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.

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