Death of Nicky Verstappen
|Born||13 March 1987|
Heibloem, Limburg, Netherlands
|Disappeared||10 August 1998 (aged 11)|
Brunssum, Limburg, Netherlands
|Status||Found dead 11 August 1998|
|Cause of death||Homicide of undetermined etiology|
|Body discovered||Landgraaf, Limburg, Netherlands|
|Resting place||Heibloem, Limburg, Netherlands|
|Known for||Victim of unsolved murder|
Nicky Verstappen (13 March 1987 – 10 or 11 August 1998) was a Dutch boy who, aged 11, disappeared on the morning of 10 August 1998 from a summer camp he was attending in Brunssum, Limburg. His body was found on the evening of 11 August, 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) away in nearby Landgraaf. Despite extensive investigation, the case remained unsolved for twenty years.
On 26 August 2018, a 55-year-old man was arrested in Spain when DNA from his belongings and relatives matched samples taken from Verstappen's clothing, following the largest DNA-harvesting operation in Dutch history.
Disappearance and body discovery
On Saturday, 8 August 1998, Verstappen and 36 other children took the bus from Heibloem to Brunssum to take part in a children's summer camp being held on the De Heikop camping grounds on the Brunssummerheide. Verstappen was last seen alive sometime between 05:00 and 06:00 on the morning of 10 August by a tentmate; later that morning, he was no longer in his sleeping bag. On 11 August, police and volunteers conducted a search for the boy; at 21:00, his body, naked from the waist up, was found in a pine grove on the Schinvelderweg in Landgraaf, 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) from the camp. The body showed signs of sexual abuse, but the post-mortem did not determine the cause of death, and an initial examination for foreign DNA yielded nothing. A tissue and cigarette with human DNA were found near where the body was discovered; from this DNA a complete profile was compiled.
Joos Barten, the founder of the camp Verstappen disappeared from, was questioned extensively by police in the days following. A former headmaster of the local primary school in Heibloem, Barten had had convictions for child sexual abuse and admitted to being near the tent Verstappen slept in at 06:00 on 10 August. During the search for Verstappen, he pointed several times in the direction where the body was eventually discovered. A 15-year-old girl who had attended the teenagers' camp on De Heikop a few days earlier suspected that she had been sexually abused by Barten in her sleep. None of the camp staff were officially held as suspects.
A reward of 25,000 guilders was offered by the Openbaar Ministerie in Maastricht for information on the identity of the perpetrator; this offer was doubled in 1999 with money raised by crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who became a spokesperson for Verstappen's family. Following a lack of leads, the investigation team was dissolved in November 1998, with a new team of investigators taking over the case between November 2000 and July 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, a sex offender from Kerkrade was in and out of police custody while a number of witnesses claimed to have seen him in and around the camp around 10 August 1998; the sex offender died in August 2007. The case has also been linked to German serial killer Martin Ney, who killed three boys between 1992 and 2001.
Seven or eight letters written by an anonymous author suggesting they had killed Verstappen were found on a monument for the boy on the Brunssummerheide between 2005 and July 2006. In January 2007, a 36-year-old man from Landgraaf was arrested on suspicion of having written the letters. He was released two weeks later, before being re-arrested in December for vandalising the monument. One month later, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for the vandalism. The monument was vandalised again in April 2008 and August 2013.
Between December 1999 and January 2000, 35 men took part in a DNA test, but none of the samples matched those found at the crime scene. In 2010, with foreign DNA having been found on Verstappen's body, police took DNA samples from 80 men, but still did not find a matching sample. In November of that year, the remains of Joos Barten, the camp founder, who died in 2003, were exhumed for a DNA test. His DNA also did not match that found on Verstappen's body.
In January 2018, it was announced that 21,500 men in the Limburg province would be asked to give samples of their DNA in an attempt to trace Verstappen's killer. This DNA-screening program took place between February and June, with a total of over 15,000 samples collected—the largest number in Dutch history, almost twice the number of samples collected in the program that successfully traced the man who was convicted of Marianne Vaatstra's murder. On 22 August, it was announced that DNA samples from the belongings and relatives of a 55-year-old man originally from Simpelveld, Joseph "Jos" Brech, who had been missing from his Vosges home for four months, matched DNA found on Verstappen's clothing. Brech has a history of sexually abusing children and is known to have been near the scene of the crime around the time it took place, though he was believed at the time to just be a passer-by. Police located and arrested him in Spain, near Castellterçol, on 26 August, and he was extradited to the Netherlands on 6 September.
Brech's trial began on 12 December 2018.
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