The Brabant Killers
From 1982 to 1985, a group of three bandits terrorized the area of Brussels. These men, usually armed with semi-automatic rifles, set their sights on grocery stores and committed violent robberies. Their crime spree resulted in almost 30 dead, over 40 wounded, and left an entire nation asking why. Their motives, just like their identities, have never been uncovered.
Part One: 1982
Throughout the 1980s, a shadow hung over the county of Belgium. Nowhere was this malignant fear felt more than in the area around the country's capital, Brussels.
This shadow went by a variety of names. They started out as "The Gang of Brabant," called "De Bende Van Nijvel" by the locals; both names were reflective of the area they terrorized. This gang, which consisted of three unknown subjects, began rather small: they stole goods from grocery stores and restaurants, but continued to escalate.
Over the span of a few years, their reputation grew. As did their brutality. They became as feared in Belgium as figures such as the Zodiac or Jack the Ripper, but, their targets didn't exist in isolated pockets. Their victims weren't people inside of a confined space, or in some sleepy lover's lane in the woods. They weren't of a particular age range or social bracket. Their targets were everyone: people just like you and I, heading to the store to get a six-pack of beer or ingredients for tonight's dinner.
Their victims were in the one spot they felt safe: in public, and occasionally, even in broad daylight.
What began as a seemingly-harmless group of thieves, who began their crime spree with a single firearm in 1982, had grown to epic proportions just a couple of years later. This gang eventually earned a new nickname, "The Mad Killers Of Belgium," and theories regarding their identities infected Belgian culture. Even to this day, you can't ask someone in Belgium about the case without getting their opinion on who's responsible.
On the Random History of Belgium podcast, the host reflects upon this case, calling it "Belgium's version of JFK." And I find that fitting: not only because of how much it affected the county - growing public distrust and resentment of their own government - but injecting the zeitgeist of an entire nation with conspiracy theories, rumors, and gossip.
While it has been over thirty years since the killers last acted, their memory lives on in the survivors, the investigators that have yet to uncover any answers, and the dark cloud that has yet to lift from Belgium itself.
This is the story of the Brabant Killers.
Belgium is a county divided.
Roughly 59 percent of the population speaks Dutch - primarily - and another 40 percent speaks French. This is painting with a pretty broad brush, I recognize, but I like to think of it as a perfect example of how a single nation can be split in such a way.
Wedged between France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, the history of Belgium is a long and storied one. However, it is not always a particularly happy one, despite the culmination of Belgian works achieved throughout the centuries, most notably during the Renaissance.
Belgium takes great pride in its part of history, whether it be the country's independence gained in 1839, the fact that the nation did its part to resist Nazi occupation throughout World War 2, or the storied arts cultivated over the years. But throughout that time, they had to deal with several battles - which had nothing to do with the area itself - being fought in Belgium. The Battle of Waterloo, fought between Napoleon and a combined English-Prussian force, is one such example.
So used to being Europe's battleground was Belgium, that when World War 2 began, the nation knew that their proximity was going to drag them into the conflict eventually. But even then, they remained neutral up until Nazi forces invaded, and then had to deal with the consequences of inaction.
The government was forced into exile. Many of the citizens followed to the United Kingdom, providing support for the Allies, but others stayed behind and participated in both active and passive resistance to the Nazis.
The Belgian town of Bastogne - known to many of us as one of the many battlegrounds from HBO's "Band Of Brothers" - houses an museum that goes into this resistance. If any of you get the chance to visit it, I'd recommend it. Beforehand, I had never really considered Belgian's role in World War 2, but it does a beautiful job of it.
Roughly 1% of Belgian's population - roughly 90,000 people - were killed during World War 2. And an eighth of their entire economy collapsed during the conflict.
This may seem random, but I think it provides a glimpse into Belgian culture, as seen from an outsider's perspective. The country, while full of amazing people, was getting used to being thwarted. They were a nation of people used to being Europe's doormat; after all, they didn't establish their own independence until the mid-19th century, at which point their neighbors had had close to a millennium to develop unique cultures and identifiers.
This seemed to result in a population, that - going into the 1980s - was slightly jaded and struggling to adapt to the world's new wave... so to speak. After all, when you had two halves of a country speaking entirely different languages, it results in a nation that isn't totally united behind one grand vision.
This is most clear when it comes to Belgium's law enforcement agencies.
At this point, in the early 1980s, Belgian law enforcement wasn't as fully-developed as it could have been. Many agencies were acting in direct competition with one another, separated by geographical borders and language barriers.
So, now that I've given you my best background on Belgium, I just want you to keep this in mind throughout the next however-many episodes. While in the US, we've been able to count on law enforcement agencies like the FBI to oversee major criminal operations, Belgium - at this time - had no such thing. You had distinctly different police departments operating under the thumb of the Minister of Defense, but by and large, were pretty autonomous. They handled regional matters, and usually consulted the gendarmerie - militarized police - when it came to serious matters.
This system, built on smaller, regional forces, sounds good in concept. But it had created an environment where there was no communication or cooperation between departments, and this environment was ripe for abuse.
March of 1982.
Ronald Reagan had just placed sanctions on Libyan oil exports for the country's involvement in supporting terrorism groups. The Delorean Motor Company has been struggling financially, so it's factory in Belfast is put into receivership. And the Commodore 64 8-bit home computer is already well on its way to becoming one of the most hyped electronics releases of all-time.
But in a small sleeping Belgian town named Dinant, a new era is beginning.
The day is March 13th, an unlucky Saturday. The setting is a small weapons shop, where trouble is stirring.
Two men, wearing dark outfits, break into the armory. They quickly accomplish their goal: finding a weapon to steal.
It is a FAUL - spelled F-A-U-L - caliber .10, a small handheld shotgun with two barrels. It looks like a relic, but one that could do it's job quite easily.
The weapon would be recovered a few years later, in November of 1986, but the people responsible for stealing it would never be identified.
The shop owner got a good look at the two culprits as they made their amateurish getaway.
One suspect, the perceived leader of the operation, was described as being between twenty and thirty years old, very tall and slender - about two meters or six-foot-four - with light brown or blonde hair.
The other man looked older than the first: approximately 50 years old, with a grizzled demeanor that made him look tough as nails. He was in good shape, and stood reasonably tall - around six feet - but was notably shorter than the other man.
This would just be the first sighting of these men, but they were literally just getting started on the biggest crime spree in Belgian history.
Roughly two months later, on a Monday - May 10th - a man was parking his Austin Allegro along a street in Ixelles, an area in southern Brussels.
The man was suddenly accosted by two strangers with French accents. One man was very tall, with thin black hair and a mustache, but wearing a cap to somewhat obscure his features. The other was smaller, with a mustache of his own; his hair was described as being very wavy and graying.
The two men, carrying long-barreled revolvers, stole the car from the man. Little did they know that the Austin Allegro - which looked to be a sports car in good condition - was actually low on gas and had been running pretty poorly.
The Allegro was discovered the next morning, in the area of Lembeek, roughly twenty kilometers southwest.
Apparently, after discovering that the Austin Allegro wasn't suitable for their future plans, the thugs ditched it after discovering a blue Volkswagen Santana which was more to their liking. The Santana was stolen from the floor of a VW showroom, showing that these criminals weren't afraid to be bold in their activities.
They sped off into the night, continuing their preparation for what was to come.
On August 14th, a Saturday, the gang began making their presence known in Belgium.
Two men, armed with weapons, showed up at a grocery store late at night.
The first of the men, described as being tall with a heavy build, was wearing a balaclava with a small visor. He was armed with a rifle - or what might have been a sawed-off carbine - and kept watch at the front of the store.
The second man broke the glass door and entered the grocery store, which was closed.
The thieves began to rummage the store for what seemed like random goods. They stole wine, champagne, and apparently even other groceries like coffee.
An anonymous phone call alarmed the police to the presence of the thieves, most likely called in by a troubled neighbor that heard the glass shattering.
Three police officers responded to the crime, but a gunfight quickly broke out between the two parties.
Details about what happened throughout this skirmish aren't widely known, but the end result was an injured police officer. The other two escaped unharmed, and the two bandits made their getaway in the blue Volkswagen Santana stolen three months prior.
Over the next few weeks, the local police were wondering what the August 14th conflict was all about.
For all they knew, the bandits were just a couple of gangsters interested in stealing some groceries and alcohol. But the next month would prove that they were anything but just a couple of simple-minded criminals; they had some bigger plans, and they needed the firepower to make it happen.
On September 30th, three unknown gunmen showed up at another weapons store, named Dekaise Armory, this time in a town called Wavre, just outside of Brussels.
Witnesses recall the three suspect as such:
Perpetrator number one: the leader of the group, was close to two meters tall, with a medium build, chestnut-colored hair, and a mustache.
Perpetrator number two: was described as being in his early-to-mid-thirties, with a medium build, black hair, thick eyebrows, and a mustache.
Perpetrator number three: surprisingly, was described as having a heavier build, but was more well-built - a larger guy, perhaps, but a lot of that was muscle - and he had light brown hair.
The three gunmen robbed the store in the morning hours just before noon, forcing the shop owner and the two customers onto the floor of the armory. When they acted slowly to the gunmen's wishes, they were beaten.
The gunmen knew what they were looking for, as they searched out over fifteen firearms in total. Most were pistols - of varying makes and models - but they even grabbed around five rifles, all of which were submachine guns.
Investigators would later say that the gunmen weren't just grabbing weapons willy-nilly; they had done their homework, and not only knew what they wanted, but where it was, along with the applicable ammunition.
One police officer, patrolling the nearby area, responded to the call that came in, expecting it to be a few small-time criminals. Unfortunately, he became the first victim of the trio, when they began making their getaway in the blue Volkswagen Santana.
Headed towards Brussel, the call soon came in that an officer was down: fatally wounded, police would later learn that he had died at the scene. However, a team of gendarmerie police were preparing a response, and planned to intercept the bandits.
I haven't spoken at-depth about gendarmerie, since it's not really a concept we have here in America. However, gendarmes - as the individual soldiers are called - are basically the cross between a military member and a police officer. They serve in a federal police role, but stick to regional areas... if that makes any sense. If you've listened to the Alcasser Girls series, you can equate them with the Spanish Civil Guard.
Anyhow, a team of gendarmes was preparing to intercept the runaway bandits, and - using a vehicle of theirs - blocked off one of the escape routes that would undoubtedly be used by the criminals.
Unfortunately, a minor blockade didn't deter the three criminals. They plowed their VW Santana into the parked gendarmerie vehicle, and used the crash as momentum to exit the vehicle and begin shooting.
These were men that were clearly not prepared to get caught anytime soon. They were utilizing military tactics against military police, and using their submachine guns in the process. The gendarmes, despite having advanced training, were under-equipped and over-matched by these three gunmen.
Two of the gendarmerie police were shot and wounded during this exchange, but would survive their injuries.
The three criminals made their escape in the blue Santana, which was now smoking from gunfire to the engine and other mechanical components.
Police would later find the Santana in the nearby woods, having been doused in gasoline and burned, destroying almost any evidence that could have been recovered.
At this point, police were absolutely stumped.
These crimes, while haphazard, involved at least two different descriptions of the main perpetrator; the man who they believed to be the leader of the group.
In one instance, he was described as having blonde hair. In the next offense, he was described as having dark hair with a mustache. Finally, he was described as having chestnut hair, but still had his mustache.
However, this criminal was becoming known for his height. It was the hallmark of his description, and would continue to be. Over the years, it would earn him the moniker of "The Giant," a name that would become feared in Belgian culture.
Throughout the first few crimes, the second offender seemed to jump back and forth between two different men: at least, that is what the descriptions pointed to.
The first was younger, in his mid-twenties to mid-thirties, and was a good height, but pretty average in that regard. He was also in good shape, with dark features that were often obscured by his clothing or masks.
Sometimes, this second offender was described as being older: in his mid-fifties, with graying, wavy hair, and gruff features that made him look tough.
Obviously, a far cry from someone in their mid-twenties.
Police had been trying to reconcile these varying descriptions, assuming that the crimes were the works of multiple gangs or groups. But in this final attack, the theft of weapons from a gun shop, they had their answer: there were three gunmen, all working together.
It appeared that the third man, who began to be known by his nickname of "The Old Man," operated as the group's driver on more than one occasion. That left the other two - the aforementioned "Giant" and the other gunman - in charge of the robberies and assaults themselves.
Unfortunately, the second gunman - the younger one present throughout most of the crimes - would earn himself a moniker of his own.
It was "The Killer."
On the morning of Wednesday, December 23rd, 1982, a man by the name of Marc Vanden Eynde was checking in on his father.
His father, a seventy-two-year old who had served in the Spanish Civil War years beforehand, was now the caretaker for the Beersel Castle. His son, Marc, had gotten him the job, having been a cook at the restaurant there.
At least this job was better than his father's old one, that of a taxi driver - a factoid that would come into relevance later on.
Marc drove up to the castle grounds, with his wife and children in the car with him. They were planning to go to the nearby Halle market for Christmas shopping; something that filled the entire family with anticipation for the upcoming holiday.
Marc Vanden Eynde honked a few times, but his normally-punctual father was nowhere to be found. On occasions like this, Jose was usually sitting on the front stoop, hat-in-hand and ready to go.
Fearing the worst, Marc decided to go in and check on his father. Since he worked there as a cook, he had keys to enter. The large stone structure itself was overly quiet.
Marc began walking up the steps towards his father's room. He knocked a few times, and was surprised to get no response. When Marc entered his father's upstairs bedroom of the inn, he was shocked at what he saw.
Jose Vanden Eynde had been bound, undressed, and was laying on his right side on his bed. His wrists were bound behind his back with a scarf belonging to the FC Bruges - a team that Vanden Eynde supported.
By the time he was spotted by his own son, he had been dead for several hours. The cause of death was multiple gunshots to the head: seven, in fact. Five of the rounds were grouped towards the ear, but two veered slightly upwards by an inch or two.
Jose Vanden Eynde, the elderly caretaker of the hostel, was a man with ties to several activist groups. Most notably, he has long been rumored to have been involved in the far-right-wing activist groups active at the time, which may or may not have had white supremacist ideals. However, I will state that these are all just rumors; rumors that have been a part of the theories and gossip in the years since.
However, these rumors surfaced when it came out that Jose Vanden Eynde had fought on the side of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War; a military dictator who had gained the support of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during the conflict... which was, by itself, a military coup. Vanden Eynde had kept strong sympathies for this nationalist party, and was apparently still an activist for the cause.
Forensics would later link this seemingly random murder to the crimes of the Brabant Killers. At the time, though, police had no idea what they were looking at.
Vanden Eynde was a man with many potential enemies - after all, he had served in a brutal, bloody conflict years beforehand, and had potential ties to many unsavory people.
Of course, all of this doesn't include the theories that surfaced in the years afterwards: that Vanden Eynde had been brutally tortured, crucified, beaten to an inch of his life before death, etc. Thankfully, most of these are just rumors... a second autopsy, based on photos and notes of the original, was published in 2007, and included no details of mutilations or sacrificial offerings.
However, Marc Vanden Eynde, his own son, recalled in interviews seeing terrible wounds upon his father's body: what looked like bruises from impacts on his head, and cigarette burns on his chest.
The only reason that police were originally suspicious of this crime, was that the perpetrators - whoever they were - would steal some random goods from the Inn during their execution of Jose Vanden Eynde. These goods included wine, champagne, and coffee.
However, despite this lead, police would be no closer to solving this murder in 2017 than they were at the end of 1982.
Marc Vanden Eynde, the victim's son, has gone on the record to express his discontent with the local authorities and their investigation. Much of the evidence they collected, which included belongings of the victim - his father, Jose - have still not been returned, and/or gone missing.
None of the rumors involving the case would be confirmed: those of Vanden Eynde's ties to right-wing terrorist groups, the rumors of torture and mutilation, etc. But when police would uncover weapons belonging to the Brabant Killers in the latter half of the 1980s, it would confirm that they had been used to shoot and murder Jose Vanden Eynde.
Why they shot him, though, is still the biggest mystery regarding this case.
