Eline’s case remains closed

A quick update. A more elaborate one will follow soon.

On December 8th, 2009, when Eline died, the police and Public Attorney quickly concluded that Eline committed suicide. At first her boyfriend was arrested, but soon after released.

Now, July 2nd 2015, the public attorney’s office informed us that the analysis of some of the evidence that gathered then, but never analyzed, does not give them reason to doubt their initial conclusion of suicide.

We are back at square one.

DNA evidence in case Lesley Timmer not investigated

A quick note.

Today, Sébas Diekstra, the lawyer of Lesley Timmer‘s family, announced that DNA evidence was found in the shoelaces of Lesley. The donor of this DNA sample is of unknown origin. Yet, the shoelaces were used to tie up his legs and hands before he fell down the J.F. Kennedy-bridge in Liège, Belgium, over 240 km away from him hometown of Delft, the Netherlands.

An earlier analysis by Frank van de Goot (his recent dissertation) found that his wounds did not match with a fall from a bridge. Altogether, an image emerges in this particular case very similar to Eline Melters’ case: evidence was gathered, but not investigated, because the conclusion ‘suicide’ was already made and thus no further investigation is required.

In my sister’s case I am not familiar with any intention by the public attorney’s office in Maastricht to analyse the evidence to determine who donated the blood found on the scenes. All they agreed to do was analyse the blood spatters found at Kloosterstraat 4a, about 120 meters from where Eline died.

The cases of Talitha, and Iris van den Hooff differ here: little evidence was gathered at all and subsequently destroyed.

For me it remains obvious that proper forensic investigations must be conducted on any suspicious deaths in the Netherlands, not just where homicide is deemed the most likely conclusion. For as long as this does not happen cases like Eline Melters, Lesley Timmer, Michelle Mooij, Talitha, and Iris van den Hooff will keep popping up in the media. The victims here are not just those who died and their families, but first and foremost the validity of the Dutch legal system as a whole.

Not investigating suicides leads to unnecessary suffering.

Yesterday, April 8th, Timo van der Eng from crimesite.nl wrote a piece for the crime magazine Panorama about Michelle Mooij, Talitha, Iris van den Hooff, and Eline Melters. This report expands on a previous publication in various local Dutch newspaper by Peter Winterman and Gerlof Leistra wrote a similar piece in Elsevier Juist. In addition, Joost van der Wegen published a reconstruction about Eline’s case in the crime magazine Koud Bloed.

All in all, the same picture emerges. The Dutch police arrives on a scene of a deceased person and quickly determine that it must have been a suicide. As a conclusion has been drawn and Dutch public attorney does not consider a suicide worthy of an investigation, the case is quickly closed and everyone can go home to have dinner with their families. The family of the deceased are left behind with conflicting feelings and loads of questions that could have been completely or partially answered if the police has bothered to instigate an investigation without impromptu conclusion-drawing.

In the case of Talitha, the lawyer of her family, Sébas Diekstra filed a request with the police to investigate what went wrong with the non-investigation and who were involved. This request was filed on March 10th of this year. Now more than a month later they have not heard back from the police. This forced Diekstra to file a complaint with the Dutch National Ombudsman, an entity we have turned to in the matter of Eline.

Also the long time between filing a request with Dutch authorities in sensitive cases is something we have experienced before. When we send a letter to the public attorney in Maastricht debunking their claim to Eline’s suicide and presenting the results of our own investigation, we did not receive an official confirmation letter as is usual. We knew they had it as they signed to receive it. It wasn’t after I went to Twitter that the public attorney’s office replied … via Twitter … twice. As we have made some progress in Eline’s case, we still encounter delayed responses from the authorities. Six to eight weeks after our meeting with George Rasker and Olav Beckers of January 12th, we would learn about the results of their investigation of the blood spatters found at Kloosterstraat 4a in Urmond. It took them almost 10 weeks to inform us that it will take them up to the end of May before they can give us an answer.

Even when a family succeeds in forcing the public attorney to take the death of their daughter serious, this does not mean that a successful prosecution will follow. The parents of Michelle Mooij went to court to demand that the public attorney re-opened the case in an article 12 procedure. They won. Almost two years later goes the boyfriend to trial. He was present in the apartment when Michelle died, but claims that she committed suicide. The police initially believed him, so little forensic evidence was gathered and no proper forensic autopsy was commissioned. Although one of the charges against the boyfriend was murder/manslaughter, the public attorney requested the court to dismiss these charges as it cannot be proven that she was murdered. The court agreed with the public attorney. A catch-22 situation. You don’t investigate, so no evidence exist that could proof foul-play. Although the boyfriend of Michelle was found guilty for having harmed her, Michelle’s family will have to get to grip with her unknown cause of death. Did she commit suicide as the boyfriend claims? Or was she murdered by him? If the police and public attorney had done a thorough investigation of the crime-scene, they might have known more.

