaurant in Beersel, Belgium. Coffee and wine were stolen. The caretaker was tortured and killed.
- January 9: Cab robbery in Brussels; the car was found in Mons, Belgium. The taxi driver was tortured and killed.
- February 11: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Rixensart, Belgium. Less than $18,000 was stolen. Several people were wounded; no one was killed.
- February 22. An [[Audi 100]query: Saab is mentioned below, not Audi] with multiple bullet holes (from the February 11th incident) was stolen from a commercial garage where it was being repaired.
- February 25: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Uccle, Belgium. Less than $16,000 was stolen. No one was killed.
- March 3: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Halle, Belgium. Less than $18,000 was stolen. One supermarket-staff member was killed.
- May 7: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Houdeng-Gougnies, Belgium. Less than $22,000 was stolen. No one was killed.
- September 10: Armed robbery of a textile factory in Temse, Belgium. Seven bullet-proof jackets were stolen. One worker was killed and his wife severely wounded.
- September 17: A couple were murdered in the early hours after stopping their Mercedes at a 24-hour self-service gas station beside a store that the gang was burgling. Despite the alarm going off, the gang took the time to load twenty kilos of tea and coffee and 10 liters of cooking oil. Two gendarmes responding to the alarm were shot as they arrived on the scene; one was killed, the other seriously wounded. The gang escaped in the Saab turbo stolen on February 22 and the murdered couple's Mercedes. After shooting up a police car that began following them, the gang used a little-known minor road to get away in the Saab, abandoning it near to the garage from which it had originally been stolen, and close to the Delhaize supermarket that would be attacked on September 27, 1985. Investigators believe that the repeated propinquity of locations where the gang was active may indicate that they lived in the area. Potentially crucial fingerprint evidence collected from the Saab 'disappeared'.
- October 2: Armed robbery of a restaurant in Ohain, Belgium. Nothing was stolen. The owner was killed.
- October 7: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Beersel, Belgium. Less than $35,000 was stolen. One customer was killed.
- December 1: Armed robbery of a jeweler in Anderlues, Belgium. Some low-value jewels were stolen. Two people were killed.
- September 27: Armed robbery at the Delhaize supermarket on rue de la Graignette in Braine-l'Alleud. Less than $6,000 was stolen. Three people were killed and two wounded. Between 15 and 25 minutes later, there was an armed robbery of the Delhaize supermarket on Brusselsesteenweg in Overijse. Less than $25,000 was stolen. Five people were killed and one wounded.
As a result of these robberies, security was increased at many stores in the region — including armed guards.
- November 9, around 7:30 p.m.: Armed robbery at the Delhaize supermarket on the Parklaan in Aalst. This market was outside the area the gang usually operated in. Less than $25,000 was taken; eight people were killed.
During the November 9th incident, gang members (wearing bizarre face paint and disguises) roared at and taunted customers. They shot anyone who looked at them, including children. Witnesses said the shootings were done mainly by the "Killer" who justified it as killing witnesses. It appeared, however, that the shootings were gratuitous executions. The robbers did not leave the scene right away after returning to their parked getaway vehicle.
Patrol vehicles from Belgium's then two police forces arrived before the gang left the Parklaan Delhaize. Most vehicles went to a secondary exit of the parking lot about 100 yards away. The getaway began with the "Giant" walking alongside the getaway car, exchanging shots with a policeman. Police fired more shots as the getaway car sped away. A police van pursued the gang for half a kilometer before stopping the pursuit, losing track of them.
The last sighting of any gang member was November 9, but the witnesses only reported it to the police many years later, during the spring of 2003. The person was spotted on a forest road, on the ground, apparently seriously injured.
During the 2003 police investigation, forensic examination at the forest-road site - Bois de la Houssière - found . Investigators concluded that one of the gang had been executed by his accomplices and buried nearby. A Volkswagen Golf car — similar to that used in the getaway — had been found burned out in 1985 in the same area.
Method of operation
Some of the evidence that police found indicated that the gang were professional criminals involved in drugs and burglaries. On the other hand, odd elements were also evident:
- Robbery proceeds were modest relative to the extreme risks;
- The killings escalated dramatically in 1985. Bystanders were shot dead in the parking lot before the gang entered the supermarkets; other victims, including children, were shot from as close as a foot away while cowering on floors;
- Firearms were a particular interest; the 12-gauge pump shotguns used were loaded with a rare, heavy buckshot;
- Cars used, often Volkswagens, were stripped of distinctive trim; vehicle modifications indicated a mechanic's expertise;
- The getaway driver was highly skilled; escape routes were fast and non-obvious, often to forested areas where the cars were burnt out.
The last gang robbery (despite patrols checking the supermarket every twenty minutes) led to rumors of them having some kind of inside knowledge and possibly complicity by individual gendarmes in the attacks. Nearby Gendarmerie vehicles (which had an Uzi in a compartment) did not engage or pursue the gang.
