Marc Paul Alain Dutroux|
6 November 1956
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Francoise D. |
Michelle Martin, |
|Victims||11 (possibly more)|
|13 August 1996|
|Imprisoned at||Prison of Nivelles|
Dutroux was convicted in 1989 for the abduction and rape of five young girls (with his then-wife Michelle Martin), the youngest of whom was eleven years old.
In 1996, Dutroux was arrested on suspicion of having kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six females aged between 8 and 19, four of whom died. His widely-publicised trial took place in 2004. Dutroux was convicted of all charges, along with the murder of a suspected former accomplice, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Martin was convicted as an accomplice.
A number of shortcomings in the 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 reorganisation of Belgium's law enforcement agencies.
Early life and early criminal career
Born in Ixelles, Belgium, on 6 November 1956, Dutroux was the oldest of five children. His parents, both teachers, emigrated to the Belgian Congo, but returned to Belgium at the start of the Congo Crisis when Dutroux was four. They separated in 1971 and Dutroux stayed with his mother.
Dutroux married in 1975 at the age of 19 and fathered two children; the marriage ended in divorce in 1983. By then he had already had an affair with Michelle Martin. Dutroux and Martin would eventually have three children together, and married in 1989 while both were in prison. They divorced in 2003, also while in prison.
An often unemployed electrician, Dutroux had a long criminal history including convictions for car theft, muggings and drug dealing. Dutroux's criminal career also involved the trade of stolen cars to Czechoslovakia and Hungary; all of these activities gained him enough money to live in relative comfort in Charleroi, a city in the province of Hainaut that had high unemployment at the time and has had for decades. He owned seven small houses, most of them vacant, and used three of them for the torture of the girls he kidnapped. In his residence in Marcinelle, he constructed a concealed dungeon in the basement. Hidden behind a massive concrete door disguised as a shelf, the cell was 2.15 m (7 ft) long, less than 1 m (3 ft) wide and 1.64 m (5 ft) high.
In February 1986, Dutroux and Martin were arrested for abducting and raping five young girls. In April 1989, Dutroux was sentenced to thirteen and a half years in prison. Martin received a sentence of five years. Showing good behaviour in prison, Dutroux was released on parole in April 1992, having served only three years, by Justice Minister Melchior Wathelet. Upon his release, the parole board received but never replied to a letter from Dutroux's own mother to the prison director, in which she said that Dutroux was scaring his own grandmother during supervised visits to her house, and that she was certain he was planning something nefarious, although she did not know what.
Following his release from prison, Dutroux convinced a psychiatrist that he was psychiatrically disabled, resulting in a government pension. He also received prescriptions of sleeping pills and sedatives, which he would later use on his victims.
Crimes after release
On 24 June 1995, eight-year-old schoolfriends Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were kidnapped after going for a walk in Grâce-Hollogne, probably by Dutroux, and brought to his house in Marcinelle. Dutroux kept them imprisoned in the dungeon he had created, repeatedly sexually abused them and produced pornographic videos of the abuse. Two months later, in the early hours of 23 August in Ostend, Dutroux and accomplice Michel Lelièvre kidnapped An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks, two teenage girls from Hasselt who were on their way back to their holiday home in Westende following a night out in Blankenberge. With Lejeune and Russo already in the dungeon, Lambrecks and Marchal were kept chained up in a bedroom. In September, according to Martin, Lambrecks and Marchal were drugged and brought to Jumet, where Dutroux and accomplice Bernard Weinstein killed them by burying them in a hole.
Around the time of Lambrecks and Marchal's deaths, Weinstein and a man named Philippe Divers stole a van and hid it in a hangar; after it was found there by the hangar’s owner, it was taken away by the police. Dutroux and Weinstein suspected that Divers and his friend Pierre Rochow had betrayed them, and on the night of 4 November, wishing to interrogate them about the van, Dutroux and Weinstein lured Divers and Rochow into Weinstein’s home in Jumet and drugged and sequestered them, before leaving to go to Rochow’s house to search for clues about the van. There they found his girlfriend Bénédicte Jadot, whom they took with them back to Jumet and questioned before leaving again to pick up another person. While they were away, Jadot escaped and alerted a neighbour, who called the police. With Weinstein wanted by police, Dutroux decided to kill him to prevent being caught. He kidnapped Weinstein and held him in the dungeon at his house in Marcinelle between 13 and 20 November. During this time, he let Lejeune and Russo roam freely around the house. After feeding him food laced with Rohypnol, Dutroux placed hose clamps around Weinstein's testicles until Weinstein told him where his money was hidden. Dutroux then killed Weinstein by burying him in a hole on his (Dutroux’s) property in Sars-la-Buissière. In December, Dutroux, having been recognised by Rochow, was arrested.
