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.

New critical notes about systematic lack of investigation of suspicious deaths in the Netherlands

When a person is found dead, someone usually calls 9-1-1 (in the USA) or 1-1-2 (in the EU). In most cases the police is the first on the scene. In the Netherlands this is a critical moment in the investigation of any death. If the arriving officer thinks (s)he is dealing with an accident or suicide or natural death, little hope exists that any investigation will be started, besides finding the family/relatives of the deceased one. If a forensic autopsy is conducted and a suggestion is made that the cause of death is different from the one initially assumed and the responsible public attorney is willing to consider this alternative cause of death, days of gathering information is lost and lost forever. It has to be noted that the forensic pathologist in the Netherlands does not determine the cause of death, but the public attorney does, often just copying the assumption made by the arriving police officer. As suicide, accidents, and natural deaths are no criminal matter, the case is closed in the eyes of the public attorney.

It is not surprising if doubt is casted over various deaths from this simplistic investigation model. I have discussed cases such as my sister Eline, Talitha, Iris van der Hooff, and Michelle Mooij. In the later case, her ex-boyfriend will stand trial on Wednesday February 11th. About 5 years after the fact. A clear breach of the human rights principles that rule in the European Union where someone should not await trial for too long a period. At least I consider 5 years too long. In the cases of Talitha and Iris the worst possible scenario seems to play out. These deaths were never investigated. No evidence was gathered that could be of use by a prosecutor. And no clear suspect is in sight to interrogate. In my sister’s case there is evidence collected, because the arriving officer did consider her death a possible homicide, but was apparently quickly overruled. The gathered evidence is currently (pictures of the blood stains in the house in Urmond) being investigated. Also a clear suspect exists if it were to be a homicide.

This all is not surprising to prof. dr. Peter van Koppen, a law psychologist at the University of Amsterdam and dr. Frank van der Goot, the forensic pathologist who autopsied Eline and Iris and looked at the case report of Talitha.

On February 10th, the in-depth news program EenVandaag showcased two cases (Eline and Talitha) to bring home the consequences of the current Dutch procedures. The families are forced to do their own work and pressure the authorities to do the right thing. To the frustration of their respective lawyers.

Yet, if you listen to the recent finding of dr. Van der Goot, about 50% of all deaths in the Netherlands are misdiagnosed (20% of hospital deaths and 50-75% for all other deaths). Although not all are the consequences of foul-play, structural misdiagnosis of cause of death is big problem. Too many homicides go unnoticed and very few people in the Netherlands seem to be bothered by this. It almost seems as if the the Dutch take pride in their own ignorance. The lack of investigation will inevitably lead to small number statistics which are inherently susceptible to dramatic fluctuation (see it as someone with a mood-disorder). With the number of forensic autopsies the Netherlands stand steadfast at the bottom of the European charts. The less you investigate, the less you find and the less you learn. That the homicide rate is declining is off course to be expected in such circumstances and so are the “facts”. What I think is worse is that knowledge if not obtained where it should and decisions about causes of death are based on gut feeling alone as cold hard facts simply are not gathered. These cold hard facts can only be documented if a proper forensic investigation is started in the first place. By investigating less and less the available knowledge will decline even further. Of course the decline of the investigative branch of the police following the Police Law of 1993 does not help either. What can anyone expect from a freshly minted police officer who lacks basic knowledge to not rely on his gut alone? It would off course be nice if the average Dutch police officer had plenty of time and help from his/her colleagues to do his/her job. The problem itself is far too systematic to be quickly writing up, but this help is unlikely to come soon. At the end of the day, despite all the goodwill of every individual police officer, many erroneous assumption and subsequent conclusions are to be expected. I can only fear more cases such as Michelle, Talitha, Iris, and Eline.

The Dutch Public Attorney says about Eline’s case: “we will now investigate the already gathered evidence”

5 years, 1 month and 4 days. This is the time between Eline’s death and today. Today, we had a new meeting with the Dutch public attorney in Maastricht. After 1.5 hours we parted ways and with we, I mean my parents, sister, and our lawyer Arthur van der Biezen, deputy head DA George Rasker and DA Olav Beckers.

