Psychologist René Diekstra argues for psychological autopsies for suspicious suicides. I agree.

On Monday August 25th the renowned Dutch psychologist René Diekstra [personal website] wrote a column for the local newspaper Noordhollands Dagblad about three cases where young women died and subsequently the police swiftly concluded these to be suicides. Yet their respective families argue different and face an uphill battle to get the recognition and corresponding action from the authorities, more specifically the public attorney’s office (Openbaar Ministerie). Here is the original piece in Dutch [in pdf just in case] and below is my translation.
Noordhollands Dagblad
By René Diekstra
August 25th, 2014 10:00am
Last update: August 25th, 2014 10:00am

Three deceased daughters 

There are this moment in our country at least three sets of parents who are struggling with intense problems. All three have lost a daughter. According to the police and public attorney’s office all three daughters committed suicide. But each of these sets of parents question these conclusions. They have taken action to get their daughter’s death re-investigated.

Both the authorities, psychiatrists, and psychologists are tempted to ascribe such behaviour by the relatives as expression of having trouble accepting that a loved one has died. Yet, there is more than meets the eye with these three deceased daughters.

First this. As far as I know it is not normal for the police or the public attorney’s office to request a psychological autopsy or a ‘regular’ forensic autopsy in cases where there is suspicion, but no certainty, of suicide.

Even though years ago former colleagues, such as Prof. Speyer and myself, argued for such psychological autopsies. We even developed a protocol. The consequence of non-action by the authorities has led to various insufficiently supported claims of suicide and thus subsequent (criminal, red.) investigations were never performed.

Furthermore it is not uncommon for two things to be mixed up, namely ‘mechanism of dying’ (arterial bleeding or suffocation) and ’cause of death’ (how did someone die). There are four causes: natural causes, accident, homicide, and suicide.

The golden rule for psychological autopsies is that the ’cause of death’ cannot be determined from the ‘mechanism of dying’. Both need to be independently investigated by respective experts. Someone can be found hanging in a bedroom, but the question how the person got there (suicide, homicide, or accident (think of erotic auto-asphyxiation) is thereby not answered.

Systematic investigation of someones psychological history, behavioural patterns, recent hardships, and documents that were left behind (diary, farewell letter) will help in determining the most likely cause of death.

No psychological autopsy was performed on Eline Melters (23) who found dead in 2009 on a grassy knoll in Limburg. The official conclusion of suicide is therefore insufficiently supported. The same can be said about Iris van den Hooff (23) who was recently found in her home. Also for a ‘third’ deceased daughter, whose name I have omitted upon request, little proof to support the conclusion of suicide was given.

It is my humble opinion that the public attorney’s office fails to consider the ramifications of quickly establishing an unexplained death as a suicide. Not only does this mean that a murderer continues to roam the streets, it also causes great confusion and distress for those left behind.

When you have never noticed anything ‘suicidal’ about your daughter, yet the authorities conclude that anyway, how much do you start doubting yourself and how well you knew your daughter? Possible forever.

A fourth case can also be added to this list, namely the initially presumed suicide of Michelle Mooij. She was found hanging in her apartment in January 2010 and the police directly assumed it had to be a suicide. Her parents did not trust the former boyfriend who was present in the apartment when it happened and filed an article 12-procedure, which they won. Now the public attorney has decided to charge the former boyfriend and a court case is pending. More than four years after her death.

The position taken by the public attorney’s office, police, psychiatrists, and psychologists with regards to families who question the conclusion of suicide also holds true for most judges in the Netherlands. After all, victims of crime and relatives of victims are just very emotional and only want revenge and loads of money to soften their pain. Anyone who has been victim of crime or is a relative of a victim knows this is only true for a very small portion of us. In general I would say that of course we would like to see justice (not revenge). Part of justice is that similar cases do not happen again or happen substantially less frequent. That we, as a collective, learn from past mistakes. Justice. Nothing more.

I can only agree with the arguments of René Diekstra that any suicide where there is (the slightest) suspicion of foul play a psychological autopsy is mandated. Currently, something similar is done for about 220 suspects per year upon court order where the suspect is placed in a closed observation clinic for 7 weeks. I addition I would argue that a ‘regular’ forensic autopsy be mandated as well for all these cases and thus igniting a corresponding criminal investigation by the authorities. This to guarantee that experts in homicide investigations critically look at the case. In Belgium for instance it is common that part of an investigation of a suicide includes the exclusion of homicide. An additional advantage of doing more extensive police/forensic work on a regular basis is that more knowledge will be gathered, both by the police, the public attorney’s office, forensic psychologists/psychiatrists, and forensic pathologists. Currently, the former two determine how many and which cases the latter two will receive for their professional analysis. Traditionally suicides, accidents, and other unexplained death are not subjected to a forensic autopsies in the Netherlands. It is to be expected that the number of autopsies is very low. To make matter worse the number of forensic autopsies in the Netherlands have been in decline. In 2005, 617 autopsies were performed by the NFI whereas in 2012 only 340 were performed. Therefore the amount of knowledge that is being gathered must be in decline as well.

