My country of origin is suffocating under a heavy blanket called denial. Underneath that blanket children are raped, tortured and killed. It affects the atmosphere of the place. Sensitive people visiting there feel that something is off. Its architectural splendor and the pleasant cafe culture are insufficient to hide the edge to people’s forced indifference, the hopelessness of those who once cared, or the coldness of those who cling to intellect alone.
The people of Belgium were first confronted with this brutal reality in September 1996. International newspapers and magazines reported about the funerals of two eight year old Belgian girls, starved to death after being kidnapped, abused and abandoned in a dungeon. Main suspect: Marc Dutroux. Within weeks, Belgium was once again in the news. The bodies of two missing teenage girls were unearthed after Dutroux directed investigators to their graves. They were said to be “the victims of a deadly pornography ring.” (NY Times, Sept. 12, 1996). Both discoveries came in the wake of the rescue of two girls, 12 and 14, who were found alive but abused in Dutroux’ dungeon.
One of Dutroux’ accomplices talked non-stop in the first days after his arrest. “The morning after the kidnapping of [two teenage victims,] Dutroux had an important appointment. He returned at about 5 or 6PM. In regards to [the two girls], he spoke of ordered goods,” he declared. Eight days after the arrest, the accomplice abruptly stopped cooperating with interrogators, claiming: “Michel Nihoul said that if I talk, they will find me, no matter where or when.” Michel Nihoul, a Brussels businessman, was one of the defendants in the case.
Upon his arrest, Marc Dutroux told reporters he had friends in high places that would protect him, though he soon retracted that statement and denied kidnapping the children to fill an order. An investigation into his finances showed that shortly following several disappearances of Belgian children – not only those named in the Dutroux case, but also two siblings, one of whom was found murdered, and a teenage girl, also murdered – large sums of money were deposited anonymously into several of his or his wife’s bank accounts. Eight years later, in 2004, when the trial was finally getting underway and it was obvious that no friends in high places were protecting him, Dutroux took up his earlier premise with a different twist, declaring: “Just because I did some stupid things doesn’t mean I should have to pay for a mafia system of which I wasn’t the motor.” (New York Times March 2, 2004)
Late 1996, in the weeks after the discoveries of the four children’s bodies, several witnesses approached investigators of the Dutroux case. These witnesses, who said they survived the child prostitution ring, testified anonymously, under the codename X. They didn’t meet or know each other, yet pointed to the same notables, politicians and defendants in the Dutroux case as belonging to a network, responsible for the abuse and murder of many children. From the X-testimonies, Michel Nihoul, a defendant in the Dutroux case, emerged as having a key role inside the network.
The witnesses described scenes such as the following: “Unsuspecting, drunken businessmen would be offered a sixteen year old prostitute at a party, who tells him she is only thirteen as soon as they are alone, while their sex act is recorded on video and later used as blackmail, i.e. to obtain a contract.” (X1, named Regina Louf’s autobiography: “Quiet! Children being murdered!” - “Silence, On tue des enfants!) Several X-witnesses describe extreme S&M practices performed with them and other children. Childhood trauma is likely to engender psychological confusion; adult survivors of extreme sexual abuse don’t necessarily make for good witnesses. X1, the most prominent of the X’s, acknowledges she suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, currently known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, but her testimony stands out because of extremely precise, detailed descriptions. She recalls minutiae of interiors and inflicted wounds, biographical data about victims, victims’ friends, abusers, and people of Michel Nihoul’s intimate circle. Her information enables investigators to link her testimony to several unsolved child murder cases.
The investigating team tried to establish if the great numbers of child murders maintained by the X-witnesses could be matched with registered numbers of missing and murdered children. They didn’t get very far, since there are no national statistics on child murders and disappearances of minors in Belgium. Several of the regional prosecutor’s offices failed to reply to the investigators’ inquiry. The investigators determined that in the prior twenty years in Belgium, dozens of child murders and disappearances had remained unsolved.
