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.

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