The Belgian "stay-behind" network SDRA8 (Gladio) — operating as a secret branch of the Belgian military service — was suggested by some to have links to the gang. Some units of the stay-behind network were made up of members of the Belgian Gendarmerie. One theory was that the communist threat in Western Europe was taken as justifying Operation Gladio being activated. However, the Belgian parliamentary inquiry into Gladio found no substantive evidence that Gladio was involved in any terrorist acts or that criminal groups had infiltrated the stay-behind network.
Westland New Post
The NATO 'Stay Behind' explanation for the Brabant incidents was explored in a 1992 BBC Timewatch series named 'Operation Gladio', directed by Allan Francovich. The program centered on a by-then defunct private Belgian far right anti-communist organization named Westland New Post. The leader, Paul Latinus, said he was working with government agencies along the same lines as Gladio.
The main WNP connection to the Brabant killers was that members — including some Gendarmerie — recalled being ordered in the early eighties to covertly surveil and compile a report on security arrangements at various Belgian supermarkets. Some of the markets were in a large chain that was the main target of the later killings. WNP had a genuine intelligence operative advising on covert techniques; NATO behind-the-lines units are known to have used the planning of robberies as a training exercise.
Michel Libert, the former second-in-command of Westland New Post, has never denied passing on the covert-supermarket-surveillance orders. He has denied having anything more to do with the matter. He said he was not told by Latinus what the purpose was behind the assignments.
In 1983 Libert had been staying with Marcel Barbier, a WNP member, when the latter was arrested for using a weapon in a street fight and became a suspect in a double murder at a synagogue a year earlier. When police then began investigating WNP, Latinus told them that Barbier and another WNP member were behind the synagogue murders, and that Latinus had helped Barbier get rid of the murder weapon as well as other pieces of evidence. Barbier was the only person convicted for these murders; his co-accused, who was acquitted but later convicted of a similar double murder of diamond merchants, appeared in a Belgian TV program in 2014, where he alleged WNP was behind the Brabant killings. This claim was based on WNP apparently having compiled information on the premises raided. Libert was arrested as a suspect soon after the program was broadcast, but released without charge after 48 hours.
Various conspiracy theories link the killings to political scandals, suggesting they were done to disguise a targeted assassination. In one version, connecting the killings to illegal gun-running mafias and legitimate businesses. A banker by the name of Léon Finné, who was shot by the gang in Overijse, was supposedly targeted deliberately.
Notorious professional criminals, including Patrick Haemers and Madani Bouhouche (both deceased) have been indicated as likely suspects. Haemers's height made him an apparent fit for the Brabant gang's 'Giant'. On the other hand, his known crimes lacked the gratuitous violence and small-time takings that were the Brabant killers' hallmark. Bouhouche was an ex-policeman convicted of two murders and linked to several notorious crimes of the era.
In 1983, on the basis of a forensic examination of a weapon, authorities charged the gun owner (a former municipal policeman) and several other men with the Brabant killings. Police said they obtained statements from the men under interrogation. However, the Brabant killers' Orhain raid (Oct. 2nd, 1983) occurred while the accused were in detention. It later came out that a German laboratory had concluded that the examined weapon (a pistol) had not been used in the robberies. Charges against the "Borains," as the men were known, were eventually dropped.
The law enforcement agencies hunting the killers made many mistakes during the early years of the investigation. Among them were the mishandling of fingerprints believed to have belonged to one of the killers. These fingerprints were either destroyed or simply lost. The investigating magistrate was criticized for lack of professionalism in handling evidence and not considering alternatives to his theories about the case. He was later replaced.
Current lines of inquiry
One suspect was Christiaan Bonkoffsky, nicknamed "The Giant", who had been a member of the elite Gendarmerie unit Group Diane during and after the crimes. He died on May 14, 2015, before which he allegedly confessed to his brother to having committed the crimes. His brother only revealed the confession two years after the death, in October 2017. A riot gun, another gun, and bullets in a basket labelled "Gendarmerie-Politie", indicating it used to belong to the police, were found in a canal, probably linked to the Brabant killers.
Barring an extension to the statute of limitations, the gang members could no longer be punished for the crimes. The limit was due to run out November 10, 2015, thirty years after the last crime, but was extended by 10 years in October 2015.
In January 2019, a former police officer was arrested on suspicion of having concealed evidence in the case.
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- La Libre Belgique, 2 octobre 2004
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- Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant page 21–22
- Financial Times blog, May 10, 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes caught trying to rob a bank
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- Official website of police investigation
- Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant page 21–22
- bendevannijvel.com/forum » Forum
- Belgian Chamber of Representatives, parliamentary investigation into the Brabant killers. (in French) (in Dutch)
- Belgian Chamber of Representatives, parliamentary investigation into banditism. (in French) (in Dutch)
- Belgian Senate, parliamentary investigation into Gladio (in French) (in Dutch)
- Belgian Senate, parliamentary investigation into private militias (in French) (in Dutch)