October 1996. In all major Belgian cities, courthouses were pelted with eggs or hosed down by a furious mob, in reaction to the removal of the magistrate in charge of the Dutroux investigation, who had eagerly promised the public to ‘get to the bottom of this.’ The magistrate was accused of compromising his impartiality by eating a plate of spaghetti at a benefit for families of missing children. (NY Times, October 21, 1996) “”What impartiality?” scoffs one citizen. “Everybody knows this is fiction, that politicians name the judges and the magistrates and that they fix things the way it suits them.” He refers to a longstanding tradition of cronyism in Belgium in which political parties name their candidates, not only for many posts in the official bureaucracy but also in the judiciary”. (NY Times, October 19, 1996) After days of spontaneous protests, 275 000 citizens marched silently through the capital, protesting judicial and political corruption, demanding extensive changes.
On January 27, 1997, it was decided to reopen the investigation into the unsolved murder of teenager Christine Van Hees, which regained attention thanks to the testimony of X1. On February 13, 1984, the sixteen year old girl was repeatedly raped, tortured and finally set on fire. It was considered an “easy” case because no gendarme or police officials, notables or politicians were named in it. The original murder file already contained leads pointing to Marc Dutroux and Michel Nihoul. These leads were neglected, yet the same examining magistrate who handled the case from 1985 onward was placed in charge of the reinvestigation. At this time it was or should have been known by the Belgian judiciary that this magistrate’s sister was godmother to the son of Michel Nihoul, a suspect in the Van Hees murder file; that this magistrate once acted as a lawyer for Michel Nihoul’s longtime girlfriend, who was also one of the suspects in the case; and that he thanked his appointment to the extreme right wing political milieu of Michel Nihoul and friends, which his investigation should have scrutinized. The progress of the Van Hees murder file was to decide the future of the X-files, since X1 and other X-witnesses became fodder for a huge controversy brewing within the Neufchateau cell, which handled the case, and judiciary circles.
In 1998, after the press dubbed the two camps ‘believers’ and ‘disbelievers,’ all of Belgium became divided on the X-witness credibility issue. The Van Hees murder case was closed. The other child murder files brought back in focus by X1’s testimony were left untouched and by then the statute of limitations had run out on all of these cases.
Back at the Dutroux case headquarters, the replacement of the magistrate fired for partiality was skeptical about the X files. He showed more interest in tips coming from a convicted pedophile who led investigators to an alleged mass grave of young victims of the network in an inoperative coal mine. The digging operations lasted six months. Over eight million cubic yards of soil were scooped out. Nothing was found.
Upon receiving a complaint from a gendarme commander, the cabinet minister’s prosecutor’s office ordered an inquiry into the X1 investigation. X1’s interrogators were immediately put on leave. On the first day of the ‘investigation of the investigation’ the complaint was found to be unsubstantiated, yet the inquiry continued for two years and five months, without yielding a single result. X1’s investigators, though proven blameless, remained on leave.
The same gendarme commander who filed the complaint also ordered a ‘rereading’ of all the X1 files, even though he was not qualified to do so. The rereading reports suggest that the questions were leading, that the witness had exploited this situation to make up her answers and that she had transposed elements from her normal every day life to the horror stories about the network.
Early 1998, during a press conference, eleven magistrates solemnly addressed the public. A senior magistrate declared: “Everything has been thoroughly examined; and X1’s testimony is completely worthless.” In the book The X Files: what Belgium was not supposed to know about the Dutroux case (“Les Dossiers X: Ce que la Belgique ne devait pas savoir sur l ‘affaire Dutroux”) the authors examined the entire transcripts of the X1 testimonies and the four reports of the rereading. They were able to establish that the “rereaders” changed quotes from the transcripts, or used isolated bits of text to prove certain points which lost their validity once the excerpts were seen in their proper context. Almost none of the conclusions in the rereading reports survived the double-take. It appears that none of the magistrates who condemned X1’s testimony bothered to check if the reports were accurate.
On October 22, 2001, the file named Dutroux-bis was officially split off from the Dutroux case. All the issues deferred to this file, including the testimonies of all the X-witnesses, were not going to be addressed during the trial.
