When you think of the country of Belgium, you might think of waffles, fries, and the European Union, or you might even think of the horrors the Belgians committed in the Congo. Most minds would not immediately jump to child murders and pedophile networks that have connections to the Royal Family. However, the two crimes that shook the country in the ’90s had everything to do with murdered girls, sexual abuse of children, and international child porn rings. The cases of Katrien de Cuyper and Marc Dutroux were so gruesome that they could hardly be contained in such a small country.
It’s a rainy evening on December 17, 1991, when 15-year old Katrien de Cuyper is visiting her boyfriend in the city of Antwerp. Normally he would walk Katrien to the bus stop, but she thought it unfair to let him walk in the rain. She called her parents to let them know she would be taking the bus home, but in the end, she missed it. More than an hour after the phone call to her parents, she was spotted in a bar that was close to where her boyfriend lived. Some sources say it was here, at this shady ‘Café Les Routiers’, that she called her parents again, other witnesses go against this claim. Whatever the case is, the phone call is untraceable. After this, she disappeared and her strangled and naked body was found 6 months later in the port of Antwerp, severely decomposed after being submerged in hydrochloric acid.
Seems like a normal case of woman walks home alone at night and gets killed by random passerby. But here’s where it gets weird: an anonymous letter gets published in the magazine Blik, wherein the writer confesses to giving Katrien a ride after trying to solicit prostitutes. In the letter, the anonymous man angrily accuses Katrien’s father of abandoning her at the docks in Antwerp. In two following letters to the magazine and the parents of Katrien, he has doubts about going to the authorities and insists that he dropped off Katrien alive at a random street in Antwerp. He also recounts how beautiful Katrien was, and how he will continue to visit her grave.
This is where the case of Marc Dutroux gets connected to the case of Katrien de Cuyper. Witness X1, Regina Louf, who became known for her allegations that she was abused not only by Dutroux but by an entire pedophile network with members from Belgian high society, confesses to killing De Cuyper. She remembers being locked up in a castle near Antwerp, where children were ritually abused, both sexually and physically, tortured, and killed. During a supposed orgy in this castle, Louf was forced to murder De Cuyper. Authorities couldn’t find a reason to further explore these allegations.
Before Karl V.R. gets arrested for Katrien’s murder in 2006, after police found the Blik letters and a huge amount of child porn, Marc Dutroux’s trial casts a spell over the Belgian public in 2004. In the hugely publicized trial, multiple scandals emerge. Notably, the witnesses in the case Dutroux tell about their experience being held within an international child porn ring, where pedophiles from high society and even royal families rape and torture children. Multiple women talk about being groomed since a young age and then getting sucked into a huge network wherein they are subjected to beatings, rapes, torture, and killings. Witness X1 not only confesses to killing De Cuyper, but also tells horror stories about stabbing other young girls’ genitals, and ritually murdering them along with mayors, royals, and important politicians. At a certain point in the trial, the original judge of the case Dutroux, Jean-Marc Connerotte, takes the stand and breaks down. His experience has been one wherein he needs constant protection against figures from these child porn networks. According to Connerotte, murder contracts had been taken out against the court and its magistrates. Connerotte, the witnesses, and a part of the Belgian public mark the failures within the case Dutroux as a sign that the government is involved in some way. Many people still believe that important people are being protected and are free to subject innocent children to their depravities. Even the boogeyman himself, Dutroux, admits: “There is a well-grounded [pedophile] ring. I maintained regular contact with people in this ring. However, the law does not want to investigate this lead.”
Back to Katrien’s murder. Karl V.R. eventually only gets sentenced to 6 months in prison for possession of child porn, but not enough evidence could be found that he was Katrien’s killer. It’s around the same time that the Dutch porn producer Gerry Ulrich gets murdered by a troubled youth that alleged that he had been sexually abused by Ulrich and other men when he was a young boy. The young man, Robby van der Plancken, and self-proclaimed ‘child porn hunter’ Marcel Vervloesem both step forward with the information that Ulrich has a massive amount of child porn which he distributes among pedophiles in Europe. There were even pictures found of a girl that looked remarkably like Katrien de Cuyper. The bar Katrien called from on the night she disappeared, again comes under scrutiny. According to Vervloesem, on the floor above the bar, there was a photo studio used for (child) porn production. Eventually, police find out that Robby van der Plancken played the main role in thousand of child porn videos that were produced by Ulrich. In this period, a big part of the Dutch and Belgian public talks about international pedophile networks that do not only produce ‘normal’ child pornography but also snuff films wherein children are murdered. However, authorities do not look as deep into the case as many think they should with a case wherein over 88 thousand unidentified children play a role.
In the same neighborhood in Antwerp, two siblings, Kim and Ken Heyrman, go missing after going to visit friends. Their mother gets treated as a suspect by the police until Kim’s body is found five weeks later in the port of Antwerp, same as with De Cuyper. It turns out that she was sexually abused and stabbed to death. Ken’s body hasn’t been found until this day. The children’s mother, Tinny Mast, is convinced the two siblings were also victims of a pedophile network. The lead investigator did not go about his investigation in a professional manner, according to Tinny. Tinny hears him call her murdered daughter “that little whore in her white coffin”, which only raises her suspicions more. Which grown man would otherwise call a young girl a whore, if there was no reason? Eventually, a suspect is heard, but after a single denial, the case is closed. Kim’s body was found close to the bar where Katrien disappeared, and an unknown person eventually puts down the missing Ken’s sweater in the exact same location, where it could easily be found. This case is linked again to the Dutroux-case and Katrien’s murder. In 2014, Ken was declared dead after being missing for the last 20 years.
In all cases, the same components come up. Missing children eventually found murdered, sexual abuse, torture, child pornography, suspicious police investigations, and allegations of international child porn and snuff networks that involve high-placed members of society. If these allegations contain any truth, is hard to say. In all cases, suspects eventually are linked to suspects involved in other cases, which does point to the raised likelihood that there is a certain network. And it does pop up internationally, not only in the Netherlands and Belgium, but also in France, Germany, and the United States. There are some that rightfully point out that there is a certain linkage to the ‘Satanic Panic’ that was present in a lot of countries in the ’80s and ’90s. But does this explain away the fact that a lot of children were suddenly missing under suspicious circumstances? And that big national publications like De Morgen and Humo gave a platform to these witnesses and their allegations? The possibility does exist that, just like with the Catholic Church, there are respected members of society that involve themselves in sickening things because they are protected by power and money.