On December 8th, 2009 we learned, many hours after the fact, that Eline had died. A suicide, we were told. After talking to various people and institutions it became apparent that the conclusion of suicide has little support by the facts. More surprising, many facts could not have been known by the police and public attorney because they never investigation and quizzed various people in Mart’s and Eline’s lives.

On October 29th, 2010 our lawyer Van der Biezen filed a request with the public attorney to re-open the case. A response by head DA Annemarie Penn-te Strake was written up on November 24th, 2010: request denied because they have conclusive evidence that supports their conclusion of suicide. Their response did not satisfy us the least bit and we wrote another request to the public attorney to re-open Eline’s case. Again, our request was denied. And again we argued in a letter that their conclusion of suicide was not supported by the facts.

Finally, we learn that the public attorney is open for a dialogue. On August 19th, 2014 we meet in Maastricht. The public attorney agrees to review the existing files, but they stress that the case will not be re-opened. Today, January 12th, 2015, in a new meeting, the public attorney (deputy head DA George Rasker and DA Olav Beckers) let us know that, after a long internal review process, various pieces of forensic evidence still need to be processed. In fact, the blood that was found in the house at Kloosterstraat 4a, where Eline and Mart lived, was gathered but not investigated. The investigation in the house was done by forensic investigators under strict supervision of an unknown examining judge and the DA Oelmeijer-Naus according to the letter of then head DA Annemarie Penn-te Strake. In other words, the very thorough investigation we were told to have occurred by head DA Annemarie Penn-te Strake and DA Emma Oelmeijer-Naus was not that thorough after all.

The new investigation will take a look at the origin of the blood spatters and which scenario fits best with these blood spatters. Afterall, the autopsy report of Frank van de Goot (NFI) clearly mentioned that homicide cannot be excluded.

This is of course encouraging news for us, especially in light of other recent similar cases: Michelle Mooij, Iris van den Hooff, and Talitha. In all cases a similar thing happened: suicide was quickly suspected and subsequent forensic investigation was suspended because suicide is not a case for the public attorney, as verbalized by public attorney spokesperson Désirée Wilhelm.

Michelle’s case was re-opened after her family went to court to force the public attorney to investigate her death and a trial is now pending. Talitha’s family received a letter last week where the head DA Roger Bos apologized for mishandling their daughter’s case. Now, we learn that the public attorney will investigate 5 year old evidence, although they still stress that the case has not been re-opened. For now, the public attorney still assumes that Eline committed suicide. Only in the case of Iris is her family still waiting to hear something positive of the public attorney in Groningen.

Dutch public attorney admits: “we should not have called Talitha’s death a suicide”

Shortly after Talitha’s death on April 17th, 2013, the police and public attorney concluded that she must have committed suicide. She was hit by a train. A not uncommon method of committing suicide. One police officer claimed to have found a note in her pocket detailing train schedules and the route from the nearby Heerhugowaard train station to the location where she was found. Obvious conclusion: suicide. Case closed.

Talitha’s family did not share the conviction of the public attorney’s office, so they decided to take on the public attorney with their lawyer Sébas Diekstra. Various letter to the public attorney were initially futile, but this did not stop them. They moved their objections up the ranks to the head of the public attorney’s office of Noord Holland, Bob Steensma. Shortly after contacting Steensma, they pressed charges against the police officer who claimed to have found that damning note for perjury. The family has that particular note in their possession and what they see on the note does not correspond to the claims of the police officer.

Recently Talitha’s family received a letter from the Steensma, where Steensma, in name of the public attorney’s office, offers his apologies. The public attorney who was in charge of the case should not have made the conclusion as swift as he did. “Based on the findings the public attorney should have concluded that the investigation lacked the indications that point to a crime and that there are not enough indications to point to a possible suspect.”

A year and half of fighting by Talitha’s family paid off. I am glad for them. Of course it does not bring back Talitha, but it takes away the wrongful conclusion that was forced upon by the authorities. By admitting having made a wrongful conclusion, the public attorney Bob Steensma shows maturity. On Monday January 12th, we will learn what the public attorney in Maastricht has concluded from reviewing Eline’s case.