Will this cost the Dutch government (more) money? Obviously! But the government has a moral obligation to protect its citizens and provide justice for all. Afterall, it is them who claim to have a monopoly on the use of violence. This leaves the Dutch citizen with little more than to (blindly) trust that the government will do its job and provide justice. And it is the public attorney’s office who is the responsible government organisation for these matters. Of course this does not mean that mistakes won’t be made, but at least a proactive attitude and subsequent protocols exist to catch as many homicides as possible. After all, homicide is one of the worst crimes anyone can encounter.

Edit 2014.08.28 – The preliminary results from the autopsy on Iris van den Hooff cannot exclude homicide [link1 link2 link3 link4].

Eline’s dossier will be reviewed

Last Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 we, our lawyer Arthur van der Biezen and us, met with the deputy head-public prosecutor George Rasker (plaatsvervangend hoofdofficier van justitie) and public prosecutor Olav Beckers (recherceofficier) at the offices of the DA in Maastricht. At first we were somewhat hesitant in what to expect from this meeting, but our first fears were dramatically proven unjustified. The public prosecutors were respectful and they seemed to have a listening ear to our frustrations of the last 4.5 years.

Since Eline’s death we never felt that we were taken seriously by the authorities, we were rather positively surprised to learn that both Rasker and Beckers agreed to review the dossier of Eline. Today, Thursday August 21st, 2014, it was made public that this is indeed what is going to happen (statement by DA press officer Cindy Reijnders: transcript Dutch | English). Of course this does not mean the case will be re-opened, but at least people will be reviewing the dossier and these people have not seen the files before. All in all, we consider this the first step forward in the 4.5 years since Eline’s death on December 8th, 2009. As to the reasons why the DA made a 180º turn from its previous position, we can only guess. In the end we are only interested in understanding what happened on December 8th, 2009, so Tuesday was a good day for us.

With this latest development I can only thank all those people who have helped us and supported us. Most notably De Telegraaf‘s Cold Case Team, L1, SBS6’s Hart van Nederland, our lawyer Arthur van der Biezen and all our friends and family.

One step at a time.

The song you asked for

On May 10th, 2008, more than a year before her death Eline send out a request to Radio 538, a popular commercial Dutch radio station. She requested a song she didn’t know the title off:

hayhay jeroen, ik ben al lang op zoek na een nr dat franstalig is. ik weet niet meer hoe die heet maar het is van de eind jaren 90. het heeft heel erg lang op de nr 1 gestaan van onze hitlijsten. de clip gaat zo: er staan 3 mannen op een berg te rappen in het frans met een rustigere refrein. en aan het eind staan ze op een podium in een hal te rappen. meer weet ik ok niet. maar als het jou te binnen schiet welk nummer ik bedoel wil het graag dan ff mailen. cheers en thanx, laterz eline

Translated:

Hi Jeroen, I have long searched for a French song. I don’t know the title, but it was produced in the late 90s. It was on top of the lists for a long time. The clip goes as follows: there are three guys on a mountain rapping in French with a calm chorus and at the end they are on stage. I don’t know more than this. But if you remember the song, would you email me. Cheers and thank you. bye Eline

Eline, the song was La Tribu de Dana by Manau:

Dutch DA once again responds via Twitter

More than two months after our request to re-open Eline Melters’ case was sent and received by the district attorneys office in Maastricht, they responded for a second time via twitter [first response and media interview]. Of interest might be that the DA did not send a letter confirming having received our request.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 10.35.54 AMI first tweeted the following:

2 months ago we requested @Het_OM to re-open #ElineMelters case. Has the head DA Bos of @LimburgOM made a decision?

The DA’s Twitter response is:

@DPMelters @Het_OM Dear family Melters, we have carefully and extensively judged your request and you will receive a message this week

To which I replied:

@LimburgOM @Het_OM Thank you for your reply. We are looking forward to your response. Sincerely, dr. DP Melters

As I thought it was striking that the DA would reply twice via Twitter, I am at odds why the DA did failed to send a confirmation letter, especially as the DA asked me to call them in case I have further questions. Without a reference or case number and a clear contact person it would require a lot more time and effort on both sides to make clear who and what we would be talking about. In the absence of an official confirmation letter the DA is also in the position to deny ever having received such a letter in the first place. Of course, their twitter reply following my initial tweet proofs they have actually received it.

Therefore I posted the following question on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 10.40.57 AM

Does @Het_OM have a new method of confirming having received something? @LimburgOM does respond via Twitter, but not via letter with reference number and contact information.

For now all I can do is wait for the official response by the DA. It should arrive this week, they say.

Letters expressing love for Eline

As we are waiting to hear from the DA in Maastricht, why not start giving Mart and his family a more personal “face”.

Detective Helga Krekels asked us if Mart and his family could attend the official remembrance service for Eline on Tuesday December 15th, 2009. Upon hearing that their request was denied, Mart and his family arranged for their own make-shift service which they held days before the official service at the spot where Eline died (in front of the St. Martinus church in Urmond).

These are the letters Mart and his mother left behind:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Letter by Mart

It says:

Dear love,

You have had a lot of pain, sadness, fear and misunderstanding. That time is now over! You shall find the peace you deserved much earlier. We had difficult but especially beautiful times together which I will not and don’t want to forget!