As 1982 came to a close, the legend of the Brabant Killers was still growing. But at this point, they had accumulated a handful of victims: two were dead - the police officer in Wavre and now Jose Vanden Eynde - but a handful more had suffered injuries related to gunfights and assaults.
Sadly, the criminals that would become known as the Brabant Killers were still just getting started. As the year had evolved, you can see that the three men were getting more confident in their role as violent criminals, and becoming more brazen with every attack. Many theorize that their early assaults were simply hampered by a lack of firepower, but after the September robbery of the armory, they were ready to wage war on an entire populace.
To be continued in part two of the Brabant Killers, in which I will cover their entire 1983 campaign of terror and the various crimes they committed.
Part Two: 1983
On January 12th, a Wednesday, a car was examined on the side of the road. It had been parked there, and for some reason, people were feeling suspicious of the vehicle. It looked a little too neat and clean to be where it was; on the side of a normal residential street, where it hadn't been seen before. It actually looked like it could be a taxi, but the sign had been removed from the top.
Upon further inspection, police would find a body inside the trunk of the car. The body, belonging to the driver of the vehicle: fifty-eight-year old Angelou Constantin, had been sitting in the trunk for at least a few days.
Constantin, who had been born in Athens in 1925, was the last person you'd expect to find brutally murdered. Rumors have it that his body showed signs of torture, although the exact details of this are unknown. Just like the rumors of another murder victim a few weeks beforehand, that of Jose Vanden Eynde, I need to reiterate that these are just rumors, which have been fostered over years by numerous conspiracy theories.
Some of these rumors tried to link Constantin to Lebanese gangsters, involved in the auto-theft and drug dealing trades. Again, these are just rumors, but would go on to clutter the later investigations and international gossip surrounding the story. I'd feel better letting you know about them now, because they will come up in a later episode when I address some of the various theories and suspects.
All we know is that on January 8th, Angelou Constantin had gotten into his taxi just like any other day. It was a black Mercedes 220, which - to me - looks like something you'd see a Bond villain drive, but isn't out-of-place in the Brussels area that Constantin worked within, where most taxi cabs seem to be varying degrees of Mercedes and Audis.
On January 8th, Constantin had been running short on the day. He hadn't picked up nearly as many customers as intended, so he was working a bit of overtime. After all, he was an independent cab driver, so he could make his own hours.
Sometime in the evening, he picked up a customer... or perhaps, customers. This would be the last drive he would ever make, taking him somewhere close to Bergen; the city most commonly referred to as Mons outside of Belgium.
Police speculate that on January 8th, or sometime in the early morning hours of January 9th, Angelou Constantin was murdered. Whoever pulled the trigger likely did so from the backseat of the taxi, shooting him numerous times in the back of the neck. They then shoved his body into the trunk, along with the "Brussels Taxi" sign from atop the car, and then proceeded to utilize the vehicle for the next day or two.
By the time his body was discovered, roughly three-and-a-half days after his murder, the trail into finding his killers had gone cold. Police were stumped; just as they were into other assaults plaguing the area, later attributing all of them to a trio of criminals known as the Brabant Killers.
Over the past couple of months, police had become confounded over the emergence of criminals in the Brussels area.
You had a duo of criminals responsible for thieving wine and champagne from a grocery store; you had a trio of men robbing various weapons from a gun shop; and now you had the mysterious murders of two men: Jose Vander Eynde and Angelou Constantin.
The only similarity between the two is that they were, at one point, taxi drivers. Vander Eynde had given up his job as a taxi driver to become the caretaker of the Beersel Castle, but also had alleged ties to right wing activist groups. Constantin, on the other hand, was an active taxi driver with alleged ties to Lebanese gangsters. Neither of these rumors - the right-wing activist groups or the Lebanese gangsters - have ever been proven to be fact. However, they are avenues the police were investigating early on.
Besides these crimes, which would all later be confirmed to have been committed by the Brabant Killers, there were numerous other crimes and organizations rising out of the Belgian division and angst from this time period.
The late 1970s saw conspiracy theories - ranging from the crazy to the level-headed - centered around the elites of Belgium participating in "sex parties." I only use the quotation marks because the name of these parties, "Pink Ballets," centered on orgies including minors of both genders.
Of course, these were conspiracy theories, but would later be somewhat confirmed when one of the men rumored to be a part of these "Pink Ballets," named Marc Dutroux, became the most well-known serial killer and pedophile in Belgian history. Rumors of the "Pink Ballets" having a root in truth have lingered ever since.
And, of course, I can't avoid the obvious: that outside of potential sex rings involving government officials, there were a number of fringe terrorist groups cropping up in Belgium in the early 1980s. Perhaps the most noteworthy, the Westland New Post organization, was built around the framework of an earlier right-wing private militia.
The WNP, as it was known, began engaging in infiltration of government sectors in 1981. The Belgian State Security Service was aware of this group in late 1981, and had been trying their best to infiltrate in return. But, the WNP would go on to become just a beacon for other groups, which would continue to crop up and engage in domestic terrorism. These included bombings, assaults, you name it.
As I've said before, there was a lot of angst in Belgium at the time, and it seems like this was being expressed in multiple ways. You can see the same thing happening in America right now, with a lot of right-wing activism becoming popular in pockets throughout the country... but I'll refrain from trying to make modern parallels out of this story.
Either way, I hope this helps provide more of a context for what police were facing at the time. After all, police wouldn't find out until years later - 1986, in fact - that these various Brabant crimes were committed by the same gangsters.
Until such time, they were operating under the assumption that various criminals were committing these widely-varying crimes.
The Brabant Killers, perhaps having inside knowledge of this confusion, not only fed off of it, but began to profit.
Friday, February 11th, 1983.
It is approximately 7:00 in the evening, and a woman is showing up to work.
She works at a store adjacent to a Delhaize supermarket, in the town of Genval, which lies on the southeastern tip of the larger Brussels metropolitan area.
The woman begins walking into the store, just like any other night. However, a dark figure in a ski mask and a black outfit manages to grab ahold of her, and he is quickly joined by two other accomplices.
The first thug, who grabbed the woman, threatens her and demands to be taken to the nearby money office. Here, the Delhaize supermarket and all of the conjoined businesses store their money in small safes.
The man and woman, joined by the second gangster, rush into the money office. The second criminal, who is a bit shorter than the first but much more aggressive, begins putting the money into plastic bags.
The third gangster, who hovered behind the other two, makes his way into the grocery store itself. He stands near the front of the store, threatening the store manager and customers, demanding that they lay on the floor in a gruff, intimidating voice.
After piling all of the money from the back office into plastic bags, the first two masked men return and join the third. They fire warning shots into the ceiling, windows, and shelves of the grocery store. Customers have to dive for cover, but thankfully, no one is seriously wounded.
The masked men make off with around 600,000 Belgian francs - which translates to something like fifteen to twenty thousand dollars.
Police were hard-pressed to get any details of the criminals from the various witnesses. The features of the three men were obscured behind dark masks. They did learn that one of the men, the "leader" of the trio, was a bit taller than the other two, but besides that, there was no new information to go off of.
However, an Audi 100 was sitting in the parking lot at the time of the assault. This Audi would get shot at during this attack, as the mad gunmen fired at various targets. This vehicle would oddly come into play a week or so later, but I'll get into that in a moment.
A few days later, on February 14th - Valentine's Day - a woman parked her car in front of her home. She lives just a short distance south of Waterloo, for reference, and had noticed a dark-colored vehicle following her.
She parked her car, and presumably tried to march up to her home at a brisk pace. However, the dark car - which had been following her for a little bit - came to a screeching halt.
A man got out of the vehicle, unmasked, and was holding a gun in her direction.
The man, who was approximately six feet tall, in good shape, with thick black hair and rugged features, spoke in a thick French accent that made him sound almost cultured - in direct contrast with his appearance.
This man demanded the keys to her car, pointing the gun in her general direction the entire time. She handed over the keys quickly, and without hesitation, the man turned and got into the driver's seat.
The woman, terrified, watched her gray Volkswagen Golf speed off, followed by the dark vehicle being driven by another man. She couldn't make out any of his features, but the two were gone just as quickly as they had arrived.
A sketch of this unmasked gunman was made for the police when she reported the car stolen, but the VW Golf he had stolen would make several appearances in the coming months.
This was a tactic utilized by the Brabant Killers: they liked to steal small, sporty, speedy vehicles to make their getaways in. They would always steal these cars from the area, from low-profile targets, and then utilize them to make quick getaways.
Roughly a week later, on February 22nd, the Audi 100 from the grocery store robbery eleven days beforehand made another appearance.
The Audi, which had gotten shot up by the perpetrators, was sitting in a garage, awaiting an appraisal. There was damage done to the exterior, and it required some repair work.
However, this didn't deter the bandits, who somehow found a way to track down the Audi.
They broke into the mechanic's garage, and moved other cars out of the way to get access to the Audi. They were able to quickly find the keys, and before police even knew about the automobile theft, the bandits were long-gone.
No one has any idea why the bandits targeted this vehicle. As far as police were concerned, this vehicle was not used in any known murders or robberies. It was found just a week or two later, on March 3rd, in the area of Ixelles, right near the center of Brussels.
My own personal theory is that the bandits had something to lose by this car getting a proper lookover. Perhaps some of the bullets fired had evidence that could link back to the killers or such, but it wasn't really used between its theft and discovery.
Either way, this remains one of the most intriguing mysteries throughout the Brabant Killers crime spree, just because it's so odd. How did they know which garage it was taken to, and why did they feel the need to steal it?
Before February was over, the bandits would strike once again. This time, their target was another Delhaize supermarket in the town called Uccle, roughly halfway between Waterloo and Brussels.
A three-door Volkswagen Golf pulled up to the premises, and two men exited from the backseat and passenger seat. The driver, unseen by any witnesses, remained in the running vehicle behind the wheel.
The first man carried two weapons, of which he rushed into the store ahead of the other. He demanded that everyone lay down on the floor, and began shooting throughout the store in a series of warning shots.
The second man, armed with a baton of sorts, ran back towards the manager's office. Apparently, he grabbed ahold of a cashier in the process, demanding that they open the vault. This cashier did not have the key to open the vault, however, so they needed to request another staff member come back to the office.
Out of frustration, the second masked man smashed the nearby phone. Eventually, they were joined by another staff member, who unlocked the safe for him. He then began shoveling the money into a plastic bag.
The first man, who was standing guard at the front of the store, noticed a witness outside. This witness, a young man, was running towards the direction of a nearby gas station... presumably, to alert authorities.
This gunmen took sight of the witness, and fired a series of shots. At least one hit, because the witness dropped to the pavement. Thankfully, he would survive his injuries, because no one died during this robbery.
The two gunmen met up at the front of the store, having managed to earn another fifteen to twenty-thousand dollars. They got back into the waiting VW Golf, and sped off South - in the direction of Waterloo.
Both gunmen were described as big, tall men. Besides that, no real details surfaced that police already weren't aware of.
On March 3rd, police discovered the Audi 100, which had been shot up during the February 11th robbery, and later stolen on February 22nd. It was found in Ixelles, a district that is basically smack-dab in the middle of Brussels.
However, March 3rd also saw another robbery from the Brabant Killers. This time, they were noticeably less-forgiving, and this time, all three gunmen participated.
The area was just outside of Halle, west of Waterloo. The store was a Colruyt supermarket; not too dissimilar to the Delhaize stores that had been previously targeted.
The three gunmen entered in the front of the store at around 7:30 PM, and all three were armed with firearms.
The first gunman, armed with a short-barreled rifle, stood at the entrance and - again - ordered all employees and customers to lay down on the floor.
The other two gunmen made their way to the offices, where store employees were in the process of counting money. One gunmen stayed with those employees, demanding they load the money into plastic bags, but another took the store manager into another room, where the safe was.
The employees in the money office, now laying face-down on the floor and powerless to help out, heard a series of gunshots from the other locked room. Police would later find the store manager dead, having been shot in the head. This had happened after he gave in to the gunman's demands and opened the safe.
The first gunman, who had been standing at the front of the store and keeping watch over customers, fired upon some shelves in an effort to maintain his threat. A customer would be wounded during this shooting, but survive their injuries.
The criminals rejoined together at the front of the store, managing to make a combined thirty-thousand dollars altogether. They piled back into the Volkswagen Golf, and sped off into the night once again.
However, before they disappeared, they made sure to fire off another round of warning shots at the customers and employees inside of the store. But thankfully, nobody else was killed or seriously injured.
With the death of the store manager, they had now killed their fourth victim, and police were still no closer to finding them than they had been the year beforehand.
The criminals went quiet for the next couple of months, surprisingly. Perhaps their larger-than-normal payday in the last robbery - close to twice their normal take - allowed them to take a break from criminal activities.
They made no major moves in April, at least, as far as police are aware of.
Allegedly, a hardware store in the Brussels area was burgled in the latter half of May. This is all just speculation, but something I picked up during research. Apparently, a number of bolt-cutters and cutting torches were stolen during this time period, but I haven't found many credible sources to back that up. So, as always, take that rumor with a grain of salt, even though some future stories will somewhat back it up.
Then, on a Wednesday - June 8th - the bandits seemed to strike again. This time, they took no human victims, and their target was another getaway car.
The workshop the car was housed in, located in Braine l'Alleud, had roof access. Using this entrance point, one of the bandits climbed up through the ceiling, and then let in the other criminals in through a side-door.
Their target was a dark-gray SAAB 900 Turbo: a car that didn't look like anything special, but really had it where it counted. They were able to easily make off with the car, but at this point, it seems like they were beginning to get used to the thrill of killing.
For no real reason, one of the bandits targeted a dog in its kennel. The dog, a German Shepherd, was found shot to death the next morning. It had posed no threat to the criminals, but they decided to shoot it anyways.
Many people attribute this shooting to the bandit known as the Killer, who would go on to accumulate most of the shooting victims single-handedly.
However, the bandits had yet another vehicle to add to their collection, and were looking poised to strike again.
On September 10th, 1983 - a Saturday - the bandits made one of their most mysterious attacks.
This time, the location they hit wasn't a grocery store or a garage. Instead, it was a textile manufacturer, named Wittock-Van Landeghem.
You may not have heard of this company, which produced sails for boats and other such textiles, because it closed shop in the mid-1990s. Many attribute this incident into a lot of bad press for the company, which was involved in a secret cooperation with the Belgian police at this point in the early 1980s.
When the Brabant Killers hit, the company was working on a line of bulletproof vests for police officers. The Killers, seemingly aware of this information, hit in the middle of the night.
Utilizing the cutting torches and blowtorches allegedly stolen in May, the bandits made their entrance into the factory. Before long, they stumbled into the night guard working his shift, along with the guard's wife. I couldn't find a reason for her presence on the night in-question, but the police seemed to not make a big deal of it, so I assume she was just visited or was a regular visitor there while he worked.
The guard was killed at the scene, having been shot in the head four times. His wife was seriously wounded, but survived her injuries.
Neighbors, alerted by the sound of the firearms, awoke and alerted the authorities. Some were even peeking out of their curtains towards the factory. The criminals, noticing their presence, fired some warning shots into the side of homes. Thankfully, no one suffered injuries because of this strafe.
In total, the masked men made off with seven bulletproof vests, which they would begin wearing throughout future attacks.
For the past few months, police had begun to grow concerned about the Brabant Gang having some kind of inside knowledge. Perhaps they were even cops themselves, operating outside of the law for personal gain or another motive.
They had used tactics that made them appear more than just common criminals. They seemed to have a good knowledge of how to intimidate large groups of people, and besides that, keep them controlled through fear or intimidation.
When it came time to use their weapons, outside of threatening others, they also knew how to use them. They had gotten into two shootouts with police, and both times, came out the victor. They had yet to lose, often using the element of surprise to overwhelm the responding police.
Now, they had managed to upgrade their arsenal in a frightening way. These bandits had come a long way from stealing a shotgun in the dead of night. Now they had brazenly attacked an armory in the middle of the day, and then robbed a factory of bulletproof vests in the dead of night.