In December, 2001. The Belgian newspaper De Morgen published a list. Eighteen people who were either about to reveal ‘something big’, or who were about to deliver important testimony in the Dutroux case had died. Many were murdered, others inexplicably had committed suicide, still others died in traffic accidents, such as the children’s rights activist. She had obtained a videotape on which, she claimed, an ex-business partner of Michel Nihoul could be seen viciously abusing a child. She died in a car crash days after reporting to police that she had received an anonymous phone call in which she was told she ‘might soon die … in a car accident’. The videotape was never found. Police did not consider it necessary to investigate her death, which was recorded as a traffic accident. The journalist who wrote the article, Douglas De Coninck, later published a book: “Dead Witnesses: Thirty people who will not speak at the Dutroux Trial” (“Dode Getuigen: Dertig mensen die niet zullen spreken op het Proces-Dutroux”)
On December 14, 2003, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that 1500 to 2000 journalists, mostly foreign, were expected to attend the Dutroux trial. The courtroom, built especially for the Dutroux case in the city of Arlon, had sixteen seats.
On March 1, 2004, seven and a half years after the bodies of the four girls were found, the Dutroux case finally went to trial. The parents of one of the murder victims refused to attend what they called a ‘mock-trial’. The lawyer of one of the surviving victims stated: “Three quarters of the questions we had at the trial in Arlon were answered with: “We don’t know, but we are going to investigate this in the Dutroux-bis file.””
On June 17, 2004 the trial was concluded. Dutroux, his ex-wife and one of Dutroux’ accomplices were convicted for the murders and kidnappings of the six young victims. Michel Nihoul was found guilty of leading a gang involved with drug dealing and people trafficking. “A majority of the jury deemed Michel Nihoul guilty of kidnapping children. The fact that the court joined the minority [and found Michel Nihoul not guilty for the kidnappings] is sad, but you have to accept that,” comments the father of a murdered teenager. The father of another murdered girl regrets the court’s decision [about Michel Nihoul]. He also declares: “I think that the judge has failed. Why didn’t he continue asking questions? Why did didn’t he grill people more? Supposedly, it is all behind us today, but we are left with all of our questions unanswered.”
November 26, 2004, the Dutroux-bis file was officially closed. The reason it was opened in October 2001, was because the magistrate in charge of the Dutroux investigation did not wish to have thousands of hairs, found in Dutroux’ dungeons and cars, examined; so he got official permission to open a new Dutroux file to which the hairs and other issues, including the X-witness testimonies, could be transferred. Even though during the trial it became clear that the hairs contained DNA material that could in no way be linked to Dutroux, his victims, or anyone of his entourage, the magistrate defended his position by saying that “a DNA investigation would take eight years.”
The parents of one of the murdered children reacted embittered to the closing of the Dutroux-bis file: “We can still hear those beautiful words uttered in Arlon, where it was solemnly stated that serious leads would be further investigated in the Dutroux-bis file. In the higher circles of the justice system, they apparently thought otherwise.”
Marc Dutroux was sentenced to life in prison. Michel Nihoul received a five year prison term.
Today, fourteen years after the conclusion of the Dutroux trial, hardly anyone in Belgium seems to give a damn. As if all these inconsistencies and unanswered questions and the outcome of the case did not at least strongly suggest that there is indeed a network of VIP’s in Belgium in which children are abused, tortured and killed.
When a people have all the information they need to determine the truth about a situation in which innocents are systematically targeted and murdered, citizens are called upon to do whatever they can to keep that truth alive. Those who give in to the pressure of the corrupt powers, like the people of Germany before and during the world wars, carry responsibility for such evil.
I notice that the tide is turning, that victims of these darkest crimes by the elite are increasingly believed and heard. Belgians will eventually have to deal with this dark truth. I will patiently wait for that day.
Note: Much of the information regarding the details of the investigation of the X-Files is taken from the book: “X-Files: What Belgium was not supposed to know about the Dutroux Case” (translated, not available in English) by Annemie Bulte, Douglas De Coninck and Marie-Jeanne Van Heeswyck. This book is a detailed account and example of thorough investigative journalism, in which the authors painstakingly play devil’s advocate by looking at all possible investigative angles, knowing the controversy their work was to engender. If you read French or Dutch and want to learn more, I highly recommend it. Below are the links to pdf versions of the book.
Finally, I’m adding an English translation of the autobiography of Regina Louf, aka Witness X 1, in pdf format: