It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. With the 4th episode of the program Moord of Zelfmoord (Homicide or Suicide) by investigative journalist Kees van der Spek (SimpleMedia) and lawyer Sébas Diekstra recently broadcasted on SBS6, I thought it would be a good time to recap why we are fighting our fight against the Dutch public attorney and why our fight is a conundrum.
In short, on December 9th, 2009, the police and public attorney determined that Eline committed suicide. We have reason to believe their conclusion is not supported by evidence. Therefore, we have urged the public attorney for the part 7+ years to re-open the case. The conundrum lays in the fact that only two people were present when Eline was stabbed. If it wasn’t suicide, the role of the other person is being put in question. That’s the conundrum.
In more detail, on December 8th, 2009 shortly after 10 am Eline was found laying on her stomach on a grass field in front of the St Martinus church in Urmond. She was dead. Upon an autopsy performed the next day, it became clear she died from severe blood-loss as a result from having sustained one stab wound to her heart. The local police told us Eline committed suicide by stabbing herself in her heart in her house on Kloosterstraat and subsequently walked/ran about 200 meters before dying. End of story.
At least this is the part of the story the authorities want us to believe. But I would argue there is more to it. A lot more to it. Here are a few points.
How can someone die from a stab wound? The official causes of death are: natural, homicide, suicide, or accident. In cases where no cause of death can be made, it remains unknown. The first option, natural death, we can exclude. You cannot die a violent death in a natural manner. The remaining options are: 1) suicide, 2) homicide, or 3) accident. All three options are possible, although not every option is equally likely.
From my understanding, an accidental stabbing nearly always limits itself to a single stab wound. A suicide is commonly attempted when the person is alone, whereas, the two latter options (homicide and accident) require the presence of two or more people. On the other hand, the former two options (suicide or homicide) might result in multiple stab wounds.
What are the basic facts: 1) Eline died from two to three stab wound to the heart, resulting in severe blood-loss and subsequent death (as determined by NFI autopsy). 2) Eline and her boyfriend were present in their house on Kloosterstraat on December 8th, 2009. 3) The police claim it was suicide.
Just these three basic facts draw a rather complex picture. First of all, the multiple stab wounds exclude an accident. This leaves two realistic options open, with one being more plausible than the other: homicide and suicide. Although, suicide cannot be excluded, but the presence of the boyfriend does not unequivocally support the case of a suicide. Nevertheless, the police and the public attorney’s office swiftly concluded suicide in December 2009.
By questioning their conclusion, I inadvertently point a finger to someone, even if I don’t intent to. After all, he was the only other person present at the time of the stabbing and the only person still alive today. If it was not a suicide, his role in the event becomes a point of contention.
To understand what happened you can look at the likelihood of it being a homicide or suicide. We know that very very few young females stab themselves multiple times in their heart in the presence of another person. So it is statistically not likely that Eline committed suicide, but for all clarity, statistical likelihood cannot tell us what happened to Eline. But it can only guide which lines of investigation the authorities should consider. Thus, the sole task the public attorney had was to provide a clear answer based on the most objective tools in their investigative arsenal: forensics.
This is where the major problem starts. The police and public attorney never conducted a proper forensic investigation. At least, I have not learned of such facts.
Thus if I would question the conclusion drawn by the authorities, I would create a conundrum. I don’t want to falsely accuse anyone, but the public attorney has by no means convinced me that Eline committed suicide. Nevertheless, they accuse and find Eline guilty of committed a very rare form of suicide. Suicide was a criminal act in the Netherlands as late as 2001.
If she had hanged herself and left a note, it would have been a very different situation. But I am confronted with a story that demands my imagination to make huge leaps of faith. These huge leaps of faith are also in light of an alternative scenario that based on statistics is more likely, and thus this alternative scenario of homicide needs to be ruled out before the public attorney would be able to make the conclusion of suicide plausible.
It is very difficult to disentangle the conclusion of the police and the public attorney from their public statement that Eline was psychotic. Ideally, a medical diagnosis of such as a psychosis was made by a medical professional, but I am not familiar with any such diagnosis being made at any point during Eline’s life.
Despite my notion that the public attorney was overzealous with their conclusion, we had the ‘luck’ that Eline’s case was briefly considered a homicide. Thus it became a crime scene for some time. Like any crime scene, it was scavenged for evidence. Of course collecting evidence is only the first step in a large process. Next, the evidence needs to be analyzed and interpreted. Hypotheses need to be formed and verified or refuted. Science tells us that he most effective approach to test an hypothesis, is trying to refute it, as confirming one can easily result in an investigation driven by confirmation bias. Or to put in another investigation framework: imagine if a homicide would be investigated as if it were a airplane crash? Or vise versa?
Indeed, they collected some evidence in Eline’s case. They even requested an autopsy, something that is rarely if ever done in the Netherlands in cases of suicide or accidental death.