If that wasn't scary enough, their homicidal impulses seemed to be sharpening with every outing. People were dying with regularity, and - unfortunately - that would only continue to escalate.
After the robbery of the textile manufacturer, the killers would wait roughly one week before striking again.
It's approximately 1:30 in the morning, and a white Mercedes is pulling into the gas station of a Colruyt supermarket.
Seemingly unbeknownst to this couple, a burglary was occurring at the Colruyt supermarket just a hundred or so feet away. A trio of masked men, using cutting torches, had made their way in through the back door of the store.
At some point, the couple in the white Mercedes got pulled into the fray. Their bodies would later be recovered inside of the Colruyt supermarket, long after the police responded.
The responding police happened to be two gendarmerie officers, but - again - they were not prepared for the ensuing firefight.
One of the officers went down with a serious injury, and the other was actually killed. The Brabant Killers, thinking that both officers were dead, stole their weapons and prepared to make their getaway.
It appeared that the bandits had showed up at the crime scene in the SAAB 900 Turbo, stolen back in June. However, at least one of the bandits got into the white Mercedes, and the two cars began making their getaway.
When the call went out that a robbery was in-progress, police had gained some inkling that the Brabant killers might be behind the theft. But when the two gendarmes had failed to respond with any updates, the local police force began preparing a response.
Sending out police cruisers, they began blocking off some of the major exit points where the gang might try to escape through.
The gang was quickly spotted, since a white Mercedes is easily identifiable, even in Belgium. The Mercedes was leading the way, followed closely by the SAAB 900.
One of the police vehicles, preparing to intercept the trio of criminals, blocked the road ahead with their cruiser. Surprisingly, this did not deter the crazed gunmen.
Using the Mercedes as a battering ram, the bandits rammed the police cruiser. Immediately, the gunman behind the wheel of the Mercedes, identified in some publications as The Giant, got out of the car without hesitation and began shooting at the police.
The other two gunmen, sitting in the SAAB, began firing, as well. Pretty soon, the police cruiser was overwhelmed; having to retreat, the police managed to make their escape, while the Giant - or whoever had been behind the wheel of the Mercedes - got into the car with the other two and sped away into the night.
The white Mercedes was abandoned at the scene, and police would later learn that the owner and his wife had been murdered back at the grocery store. Their bodies were recovered, as was the body of the deceased gendarme police officer and his wounded partner - who, thankfully, did survive.
The SAAB 900 Turbo, which was used as the gang's getaway vehicle, was recovered a short distance away. It was sitting in the middle of an alley, with a flat tire - presumably, a relic of the gun battle between the bandits and the responding officer.
Police were able to recover fingerprints from the SAAB, but, sadly, this takes me into a point I have yet to emphasize.
Throughout the investigation into finding the Brabant Killers, vital pieces of evidence would simply... go missing. This would be a problem not only early on in the investigation, but throughout it, even as Belgium began to learn the kind of monsters they were dealing with.
The fingerprint records taken from the SAAB 900 Turbo would be absent in later searches of the archives. They were just gone, with no real explanation.
Even though the year was drawing to a close, the Brabant Killers were nowhere near done sewing chaos and discord throughout Belgium.
The restaurant "Les Trois Canards," owned and operated by Jacques Van Camp, sits in the town of Ohain, amidst open fields and rolling hills.
The street itself, a quiet little neighborhood, is a very quaint and isolated area of Ohain surrounded by kilometers of farmland.
In fact, it's just a short distance away from a noteworthy 1815 memorial, which remembers the fallen victims from the Battle of Waterloo.
Jacques Van Camp, the owner, was stepping outside with two of his employees in the early morning hours of October 2nd. It was around 1:00 in the morning, and they might have just been having a smoke after closing up shop, but by all accounts, Van Camp was preparing to leave.
A gunman appeared from the darkness, and rushed over to the three strangers. Right behind him was a second attacker. The first gunman led the two employees inside the restaurant, while the second stayed outside with Jacques Van Camp; holding him hostage, in a way.
The first gunman, now inside the restaurant, gathered up the seven employees still working, and made them lay down on the floor. He then demanded the keys for a pair of vehicles sitting in the parking lot: namely, a Porsche and an Alfa Romeo. When the reaction from the employees is slow, he fires a shot into the refrigerator door to intimidate them.
He then begins to gather up whatever money he could find - which wasn't a lot - and began to make his way outside.
However, as he was gathering up the money, the employees indoors recall hearing gunshots from outside.
As the two bandits met up outside, the employees could hear a verbal exchange between at least two men in a foreign language. This implied that it might not have been in either French or Dutch, since the employees would have had some familiarity with both, but it's really hard to tell without any more information.
Then, a few more gunshots.
Despite having the keys to a Porsche and the Alfa Romeo, the bandits decided to steal a red Volkswagen Golf GTI, which belongs to the restaurant owner's daughter. Perhaps it was the familiarity with the model that drew them to it; having used a Golf in prior assaults, they might have just been comfortable with its compact, shifty maneuverability.
However, within moments, the killers were long gone. By the time employees rushed outside, Jacques Van Camp, the restaurant owner, was dead. Like other victims of the Brabant Killers, he had been shot in the head multiple times.
They also noticed that the three remaining cars in the parking lot: including the Porsche and the Alfa Romeo, had a single flat tire each. The bandits, before leaving, had shot one out on each vehicle for some reason. It's hard to tell why, exactly, but they had a new getaway vehicle and were preparing for yet another attack.
It wasn't even a week later when, on Friday, October 7th, the Brabant Killers attacked yet another supermarket.
It was around 8:00 PM when a black VW Golf pulled into the parking lot of a Beersel-area Delhaize. Their vehicle was the red Golf from just a few days prior, but had been given a paint job. By all indications, it also sounds like the bandits had changed the license plates, fabricating the vehicle into an inconspicuous getaway car.
The trio step out into the night, and within moments, they have grabbed their first hostage: a man that was simply heading into the store ahead of them. They press a gun into the back of his neck and threaten to pull the trigger if he does anything at all to give them a reason to.
The three men enter - four if you include the hostage - and the store is immediately on high-alert. The store manager steps up to deal with the men and is instantly shot dead. Another employee is shot at, for an unknown reason, and while he does goes down, he would survive his injuries.
One of the masked men, the Giant, stays at the front of store, holding his gun to the neck of the hostage. He demands that a cashier get up from the floor in order to gather cash from the various registers into a plastic bag, allowing only this cashier to move.
The other two attackers head in the direction of the back officers, which are separated through an outer corridor. One of these men stands watch in the corridor, watching the shop to see if any activity comes his way, while the other heads into the money office to open the safe and empty the contents into a plastic bag.
The gunman standing watch in the corridor is described as being of average height, and well-built: a bit stocky, but strong-looking. Witnesses also recall seeing a tattoo on his forearm, and describe him as seeming older than the other two.
The second masked man is described as being tall, if not as tall as the Giant, and he is not holding a firearm. Instead, he is gripping a long-handled ax throughout this attack, something that is much easier to defend against than a gun, but perhaps more intimidating in the right hands.
If their reputation had preceded them, then knowing that the ax was in the hands of the man known as the Killer might be scarier than him holding a sub-machine gun like the other two.
The three attackers meet up at the front of the store, and - satisfied with their loot, around thirty-thousand dollars - simply depart. They leave behind a deceased store manager, who had seemingly stepped up to defend his employees, and three wounded survivors, who would recover from their injuries but would never be able to eliminate the traumatic memories of this encounter.
On the way to the car, they keep hold of their hostage, but let him go as soon as they're seated and have the engine running.
One note that investigators were able to glean from witnesses was that the Giant, the very tall and thin gunman that stayed at the front of the store with his gun pressed to the hostage's neck, had a very noticeable birthmark on the side of his own neck. This was surprising, and would hopefully help identify him at a later date.
The criminals went into another small bout of silence. This was becoming a habit of theirs: they would have splurges of criminal activity, but then disappear for a matter of months. In one example, they disappeared for nearly two years. But before that would happen, the criminals would strike again. This time, it wasn't in a public place, for the world to see. Just like the murders of Jose Vanden Eynde and Angelou Constantin, they would strike at a business, which - this time - just so happened to be a family's home.
It was the first day of December, 1983, in a small town named Anderleus.
At around 6:30 in the evening, all was quiet. Because this was at the dawn of winter, all was dark by this point in the evening. The four-piece Polish family was split up, with the parents downstairs, and their two daughters upstairs.
The family was the Szymusik family. The patriarch, Jean Szymusik, owned a small jewelry shop, which was attached to the family's home. He called it his "workshop."
It was at this time, 6:30, that the daughters recall hearing what sounded like gunshots coming from their father's workshop. While the younger daughter stayed upstairs, the oldest began bravely stepping down the stairs, in the hopes of seeing what was going on.
What she sees is a sight that will undoubtedly haunt her forever.
A strange man she has never seen before is lying on the kitchen floor, screaming to an accomplice of his, demanding the other man shoot his weapon. The other intruder, which some publications state as being on the other side of a door leading into the garage or the workshop, was holding a long-barreled handgun.
The target of this weapon? That would be Jean Szymusik himself, standing at an opposing side of the kitchen, holding a pistol of his own.
We can only surmise that the man laying on the kitchen floor was hurt or somehow knocked to the floor, as his presence there makes no sense without some kind of explanation. When he called out for his partner to shoot, he spoke French - which matches what we know of the Brabant Killers.
However, at seeing this shooting about to break out, the daughter scurries back upstairs towards her sibling, desperate for all of this to end. What she hears behind her is more gunshots, in various increments. For at least a moment or two it goes silent, but then there are more shots fired.
Just like that, though, the war waging downstairs is ended. The doorbell rings, likely a neighbor wondering if everything is okay.
A short time later, the girls came downstairs, and the intruders were long-gone. However, the masked men had ruined yet another family, and created a pair of orphans.
Marie Szymusik, the mother of the two girls, was found downstairs in the family's living room. She had been shot multiple times, in the legs, chest, and head. Police speculated that she was the first shot, as the men had likely appeared as customers before opening fire on the unsuspecting woman, sparking the attention of her husband.
Jean's body had been found in the workshop, and not many details have been released about that. It's hard to tell whether or not he managed to fend off three armed intruders, and fight them off into the workshop singlehandedly. Or, the darker theory exists, that the intruders took his body into the workshop for some reason... a reason which we can only blindly speculate at.
Others have questioned as to how or why Jean Szymusik had been so ready to react to armed gunman that he had a gun in-hand just moments after the first shots were fired, but I'll avoid that for the time being. Just want to make you aware of that, having been a focal point of later theories regarding the Szymusik family. Many would later say that the family had been burglared before, so Jean had purchased a gun to scare off potential thieves.
This gun was stolen from the Szymusik home and never recovered.
When police looked over the scene, they discovered that only a paltry sum of money and belongings had been stolen. There was roughly thirty-five hundred dollars worth of cheap jewels and cash stolen from the Szymusiks, along with as some other trinkets that were relatively inexpensive.
As would become known for the Killers, their violence often exceeded their take. It just seemed silly, to kill two people and cause so much irreparable harm for... what? A thousand dollars each, give-or-take some gas money? It makes no sense to me, over thirty years removed; police at the time were absolutely stumped as to why these murders occurred.
The culprit's getaway car was found about three kilometers away, in some local woods. This was the Volkswagen Gulf GTI, which had been stolen in October from the restaurant murder. They had died the once-red vehicle a darker color, but now doused the car in gasoline and set it ablaze.
The vehicle was missing most of its identifiable markers, and had been modified. This implied some semblance of mechanical "know-how," which would come up in several later theories, and become a focal point of one of the criminal's most notorious crimes.
But that's a story for another day.
The criminals known as the Brabant Killers had become a blight upon the area of Brussels. In less than two years, they had become a menace upon the people of Belgium: a boogeyman that popped up at anytime and anywhere to create chaos and misery.
However, after this crime - the murder of Jean and Marie Szymusik - the Gang of Nijvel went dark for nearly two years. There was never an explanation for this gap in their crimes, only theories and speculation.
In that meantime, focus was put on the witness testimony of the Szymusik daughter, who had seen one of the criminals laying on her kitchen floor. Police speculated that one of the thugs might have been wounded or suffered an injury of sorts, even though no evidence of this was found at the scene.
Investigators continued to focus on the Brabant Killers as being just bandits; thugs inspired by greed and an alcohol-dependency to commit their crimes. After all, most of their crimes involved some kind of alcohol getting robbed, such as wine or champagne, as well as caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee.
However, some weren't so sure that these were your typical thieves with a souped-up arsenal. Theories began to be thrown around that lumped in the Brabant Killers with various terrorist organizations, such as the Communist Combatant Cells, or the Westland Newpost Organization.
The investigative team had begun to look at another group of criminals, known as the Borains, and associated them with the Brabant Killers. However, the police in charge of the Borain investigation held onto them in custody for months, and in that time span, the Brabant Killers committed at least one of their violent assaults.
The Borains were released in October of 1983, and later forensic testing proved their innocence of the crimes. However, the police in charge of investigating them didn't release this information for months - at which point, public confidence in their own police force was failing.
It's hard to tell where this lack of confidence in the police force and government began, but that would become the metaphorical chicken or the egg of the entire story. Were the Brabant Killers a response to the misguided government, or were they responsible for it?
This question has yet to be answered.
Part Three: 1985
In 1982, the Brabant Killers began to terrorize the area of Brussels. Also referred to as the Gang of Nijvel, this band of violent thieves began to become synonymous with the areas they terrorized.
Over the span of a year-and-a-half, the killers had struck at least sixteen times, hitting mostly grocery stores. A few of their victims were individuals killed in their own homes or at their place of work, but the Killers mostly went after department stores. Every time they attacked, they seemed to be after a target of some kind.
However, the most unique thing is that these robberies - outside of the higher-end weapons or bulletproof vests used by the gang - seemed small in scale. Often times they attacked for some bottles of champagne and wine, or even left with a small amount in cash along with some coffee and tea.
Their violence had become an escalating problem; their early attacks were surprisingly light on violence, but it seemed like each subsequent assault had provoked them to double down on the threats and the gunshots. This might have had something to do with the weaponry that they had accrued over time, but their robberies were becoming more bold and obscene.
Their last robbery, which took place at a family's home - connected to the father's jewelry workshop - had seemed to become their last. It happened on December 1st, 1983. Evidence would quickly point police in the direction of the Brabant Killers - and not only the senseless nature of the crime. A getaway vehicle linked to other crimes in the area was found just a few kilometers away, burned beyond recognition.
For all of 1984, the Gang of Nijvel was nowhere to be found. The area of Brussels waited on bated breath for their eventual return, believing these three boogeymen were lying in wait, eager to spread some more of their terror.
This is the story of the Brabant Killers.
The police investigation to find the Brabant Killers had quickly reached a dead-end.
They had descriptions of the three known criminals, the most noteworthy of which was the description of the group's leader, the so-called "Giant."
He was a tall man, nearly two meters tall. This would make him approximately six-foot-four or six-foot-five, if not taller - after all, his features were often obscured and witnesses could only compare his height to their surroundings. This man was very thin, but always walked in front of the other two. It seemed to various witnesses that he was the man in-charge, orchestrating the violent assaults.
He was described as having both brown and blondish hair, sometimes seen with a mustache, and a witness from a 1983 assault described a large brown birthmark spotted on his neck.
Despite the Giant's size, and him being described as the ringleader, he wasn't as widely-feared as one of his associates, nicknamed "The Killer" by the press.
The Killer was described as also being a larger man, but nowhere near the height of the Giant. He stood around 1.8 meters tall - approximately six feet - and had darker hair. In various assaults, his appearance varied, with some describing him as having lighter brown hair, a mustache, a dark complexion, etc. However, he was described as being thin and in good shape. He earned his nickname, "The Killer," after being responsible for almost all of the group's killings.
While the Giant and the third criminal - named "The Old Man" - would shoot when necessary, the Killer became known for his brutal efficiency. He often shot at anything that moved, whether it be a bird outside the window, or a hostage moving too slowly for his level of patience. As the assaults progressed, he seemed to express pleasure at the harming of individuals.