I find it disrespectful and harmful that the Dutch legislation has not modified the law to prevent such cases. As it stands now with the new secretary of justice Ard van der Steur no changes are to be expected anytime soon. His predecessor Ivo Opstelten gave his unconditional support to the Dutch police that they are perfectly capable in estimating if a death is due to natural causes, an accident, a suicide, or a homicide. With that statement Opstelten indirectly argues that the average Dutch police officer is capable of performing as a qualified forensic pathologist. Van der Steur does not go as far, but he does admit in a recent response to parliament that the police does not have an official protocol to determine the cause of death, in part because this determination is ultimately made by the public attorney (Officier van Justitie). Van der Steur does not see any reason to question the current status quo, just like Opstelten didn’t.

With the recent publication surrounding the death of Lesley Timmer, we can only wait to learn about more cases such as Michelle, Talitha, Iris, Eline, and Lesley. The question is: when will there be enough families fighting for a proper police investigation for the questionable suicides of their daughter or son to finally change the legislation and investigate every death where the slightest hint exist of any uncertainty or foul-play? How many more?

Edit 2015.04.15 – addition of Gerlof Leistra piece in Elsevier Juist in the first paragraph.

Eline Melters, Michelle Mooij, Talitha, Iris van den Hoof. Now add Lesley Timmer to the list of suspicious suicides.

In June 2010 Lesley Timmer, an 18-year old high school student from Delft, the Netherlands, goes missing. A parents worst nightmare. Several days later he is found seriously injured underneath the Kennedy bridge in Liege, Belgium. His feet and hands were tied together with his shoeties. Shortly afterwards Lesley died.

Sébas Diekstra, the lawyer of the Timmer family, says serious errors were made in the investigation of his disappearance and subsequent investigation in his death. Therefore he wants a new investigation into both his disappearance and his death.

Lesley’s father René informed the Dutch police in Delft when he reported his son missing that as of late he was very scared and he felt threatened. Once Lesley was found, a Dutch police officer went down to Liege and quickly concluded it was a suicide. The Dutch police also told the Belgian police that Lesley had psychological problems. René Timmer does not know how the Dutch police came to know this, as he is not familiar with any psychological problems of Lesley. Also, the missing persons file was entered in the wrong database by the police in Delft. This was possible because Lesley remained unidentified for a month in Belgium.

Despite the errors made by the Dutch police, their response to these complaints is that the investigation into the death of Lesley was done by the Belgian authorities. So any request to reopen the case should be made with them. The Dutch police also stressed that they cooperated with missing person program Tros Vermist, but no new information was gathered from this public request for information.

A complaint by René about the way the Dutch police handled the case was found valid in 2011. Major Jozias van Aartsen (The Hague) expressed his sympathy for how the police mishandled the investigation of Lesley’s disappearance.

I feel for Lesley’s family and I am glad that they kept kicking the door to try to get answers. With the current Dutch legislation there are no other options. It is disturbing that more and more cases such as Eline, Michelle, Talitha, Iris, and now Lesley hit the media. It clearly emphasises that the Dutch police and Public Attorney’s Office is too eager to determine an unnatural death a suicide. How many more cases will be added to this list in the upcoming years?

Note: Sébas Diekstra is also the lawyer of Talitha‘s family. Also in this case, for which the public attorney has publicly apologized for having made the erroneous conclusion that Talitha committed suicide, Diekstra requested a new investigation to be started.

Investigation of bloodspatters in Eline Melters’ ‘suicide’ case over two months delayed

A quick note. On January 12th we met with the Public Attorney in Maastricht, where we were told that they would investigate evidence that was gathered in the initial investigation on December 8th, 2009. The public attorney hoped to have the results of this analysis in 6-8 weeks. Shortly after the meeting of January 12th the Dutch Forensic Institute was asked to start analysing the evidence.

