Local Dutch newspaper discuss need for psychological autopsies

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Yesterday, Tuesday September 23rd and today Wednesday September 24th several articles were published in various local newspapers including De Gelderlander, De Stentor, Brabants Dagblad, Tubantia, BN DeStem, Eindhovens Dagblad, PZC, and De Limburger / Limburgs Dagblad discussing various cases where the local police swiftly called a death a suicide. All these local newspapers have a national editorial staff named De Persdienst. In an earlier post I talked about a column of psychologist René Diekstra. He wrote one of the three articles published [Dutch | English] and he was interviewed for another [Dutch | English]. The third article was an interview by Peter Winterman [twitter | De Persdienst | LinkedIn] with my parents about Eline’s death [Dutch | English].

Joep Timmermans, the lawyer of Mart, reiterated that “he does not agree with the factual and judicial accusations that again have been made against his client. Also, his client finds it very hurtful that incorrect information about his role, involvement, and person are being spread. Without going into detail: none of the accusations have merit.” Of course Mart has every right to defend himself against any defamation or slander, especially if this behinders him in his daily functioning. Afterall, the Netherlands is a democracy, which means that you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This also means that Mart has absolutely no obligation to incriminate himself.

But how do you prevent any fingerpointing to Mart In this particular case? I think it is neigh impossible to not make a logical connection between Eline’s death and Mart, as Mart was the only other person present when Eline “committed suicide”. Simply by questioning suicide-by-stabbing, you invariably imply that Mart must have been actively involved, whether or not you intend to or not. If Mart therefore feels cornered as he described in his interview in De Limburger [Dutch | English] on December 31st, 2012, I can understand and sympathise with his feelings. Especially if a thorough police investigation confirms the swift first conclusion of suicide to be correct. It is this swift first conclusion of suicide that we question.

As I described earlier suicide can indeed not be excluded, but the statistics make Eline’s self-inflicted death not very plausible, thus a thorough police investigation is most certainly warranted. I do not consider an investigation of less than 36 hours a thorough investigation, especially when the Sittard police assumes suicide hours after finding Eline’s body. Ergo our call to the public attorneys office to re-open the case.

The column and interview by and with psychologist René Diesktra bring forth three additional cases where the police were very quick in concluding suicide, yet no indication was found that the police ever launched a thorough investigation. This does not appear to be because of lack of indications of foul play. Once the Dutch police suspect a suicide and label a ‘crime’ scene as such, little to no effort is made by the police to try to contradict its own suspicion. You could call this is a form of tunnel-vision or confirmation bias as described by the Posthuma Commission following the Schiedammer Parkmoord. The Dutch police is further supported by the public attorney’s office (Openbaar Ministerie) who simply state that there is no time to investigate all suicides. To quote DA-spokesperson Désirée Wilhelm: “When it appears to be a suicide, the case is closed for us. (…) When there is doubt about the cause of death we do an as thorough an investigation as possible.”

To me it seems that René Diekstra is correct to advocate for mandatory psychological autopsies for any suspicious ‘suicide’ or any suicide by a younger person. I like to add an addendum to Diekstra’s suggestion. If there is a second person present at a suicide, a psychological autopsy/survey of this person also has to be mandated. This all can become part of a much needed overhaul of the Dutch forensic investigation procedures. Very few forensic autopsies (340 in 2012) are performed in the Netherlands and a recent report by the Dutch tv-program Brandpunt showed that too often the forensic doctor (schouwarts) who is called to a crime scene does not follow protocol and provides poor advice to the investigating police and public attorney. (Quick note: a forensic doctor only does an “quick” external inventory, whereas a forensic pathologist performs a full internal and external autopsy.) It can only be expected that many homicides go unnoticed in the Netherlands because of systematic laziness and unwillingness by the authorities to invest in thorough homicide investigations. Ironically the forensic pathologist who performed Eline’s autopsy, Frank van de Goot, has been saying this for years.

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:

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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-

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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).

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

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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.

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