"The Old Man," aptly-named, appeared much older than the other two. He was described as being close to fifty years old, standing around the same height as the Killer. Witnesses described him as a bit larger, but appearing strong. Capable, I guess. The witnesses didn't describe him as fat or obese, just a larger guy that was able to take care of himself. He was seen as having a gritty look to him, cementing the image that he wasn't to be messed with, but he had only been seen with the other two a handful of times throughout their assaults. Many considered "The Old Man" to be the trio's getaway driver.
In earlier reports, he was even referred to as "The Driver," thus being the only member of this gang to have two nicknames.
Forensic testing at the time had little to go on. Many of the weapons the Killers used had been stolen from gun stores, so there was no way to track them to individual owners. However, a link between firearms would lead police to a man by the name of Juan Mendez.
Juan Mendez, occasionally called "Tony" by those close to him, was a sales manager for a large European gun manufacturer.
The company, named Fabrique Nationale, is one of the largest and most popular gun manufacturers in the world. Often abbreviated as FN - and identified by its location, Herstal, a Belgian town near the German border - the company has ties to other firearm brands like Browning and Winchester.
Juan Mendez, an engineer, was the sales manager that basically operated as the company's liaison for Latin America. He had been born in Spain, but his family had fled in the 1950s due to the harsh conditions set forth by then-dictator Francisco Franco.
Due to his great understanding of engineering, and his knowledge of the various languages and dialects from Latin America, he had become the sales manager for the entire area. He often cooperated with Defense Agencies from governmental bodies, and was pretty widely-regarded as an esteemed member of the firearm community.
In addition to being an employee of a gun manufacturer, he also had a large personal collection of firearms. Juan Mendez was something of a collector, so this was a substantial assortment of pistols, rifles, and other assorted firearms and accessories.
On May 15th, 1985, most of this collection was stolen from the home of Juan Mendez. He was at work at the time, and immediately became wary of associates of his.
You see, in addition to working for FN Herstal, Juan Mendez also had ties to far-right white supremacist organizations; the kind of which I've spoken about throughout this series. It seems like almost everyone I speak of - whether they be victims or suspects - has a "six degrees of separation" from unsavory individuals involved in right-wing movements.
After the theft of his weapons, Mendez reported the incident to police. However, he had his own suspicions, and as the police investigation seemed to go nowhere, Mendez made his own thoughts public.
He believed that the weapons were stolen by a friend of his, a former-gendarme police officer named Madani Bouhouche.
Madani Bouhouche was a man that had come up as a gendarme, working with the special investigative branch of the state's police force.
During his time there, he had begun dabbling in illegal activities, along with his partner, Robert Beijer. The two eventually earned a bit of a reputation as officers that would cross the ethical line of legality to accomplish their goals, using a network of informants and acquaintances.
At some point in early 1983, right at the onset of the Brabant Killers crime spree, Madani Bouhouche and Robert Beijer left the police force to set up their own private investigator firm. They kept the same stable of informants and accomplices, but were now working in the private sector, where there were less regulations holding them back from their own goals.
If you look up images of these two men, you'll notice some similarities between their features and those seen by witnesses of the Brabant Killers. Robert Beijer was very tall and thin, with brownish hair that could be seen as dark or light depending on the light. Madani Bouhouche had dark features, and looked very reminiscent of "The Killer." Both have also been photographed with mustaches, which fits in with the earlier descriptions that witnesses recall seeing in the 1982 Brabant assaults.
I will address more of their story later, but Juan Mendez immediately became suspicious of Madani Bouhouche in the days and weeks after his weapons were stolen. Bouhouche was one of the few with knowledge of Juan Mendez's work schedule, and he knew that he would be gone at the time he was. He was also one of the few that knew of the vast collection Mendez had been keeping, and where to find it.
More theories would link these two together, forging Mendez's ties to far-right wing organizations to Madani Bouhouche's illegal activities, but more on that will follow over the next episode or so.
The suspicions of Juan Mendez wouldn't be confirmed anytime soon, but they would stay relevant over the next year or so. During that same time period, the sleeping giant that had been haunting the Brussels area would awake, plunging Belgium into another period of terror.
On September 22nd, 1985, a well-known Volkswagen distribution center was broken into. The masked thieves, who came prepared and knew the procedure to gain access to the large building, were looking for a specific model of Volkswagen Golf to steal.
The Golf GTI, similar to the model used in various crimes committed in 1983 by the Brabant Killers, was stolen in the middle of the night. The thieves made a clean getaway with the vehicle; in fact, the security company in charge of guarding the center was astounded as to how the thieves had gained access and gotten away flawlessly.
To many, this was nothing more than a well-planned auto theft. But it was just a precursor to what was coming: the most violent assaults that the Brabant Killers would ever commit.
Five days later, on September 27th, 1985, the Brabant Killers would strike once again. It had been nearly two years since their last attack, but their second wave would begin as if nothing had changed.
At around 8:15 in the evening, the stolen VW Golf GTI is parked nearby an Italian restaurant named De Pietro, in the area of Braine l'Alleud. The restaurant happened to be next to a Delhaize supermarket, which was the ultimate destination.
Three men stepped out from the vehicle, and immediately fell upon a group of nearby children playing outside. The kids went running, but the three men grabbed ahold of one, thrusting the barrel of a gun into the child's ribs.
The three gunmen accosted three customers outside of the store entrance. They told the three customers to follow them inside. When one hesitated, they immediately shot and killed that individual. The other two outdoor customers were able to run and flee for safety, but all hell would break loose inside of the Delhaize grocery store.
Pushing the child hostage in front of them, the three gunmen entered the front of the store, and demanded all of the customers to lay belly-down on the floor. They fired warning shots, and when one customer didn't lie down quick enough, the Brabant madmen fired at him. He would survive his injuries, but became the second person shot in just a matter of seconds.
The first of the gunmen demanded an employee put all of the money from the registers into a single paper bag, while the second kept watch over the customers and other employees through the sight of a gun.
The third gunmen demanded the manager head to the back of the store with him. The office where they kept the money was separated from the main store through a small alleyway, and after walking that distance with the manager at gunpoint, he was told that the safe was unable to be opened. However, they kept other money in that back office which wasn't in the safe, and the gunman was content with a wad of francs being placed into a plastic bag.
To many, this lends credence to the theory that these gunmen weren't in it for the money. They were more likely interested in causing panic.
On the way back into the main building, the gunman spotted a customer walking through the back alley that connected the money office to the store. Without a moment's hesitation, this gunman opened fire on the customer; whether they got hit or not is undetermined by most records, but the Brabant Killers weren't done yet.
The three men, apparently satisfied with their loot, began making their way out the front doors of the grocery store. They still had their child hostage with them, and they would take this hostage throughout their getaway.
However, before they left, they noticed a van pulling into the parking lot. By all indications, the Killers went out of their way to shoot at this van, hitting both the driver of the van, a man, and his young son.
The driver would die from his injuries, while the young son in the backseat would survive.
The Brabant Killers made their getaway in the Volkswagen Golf GTI, releasing their child hostage after they had cleared the area.
Their total haul was roughly twenty-thousand dollars, not nearly enough to warrant the three lives they had taken and the endless amount of stress and panic they had induced.
The witnesses that were present for this attack recalled the three killers as "emotionless," describing their brutal killing of defenseless individuals as "military-styled executions." They described the killers as shooting at anything that moved; the wounded customer from the back alleyway being just one such example.
Despite this attack being the harsh reminder to the Belgian people that the Brabant Killers had yet to face justice, they would strike again the very same day. In fact, just half-an-hour or so later, in a town called Overijse.
Overijse is just twenty or so kilometers away from the location of the first attack, northwest and closer to Brussels.
Again, just like most of their attacks, their target would be a Delhaize supermarket. Many have taken this to assume that the Killers were after someone or something, perhaps a specific target that they knew would be shopping at the Delhaize grocery stores at this time.
A getaway car, presumably the Golf GTI they had made their escape with just minutes beforehand, parked behind a Windekind establishment. Three men disembarked from the vehicle, wearing dark clothing and masks, and walked single-file through a row of bushes, protecting them from view of the nearby street.
Again, they came across a group of three children playing nearby. I originally thought this might have been a mistake in the various sources, but the outcome is drastically different. Instead of taking these kids captive, one of the children is shot at point-blank range almost immediately. The other two children escape, but before the robbery has even taken place, they have already taken a young life before its time.
As they continue to the grocery store, they begin looking for a suitable hostage. They quickly find one, holding their guns to the back of the hostage as they enter the Delhaize supermarket.
Immediately, warning shots break out. The three thugs threaten all of the customers and employees, demanding that they hit the floor. The lead gunmen fires towards the shelves, inspiring slow or hesitant customers to act quickly. The second gunman heads towards the back offices, firing at shelves as he walks. The third gunman remains with the hostage at the front of the store, keeping a constant eye out towards the front of the store and any responding officers.
The first gunman, who had been trying to establish terror throughout the store, accompanies the second gunman as they head to the back officers. There, they steal not only money in a plastic bag, but the store's small safe itself. One of the gunman carries the safe towards the front of the store, while the other keeps a watchful eye out for customers and employees.
As the three gunmen maintain their own twisted sense of order, they fire without hesitation towards anything that moves. It doesn't matter whether it's a box of cereal falling off of a shelf or a bird flying too close to a window; the gunmen are eager to fire at anything that may pose a threat to them. This results in several injured customers and employees, hit not only by ricochet bullets but shattered windows and pieces of shrapnel.
The three gunmen look to make their escape, heading back to the parking lot. A vehicle entering the store is shot at, but manages to escape on all fours through a side-door of the car.
Another customer isn't so lucky. He is actually heading back to his car to leave, in a panic, when he is closed in on by the gunman, who fire without mercy in his direction. He is hit three times, and dies almost instantly.
The three gunmen make it back to their getaway vehicle, which is assumed to be the Golf GTI, and before they enter the car, they execute their hostage at point-blank range.
Within a moment, however, they are speeding off into the night, towards the direction of Brussels.
In just one night, the Brabant Killers had reminded the entire country of Belgium that they were still alive. Not only alive, but out there, living amongst other Belgians, eager to strike again.
Within a single hour, they had struck two different locations, stealing almost eighty-thousand dollars cash. It had been their first attacks in almost two years, but both went off without a hitch, resulting in eight deaths and three injured survivors.
Almost all of the theories police had had about the three Killers were now amplified: those that believed them to be driven by wealth and ego were further entrenched, after the bandits made off with the second grocery's store safe and their biggest haul yet. Meanwhile, those that believed these criminals to be driven by a desire to cause fear and terror thought this proved them right, as well; after all, the gunmen shot at anything that moved, even a helpless child that had done nothing wrong and proved no threat.
The descriptions of the three gunmen were scattered, but proved relatively stable. All three were described as being between 1.7 and 1.9 meters tall, in decent shape, and their features were obscured by masks. One gunman wore a mask of an old man, perhaps poking fun at the constant descriptions of one of the Brabant Killers. Another gunman wore a carnival mask, and the other a ski mask which exposed his eyes and mouth.
With these last two attacks, the Brabant Killers had reminded the entire world that they were not just a boogeyman; they were real, and they threatened not only policemen, but everyone heading to the grocery store. Despite their possible motives, they were succeeding as terrorists.
Throughout Brussels, undercover cops were sent into grocery stores, hiding their weapons inside grocery bags as-if they were in a spy comedy. Police snipers hid on grocery store rooftops during the Brabant Killers' peak hours. In other places, where these serious measures weren't taken, police officers would make routine stops once an hour or so just to check in.
Many people in Belgium tried to avoid the grocery store; perhaps they went in the morning, before work, or tried to make their visits out of the area or just ran in-and-out. The attacks by the Gang of Nijvel were having a substantial effect on the Brussels area, and the fear was palpable.
However, the gang known as the Brabant Killers were likely aware of the police tactics. Because they were planning one last attack - the attack that would go down in the records books as being one of the most violent in Belgian history. It would be their last known appearance, but it would leave their mark on the area.
In a town called Aalst, just northwest of Brussels, police had been regularly checking in on grocery stores. Once every hour or so, police would pull up to the front of the store, get out, take a peek inside, and make sure that everything was kosher.
On November 9th, a Saturday, a man was getting gas across the street from a Delhaize supermarket in Aalst, when he noticed that another man, who had been driving a Volkswagen, had parked alongside a gas pump. However, this was unusual because the other man seemed to only be pretending to get gas. His attention seemed to be across the street, at the Delhaize supermarket. Police would later theorize that this was one of the Brabant Killers observing the police routine.
Later that same day, a man was driving in the Aalst area and looked over to his side. He noticed a group of suspicious men driving inside of a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Most suspiciously, however, the vehicle looked like it had been modified. What looked like a fourth man was laying in the backseat of the car, partially exposed and facing the trunk. The three men sitting inside the Golf noticed this stranger glancing into their car, and gave him a collective look that spoke volumes. He looked away, unaware that he had potentially looked at the men known as the Brabant Killers and lived to tell the tale.
After checking in with the store manager, a pair of officers that had been monitoring a Delhaize supermarket got back into their car and drove away. At that exact same moment, somewhere close to 7:30 PM, the Volkswagen Golf that had been spotted earlier in the day drove into the parking lot. It came from the exact opposite end of the lot as the police had left, implying that not only did these criminals have knowledge of the police officer's timing, but most likely their route, as well.
Again, this was on November 9th, a Saturday, so the sun had already set but people were still actively shopping, preparing for the November 11th holiday celebration for Remembrance Day.
Three men get out of the Volkswagen Golf, an inconspicuous car, but are all wearing carnival wigs and black outfits. The three carry rifles and other firearms, prepared for the bedlam to come.
As soon as the feet of the three Killers hits the pavement, they begin shooting at nearby shoppers. Throughout the next five minutes, which would remain engraved in the memories of those that survived this ordeal, the three gunmen would taunt and yell at hostages, oftentimes in primal shouts meant to intimidate.
In at least one instance, the men would smile and laugh; in particular, the violent criminal who had become known as "the Killer," a title he had unfortunately earned. Throughout this assault, which would become the bloodiest attack yet, survivors would describe him as a man enjoying himself.
The gunmen, firing in all directions, are not worried about hesitating. Their first victim, seemingly chosen at random, is shot twice in the head at point-blank range within moments of the gang's arrival.
Another man, along with his young daughter, are executed in their vehicle as they prepare to leave.
A young girl pleads for the life of her father when the Killer points a gun in his direction. He responds by shooting down the entire family, killing not only the girl's father, but also her mother and the girl herself. Only her brother would survive, but he was still wounded by the gunfire.
The men enter the grocery store and take control of every living being inside. They conduct their robbery much like others before it: by having one gunman remain upfront, terrorizing the customers and employees. The other two head to the back offices with a manager to take cash from the safe and money office, before rejoining their partner at the front of the store.
In less than three minutes, the Brabant Killers have shot at over a dozen people and killed more than a handful of people, but they weren't done yet.
You see, the police that had just left the grocery store parking lot immediately heard the call coming in. They were the first on the scene, but as soon as police began to get wind of shots fired at a grocery store, every available unit began heading down to the Delhaize supermarket off of Park Avenue.
The Brabant Killers began making their way back to the parked Volkswagen Golf GTI as police began entering the parking lot. As the two killers started the car and began slowly driving away, the criminal known as the Giant walked alongside the slow-moving vehicle. He aimed his riot gun, which fired 32-gram lead balls, at the oncoming police officers.
Eventually, as the car prepared to make its escape, the Giant entered the passenger seat of the car, and they sped off on the nearby highway south towards Ninove.
One police officer, named Eddy Nevens, was one of the responding officers that fateful Saturday evening. He recalls firing at least three or four shots into the Brabant Killers getaway car, and claims to have scored a shot on the biggest target: none other than the Giant himself. Of course, this claim has not been proven, but it ties into some later theories about the group.
Some records indicate that the police gave chase for at least half a kilometer, with some stating that police followed the suspects for at least seven kilometers before losing visual contact of the bandits. They seemed to have their escape route planned out to the "T," taking every advantage of the familiar landscape to lose the pursuing vehicles.
