Suspect arrested in 30-year-old Brabant Killers case

Summary

Police have arrested a man in his 60s suspected of having been part of the gang that killed 28 people in the 1980s

Little chance of trial

Police in Brussels have arrested a man thought to be a member of the notorious Brabant Killers, who carried out a wave of murderous attacks in Belgium in the 1980s. The man denies any involvement.

The Brabant Killers, also known as the Nivelles Gang, were responsible for a series of violent crimes in the 1980s, beginning with the murder of a police officer in Waver in 1982 and ending with the killing of 13 people during two robberies of Delhaize supermarkets in Overijse and Aalst in 1985. The gang then vanished from view, leaving behind 28 dead and 40 wounded in total.

The failure of police to solve the case had led to it becoming legendary. Three of its main members were given nicknames by the press: the Giant, who appeared to be in charge of the raids; the Killer, who did much of the actually shooting; and the Driver.

According to one theory, the gang was made up of members of the federal police intent on destabilising the state and ushering in an extreme right-wing government. Others believed they were assassins out to kill one or more specific people, but using the robberies and random killings as a smokescreen. Despite two parliamentary commissions on the subject, no convincing evidence backing any theory ever came to light.

In the 29 years since the last attack, police discovered bullets, shell casings, a jacket and a watch believed to have a link to the gang, but last week’s arrest is the first. The man arrested at the weekend, identified as Jean-Marie T, is 68 and lives in Brussels. He is alleged to be one of the men on the sheet of identikit photos issued by police in 1997.

According to Christian De Valkeneer, prosecutor-general for Liège, Jean-Marie was identified by three witnesses at the time the photos were issued but was never questioned. The man spent most of the intervening years in France, where he is alleged to have boasted of his criminal exploits to cafe patrons. Those statements eventually found their way to the small team of detectives still nominally investigating the case. 

According to Jean-Marie’s lawyer, the man is mentally ill and invented the stories for attention. He now denies any involvement in the case and will be examined by a psychiatrist. The last of the gang’s crimes, the raid on Delhaize in Aalst, will be 30 years old in November of next year, the term after which legal action is barred, even in the case of murder.

Police, victims’ families and justice minister Annemie Turtelboom are in favour of finding a way to prolong that date. “I’ve always said that the moment there is evidence that could lead to a resolution of this collective trauma, then we need to prolong the statute of limitations,” Turtelboom told VTM News. “We still have a good year and a half after the elections to work that out properly.” 

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