Almost 10 weeks have passed and we still have no news. According to the Public Attorney’s Office the Dutch Forensic Institute is dealing with an overload of work, especially from the large investigation into the Malaysian Airlines MH17 that was shot down over Eastern Ukraine. This massive investigation has already led the Dutch Forensic Institute to outsource some of their regular analysis to private forensic companies. As a result the analysis of the blood spatters that were found in Kloosterstraat 4a, where Eline and Mart lived together and where Eline sustained her fatal wounds, will not be available for the end of May. A delay of over 2 months.

I’m sure that the Dutch Forensic Institute is indeed very busy with the MH17 investigation, but I doubt that is the only reason why they have not started/finalized the analysis of the blood spatters. 77 jobs are likely to be cut if Dutch parliament indeed decreases the budget for the Dutch Forensic Institute by 9.6 million euros. Both the police and public attorney are concerned about this prospect. Nevertheless, according to a spokesperson of the Dutch Forensic Institute will honor all made agreements with the police and the public attorney within the time they agreed to do it. Obviously this is not the case for us.

Two suspected customers commit suicide after being interrogated by Dutch police in underaged prostitution case

“We also regret this second suicide, but we are only responsible for the investigation itself. The suspect is responsible for his own choices. They choose to have sex with a minor in a strange situation. They chose to deal with it their own way as well.”

These were the words of spokesperson of the District Attorney’s Office in Limburg, the Netherlands. A rather remarkable statement when a second suspect who was just heard by the police commits suicide in the same case. This does not mean that the exploitation of a 16-year old girl can be justified in any way. The suspects who committed suicides were customers of the girl, not the ‘loverboy’ or pimp. For 50 men the name was traced and these men were suspected of having had sex with a minor. Another 30 men are suspected to have had sex with her, but their names remain unknown for the police at the moment.

Exploiting anyone for financial gain is deplorable in my view, even more so if this is a minor who is put in harms way. Yet, the appearance that the police and the public attorney have pressured two suspects beyond their coping-point is tempting. It was also the same public attorney David van Kuppeveld who said that they police would visit all clients of the exploited young girl at home unless they showed up at the police station voluntarily. “Wifes might be surprised to see police at their doors and hear why they are there.”

I doubt that this statement alone would be sufficient to drive someone to commit suicide out of fear. Afterall, it is the police who interrogates these man who had sex with a minor for money.

The questions that should be asked: How were these men questioned? Did anyone tell the police how to interrogate these men? If so, who was this or were these?

The reason why I ask these questions is that in the Netherlands a suspect indeed has the right to be consulted by a lawyer, but this lawyer is not allowed to be present during the interrogation. Recordings of interrogations (audio and/or visual) are not the norm. They are remarkably uncommon. It did not involve a rape or homicide or the interrogation of a minor. Therefore the public attorney should have give explicit orders to record. I doubt such orders to record these interrogations were given. Verification of how these men were interrogated now solely rest 1) the police report (proces verbaal) which was written exclusively by the interrogating officer and 2) the suspects who were interrogated, but have not committed suicide. As these suspects are accused of having had sex with a minor, I doubt any of these men would like visit the limelight. This means we are exclusively relient on the police reports. Can we trust these a priori? I don’t think so. It would not be the first time a police report is falsified by Dutch police. The good thing for these officers who commit fraud and perjury is that no public attorney will prosecute them. At least this has not yet happened.

If an interrogation is recorded this does not mean that your lawyer will request it or listen to it or the judge for that matter. After all in the Netherlands the police report is considered a factual recording of the facts. Why would anyone doubt these?

Clearly Dutch law has caveats that need to be addressed. I think that all interrogations need to be recorded (video and audio), no matter how small the case is. In addition, a lawyer should always be present during an interrogation for any crime. This to guarantee that the police does not interrogate a suspect too harsh or tries to force a confession by lying or telling dubious half truths. These two upgrades to the Dutch legal system would allow for a firm establish of the rights of any suspect and will help prevent new errors being made by the legal system (think of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions, etc.). After all, how can anyone trust the authorities if they claim to tell the truth, but no one is allowed to verify this. And then error after error is being discovered and now two suspected customers are dead.

The story of the ‘loverboy’ case doesn’t end here.

The ‘funny’ thing happened shortly after the news broke the second suspect had committed suicide. The public attorney’s office rephrased their earlier statements made by Van Kuppeveld. No suspect was actually visited at home or at work. “From the beginning suspects were called by the police and invited for an interrogation. It has always been like this.”, emphasizes Martina Blijker. How this misunderstanding could have happened in the first place was not addressed by Blijker. “How this happened might be part of a future evaluation.” This was also confirmed by head publicatoney Roger Bos. The public attorney also pressed that after the interrogation the suspects will be offered psychological counseling if they need it.

