The monster of Marcinelle

Marc Dutroux was born in 1956 to two Belgian teachers and grew up in Congo. He was the eldest of 5 children. His parents weren’t very happy together. His mother, Jeannine, got accidentaly pregnant with him when she was 20 years old. She knew Dutroux’s father, Victor, for only two months at that time. To not lose her job as a teacher, she married Victor. Victor was decribed as ‘strange’ and was not well liked by colleagues. He was let go from several jobs in the Congo, and moved his family back to Belgium in 1960 after he couldn’t find new work.

A former neighbour remembered Victor as ‘uncaring. He never helped his wife. Only the best was good enough for him, but that did not inlcude his wife or his children’. The apple does not fall far from the tree… One of Marc Dutroux’s sisters says Dutroux was very similar to their father, always demanding his own menu for dinner and his own room, while the other 4 children shared a room. Victor and Jeannine divorced in 1971.

Dutroux grew up to become an elektrician. He was mostly unemployed, stealing and dealing drugs to make money. He married for the first time at 22. This marriage resulted in two children. His ex-wife accused him of abuse during their divorce in 1985.

Marc Dutroux

In 1988 Dutroux married Michelle Martin. They had one child together before they wed, and had two more children after. This might sound like a happy family life, but you could not be farther from the truth. In 1989, both Dutroux and Martin were convicted of the rape of 5 minors, all girls. Dutroux received 13 years in prison, while Martin received 5 years. They were both released early in 1992 due to good behaviour, despite a negative advice from the prison and a letter from Dutroux’s own mother not to release him.

Michelle Martin

In the years after his release, Dutroux acquired 7 houses, most of them vacant. His house in Marcinelle was his main residence and in the basement he started to construct a dungeon. It was hidden behind a massive fortified door with shelves on the outside to conceal it. The dungeon itself was small, measuring 2,15 meters in length (7 feet), less than a meter wide (3 feet) and 1,64 meters high (5.3 feet).

The fortified door to the dungeon

On the 9th of August 1996 Laetitia Delhez (14) was kidnapped by Dutroux while on her way home from the swimming pool. A witness saw the abduction of Laetitia and remembered part of the number plate of the white van she was taken in. Meanwhile, Laetitia was taken to Dutroux’s house and placed in the dungeon in the basement. But she was not alone. Dutroux had kidnapped Sabine Dardenne (12) 77 days before and had kept her in the dungeon ever since.

Dutroux and Martin were arrested on August the 13th, because of the license plate witness. A search of all their houses did not show any signs of the girls. Two days after their arrest both Martin and Dutroux confessed to taking Sabine and Laetitia and Dutroux then led police to the basement. Both girls were found alive and reunited with their families.

Sabine and Laetitia reunited with their families

But… Laetitia and Sabine were not the first girls Dutroux had kidnapped.

On June 24th in 1995, Dutroux had abducted Julie Lejeune (8) and Mélissa Russo (8). The friends were last seen waving at cars from an bridge across a highway. It is thought that they were kept for 9 months in the cellar dungeon of Dutroux’s house in Marcinelle. On the 22nd of August, An Marchal (17) and Eefje Lambrecks (19) were kidnapped while camping in Ostend. They were probably abducted by Dutroux and an accomplice, Michel Lelièvre. Since Julie and Mélissa were already in the dungeon, Dutroux chained An and Eefje to a bed in his house. His wife Martin was well aware of everything that was happening to these girls. It is thought An and Eefje were killed several weeks later.

In late 1995 Dutroux was arrested and convicted of stealing luxury cars. He was in custody until March 1996. During this time Martin lived in the house where Julie and Mélissa were imprisoned in the cellar. While Dutroux was in jail, Martin did not feed them once. She later claimed she was too scared to go down to the basement. It is likely that Mélissa and Julie died from starvation during this time.

After his arrest in 1996, Dutroux told the police where they could find the buried remains of all the girls. The body of one of Dutroux’s supposed accomplices, Bernard Weinstein, was found buried as well. Dutroux claimed he had killed Weinstein because he had let Julie and Méllissa die.

There was public outcry in Belgium in the months after Dutroux’s arrest, when facts about the case began to appear in the media. The police had searched Dutroux’s house on December 13th and December 19th, after his arrest on the car thefts. Julie and Mélissa were alive in the dungeon during both searches, but were not found. One officer did later claim he heard children crying. Dutroux’s mother wrote another letter to police telling them she suspected her son of holding girls captive. Police also confiscated home videos in an earlier search of Dutroux’s home, which showed him building the secret dungeon. However, these videos had not been viewed by any of the officers, if they had, An and Eefje maybe could have been saved.

The examining magistrate and judge in the Dutroux investigation was removed from the case after he attented a fund-raising dinner for the families of the victims of Dutroux, which affected his impartiality. He ate spaghetti and received a pen as a gift. In the media, this was dubbed the ‘spaghetti affair’ and his removal from the case also sparked national outrage.

To show their outrage, to protest the mistakes made by authorities during the investigation and to support the victims and their family, the White March was organised in Brussels. On the 20th of October 1996 around 300.000 people marched trough the center of Brussels carrying or wearing something white. White was meant to be a symbol of hope.

The White March in October 1996

In April of 1998, Dutroux managed to escape during a transfer to the court house. He overpowered one of his guards, taking his gun in the process. Luckily, he was caught a few hours later when he was spotted in a forest by forester Stéphane Michaux.

The trial against Dutroux, Martin and Lelièvre started in March 2004. He stood trial for the kidnapping of 6 girls and Weinstein (probable accomplice), for the murder of Weinstein, An and Eefje. Dutroux confessed to the abductions and sexual assault of An, Eefje, Sabine and Laetitia, but claimed Julie and Mélissa were kidnapped by someone else (business man Michel Nihoul). Dutroux also claimed he was not responsible for the murder of any of the girls. He named people in a paedophile network as the killers. This claim of the excistence of a paedophile network was investigated. No evidence was found to support this theory. However, a lot of people still belive Dutroux did not act alone. Sabine testified during trial and told the court that she only saw Dutroux during her captivity. In june 2004, Dutroux was convicted of life imprisonment, Martin of 30 years and Lelièvre of 25 years.

Martin was released from prison in 2012, under great protest of the victims, their families and other Belgian citizens. She first went to live with nuns in a cloister, and now lives with a former judge (and apparently studies law…). Dutroux has asked for early release in 2013 and 2019, both were denied based on the fact that psychiatrists assessed Dutroux as a danger for society when released.

Sabine Dardenne wrote a book about her experience, called ‘J’avais douze ans, j’ai pris mon vélo et je suis partie à l’ècole‘ (I was twelve and rode my bike to school).

Sabine Dardenne and her book

Laetitia Delhez is living her life out of the media spotlight and is a mother.

Laetitia Delhez
Julie Lejeune on the right and Mélissa Russo on the left

After the disappearance of his daughter Julie, Jean-Denis Lejeune became an political activist. He is active in the local council.

Gino Russo, Mélissa’s father, and his wife were both also active in politics, but are now out of the spotlight of the media. Her mother, Carine Russo wrote a book about her daughter, called ‘14 months‘.

An Marchal and Eefke Lambrecks

An and Eefje were both members of a drama club and liked theater. Paul Marchal, An’s father, started a political party, but wasn’t elected. Jean Lambrecks, Eefje’s dad, is at every hearing pertaining to the case.

Remember An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks, Mélissa Russo and Julie Lejeune and support their families and Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez.



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