Even worse is that some rumors indicate a potential fourth shooter cooperating with the Brabant Killers. Remember the fourth man, seen by a witness in the rear of the vehicle facing the trunk? Some documentaries and podcasts have explored the possibility that a fourth gunman had been lying in wait in a platform within the trunk, and as the Brabant Killers made their escape, the trunk had opened, revealing a shooter that would fire at any following vehicles. Of course, this is just a rumor and isn't cited in any of the official police records, so take it with a grain of salt.
However, we do know for a fact that this would be the last known assault committed by the Brabant Killers.
When police had finished digging through the crime scene, they discovered that the gunmen had killed seven people and seriously wounded eight others. One of these injured victims would later pass away in the hospital, bringing the total number of casualties from this assault alone to eight.
And for what? The gunmen had made off with less than twenty-five thousand dollars worth of cash. At this point, it was common knowledge that grocery stores weren't carrying any kind of serious money; managers had begun offloading their deposits as soon as possible.
To many, this just further cemented the fact that the Gang of Nijvel were not in this for the payday. Rather, they had been sent - either by an employer or themselves - to cause chaos and panic within Belgium. And what better target than Brussels, the capital city comprising both Dutch and French-speaking? The crown jewel of Belgium itself.
Over the span of three years, the Brabant Killers had attacked twenty-two separate targets, killing at least twenty-eight and wounding forty. These were neither serial killers nor mass shooters... they were both.
Something as simple as going to the grocery store had become something to fear. People were living afraid, trying to decide whether their dinner party was important enough to warrant a trip. This is what happens when terrorists accomplish their goals: people change the regular aspects of their lives because something has become so unfathomable to them.
The public at-large was not only afraid, but pissed off. However, this fear had begun to swing from the direction of the Brabant Killers themselves... to law enforcement. After close to two-dozen attacks, almost thirty dead, and forty wounded... you demand answers. And police departments - both local and the gendarmerie - were no closer to giving them. The identity of these three men remained an obscure topic, even as daily television coverage blasted their various descriptions and witness sketches to hundreds of thousands of viewers.
However, despite the cries for justice, police would be no closer to revealing the identity of these three killers in 2017 as they were in 1985.
It was either in the late evening of November 9th, or in the early morning hours of November 10th, that a familiar-looking Volkswagen Golf was spotted in the area known as Houssiere.
The area is named for the river that runs throughout, but is a sparsely-populated, heavily-wooded area roughly an hour south of Brussels.
A witness, whose identity has never been revealed by police for fear of reprisal, recalls seeing the Volkswagen Golf on the side of the road. This witness saw a large body - perhaps that of the Giant - laying on the ground beside the vehicle. According to this witness description, this person was either badly injured or even dead.
Standing in the near vicinity of this body was a man described as looking "older." Not a senior citizen, but someone in their early fifties. Police speculate this could have been "The Old Man," also known as "The Driver."
Another person was in the car, either the Killer or the Giant, but police speculate that this might have been where the Brabant Killers escaped to after their last robbery. If they had been searching for a place to hide out, these woods provided a good opportunity to do so; after all, travelers were infrequent, especially at this time of night.
It is possible that the Gang of Nijvel stopped here because their leader, the man known as the Giant, had actually been shot by police officer Eddy Nevens. If this was the case, it would answer the question that has been haunting police for decades: where did they go?
After this final robbery, their trail would go cold. And as far as police are concerned, no other crimes before or after have been linked to three three individuals.
Forensic testing would be done on this area years later, and would imply that a weapon of some variety had been fired. Of course, this information is not very specific, but police trust their testing that on the night-in-question, a gun was fired... perhaps one of the killers performing euthanasia on a wounded comrade? Or, perhaps, one of the Killers had become too unruly and compromising, thus facing a cold-blooded execution? Only time will tell.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI, which the three gunmen had used to escape in, would be found on November 11th, in a spot of the woods in which they had been allegedly spotted.
The car was burned beyond all recognition, destroying most - if not all - of the evidence that police could have later tested for DNA.
Another witness would later claim to see men at the local pier where boats would tow off into the river. This witness claims to see at least two men at the pier sometime after the final assault took place, that these two men were throwing a bag of guns and ammunition into the water. According to police reports, ammunition WOULD be found at this spot, but it would take almost a year for the police to find the guns.
Within the year, the Brabant Killers faded back into obscurity. They had left their mark on Belgian culture, inspiring fear at the mundane task of heading to the grocery store.
It's possible that the three men known to police as the Gang of Nijvel - and to the world at-large as the Brabant Killers - had simply faded back into the normal routines of which they had emerged. It's also possible that at least one had been fatally wounded in this final attack, resulting in the trio losing its irreplacable leader.
However, it's also possible that these weren't just three common criminals; that they were a part of something bigger, aimed at taking down the Belgian government entirely.
Part Four: Theories & Suspects I
From 1982 to 1985, three men haunted the nation of Belgium.
Police and the media differed on theories regarding the men and their motives, but agreed unanimously that these were no ordinary criminals.
These three men - who usually acted together and displayed military tactics used by the state police - showed no mercy. They weren't afraid to shoot at anyone that got between them and their mission; this included parents, children, and in some cases, both.
The Gang of Nivelles, as they had first been called by the press, used Volkswagen and Audi vehicles as their getaway cars. These were usually stolen from various spots in the Brussels area. After the crimes, these vehicles would be found in remote, wooded areas - having been covered in gasoline and set on fire. Police would struggle to get any evidence from the vehicles, most of them having been stripped ahead of time. This implied a mechanical expertise of some sort, especially since some of the vehicles had been modified.
Delhaize grocery stores were the main target of this roaming band of criminals. The men would choose one of these supermarkets nearby a major highway; then, armed with semi-automatic rifles and other weapons, they would rob the store, commit heinous acts of violence, and make their escape before law enforcement had the chance to respond. Oftentimes, these assaults would take a handful of innocent lives, but take just a few minutes to pull off. The timing of the attacks led investigators to believe that the bandits had advance knowledge of police actions.
After disappearing for the entirety of 1984, the Brabant Killers, as they were now known, resurfaced in 1985 for three attacks. These attacks were the bloodiest yet, taking over a dozen lives combined. The overall haul for the crimes was minuscule compared to the human cost, making many believe that the crimes were more terror-based than anything. After all, a single bank robbery would have taken less time and resulted in a higher score than these dozens of supermarket robberies.
After their last assault in November of 1985, the Brabant Killers seemed to disappear forever. In this episode, I will explore how the investigation proceeded over the next few decades, and the many theories and suspects that have cropped up in the years since.
Following the last attack by the Brabant Killers in November of 1985, police were desperate to discover any clue that could lead to the men's identities. The public was still living in the fallout of the attack, and glued to the news, which had focused on the deaths of eight men, women, and children, along with the seven wounded survivors.
The fear was palpable; regardless of their motives, the Brabant Killers had made going to the grocery store a fear-inducing outing. If their motive had been robbery - which many doubted - then they had become accidental terrorists.
After the last incident, a couple of witnesses had spotted some points of interest for the police to explore. One witness had seen what looked like the body of a criminal, most likely the towering Giant, laying beside the gang's getaway car... which was later found in those same woods, doused in gasoline and set ablaze. Investigators began to theorize that the Giant, who had acted as the group's leader in many of their robberies, had been fatally wounded by a police officer during their escape from the Delhaize supermarket.
Years later, forensic teams would confirm that the area in which the witness had seen the body had seen some gunfire, implying that the merciless killers had put one of their own out of their misery. But this would confirm nothing, so it's pure speculation at this point.
Another witness account would state that at least two men from two different vehicles - the Volkswagen Golf which was later found burned in the woods and an unidentified Mercedes - met up at a pier at a nearby river. These two men were throwing what looked like guns and ammunition into the water - both of which would be recovered about a year later, in November of 1986.
To many, this was just confirmation that the men who had acted as the Brabant Killers had disbanded following their last robbery. It was possible that one of their own, most likely the Giant, had been killed and they were calling it quits in his wake. However, the investigation HAD to move forward as-if another attack was imminent. After all, the public wasn't satisfied with allegations and theories; it had been over three years since the Brabant Killers had surfaced, and in that time, they had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars, killed at least twenty-eight, and wounded forty.
Sadly, at this point in 1985, the Brabant Killers were just becoming the tip of the iceberg.
In 1983, law enforcement had dabbled with the idea that another group of criminals, called the Borains, had also been the Brabant Killers.
As far as I can find out, the Borains were primarily thieves. They mostly stole things, such as cars, but had been rumored to be involved in violent robberies. And since they had some semblance of a criminal operation, police quickly moved in on them as the Brabant Killers.
But while police were holding them in captivity, including their leader, a former police officer named Michael Cocu, for a time period of many months, the Brabant Killers continued to strike. This all but confirmed that the Borains were not involved, but that didn't stop police from holding them for a good period of time. The men known as the Borains were held in police custody for about two years, a long enough period for the Brabant Killers to strike multiple times and establish the group's innocence in these crimes. And other than that, police had been sitting on forensics testing, which showed that the guns belonging to the Borains had no correlation to the Brabant shootings.
But other than this, the pool of suspects was fairly shallow. So, instead, law enforcement began to focus on an emerging threat to Belgium at the time, which took the form of terrorist organizations.
Over the past three episodes, I've spoken briefly about right-wing extremist organizations which were very active at the time.
The Westland New Post was a far-right extremist organization with Neo-Nazi sympathies, founded in 1981. The WNP rose from the ashes of another organization, which I won't even try pronouncing, but which was disbanded in the early 80's after many of its members were convicted for forming a private militia.
The Westland New Post received a lot of support early on, even from members of the Belgian parliament. The goals of the group were pretty simple: to sow racial and societal discord, and it was based in the Brussels area, where the Dutch and French cultures were experiencing tension.
At the time, there was a lot of animosity towards French-speaking Belgians, and the fear among the old guard - as it were - was that French culture would continue to spread throughout Belgium, eliminating what traditions were already in-place. Again, I don't want to make a lot of parables to modern times with this story, but it's hard to ignore this in the wake of the current world's cultural strife.
The WNP, headed by its leaders, Paul Latinus and Michel Libert, hoped to capitalize on this strife. They began doing what they could to inspire chaos in the area, going as far as placing agents inside law enforcement and local politics.
By the time state police had infiltrated the WNP, the Westland New Post had already managed to infiltrate the municipal and national government, with aims meant to inspire right-wing reform.
The group's leader, Paul Latinus, was found dead in the early days of 1984, with what looked to be a suicide. However, his death has long inspired controversy, as the facts of his death never seemed to match up, and the secret organization he had founded went quiet after his death.
The WNP #2, Michel Libert, would later go on to be questioned for involvement in the Brabant Killers. I'll go into that in a little bit, but I hope this helps provide a little color on his background.
Members of the Westland New Post would go on to inspire controversy. In 1987, Marcel Barbier was convicted in a violent double murder, which took place at an Anderlecht synagogue in 1983. When police had searched his home, they found not only highly-classified documents belonging to NATO, but also Neo Nazi memorabilia and multiple firearms. As of this date, he hasn't been theorized to have been involved in the Brabant Killers, but this information showcases at least one thing: that members of the WNP had ties to high-ranking government officials, since the documents in Marcel Barbier's possession had come from Michel Libert, the second-in-command of the Westland New Post.
At the time, Libert was just a volunteer working at a NATO transmission center. Through lax security, he would obtain documents and disperse them to various members of the WNP for publication.
Michel Libert would face questioning throughout the years, including being detained as a potential member of the Brabant Killers as recently as 2014. However, he has never been charged with any crimes tying him to the band of killers.
In addition to the Westland New Post, another far-right organization that had gained prominence in the early 1980s was the group known as Vlaams Blok.
Unlike the Westland New Post, Vlaams Blok operated itself as a legitimate political party. Their goal wasn't to operate in the dark, but rather, enact change through legislation. Their goals were focused on declaring Flemish independence.
In the 1980s, the Vlaams Blok began to shift their focus from Flemish independence to, what they considered, "the immigrant problem." Their end goal was to preserve Flemish culture and the Dutch language, and it's possible that they saw the oncoming wave of new non-European immigrants as an insult to their own culture.
After some dismal showings in the early 1980s, the Vlaams Blok began to offer more discriminatory views in their positions. This made the group much more popular, but also led to a 1989 agreement that barred members of Vlaams Blok from entering government positions. A court would later rule in 2004 that the group had used racial discrimination as a party platform, and led to a complete overhaul of the party. The Vlaams Blok became the Vlaams Belang, and is the most popular Flemish faction in Belgian politics.
Normally, I wouldn't talk about political parties in situations such as this. But the Vlaams Blok would become known for stoking racial tension to win elections, and many consider the Brabant Killers to be a reactionary force built around vilifying French immigrants. After all, many of the surviving Brabant witnesses recalled them as sounding like dignified French men.
However, that's essentially where the theory ends. Many that believe the Vlaams Blok were involved in supporting or harboring the Brabant Killers center on them using racial discord to benefit as a political entity, to try and enact racist legislation. This would, in effect, make the Brabant Killers a false flag group meant to inspire hate against French immigrants and close down the borders, but there's not much to support it.
I don't find this theory as credible or as intricate as the Westland New Post ties, but I hope that it at least sheds some light on the Belgian world at the time. There was, at the very least, a lot of societal blowback on immigrants, and it was being focused on particular groups, such as the French.
I would be remiss if I also didn't mention at least one other terrorist group active in the Brussels area at the time, known collectively as the CCC, which stood for Communist Combatant Cells
From 1984 to 1985, the group bombed and attacked at least twenty different targets, including NATO pipelines, large company buildings, and institutes.
Several people were injured and two people died during these various bombings, at least until the leader of the CCC, Pierre Carette, was arrested in December of 1985. He was given a life sentence just a month later, in January of 1986, and that would just so happen to coincide with the disappearance of the Brabant Killers.
Many people think it stands as no coincidence that the bombings from the CCC began during the Brabant Killers' 1984 absence; that, perhaps, in lieu of attacking grocery stores, Pierre Carrette and his associates began bombing corporate buildings and government pipelines.
The motive would have to be that Pierre was interested in disrupting the government; that, perhaps, attacking grocery stores would send the most blanket anti-commerce message possible. However, it also ignores the fact that the CCC would give notices to their targets ahead of the bombings, in the interest of not killing anyone. In fact, the only instance where anyone died from the CCC bombings - the Federation of Belgian Enterprises bombing in May of 1985 - came after one of these warnings. Two firefighters had unfortunately disregarded the threat, attempting to clear the building of others, resulting in their deaths.
Many criticize this theory for ignoring those details. Despite the fact that Pierre Carrette looks a good amount like the sketches provided of the unknown criminal called the Killer, he wasn't interested in taking human lives. He was as anti-authority as one could get, but his bombings could have been focused on other targets besides empty buildings if he was interested in pursuing human tragedy like the Killer was.
Still, many focus on the timing of the CCC disbandment as uncanny. The Brabant Killers last struck in November of 1985, and the CCC just a month later, ending both chapters for Belgian culture. No ties or involvement have ever been confirmed between the two, just theories that have been given decades to marinate by a public unsatisfied by law enforcement.
Departmental divisions and rivalries hampered the early investigation, causing enormous amounts of miscommunication. At any given point, you could have a dozen or so police departments handling different investigations, only aided by the gendarmarie that were operating on behalf of the Belgian government.
As I've discussed before, law enforcement was so splintered at the time that this was the end result: multiple investigations, various theories, and each department was looking at different suspects to hopefully crack the case on their own.
And if that wasn't enough, you also had the predicament of many law enforcement agencies serving at the behest of their local magistrate or judge. This resulted in cases that were aimed primarily at proving the case of the prosecutor, which many people think hampered this particular investigation.
The people of Belgium had already been asking for a reform when it came to law enforcement, but this case would be one of the major inspirations to do so. Throughout the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, this debate would continue, until major reform happened in 2001. The last straw was the Marc Dutroux scandal, where a man with connections to local politicians and government officials managed to avoid jail-time for the rapes and murders of little girls.