You were a beautiful person from the inside and the outside. Even if you thought very different about it. Up there they will make it clear to you and you will see it yourself. People made you believe things differently. But those people are your breath and love not worthy.

Dear sweetheart, it is fine now you may go and find peace. We will meet again one day.

You are in my heart forever and no one can touch that.

-x- lots of love, your angel -x-

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Letter by Lenie Palmen-Stroucken (Mart’s mother) and Jos (Mart’s stepfather)

It says:

Dear girl

It is ok, girl.

We thank you forever for all your strength and determination, which for other that was so clearly present. For you, this strength, was not possible. It was too much, too heavy. We are grateful that you entered our lives. We know you can recover now and may you find peace.

Loads of love, Lenie and Jos

It is clear that Mart, Lenie, and Jos expressed their love for Eline.

Dutch DA responds via Twitter

Last Thursday was exactly a month ago that we send our second official request to the Dutch DA in Maastricht. We have not yet received an official answer from the DA, which means we are still waiting. This I tweeted on last Thursday (2014.04.10).

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 10.42.10 AM

To my surprise the DA in Maastricht (@LimburgOM) actually replied:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 10.41.39 AM

The tweets says: “@DPMelters @Het_OM Dear mr. Melters, we have your request and will answer asap. Questions? Please call us.”

Of course I had to respond thanking them for their reply and saying that we are looking forward to their answer.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 10.42.36 AM

I guess some people at the Dutch DA actually are up to speed with the modern communication possibilities.

Eline Melters in Hart van Nederland – transcript

Earlier today (2013.03.17) the Dutch national news show Hart van Nederland (Heart of the Netherlands) made a short report of our second request to re-open the case. You can enjoy the Dutch presentation here (in its entirety | Eline’s segment).

Here is the translated transcript (hier in Nederlands) of Eline’s segment:

Eline’s sister Nadia – We’ll keep on knocking on doors until we have everything and we get all the answers to our questions. As next of kin we have that right.

Eline’s father Rudy – You always want answers as a parents and details, so we can give it a place.

Heart of Netherland’s reporter (HvN) – On December 9th, 2009, Eline ran out of her house on the Kloosterstraat, screaming. She managed to walk several tens of meters, only to collapse at this field and die. Very quickly the police came to a remarkable conclusion.

Cindy Reijnders, District Attorney’s office Limburg (CR) – Trace evidence has been gathered. We considered the report by the pathologist (1) as well as witness accounts of those who were present at the crime-scene (2). This led us to the conclusion we drew in 2009, namely according to us this wasn’t a murder, but a suicide.

HvN – Eline’s former boyfriend was with her during the stabbing and told the police she was psychotic and that she stabbed herself with the knife. Eline’s family doesn’t believe this.

Nadia – When you are a boyfriend and in such a situation and you see things are wrong, you go look for help. You call 1-1-2 (Dutch equivalent of 9-9-1, red.) and that didn’t happen. There are so many contradiction that we think something isn’t right here. She was enjoying her life. She had so many plans and she was a very lively and .. eh yes … young girl.

HvN – You don’t just stab yourself three times in the chest and then run away?

CR – Yes indeed, that is very difficult to explain, but you need to know all the facts and circumstances (3). And people who are psychotic (4) can do very bizarre things.

Rudy – You can never completely exclude it. You have to keep all options open. The only problem that we have is that in the meantime we have learned various things and talked with a lot people and the facts we know now don’t match with the story of the DA. And if the DA has all the facts: please! We would be eager to have them.

HvN – Eline’ family send another letter to the DA in Limburg. They want the entire police file and demand that the DA re-opens the case.

Nadia – You cannot live like this. They have not … not only is Eline gone. They also destroyed … our lives. We have to learn to live with Eline’s loss, but I have feel that asking for the truth is not too much too ask. Just cooperate.

HvN – You won’t give up until you have answers?

Rudy – No. No, I think this is what we have to do for our daughter.

As you might have noticed, there are four numbers in brackets. These numbers represent the following notes.

(1) The (forensic) pathologist’s report (of the NFI) wasn’t written up until March 12th, 2010, whereas the case was closed on December 9th, 2009. Alternatively, Cindy Reijnders could have meant that forensic doctor who came to the crime-scene, but this person is and was not a pathologist. It would seem that the statement by Cindy Reijnders does not fit the facts.

(2) Does Cindy Reijnders claim there was another person present during the stabbing, besides Eline and her boyfriend or is she referring to the entire region  between and including the location Eline was found and Kloosterstraat 4a?

(3) That is exactly what we would like to know. All the facts and circumstances that the DA had in their possession allowing them to make their conclusion of suicide. Of course, this is assuming these are all the facts and circumstances that could have been known, except we know this is not the case.

(4) This is the first time the DA clearly stated that Eline was psychotic. Up to now they used vague terms. We are very interested to know which physician made this medical diagnosis and when this diagnosis was made. We know for a fact that the GP did not do this.

All in all, we hope to hear back from the DA with a written response addressing all our concerns in detail. We hope this response comes sooner rather then later.