This does not mean that the public attorney feels responsible for these two suicides. This notion was further confirmed by psychologist Harald Merckelback. Although Merckelbach gives the appearance he is an independent investigator at the University of Maastricht, he also is a member of the Public Attorney’s Office group Advise Committee for Closed Cases, where convicted people can request a new investigation if they believe they have evidence that would exonerate them. Of course, no lawyer in the Netherlands has ever received the raw data from the Dutch Forensic Institute, so requesting a new DNA test will be hard to argue for. It is therefore not surprising that no case has been granted a new investigation by this group of ‘outside’ experts.

On another note, legally it might be doubtful if statutory rape was committed based on laws Sr244 and Sr245. If someone is 16 or older, you can have sex with anyone you like in the Netherlands. Only law Sr248b states that you cannot have sex with a prostitute younger than 18. This comes with a maximal punishment of 4 years incarceration, whereas rape of a minor could cost you up 12 (law Sr244) or 8 years (Sr245).

To me it almost seems that the public attorney was desperate to get as many convictions out of this case as possible. (This would is in line with the focus areas of the Public Attorney’s Office in Limburg.) Clearly, this has backfired. Now it is up to the Dutch media to force an answer out the Public Attorney’s Office to explain how it was possible that two suspected customers committed suicide shortly after their interrogation?

Dutch police botches another investigation in a missing person’s case

On February 9th, 2015 Mariska Peters from Nijmegen told her parents that she would visit a friend of hers, but this friend knew of nothing. Shortly after she left she went missing. Today, February 22nd her body was found. She was 21 years old.

When someone goes missing and the possibility it is due to a crime should warrant a strong police response. This was not to be case and this is rarely the case in the Netherlands. On March 9th, 2010 Milly Boele (12) went missing. She was on the phone with her mom when she had to open the front-door because a neighbour was there with a kitten on his arm. About an hour later Milly’s mom got home, but Milly was nowhere to be found, whereas her cell phone and jacket were still there. The police was notified and they were made aware of cancelled phone-call she had with Milly. A week later on March 16th Sander Vreeswijk, a fellow police officer, confessed to being Milly’s murder.

The police justified their lack of action to their protocol which assumes no crime if a 12-year old goes missing, but rather a run-away. If no crime is assumed, no reason exist to start a full police investigation. Would a quick and thorough investigation of the neighbours have saved Milly? Maybe, maybe not. But it would have prevented a week of horrible agony for her family.

The same happened with missing case of Mariska Peters. Her car was found close to her parental home a day later. This by itself was not reason to increase the detective force of 5 full time employees. Not until suspicion of foul play arose following found evidence from the said car was the detective force increased to 25. This was on February 19th.

Yesterday, Peters’ family contacted the private investigation group that uses dogs trained in locating human remains 15 minutes after starting their search. The police provided this group with several regions of potential interest and the first site the group investigated resulted in a positive identification. Yesterday, it also became known that Mariska Peters was seen in a BMW with an unknown man.

Now the police has taken over and will probably present this case as a success story. But why did Peters’ family have to push the police to intensify their investigation? Why did they have to contact and arrange for the private investigation group to help in the police investigation? It is tempting to think that the police simply did not take Peter’s missing case serious. Why is it so difficult for the Dutch police to take missing person’s cases seriously?

In the case of my sister Eline, as well as Iris van den Hooff, Talitha, and Michelle Mooij the police made a quick assertion of what happened and subsequent police work was narrowed down to this initial assertion. In all these cases there is either proof or strong suspicion that the initial assertion was wrong. Secretary of Justice Ivo Opstelten, head of the new formed police force, recently focalized his unnegated trust in the competence of the police and the initial assertion made by the first police officer arriving on the scene of a potential crime. It is difficult to take such trust serious when mistake after mistake is being made in the very early stages of a crime. This is the most critical moment for any investigation to gather information. If the first thing a police officer does is draw a conclusion based on a quick first look, mistakes are to be expected. And that is what we see. I am sure it is cost-effective, but does it provide justice for victims of a crime?

Edit 2015.02.24: a few corrections. 1) Mariska told her parents she went to visit a friend of hers, but her friend was unaware of her intentions. 2) The private investigation group found Peters’ body 15 minutes after starting their search.