But many people consider the Brabant Killers the ticking time bomb that continued to erode public distrust in law enforcement and their investigative tactics.
Throughout the investigation into the Gang Of Nivelles, police were hounded by claims of incompetence or gross negligence. Evidence was reportedly mishandled, or would just flat-out go missing.
There were reports of bullet casings from a crime being kicked around by first responders, and police at the scene were uninterested in stopping them. Fingerprint records from a burned-out vehicle driven by the Brabant Killers went missing from police custody, lending further credence to the theories about the criminals being or having ties to law enforcement. One vehicle that the Killers drove was sent for destruction in a wrecking yard before forensics teams could look it over, destroying any evidence that could have been recovered. And in one case, a cigarette butt found at a crime scene was never tested for DNA. It was never confirmed to belong to one of the gunmen, but a savvy police officer had bagged the cigarette before anyone else could touch it. This officer was shocked when this piece of evidence was never even considered by the lead investigators, despite the case promptly hitting a dead end.
The prosecutor in charge of the case, Jean Depretre, was based out of Nivelles. If you recall, this is the municipality where the three criminals began their crime spree, so he was considered the lead investigator early on. Depretre was convinced that the motive of the bandits was entirely monetary; that their goals may have inspired fear, but they were entirely motivated by greed. He also surmised that they were alcoholics, because of their constant theft of liquids like champagne, wine, coffee, and tea.
Of course, this didn't go over well with many other investigators and prosecutors, who believed the Gang to be terrorists. They wanted to focus on a more extremist angle - that the gunmen were inspired by political goals. The theft of grocery items and money was just a distraction from the chaos they were hoping to create.
As 1985 came to a close, police were hellbent on trying to link the Brabant Killers to any possible crimes or organizations, to simply whittle down all of the confusion. Of course, one of their most prominent leads died in the early days of 1986, in a hail of bullets.
For most of 1985, police had been looking into Juan Mendez as a possible lead for the Brabant Killers. They didn't believe him to be responsible, per se, but potentially someone he knew or was associated with.
In 1985, Mendez had been at work - and his wife was at the grocery store - when someone broke into his home and stole several of his personal firearms. Mendez, who worked as a sales manager for a large gun manufacturer, was a bit of an enthusiast and had a sizeable collection; all of which was stolen by someone close to him, both he and investigators theorized.
Later in the year, the Brabant Killers began to strike again. Juan Mendez was out of the country for their first attacks, but later theorized that at least one of his weapons had been used in the attacks. Police and investigators kept insisting that none of his guns had been used in the commission of the various Brabant robberies, but Mendez was thinking otherwise.
Mendez had long suspected an acquaintance of his for being responsible for the weapon theft: a man that went by the name of Madani Bouhouche. Mendez suspected that Bouhouche, a former police officer that had become a private investigator a few years beforehand, was long-suspected of being involved with shady practices that straddled the line of legality.
In January of 1986, almost two months after the final assault by the Gang of Nivelles, Mendez had begun to move on from the theft of his weapons. He had kept ties with Madani Bouhouche, because they were friends, and rumors have long lingered that on the morning of January 7th, 1986, Juan Mendez was on his way to meet up with Madani Bouhouche.
That afternoon, a worried driver called the emergency hotline, telling them that a man had been found dead inside a vehicle. This driver had noticed the vehicle that morning, and on their way home that afternoon, decided to check in on the suspicious vehicle, which had been parked along the shoulder of the E40 Brussels Namur motorway.
Juan Mendez was found dead in the driver's seat of his Volkswagen Passat, having been shot six times at close range. Four of the bullets, which were hollow-point, were aimed at his head; and he was additionally shot twice in the chest. Police theorized that he had been dead for at least eight hours, putting his time-of-death in the 8:00 AM area.
The brother of Juan Mendez, Jose, would be interviewed over the years about his brother's murder. He described, in detail, the relationship between Juan Mendez and associates of his, such as Madani Bouhouche. He also denied allegations that his brother - whom he referred to as "Tony" - was involved in any right-wing extremist plots. Jose claims that Juan was just a geek that was fascinated by firearms and car engines; a true engineer at-heart, who was survived by his wife.
The investigation into the murder would quickly focus in on Madani Bouhouche, shining a light on his actions over the prior few years.
Madani Bouhouche was the son of Armenian immigrants, who grew up in the Brussels area. Nicknamed "Dani" by those that knew him, he grew up primarily speaking French.
In 1974, Dani was admitted to sub-officer school for the Belgian National Guard. Here, he became acquainted with another young man named Robert Beijer, and the two would literally become partners-in-crime over the next fifteen years.
In 1977, both Bouhouche and Beijer joined the Brussels Special Counseling Brigade, in a specialized detective unit focused on drug activities. Here, over the next few years, the two men would become immersed in the world of law enforcement, establishing a small network of informants that would prove fruitful over the coming years.
While in this unit, both Bouhouche and Beijer became known for their ruthless tactics. They were known to break the rules of their own unit to accomplish their goals.
In the early 1980s, the two men were let go from the drug enforcement unit, and transferred to smaller police departments where they would not be able to get into as much trouble. They kept their ears to the ground, though, and were rumored to be involved with various thefts and attacks in 1981 and 1982. Many think that they were committing crimes while employed with police departments to benefit from inside information, and to potentially steer the investigations away from themselves.
In 1983, both men - Dani Bouhouche and Robert Beijer - had had enough of their small-time police work and left their departments. They joined up once again and formed a private investigator firm, name ARI, in April of 1983.
Here, they basically continued to operate outside of the law, using illegal activities such as breaking-and-entering and wiretapping to get hard-to-reach information.
While the network of informants they had established proved successful, the business side of having a PI firm didn't work for Bouhouche. Robert Beijers, his partner, described Dani as being an aggressive man; someone who would yell at potential customers, thus making them walk right out. Beijers also claims that the two men were never friends; that it was impossible for anyone to love Madani Bouhouche, because of his gruff, oftentimes violent demeanor. The private-eye agency, ARI, closed up shop in October of 1984, but that didn't stop the two men from being involved with the other.
The two men continued to work together throughout the mid-1980s, engaging in the black market at the same time as the Brabant Killer strikes. Another man tied to this black market went by the name of Patrick Haemers, but he's someone I'll discuss in a little bit. The two men have long rumored to have been a part of the Brabant gang - with many theorizing that Robert Beijer, known for his tall and lanky frame, was the Giant. Of course, this would make Madani Bouhouche, whose dark features were noted, as being the violent and unhinged Killer.
When the weapons belonging to Juan Mendez were stolen in 1985, suspicion fell on Bouhouche for his involvement in the robbery. At the time, he was knee-deep in the world of firearms, buying and selling the weapons to unsavory individuals.
When Juan Mendez was murdered, Madani Bouhouche was arrested and charged with the murder. For the next two years, he would spend time in prison, awaiting trial. However, the case fell through, and he was released in 1988.
With his partner behind bars, Robert Beijer had continued working as a private investigator. However, he fell into legal trouble in the Fall of 1987 for illegal wiretapping. Just like Dani, these charges were dropped shortly thereafter, and Beijer also became a free man, fleeing to Spain to avoid further investigations by police.
Many theorize that the reason the Brabant Killers might have stopped their crime spree was because Madani Bouhouche had gone to prison for the murder of Juan Mendez. He spent two years behind bars, at which point the other members of the Gang might have moved on.
Despite their regained freedom, the two men weren't able to avoid trouble for very long. They both became wanted after an encounter with a Lebanese diamond dealer in Antwerp in September of 1989. They have never talked about the details of this encounter - such as why they were meeting, what happened, etc. - but the meeting ended with Beijer getting injured, and Madani Bouhouche shooting and killing the diamond dealer. The other people present for the crime, including two of the victim's associates and his teenage son, were able to ID the two suspects.
Bouhouche was arrested, and Beijer spent the next two years fleeing government officials in various countries. He was spotted in Spain, Portgual, Brazil, Vietnam, and later Thailand - where he was then arrested for using a fake passport in 1991, and then extradited to Belgian authorities.
The two men awaited trial for the murder of the diamond dealer, which began in 1995. It was one of the longest and most publicized trials in Belgium at the time, lasting over five months. In the end, the two men were not only convicted of the 1989 murder, but the unrelated 1982 murder of a security guard in the process of an armed robbery. Madani Bouhouche was given a twenty-year sentence, and Robert Beijer was given a fourteen-year sentence.
For the time, the two men were off the streets for an extended period of time. But the link to the 1982 robbery, which culminated in the shooting of a security guard, opened up a new can of worms for investigators.
This showcased that the crimes the two men had been committing were not only going back to the dawn of the Brabant Killers - who started their spree in the same year, 1982 - but also while they were active police officers. The two men didn't start their independent PI agency until 1983. And, to make matters even worse, the armed robbery had been very similar to those operated by the Brabant Killers.
Despite extensive prison sentences, both Robert Beijer and Madani Bouhouche found themselves free men within five years of their incarceration.
Beijer was released in December of 1999, and shortly thereafter moved to Thailand. He has been there ever since, even publishing an autobiography in February of 2010. In the book, he states that he worked on behalf of intelligence wings of the Soviet Union, working to destabilize Belgium. Journalists seriously doubt his claims, but he has stuck by them in the years since. In the book, he also freely admits to crimes committed by himself and his partner, Bouhouche, such as certain robberies and murders. But he has not admitted guilt for playing part in the Brabant Killers, so there is still no proof he was a part of that operation.
Madani Bouhouche, on the other hand, has not had the same kind of luck.
Bouhouche was freed on parole on September 15th, 2000, at which point, he moved to a small city in France. By this point, he had been long divorced from his wife, and had an estranged relationship with his children, so he lived out in the middle of the woods on his own. In November of 2005, his body was discovered in the yard of his home.
Not to focus on the gory details, his body was found decapitated in what police described as a yardwork accident. He had apparently been working with a chainsaw in his yard, attempting to cut down a tree, when something happened and he accidentally killed himself. French authorities, apparently unaware of his criminal history, decided to okay the coroner's request to have his body cremated.
As such, the body of Madani Bouhouche was disposed of before any real DNA testing could have been done. Testing that was unavailable to early investigators was now made impossible by the cremation of a major suspect's body, but they did find some interesting pieces of information in the home of Dani Bouhouche.
At his home, police found a shotgun - similar to the one used by one of the Brabant Killers - and information about various subjects. Some of the information, found hidden on Dani's computer, included info about the murder of Juan Mendez and correspondence with figures in the far right-wing extremist community. Some of this has allegedly been tied to Michel Libert, the former second-in-command of the Westland New Post, who I mentioned earlier in this episode. This just fed more fuel to the fire of the Brabant Killers being a cover for right-wing terrorists, but over a decade after this revelation, no more information has been released.
In 2006, police would clear the riot gun of being involved in any of the Brabant Killers, but many still consider it beyond a coincidence that Bouhouche would have the exact same model as one used by the Killer himself.
Before I wrap up my discussion about Madani Bouhouche and Robert Beijer, I do want to bring up something I couldn't organically bring up throughout their investigations.
While Bouhouche was behind bars in the mid-1980s, after being accused of the murder of Juan Mendez, police discovered a garage locker rented out to him. In the locker, they would find weapons belonging to not only Madani Bouhouche and Robert Beijer, but also weapons stolen from Juan Mendez in 1985 and weapons stolen from an anti-terror unit in 1981.
The anti-terror unit, nicknamed the Diane Brigade, was named after Diana, the Greek goddess of the hunt. It was a unit created in the aftermath of the 1972 Olympics in Munich. If you're not familiar, a terrorist organization named Black September took roughly a dozen hostages, primarily Israeli athletes but also a German policeman. All of the hostages were killed, resulting in a colossal international incident.
So, this Diane Brigade was created as a wing of the gendarmerie, in an effort to combat terrorism directly.
Throughout the years, the Diane Brigade would continuously find its way into conversations about the Brabant Killers, including some of the most recent developments, which I'll get to shortly. But, for the time, just remember the history of the Diane Brigade.
In the early 1980s, right around the time that the Brabant Killer attacks began, a building dedicated to the Diane Brigade was broken into. This building was the arms depot of the special anti-terror unit; an armory, if you will. Weapons were stolen, and police were stumped as to HOW someone had managed to break into the weapons locker of one of the nation's most highly-skilled law enforcement units... let alone the WHO or the WHY.
For years, that crime had gone unsolved. Media often tied the break-in of the Diane Brigade to the Brabant Killers, not just because of the coincidence of their timing and location, but because information about the Diane Brigade was kept pretty closely under-wraps. This wasn't a unit well-known among circles outside of law enforcement.
Again, here was a tie between the theft of weapons and law enforcement.
Well, in the weapons locker that Madani Bouhouche had left behind, discovered in 1987 by police, there were apparently weapons belonging to this Diane Brigade. Stolen five years prior, investigators had reached no constructive leads as to whom had stolen the guns, but this provided the first concrete clue.
Police were quick to distance themselves from this story, never officially confirming that weapons from the Diane Brigade were found in this garage locker. However, it has been theorized that law enforcement didn't want to expose alleged inks between their own agents and the Brabant Killers, so they let this story slide to the side.
Even if Madani Bouhouche wasn't a part of this robbery or the Brabant Killers, it stands to reason that he might have obtained the weapons through his dealings on the black market. After all, he was immersed in the world of gun-running for certain organizations, having ties to right-wing extremist organizations that would be after untraceable firearms.
When Madani Bouhouche died in 2005, the possibility of discovering this information seemed to die with him. But on his computer, police found records pointing to other such locations as this locker: places where weapons and ammunition were hidden, perhaps awaiting pickup by a potential buyer. The location of these spots was hidden; purposefully deleted by Bouhouche some time before his death. Police have yet to identify any of them, leading to the theory that there are other weapon caches in the greater Brussels area, hidden in plain sight.
Neither Madani Bouhouche or Robert Beijer have been proven to have any connection to the Brabant Killers, but in my opinion, they're two of the most likely candidates. Their connections to the underground firearm market, their past in law enforcement, their physical attributes, their proclivity for violence... all point to a history that has gone unexposed.
Part Five: Theories & Suspects II
In 1986, with Madani Bouhouche awaiting trial for the murder of Juan Mendez, the investigation into finding the Brabant Killers continued.
It had now been almost half-a-decade since the crime spree began, and even though the violent bandits hadn't struck in almost two years, that didn't give the public any peace of mind. After all, they had disappeared between 1983 and 1985 and then resurfaced to be even more violent than before. Who knew what they would be like if they came back with early 1990s firepower?
Law enforcement, feeling the pressure, split the main investigation into two separate parties. One of which was Charleroi, a French-speaking district south of Brussels; the other was Dendermonde, an area north of Brussels that spoke Dutch. This was supposed to not only unite both halves of the country behind a common cause, but to inspire new ideas and theories.
Within the first year, there were some positive results. The northern Dendermonde team, headed by magistrate Freddy Troch, was rewarded with a find in the forested area where the Brabant Killers had abandoned their vehicle. If you recall, in the aftermath of their final crime in Aalst, they had headed to a wooded area to burn their car and dump a duffle-bag of weapons and ammo in the water. This is where an eyewitness recalled seeing a large body lying on the ground, leading to theories that one of the gunman, possibly the Giant, had been killed or seriously wounded in their last firefight.
In one of the canals there, the investigative teams found a bag full of weapons. This was in November of 1986, almost an entire year after the last assault, leading to conspiracy theories that the bag had been purposefully placed there or planted by law enforcement. However, most usually dismiss these theories as mindless gossip, and I'm inclined to agree: the guns provided direct evidence between several of the Brabant Killer crimes, linking them together.
This is also where police made a direct correlation between the violent assaults on grocery stores with many of the other senseless murders: including Jose Vanden Eynde in 1982, Angelou Constantin in 1983, and Jean and Marie Szymusik in the latter half of 1983. Before this, there were only tenative ties linking them together.
With this find, police were one step closer to catching the Brabant Killers. But just like most developments in unsolved cases, one step closer usually means there's a pending two step backslide.
