From one day to another, this dangerous sociopath became Belgium's public enemy #1.
On 15-aug-96, He was arrested under suspicion of kidnapping. Later his wife and two other suspects were arrested too.
Four hours after the arrest, policemen rescued two young girls (Laetitia and Sabine), from hidden cellars in one of his houses. They were mentally and physically tortured and sexually abused.
Later, after very emotional weeks of intensive searches (well covered by the Belgian and international media) the bodies of four other young girls (An, Eefje, Julie and Melissa) were found. Dutroux let two of them starve to death. Later, the body of one of his gangmembers was found (Dutroux is blaming this guy for two of the murders!!). Evidence was found that Dutroux was planning even more kidnappings.
Belgium was in a state of shock and disbelief.
But soon, questions were asked about the competence of the Belgian police, justice and government.
- How come this murderer wasn't arrested earlier? After all, he was a known pedophile, and convicted of rape and child abuse (and released on parole). It soon became pretty obvious that the three Belgian police agencies weren't collaborating but competing. Investigators had ignored disturbing reports from informants. Magistrates, coordinating the investigation made severe mistakes too.
- Was his gang acting on its own or were they part of a network?
- Were people on high places protecting him, or was it just utter incompetence ?
- How come he was on welfare, and yet owned seven houses?
The initial shock went over and then the anger came. At a moment an angry mob was waiting for Dutroux to come out of a government building.
Peaceful, serene protests (white marches) were held when the first problems with the investigation started. A magistrate, who did excellent work on the case was suspended because he appeared on a meeting organized by the parents of the victims.
People demanded extra measures from the government. Paul Marchal (father of one of the victims) even started his own political party to keep the issue on the agenda. But the traditional parties had already begun to promise the public they would clean up the mess.
The parliament formed a committee to investigate all the questions. The hysteria slowly faded....
Then the unbelieveable happened: Dutroux escaped ! At first everybody thought this was a bad, bad joke... but when people heard how easy he escaped they were furious.
After a few hours he was apprehended near the French border. Again, the incompentence of Belgian government agencies was shown to the whole world. For a moment, Belgium was renamed to Absurdistan.
Two important ministers and the chief of the gendarmerie resigned. The committee came up with proposals to reform the Belgian justice and police systems. There also came more funding for initiatives agaist child abuse (Child Focus) and more international cooperation.
An anonymous phone-service was created to allow people to talk about sexual delicts.
In 2002 the police-reforms will be completed, resulting in a unified police force, split up in a local and federal branch. The reforms in the justice system aren't a priority anymore, though. Anyway, most of the people who goofed are still doing the same job. Some aren't sanctioned at all, because of all the red tape. And... believe it or not, Dutroux still has to be trialed for the murders !!
In a BBC interview (on 22/08/2001, five years after her daughter was found) the mother of An Marchal doubts Marc Dutroux will be found guilty of the murder of her child, since they only can prove Dutroux kidnapped her. Will the Belgian authorities screw these people for a second time ?
Update 02/10/2001: Dutroux appeared on court today in another case (involving stolen cars). During the case he accused his wife (Michelle Martin) of being responsible for the deaths of the childeren. He also complains about his threatment.
Update 23/01/2002: "Master-manipulator" Dutroux causes another riot in the Belgian senate. A senator, eager to "score", smuggles a journalist into the high secured
prison of Belgium after he got a letter from Dutroux. In this letter Dutroux promised he would reveal new facts. Although Dutroux is checked every 7 minutes, this journalist gets the chance to interview him. Dutroux only repeats what he said earlier. Senator Dedecker apologises for his behaviour before the senate but once again the public opinion sees how Belgium guards its most dangerous criminals...
Update 24/10/2002: Dutroux faints
while entering court. Fake of course. Meanwhile his lawyers have serious doubts about the validity of the trial because of errors in the investigation. Will Dutroux get off the hook because of the incompetence of the investigators?
17/01/2003: after Dutroux replaced his lawyer and after yet another magistrate had to step down, the Belgian court decided that most members of the Dutroux gang have to stand trial 3 march 2003.
19/03/2004: The trial has become a nightmare for the Belgian dept. of Justice. Dutroux came out with yet another new version of the facts, minimalizing his role even more.
... and yet again, security flaws were discovered: on the first trial day, the back door of the van which transported Dutroux back to prison fell open before a whole bunch of international journalists. Prison guards also found a pair of handcuff keys in a package of salt, accessible to Dutroux. After two days of investigation (yes really, it takes an awfully long time in Belgium to try if a key fits...) it turns out the keys could open his cuffs... scary stuff.
22/06/2004 Dutroux gets life sentence, his wife 30 years and his accomplice 25 years. Dutroux announces he will appeal.
A few days after the end of this nightmare, Michel Fourniret, a French pedophile murderer is arrested in Belgium...