According to Dutroux and Martin, Lejeune and Russo were still alive in the house at the time of Dutroux's arrest in December, and Dutroux had ordered Martin to leave new food and water for the girls in the dungeon each time they ran out. Martin neglected to feed them, later claiming she was too afraid to go into the dungeon. Lejeune and Russo eventually starved to death. Dutroux initially stated that they were still alive when he returned home following his release from prison on 20 March 1996; according to him, Lejeune died that day, and Russo followed suit four days later despite his efforts to save her; during his trial, he said they were already dead when he returned from prison. An expert asserted that they would not have been able to survive the entire time Dutroux was in prison on the total amount of food and water they were said to have been given. Dutroux buried Lejeune and Russo's bodies in the garden of the house he owned in Sars-la-Buissière, near to that of Weinstein.
On the morning of 28 May 1996, Dutroux and Lelièvre kidnapped 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne who was cycling to school in Tournai. In a book originally published under the title J'avais 12 ans, j'ai pris mon vélo et je suis partie à l'école (and published in the United Kingdom under the title I Choose to Live), Dardenne described her time in captivity in Dutroux's Marcinelle home, where she spent most of the time imprisoned in the dungeon and was starved and repeatedly raped by Dutroux. On 9 August, Dutroux and Lelièvre kidnapped 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez as she was walking home from her local swimming pool in Bertrix. An eyewitness observed Dutroux's van, described it and was able to identify part of the license plate. On 13 August, Dutroux, Martin and Lelièvre were arrested. An initial search of Dutroux's houses proved inconclusive, but two days later, Dutroux and Lelièvre both made confessions. That same day, Dutroux led the police to the basement dungeon inside which Dardenne and Delhez were imprisoned, and the girls were subsequently rescued. On 17 August, Dutroux led police to his house in Sars-la-Buissière, and with his help they were able to locate and exhume the bodies of Lejeune, Russo and Weinstein. On 3 September, the remains of Marchal and Lambrecks were located and exhumed in Jumet. Hundreds of commercial adult pornographic videos, along with a large number of home-made sex films that Dutroux had made with Martin, were recovered from his properties.
Criticism of police investigations
Several incidents that occurred during Dutroux's criminal activities between June 1995 and his arrest in August 1996 suggested that despite several warnings about him, the authorities did not investigate him. They received criticism for this. Dutroux had offered money to a police informant to provide him with girls and told him that he was constructing a cell in his basement. Dutroux's mother also wrote a second letter to the police, claiming that he held girls captive in his houses. He was under police camera surveillance the night he kidnapped An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks, but the police had only programmed the camera to operate during the daylight hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The police searches of Dutroux's house on 13 and 19 December 1995 in relation to his vehicle theft charge came under harsh scrutiny. According to Dutroux and Martin, Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were still alive in the basement dungeon at the time of his arrest a few days before the first search, but the searching officer, René Michaux, failed to discover them. A locksmith who was accompanying Michaux said he heard children's voices coming from inside the house while the two men were in the basement, but Michaux decided that the voices had come from outside. Several videotapes were also seized from the house that showed Dutroux constructing the secret entrance and the dungeon where the girls were then held. The tapes were never viewed by the police, who later claimed this was because they did not have a videotape player.
Allegations of cover-up
There was widespread anger and frustration among Belgians due to police errors, evidence that was seemingly ignored, the general slowness of the investigation and the disastrous outcome of the events. This suspicion that Dutroux had been, or was being, protected was raised when the public became aware of Dutroux's claims that he was part of a sex ring that included high-ranking members of the police force and government. This suspicion, along with general anger over the outcome, culminated with the popular judge in charge of investigating the claims, Jean-Marc Connerotte, who had played an important role in the liberation of Laetitia Delhez and Sabine Dardenne, being dismissed on the grounds of having attended a fund-raising dinner for the girls' families, in what became known as the "spaghetti-affair". Connerotte was replaced by Jacques Langlois. This was Langlois' first case. Langlois also had a difficult relationship with the public prosecutor Michel Bourlet, the two men having different views on the case.
Some of the parents of the victims claim that no new evidence was uncovered after Langlois took on the case. Langlois however claims that much of the evidence that had already been gathered was flimsy or unverifiable and that there seemed to be a lot of conspiracy theories.
The dismissal of Connerotte and the end of the investigation resulted in a massive protest march (the "White March") of an estimated 300,000 people on the capital, Brussels, in October 1996, two months after Dutroux's arrest, in which demands were made for reforms of Belgium's police and justice system.
When the case against Dutroux came to court, Connerotte was called as a witness. On the witness stand, Connerotte broke down in tears when he described "the bullet-proof vehicles and armed guards needed to protect him against the shadowy figures determined to stop the full truth coming out. Never before in Belgian judicial history had an investigating judge or public prosecutor (in this case Michel Bourlet) been subjected to such pressure. "We were told by police that [murder] contracts had been taken out against the magistrates." Connerotte also testified that the investigation was seriously hampered by protection of suspects by people in the government. An inquiry was held into the behaviour of Connerotte and that of some policemen. Although they were all cleared, valuable time and manpower in the Dutroux case were lost. "Rarely has so much energy been spent opposing an inquiry," he said. He believed that the Mafia had taken control of the case.
Parliamentary investigation and escape from custody
A 17-month investigation by a parliamentary commission into the Dutroux affair produced a report in February 1998, which concluded that while Dutroux did not have accomplices in high positions in the police and justice systems, as he continued to claim, he profited from corruption, sloppiness and incompetence.
Public indignation flared up again in April 1998. While being held in a court house in Neufchâteau, where he was allowed to study his own dossier, Dutroux overpowered one of his guards (the other was away on an errand), took the policeman's gun and escaped. He forced a driver at gunpoint to relinquish his car and tried to get away through the forests surrounding Neufchâteau. In record time a massive manhunt was started, in which an estimated 5.000 policemen and a number of helicopters were involved. Police in his native Belgium, and in France, Luxembourg and Germany placed their police forces on an "all-borders alert", effectively closing the borders around Belgium. He was arrested by police a few hours later after having been spotted by a local park ranger, who then called the police. The Minister of Justice Stefaan De Clerck, the Minister of the Interior Johan Vande Lanotte, 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.
Dutroux's trial began on 1 March 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 the investigations had started. Dutroux was tried for the murders of An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks and Bernard Weinstein. While admitting the abductions, he denied all three killings, although he had earlier confessed to killing 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.
Martin was tried as an accomplice, as were 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; this ban remained in force until 9 March. Throughout the trial, Dutroux continued to insist that he was part of a Europe-wide paedophile 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 the victims' testimonies. On 14 June 2004, after three months of trial, the jury went into seclusion to reach their verdicts on Dutroux and the three other accused. Verdicts were returned on 17 June 2004 after three days of deliberation. Dutroux, Martin and Lelièvre were found guilty on all charges; the jury were unable to reach a verdict on Nihoul's role.
The death penalty was abolished in Belgium in 1996. The last execution for common law crimes was in 1863. However, the majority of Belgians, at the time of the trial, would have had no problem with Dutroux receiving the death penalty. On 22 June 2004, Dutroux received the maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while Martin received 30 years and Lelièvre 25 years. The jury was asked to go back into seclusion to decide whether or not Nihoul was an accomplice.
On 23 June, Dutroux lodged an appeal against his sentence.
Although Nihoul was acquitted of kidnapping and conspiracy charges, he was convicted on drug-related charges and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Nihoul was released in spring 2006. He currently resides in Zeebrugge.
On 19 August 2012 about 2,000 people in Brussels demonstrated against Martin's possible early release from prison. She has since been paroled, 13 years into her sentence, and was released into the care of the Poor Clares in Malonne. She was given shelter, although she was not part of the community. The sisters have declared that they were not her guardian and shelter was given under the condition that she would not violate the conditions of her parole. As the convent has since been sold, she has had to find new shelter or go back to prison. A former judge has created an apartment in his converted farmhouse, where she now lives. Martin may be questioned by the court in 2017, because the father and brother of one of the victims of Dutroux have lodged a complaint of fraud (this happened before her conviction) against her.
Lelièvre is currently serving his prison sentence in the prison of Ittre. His application for parole in 2013 was denied. He has since then been granted temporary leave, but has violated the conditions of release. He may be released if he can find an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker, which has so far been unsuccessful. The Belgian state was forced to pay Lelièvre 6.000 euros. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a moral compensation was in order because he was held in custody (nearly 8 years) without receiving answers to his requests.