Following the findings of the Dendermonde team in November of 1986, police were eager to continue their hunt for the Brabant Killers. With the discovery of this weapons trove, they seemed to be closer than ever.
The team behind the Dendermonde find proposed a joint-task force, joining up with the French-speaking Charleroi investigation. This way, they would be able to pool resources, and instead of having to split time with other investigations, be able to focus exclusively on finding the Brabant Killers. However, this proposal was turned down by higher-ups in the government, with many theorizing that the Minister of the Justice Department himself rejected the offer.
In 1988, a Parliamentary Commission began. This commission, an independent collection of politicians that wished to get to the bottom of this issue, began publishing info about the case in various formats. Most of this information is still readily accessible, in an easy-to-follow web format at killersbrabant.be. If you're like me, you may need to use a translation service, but those that understand either Dutch or French can view some of the pictures and documents they have there.
In 1990, the Commission concluded in a report that the Brabant Killers were most likely members or former members of security forces, probably gendarmerie, and that they either were involved in or had ties to right-wing extremist groups. These groups, the Commission surmised, were operating under the protection of high-level politicians and officials that were attempting to implement their ideals within the government.
The growing popularity of the Vlaams Blok and Vlaams Belang party throughout the late 1980s and 1990s led validity to this claim, but hasn't come up with any definitive link.
Throughout the latter half of the 1980s, the investigation from Dendermonde, headed by Freddy Troch, began to focus on a couple of suspicious figures.
The main suspect, who Troch always felt strongly about, was a man who went by the name of Phillipe De Staercke.
Phillipe was the son of a gypsy family, who grew up in poverty. He had several siblings, mostly brothers, all of whom would go on to become criminals just like Phillipe. His older brother, Leon, became a famous thief in the 1970s, earning the nickname of "The Little Leon."
In the early 1980s, Phillipe De Staercke got involved in the underground drug scene. He became a drug dealer, ultimately having encounters with several notable figures in the local crime scene - including Patrick Haemers, a man I have mentioned in this episode, but haven't discussed as a Brabant suspect... yet.
On December 8th, 1982, Phillipe De Staercke was arrested and later found guilty of theft in Antwerp. Over the next year or so, throughout a good chunk of 1983, Phillipe was behind bars. Of course, this would rule him out for most of the Brabant Killer assaults, but in December of 1983, Phillipe would take part in one of the biggest prison escapes in history. Called the "Escape of the Century" by the Belgian media, almost forty prisoners managed to escape from a high-security facility.
Phillipe returned to Brussels, but was arrested just six or so months later. He returned to prison to finish out his sentence, ultimately getting released on March 13th, 1985.
This release, much like another criminal's story I've detailed on this podcast, was supposed to be a temporary release. In the story of the Alcasser Girls, I detail how Spanish criminal Antonio Angles was released on a week-long reprieve, and he was later accused by the Spanish government of running off to commit the heinous Crime of Alcasser.
Well, once Phillipe De Staercke was released from prison, he fled. He returned to the Brussels area, where he set up a group of criminals that included his brothers and prior associates. They were dubbed the Gang of Baasrode, and they began committing armed robberies of various armored transports.
The gang were well-equipped and well-armed, and apparently gained a connection by the name of Jean Bultot.
Jean Bultot was the deputy director of a Belgian prison in Saint-Gillis.
This prison was one which Phillipe De Staercke had been in during his incarceration, and Jean Bultot was known as being very lenient towards prisoners of his choosing. In fact, many former prisoners described Jean Bultot as being corrupt to the bone; he was not only an advocate of certain criminals, but he allegedly recruited them for future crimes.
Bultot had ties to some of the extreme right-wing groups I've discussed throughout these episodes, and who also happened to be a gun fanatic. He owned a vast collection of firearms, which he kept not only at home, but in his vehicle and at work.
Allegations have also followed Bultot for years for having involvement in the Pink Ballets - the rumored sex orgies from the 1970s that involved underage boys and girls. Of course, this is just a long-standing rumor, not a fact.
Rumors have also followed Bultot for helping organize armed robberies similar to that of the Brabant Killers. He apparently would hire out and contract Phillipe De Staercke's armed gang for some of these assaults, supplying them with weapons and ammunition for a cut of the proceeds. Some rumors have even alleged that Bultot took part in the robberies.
Phillipe De Staercke, who was now a wanted fugitive, would later place himself in Aalst at the time in which the final Brabant Killer assault took place. Eyewitness reports have also put him in the area in the days and weeks preceding the attack, scouting out the location.
In November of 1985, just a week or so after the final Brabant attack, Jean Bultot was arrested for the illegal possession of firearms. He was charged, but released a month or so later. He immediately fled to Paraguay, where he would remain until 1991.
Phillipe De Staercke continued living a criminal lifestyle until March 6th, 1986, when he was then arrested. Over a year later, in June of 1987, he was given a twenty-year sentence for his various crimes.
While imprisoned, Phillipe De Staerke and his accomplices would repeatedly state that Jean Bultot, the former deputy director of a Belgian prison, was involved in a right-wing plot to create an environment of terror. His goal, apparently, was to enlist the Gang of Bassrode to hit department stores like the Brabant Killers, to continue spreading fear.
No official ties have ever been made between this gang and the Brabant Killers, but - again - it's just one coincidence too many.
Jean Bultot would later be extradited back to Belgium in the early 1990s, after a major shake-up in the investigation happened. However, not much has been written about him since, so it's hard to tell how his tale ended up.
Phillipe De Staercke, on the other hand, was released from prison on July 12th, 2001. He has remained out of the media for the past fifteen years.
The 1980s had all but come and gone, and it was nearing a decade since the Brabant Killers had first appeared in Belgium.
In the final few months of 1990, a major change began to happen within the investigation.
In October, the Minister of Justice, Melchior Wathelet, held a meeting with two highly-placed investigative judges. Their discussion regarded the future of the investigation itself, and things seemed to have gone awry.
A decision was handed down to strip the investigation away from the Dendermonde team - the only one that had gotten any results - and make the Charleroi investigation the centralized hub for the case.
At the time, almost everyone involved in the Dendermonde investigation was stumped. Freddy Troch, the presiding judge in charge of the investigation, didn't understand it himself. The decision just made no sense.
Many have wondered why, exactly, this change happened. The team in Dendermonde had been the ones to discover the weapons in November of 1986, and even though progress had been slow in the few years since, this Dutch team of investigators were eager to centralize the case and cooperate fully. Instead, it was being taken away from them and given to a new lead investigator that was relatively new to the job and had not handled any high-profile cases.
Many have theorized, based on the content of the current investigation, that Freddy Troch and his team were sniffing around connections that higher-ups in the government didn't want examined. They were apparently trying to uncover international connections, chasing rumors that some of the weapons had been purchased in America by associates such as Madani Bouhouche, Robert Beijer, and Jean Bultot.
Either way, the investigation was being sent to the French-speaking district of Charleroi, under the eye of Pierre Hennuy. Hennuy had replaced his predecessor in the Brabant case in February of that year, giving him just eight months to catch up on a dossier that now stretched over a million pages long. That's how big the case file for the Brabant Killers was at the time, when you accounted for every piece of evidence, every suspect, every theory, etc. It has since doubled.
This transition was anything but seamless. The first meeting between the Dendermonde and Charleroi teams, in which the former was filling in the latter on all of their recent progress and handing the case files over, was conducted without a translator. The two sides had a basic understanding of the other's language, but it's almost comical when you imagine one team of Dutch police trying to mimic their investigation to the French police.
Then, to make matters worse, one of the ballistic experts for the newly-christened Charleroi team came under fire when it turned out that he had no experience or credentials. He also had ties to organized crime, meaning that their ballistic work needed to start over from scratch.
And if that wasn't enough, all of the case files from Dendermonde needed to be translated from Dutch to French. As I said before, this was a case spanning millions of pages and documents... the translation became a matter of quantity over quality, and in that rushed process, several documents were translated poorly or not translated at all.
Freddy Troch, the investigative judge from Dendermonde, was then further insulted the following year. After having the case stolen from him, he was let go from his job in September of 1991. How, you may ask? Well, the local government in Dendermonde announced his resignation in a legal magazine, which he just so happened to have a subscription to. It wasn't until he read it in that periodical that he discovered he didn't have a job.
The casual pettiness in which the entire investigation was upended, which was only further compounded by the unprofessional way Troch was let go, severed all ties to the prior investigation. It showed that the government officials in charge of the investigation wanted it done in a certain way, and any dissent would be treated in a similar fashion.
The Minister of Justice responsible for the decision to split the investigation from Dendermonde, named Melchior Wathelet, later came under public scrutiny when it was discovered that he had shown leniency towards sex offenders like Marc Dutroux - who would later go on to become Belgium's most infamous serial killer. It forced Wathelet into early retirement, and tarnished his reputation.
Despite the dramatic turnover, the investigation would continue to trudge along. Several leads would come and go, including a man by the name of Patrick Haemers.
This is a name I've now mentioned twice throughout this podcast series. Patrick Haemers was well-known for being tall and athletic, but also having fair features that made him attractive to many. He had blond hair, blue eyes, and a build that would have made him an ideal candidate for "The Giant."
Just like many of the other men I've discussed over the past episode or two, Patrick Haemers had a history of drugs and violent crime. However, unlike them, he came from privilege; his father was a wealthy business owner, and Patrick wanted for nothing.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Patrick began to experiment with drugs. Because of this, he began to hang with the wrong crowds, and became immersed in the world of crime.
In 1978, at the age of 25, Patrick was convicted to three years in prison for participating in the gang rape of a woman. He spent just fourteen months behind bars before being released, going right back to the criminal environment he had become associated with.
He began to develop a cocaine addiction, which fueled his developing violent nature. He began cooperating with a partner, named Phillipe Lecroix, and the two organized a band of criminals that would manage to last several years.
The gang, which was named after the taller and more attractive Patrick, was really the brainchild of Lecroix, who would prove himself resourceful and intelligent over the years. The group mainly targeted armored transports, but would diversify their targets so as to avoid suspicion.
Then, they would use the proceeds from their robberies, and - using businesses owned by them and their acquaintances - found a way to properly launder the money without hassle.
For years, the criminals would strike at their targets, constantly avoiding police intervention. However, the drug addiction of Haemers resulted in him becoming more rash and violent, ultimately culminating in an incident in November of 1985 that resulted in six deaths.
One of the members of the gang was found, months later, having committed suicide. Many believe that Haemers himself was involved in the death, considering that associate a loose end and framing it to look like he shot himself in the head.
In 1987, police finally began to investigate Haemers, believing him to be involved in the long rash of armed transport robberies. He was arrested, and while being transported from one location to another to await trial, was freed by accomplices. They had actually stopped the police transport and freed Haemers through gunfire, like it was a scene out of "The Fast and the Furious." The escape was orchestrated by Phillipe Lecroix, proving his efficiency once again. Later, Lecroix would state that he was worried about Haemers confessing their crimes and identities to police.
From here, law enforcement began to theorize that Patrick Haemers had escaped the country. Lecroix and his wife fled to France, but Haemers became impossible to track down. However, this didn't stop future cooperation, as the men were planning the crime of the century.
In 1989, two years after the escape, rumors had circulated that the Haemers Gang was active once again. They had continued their robbery of armed transports, but then - in January of 1989 - they abducted the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Paul Vanden Boeynants. It immediately became one of the biggest scandals in Belgian history, with the group fleeing to France and demanding a ransom of several tens of millions of dollars for the Minister's release.
With the Minister held in a secret location, the gang continued to assault armored transports, eventually resulting in a payday that equaled $1.5 million dollars. When the ransom of Minister Boeynants went through, the gang then fled to South America, leaving behind evidence to point the police towards the BRS - the Brigade of Revolutionary Socialists, one of the many extremist organizations I have not mentioned throughout this series.
After leaving Europe, law enforcement quickly pieced together who had actually committed this crime, and began issuing Interpol warnings for the various figures involved.
Patrick Haemers was discovered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he had fled with his girlfriend and infant son. Accompanying them were one of his many associates, who had cooperated in the kidnapping and ransom of the former Belgian Prime Minister.
Shortly thereafter, Haemers rolled over on his other accomplices, such as Phillipe Lacroix and Basri Bajrami. There were correct, after all, in guessing that he would easily flip on them, giving up their identities to law enforcement.
All of the men responsible for the ransom were extradited back to Belgium, where they would prepare to stand trial for their assortment of crimes.
This process, waiting for a trial, took its toll on Haemers. It would be almost three years in Belgian custody before the prospect of a trial began to formulate, and by then, Haemers had had enough. His accomplices had made an escape from prison, leaving him behind, and this seemed to crush his spirits entirely. Not to mention his drug-dependency turned his prison life into a personal hell, the withdrawal process lasting months - if not years.
On May 14th, 1993, Patrick Haemers committed suicide in prison, after tying the cord from a radio into a noose and hanging himself from the radiator in his room.
In the years since, many have considered him to be one of the main suspects in the Brabant Killer strikes. His physical description would match up with that of the Giant, and his laundry list of crimes and robberies sound very similar to those perpetrated by the three unknown gunmen.
However, many express trepidation at outright naming Haemers a suspect. While the Brabant Killers were patient and careful in their planning, the crimes perpetrated by Patrick Haemers and his gang were reckless - the abduction and ransom of the Prime Minister being just one such example.
Police have operated under the assumption that Patrick Haemers and his associates - many of whom have served their sentences and gone on to live life outside of prison - may have committed more crimes than they are aware of. But as of the recording of this episode, none of those have been confirmed to have been Brabant-related.
Throughout the first half of the 1990s, the investigation into the Brabant Killers continued along at a snail's pace. No real leads surfaced or made any waves, at least until 1996.
In 1996, two investigators were speaking to a reporter when they made casual mention of the identity of one of the bandits, nicknamed "The Giant," being known to law enforcement.
This comment, which was made in a flippant manner, came off of the heels from a Second Parliamentary Commission being made to investigate the Brabant Killers. Government officials, apparently disappointed with the Charleroi team's lack of progress, began to express a desire to obtain some kind of oversight. After all, it had now been over a decade since the gang's last attack.
This was in June of 1996. If you are familiar at all with Belgian crime, then I'm sure you're familiar with a name that I've already mentioned in this podcast series: Marc Dutroux.
Marc Dutroux became synonymous with Belgian serial killers after his arrest in August of 1996. He had kidnapped, tortured, and raped six girls between 1995 and 1996 - and this came off the heels of five similar attacks in the late 1980s. He had been convicted of the 1980s charges, but was let loose after three years exhibiting good behavior behind bars.
You may be wondering why I'm talking about Marc Dutroux in a series about the Brabant Killers. Well, it's because the arrest of Marc Dutroux in August of 1996 - and the exposure of his misdeeds - laid bare the faults of Belgian law enforcement.
Police had had ample opportunity to not only stop Marc Dutroux's terrible behavior, but rescue some of the teenage girls he was holding captive in the basement of his home. You see, he was wanted for unrelated crimes at the time of his last kidnappings, and police had not done their due diligence in his investigation. Therefore, the lives of these final victims - who later starved to death in Dutroux's self-made torture chamber - were laid at the feet of law enforcement by the media and the public at-large.
Because of this outrage, the Second Parliamentary Commission into locating the Brabant Killers swayed directions in its early days. They began to focus less on armed bandits - like Madani Bouhouche and Patrick Haemers - but began to explore avenues of governmental corruption.
This led the direction of the official inquiry into the avenue of Pink Ballets. Pink Ballets, if you'll remember, are the alleged orgies and sex parties organized by high-ranking officials that may have served as a cover for illegal acts and organizations.
The Second Commission alleged to have discovered some tentative links between victims of the Brabant Killers and these so-called "Pink Ballets." They theorized, in their final conclusion, that the robberies may have just been an excuse to silence these individuals, who either participated in highly-classified talks regarding political dealings, or were witnesses that knew more than they should have.
In the final conclusion of this commission, they published their thoughts about the Brabant Killers having links to the Pink Ballets, but made official the position of not having enough information and needing to further explore links to other gangs and criminal organizations. They also expressed the sentiment of needing to open up cooperation between law enforcement agencies.