Small side note: This also explains why less than 300 forensic autopsies a year are conducted. You would expect a very low homicide rate in that case. And this appears to be true. 108 homicides were recorded in 2016 in the Netherlands and 111 in 2015. In 2015 147,134 people died of which 7,241 (4.9%) died a violent deaths (suicides, homicides, accident, etc.). Of these 7,241 violent deaths 1,871 (1.3%) were suicides and as I already mentioned 111 homicides (0.075%). In 2005 over 600 forensic autopsies were conducted and 197 (0.14%) homicides and 1,572 (1.2%) suicides were found in a population of 136,402 people who died. In other words, as the numbers of forensic autopsies were reduced by a factor 2, the number of relative homicides per total amount of people who died went down by roughly the same factor. Of course, the general trend of crime has been downward, so a lower number of homicides would be expected based on the general trends. But at the same time, you have commit to due diligence in your forensic research to be able to a) detect homicides (and other crimes) and b) maintain a firm knowledge base to be able to detect homicides (and other crimes). The latter is certainly not maintained in the Netherlands and thus I would expect the homicide rate to go down even further, while at the same time the suicide rate and accidental deaths to go up. Whether this reflect the true homicide rate remains impossible to determine simply because not enough forensic autopsies are being performed (and thus thorough investigation of the crime scenes are lacking as well). Politically, this will fuel the notion that reducing funds available for core forensic sciences becomes strong selling point.
Even though data was collected, there is no indication that the data was analyzed or interpreted or any other hypothesis than suicide. In contrast, the police made it clear on multiple occasions via the media that they strongly suspected that Eline committed suicide. This suspicion was made public before the autopsy was ever performed on Eline.
This raises a few questions. If the police was so sure Eline committed suicide, why did they bother starting a homicide investigation? Would there have been any evidence they could have found that would have convinced them that Eline didn’t commit suicide?
So we know the police is in possession of forensic data that they haven’t touched since they recovered it. After all, the public attorney recently reviewed Eline’s case and even analyzed data gathered that they failed to investigate at the time. Their review did not change their opinion, but they didn’t consider going over all the evidence at their disposal.
Thus, I want the public attorney to not just review their current police report, which doesn’t include any forensic analyses or interpretations, except for following the blood trail that leads from the house on Kloosterstraat to the grass field in front of the St Martinus church where Eline was found. I want the public attorney to do a complete and thorough investigation of all evidence at hand. Because it is such a rare case of suicide, one that could very well be a homicide, it should be treated as a homicide case. Not just to provide Eline with the justice she deserves, us with peace of mind knowing what happened to Eline, but also to provide peace of mind for the boyfriend. If it were a suicide, it should be crystal clear to all. At the moment, we are nowhere near such a conclusion.
One direct result from having engaged in this battle royal with the public attorney is that we are paying a high price. A price that is not just monetary. The emotional toll is tremendous. I still have trouble identifying the line between psychological torture and what the public attorney is doing to us. But maybe that is just because we are still in the middle of the battle.
At the end of the day, the one question that haunts me most is: why did the police/public attorney not properly investigate Eline’s death? What was their objective?
Two answers pop up in my mind. 1. They did it on purpose. 2. They are incompetent.
The former answer would be the best possible outcome. Sure, it means malintent by the police and public attorney, be it as a result from their own procedures, be it as a result from individual’s actions in the process. At the end of the day, they have no legal mandate to investigate a suicide. So why would they?
One particular image about the attitude of the Dutch police and public attorney does creep up my mind. They seem to prefer simple straightforward scenarios. A body near a train track = suicide. A body in a body of water: accidental drowning. After all, suicides and accidents are not illegal in the Netherlands. Of course there is at least one notable exception: the case of Lucia de Berk. A woman erroneously found guilty of being a female serial killer even though not a single death she was held accountable for was proven a homicide.
If the police and public attorney’s office would recognize that they have room to improve their protocols, we could make strides to prevent cases such as Eline’s. If only they would value the power of knowledge and expertise. This is not something you learn from a few courses here and there. You have to invest and nurture the infrastructure to build and maintain knowledge and expertise; you have to establish a culture of wanting to understand everything. Over time, this will results in updated protocols based on rigorous analyses, including introspection.
In short, I want the Dutch legal system to show grit when it comes to uncovering what happened to an unexplained death. If this means doing 20 thorough investigations for every criminal case that leads to charges, you will have learned a great deal, even with few cases brought in front of a judge.
As I already mentioned above, the Dutch public attorney’s office are requesting fewer and fewer forensic autopsies. Thus it is not surprising that more and more homicides are being missed, something even the Dutch National Forensics Institute (NFI) admits is very likely.
One way the Dutch public attorney could alleviate 1) the pressure on them to be transparent and 2) aid those left behind in their mourning process, is to allow ample access to the police files for those left behind. Either those left behind have peace of mind or point out where they have doubts. The latter case could a learning moment. In the end, everyone could win a little, despite having lost a loved one. For now, the reality is, the public attorney and police are too self-assured that they are correct the first time. Any collateral damage they cause, they seem to take for granted and far too often amplified by their unhelpful, arrogant, indifferent, and demeaning attitude. Subsequently, they seem impervious to any critical note and devoid of any form of introspection.
So yes, I am stuck in a conundrum, but I will continue to fight to a) learn how Eline died (with the wonderful help of our lawyer Wendy van Egmond) and b) hopefully allow Eline’s death to be a catalyst for positive change for the position of victims of those who died an unclear death and with that improve the Dutch legal system. Eline has every right to be treated with the respect anyone who died a violent death deserves. So does Talitha, Iris van den Hooff, Michelle Mooij, Lesley Timmer, Leon Groeneweg, Youri Bicker, Dascha Graafsma, and many many others whose deaths have been swept aside as just another suicide or accident.