On 4 February 2013, Dutroux requested the court in Brussels for an early release from prison. He insisted that he was "no longer dangerous" and wanted to be released into house arrest with an electronic tag (ankle bracelet) placed upon him. On 18 February, the court denied his request. Dutroux is currently being held in solitary confinement in the prison of Nivelles.
The Dutroux case is so infamous that more than a third of Belgians with the surname "Dutroux" applied to have their surname changed between 1996 and 1998. The Belgian crime thriller Public Enemy is loosely based on the Marc Dutroux case.
In 2008 Nicole Malinconi published a book called Vous vous appelez Michelle Martin (translation: You are called Michelle Martin)
Belgian author Kristien Hemmerechts published a number of novels about the "affair Dutroux". Most notably, in 2007 In het land van Dutroux (translation: in the land of Dutroux). In 2014 De vrouw die de honden te eten gaf (translation: The woman who fed the dogs), a fictionalised account of the affair, from the viewpoint of the wife (supposedly Martin). Martin was described, at the time, as the most hated woman in Belgium, even more than a woman who killed her five children.
Marc Dutroux owned seven houses, four of which he used for his kidnappings:
- The house on the Route de Philippeville 128 in Marcinelle is most often cited in the media. All victims were held captive here in the basement and bedroom. The municipality of Charleroi seized ownership of this house, because of what happened there and the bad state of the house. There are plans to create an open space with a memorial site here. In the Belgian procedure of compulsory purchase, an owner has a last right to visit a house. Therefore, Dutroux visited this house on 10 September 2009, under heavy police guard.
- A house in Jumet, that has since been demolished. The remains of An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks were found buried in the garden of this house. Bernard Weinstein lived in this house for a while. A small monument is placed at this location.
- A house in Marchienne-au-Pont. Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo were held captive here for a short while after their kidnapping.
- A house in Sars-la-Buissière. The bodies of Lejeune, Russo and Weinstein were found buried in the garden. The house was bought by the municipality of Lobbes in the first months of 2009. It is planned to make a park with a monument commemorating Dutroux's victims here.
- Inline citations
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- Article by Olenka Frenkiel in the Guardian, giving an overview of the case
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- Dirks, Bart (1 March 2004). "Niet alle vragen over Marc Dutroux zijn beantwoord" [Not all questions about Marc Dutroux are answered]. Die Volkskrant. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
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- "Belgians demand pedophile accomplice stays in jail". Sacbee News. 19 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
- "'Michelle Martin onherkenbaar veranderd'" [Michelle Martin irrecognisably changed]. Algemeen Dagblad. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
- Article on the website of Belgian television and radiostation VRT (in Dutch): Michelle Martin moves to ex-judge
- Website article relating to a Dutch TV program (in Dutch), TV program about the judge who has given Michelle Martin shelter in his converted farm
- Article on the website of populist newspaper HLN (in Dutch): Michelle Martin to appear before a judge again?
- "Marc Dutroux: Child Killer Wants Early Release". Sky News (BSkyB). 4 February 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Belgium court denies Marc Dutroux release". BBC News. 18 February 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Marc Dutroux op 4 februari voor strafuitvoeringsrechtbank voor enkelband" [Marc Dutroux in court on 4 February to get ankle bracelet]. De Standaard. 27 December 2012.
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- Nelson, Alex (5 May 2017). "Public Enemy: the Belgian thriller that blends true crime with True Detective". i.
- Nicole Malinconi, Vous vous appelez Michelle Martin, Denoël, 2008. ISBN 9782207260036
- Hemmerechts, Kristien; In het land van Dutroux; Atlas; Amsterdam; ; pp 397; ISBN 9789045002736
- Hemmerechts, Kristien; De vrouw die de honden te eten gaf; De Geus; Breda; ; pp 248; ISBN 9789044531589
- Benoot in, Rebecca (19 February 2014). "Flemish author reimagines story of Belgium's most-hated woman". Flanders Today.
- De Bock, Steven (11 September 2009). "Dutroux nog één keer naar huis" [Dutroux even home once]. De Standaard (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 August 2015.
- General references
- The official indictment
- BBC News on Sabine Dardenne
- Dutroux at CrimeLibrary
- United Nations High Commission on Human Rights report criticizing changes in the Belgian Constitution due to the case
- Media related to Marc Dutroux at Wikimedia Commons