This final report, published in October of 1997, says all you need to know about the Brabant Killer investigation. It had been over a decade, and the information was organized too chaotically, the investigation muddled by countless theories with not enough evidence to back them up, and it wasn't close to being over.
In the over-twenty years since this commission printed their final report, not much has changed.
Many theories have come and gone in the years since. Without spending an entire episode getting into the nitty-and-gritty details of each, I'll try to summarize as best as I can.
One theory points to the alleged weapons trade between two nations: Israel and Lebanon. In this theory, Belgium serves as the middleman between the two, while Israel supplies weapons and Lebanon provides drugs.
This theory involves one of the victims of the Brabant Killers, named Leon Finne. Leon Finne was killed during the Gang's 1985 attacks, having gone to a grocery store alone one night to fetch himself a newspaper. The Brabant Killers shot him at point-blank range in the back of the head, leading many to think that the robbery itself was conducted as a cover to kill him.
In addition to being a victim of the Brabant Killers, Leon Finne was also a banker with ties to many international banks. He allegedly operated in the black market, as a sort of a deal-maker between interested parties.
And, before I get too deep into "crazy conspiracy" territory, I do want to state that allegations have been made that paint this man, Leon Finne, as a personal associate of not only Jose Vanden Eynde - one of the first murder victims of the Brabant Killers, from 1982 - but also Jacques Van Camp, the restaurant owner they killed in 1983.
The Israeli-Lebanon Theory, which is much more complicated than anything I can describe, basically states that the Brabant Killers were interested in thinning out the black market for international guns. Several incarnations of this theory also include Juan Mendez, the 1986 victim of the killers who worked as a sales manager for a large firearm manufacturer, and Angelou Constantin, the taxi driver the gang murdered in the early days of 1983.
This theory also includes someone I haven't covered throughuot the past couple of episodes, a man by the name of Benoît de Bonvoisin. He is nicknamed "The Black Baron," and for good reason: he is a far-right activist that has pushed right-wing causes for decades now. He has been accused of crimes ranging from fraud to embezzlement, and has been tied to various extremist organizations for decades, including the Westland New Post.
If you wish to learn more about this theory, you can most definitely do so. But, to be frank, it's a bag of crazy that I don't really feel like dipping my toes in at the moment. It remains one of the most prevalent theories because of the number of players and general evidence pointing in its direction. There are a seemingly countless number of ties between this theory and the Brabant Killer strikes, but I just don't know what to make of it.
Another major theory plaguing the story is one called the "Pressure-And-Fear" by many that subscribe to it.
In this theory, a foreign entity has been working to destabilize Belgium for decades - if not since the end of World War Two. For many, this foreign entity has been rumored to be one I am personally familiar with: the United States government.
Before you jump on me and call me a crazy person for simply addressing this theory, I would just like to point you to a couple of web searches you can make. The first is for something called a "Stay Behind" network; the second is for something called Operation Gladio.
Operation Gladio was a specific example of a "Stay Behind" network, set in place in Italy to prevent a communist takeover. It was formed as a NATO-run operation, but mostly overseen by the CIA and other such government entities. The methods these operations were known to use including spreading misinformation, assassinating dangerous political figures, and preparing an armed resistance in case one was needed.
Again, this isn't just borderline crazy-person talk. I know it sounds like the basis for a spy movie, but Operation Gladio - just one example of these so-called "Stay Behind" networks - has its own Wikipedia page. It's a known thing in the intelligence world, and been discovered in various nations since 1990.
The theory regarding "Pressure-And-Fear" stems from these "Stay Behind" networks: that the Brabant Killers, perhaps government agents who had assimilated into Belgian culture, were tasked with trying to push the country in a certain direction. Many point to the time period that the Brabant Killers operated - the mid 1980s - as proof of this; that, perhaps, at the time in which the Soviet Union looked poised to reinvent itself and continue its spread into Europe, that the Brabant Killers were tasked with "closing the borders," so to speak, and trying to push the country into a further right-wing direction.
After all, the Westland New Post organization had long had ties to government officials and higher-ups that backed their causes and pledged financial support. Paul Latinus, the leader of the WNP, had made claims to have the cooperation of foreign government agencies, shortly before his suspicious suicide in April of 1984.
Robert Beijer, the former partner of Madani Bouhouche and a former gendarme, also confessed to being paid by the Soviet Union to create discord within Belgium.
Just like the Israeli-Lebanon Theory, there are countless articles that could be read which paint the Brabant Killers as foreign agents hellbent on creating chaos within Belgium. I don't claim to know all of the ins and outs of this theory, but this is an interesting theory which should be considered when debating the purpose of the Brabant Killers and the various suspects - many of whom have ties to this theory.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the investigation really didn't go anywhere.
Despite the Brabant Killers becoming an impetus for major reform in law enforcement, police still had no answers as to their identities or motives. The police had the same non-existent answer when questioned about the missing or mishandled evidence, or the alleged ties between the Gang of Nijvel and government officials.
There were no convictions or notable arrests until 2014.
On May 12th, 2014, a 68-year old man by the name of Jean-Marie Tinck was arrested after allegedly confessing to having some involvement in the now-thirty year old crime spree.
Jean-Marie, a former sailor, had confessed to patrons in a French pub about knowing the identity of the Brabant Killers. This led to further confessions over time, in which his involvement in the crimes - and knowledge of the participants - continued to increase with each telling.
Eventually, Jean-Marie told one of the witnesses about the Gang's 1985 assault in Overjise. This is the attack in which a handful of people were killed, including a child. Jean-Marie Tinck's recounting of the crimes including a detailed description of the way in which this child had died. These were details that hadn't been publicly released, so police theorized that the information must have come from somewhere.
Arrested in May, Jean-Marie Tinck would be released two months later, on July 10th. All of the charges had been dropped, after police failed to turn up any evidence. Tinck had submitted to take a polygraph, had his DNA compared to the record still on-file, had his home searched, and had his communication scoured in an attempt to find a link.
The man's lawyer contested that this was all a huge misunderstanding, that Jean-Marie Tinck suffered from a mental instability that resulted in him trying to talk himself up to others. A day after his release, he granted an interview with a news station, in which he confessed to being a habitual liar and having mental deficiencies. He lied about being a soldier to others, but during this interview, even confessed to having killed another man in hand-to-hand combat.
Very odd behavior, but not incriminating when it came to the ongoing investigation.
However, Jean-Marie Tinck did let slip a new sliver of info: that most of the information he used to make these drunk confessions came from a man he met in 1995, while in prison. According to Jean-Marie, "this man knew a lot."
Nonetheless, after years of having no new information, interest was again sparked in the case of the Brabant Killers.
The newfound surge of energy into the investigation was much-needed, as the police in charge of the case were running out of time.
You see, in Belgium, there exist a very particular statute of limitations. The time period in which the Brabant Killers could have been identified and charged for the crimes was fifteen years. I know, that's not nearly enough time for a series of crimes as brutal and heartless as they committed.
So Belgian law was changed to allow for this statute of limitations to be renewed... once. So by the time the first deadline was approaching in November of 2000, the deadline was renewed throughout 2015.
If you're keeping tabs, at this point in the investigation, police had a little over a year to make some headway in the investigation before this second time period expired.
The confessions and arrest of Jean-Marie Tinck in May of 2014 helped reignite some public curiosity into the crimes of the Belgian Mad Killers. For many, they had not even heard of the criminals, their attacks now thirty years old.
In October of 2014, the former second-in-command of the Westland New Post, Michel Libert, was brought in for questioning. The WNP, a far-right wing extremist organization constantly tied to theories regarding the Brabant Killers, had long since been defunct. This questioning seemed to be purely exploratory, with Libert being released less than 24 hours later, but it showed that police were finally following up on some older leads, perhaps starting the investigation anew.
As 2014 led into 2015, anticipation grew in regards to the Brabant Killers. Many feared that the police were going to try and rush an entire investigation, charging a couple of men for the crimes in the hopes that they could get a conviction. Others worried that the case would go unsolved through the statute of limitation deadline, resulting in a perpetual cold case that police could no longer investigate.
However, at the very last minute of 2015, a resolution was passed which allowed the investigation of the Brabant Killers to continue. It gave the police another decade to try and solve the case, but showcased how sloppy the investigation really was: they were relying on last minute deadlines to encourage any kind of progress in the case.
At least there is that silver lining: as of the recording of this episode, the police still have another decade to try and solve the case. Until the next deadline is set to expire in 2025, at the least.
In 2016, a long-rumored suspect passed away.
Michel Cocu was a former Brussels-area policeman and a member of the Borains - a group I spoke about in prior episodes. Despite evidence leading to his release, police and the media had long suspected Cocu of having involvement in the violent crimes.
He passed away in December of 2016, after another year of inactivity.
At this point, the public had long grown apathetic to any updates by the investigators. The most disgusted at the lack of progress, however, remained the victims of the Brabant Killers and their loved ones.
Over the span of thirty years, these victims and their surviving family had received no type of compensation, care, or support from the government. When the investigation went through its infamous 1991 turnover, in which the joint investigation was stripped from the only precinct that had made any progress and given to an inexperienced prosecutor, the survivors and their families received only one letter from the local government. This letter didn't explain why the change was happening, or offer any kind of sympathy to the turmoil the victims had gone through.
Over time, this had led to passive aggressive rage on behalf of the victims. They had been kept out of the loop when it came to the investigation, which remained one of the biggest and most public in Belgian history.
At this point, in 2016, the survivors had long since moved on with their lives. Many continued their cries for justice, but others just found it hard to care anymore.
Some of these survivors went public in 2015, arguing for the investigation to be closed once and for all.
"Do you think you will find something after 40 years if you haven't found it after 30 years?" a lawyer for a handful of families argued, petitioning for the investigation to be shuttered. The victims and their families argued that every new lead inspired hope, but opened up wounds which had never truly healed.
Said one survivor, speaking to authorities: "I do not believe in justice and I have no respect for you. You do not do your job."
Those that still demanded justice wouldn't yield, however. Among those is David Van de Steen, who was a young boy when his family was attacked in the final Aalst attack in 1985.
"They were barbarians that shot children in the face. They caused carnage. If you have seen that with your own eyes... even today I can see the scars on my leg."
David, who was just nine years old in 1985, was shot alongside his family during the assault on the Delhaize supermarket. His older sister and parents were all killed by the Brabant Killers, and David was taken in by his grandparents.
His wounds, which included a very serious leg injury, required over 33 surgeries throughout the next year. He wasn't released from the hospital until August of 1986 - almost a year after the attack took place. Even today, he requires weekly therapy, and the pain has become a constant in his life. At the age of thirteen, he even attempted suicide, when the pain started to become too much to bear.
After the death of his immediate family, David continued his education and worked alongside his grandfather and uncle to keep his father's business alive. Throughout his hard-working and painful life, he has managed to do just that: keep the memory of his parents alive, in the form of the business they had worked hard to create. Even when he can't stand for very often, because the pain in his leg persists, he continues to be an inspiration to those around him.
Not only that, but David went on to publish a book alongside a local journalist. This book details David's recovery from the Aalst attack, and how he has worked to not only improve himself from that lowest of lows - losing his entire family and attempting to kill himself- but become an advocate for the victims and survivors of the Brabant Killers.
This book is now being turned into a feature film, which will be released in 2018.
David has remained active throughout the investigation, speaking out against Patrick Haemers - the tall, handsome criminal who was charged with abducting the former Belgian Prime Minister. He claimed that Haemers is the man who shot him and his family in the 1985 attack, but has since gone on to insist that the gang wasn't a static group. His own theory about the Brabant Killers is that it was a roaming band of men, who used the same weapons and tactics to conduct their illegal operations. This, he theorizes, is why the descriptions of the gunmen varied from case to case.
David Van de Steen remains an advocate for justice, arguing that even if it takes fifty years to find the Brabant Killers, he wants them to be punished for their actions.
This is originally where I planned to end my series on the Brabant Killers. But, as luck would have it, major news regarding this story surfaced while I was researching and preparing these episodes.
The news broke a week or so before Halloween, in 2017. The brother of a former gendarme police officer had spoken to police about his brother being one of the Brabant Killers.
Christiaan Bonkoffsky, most commonly called Chris by those that knew him, was a gendarme police officer for several decades. Born in 1952, he joined the police force in 1972, eventually earning a reputation for being an effective officer. In 1977, he was enlisted to participate in the Diane Brigade - which, as I've told you about, was a paramilitary anti-terror operation created in the wake of the Munich Olympics.
Bonkoffsky had two brothers in the local gendarmerie police forces, and seemed to take great pride in his work. He was a part of something profound; he was on the front lines of the nation's efforts to combat terrorism.
However, this pride was relatively short-lived. In the early 1980s, after a incident involving the accidental discharge of his firearm, he was let go from the Diane Brigade and sent back to the normal gendarmerie police force. The details of this incident are unconfirmed, but an informant who claims to have been there at the time recalls Chris Bonkoffsky being - in so many words - a dumbass. He was twirling a pistol around his finger like a gunslinger, and the gun accidentally discharged. He apparently missed a colleague of his by inches, and once he grabbed ahold of the gun, he discharged the weapon into the area of his foot.
I can't find out whether he shot himself or not, but he would have issues walking later on, which I'll go into.
After this accident, Bonkoffsky was let go from Diane and sent back to work in the Aalst area for the gendarmes. If you recall, this was the town in which the final - and most violent - assault took place.
This dismissal seemed to have hit Chris Bonkoffsky rather hard. It was at this point that he began developing an alcohol addiction, which would plague him for the rest of his life. Many think this may have also contributed to the Brabant assaults - with Bonkoffsky wanting to steal wine and liquor.
Colleagues of Bonkoffsky describe him as being a bit of a talker: he was a guy that liked to talk himself up, make him seem like a bigger deal than he was. This also fed into his obsession with firearms and martial arts, which he was apparently a big fan of. However, despite this obsession with being seen as macho, nobody recalls him as being a good shot or a physically imposing individual.
He was tall, that much was sure. If you look up pictures of Christiaan Bonkoffsky, you'll notice that he's about a head taller than everyone around him. There wasn't much muscle on him, but the man was tall. It makes sense why he would earn the name of "the Giant" from witnesses.
The ex-wife of Christiaan Bonkoffsky, who married him in the early 1990s and divorced him a few years later, described him as being an angry person - who may or may not have had both violent and racist viewpoints.
In 1998, the name of Chris Bonkoffsky was forwarded to the Charleroi investigators in charge of the case file. They reviewed the suspicions, and took a saliva and fingerprint sample from Chris. They never questioned him regarding the Brabant Killers, despite theories circulating at the time regarding gendarme involvement in the crimes. His saliva was tested against DNA found from two different crime scenes: a cigarette butt found in the taxi cab belonging to murder victim Angelou Constantin in 1983, and a partial DNA sample found on a bulletproof vest recovered from a creek bed in 1986.
The DNA tests came back negative, and the fingerprint tests were inconclusive. Police dropped him as a suspect entirely.
His name had been brought to the attention of police by a concerned friend of his, who had begun to suspect Chris of involvement in the crimes. He had initially been disturbed by the man's talk in the 1980s, after being let go by the Diana Brigade, of wanting to tear down the police system in revenge. He had made comments of staging a "coup d'etat," and when police released new eyewitness sketches of the Gang of Nijvel, this acquaintance got concerned.
In 2001, a caravan belonging to Christiaan Bonkoffsky burned down. This caravan, which was located in a town called Cerfontaine, appeared to be the target of arson, but the investigation would falter before it went anywhere. Police never came across many leads, despite Bonkoffsky having been wanting to make the caravan his retirement home.
Chris Bonkoffsky continued to work for the Aalst police force until 2010. This means that many of the police officers working there today have had some kind of association with him, as either a mentor or a colleague.
In 2015, Chris Bonkoffsky was on his death bed, and apparently confessed to one of his brothers that he was "The Giant" from the infamous Brabant Killer attacks. The brother didn't immediately tell authorities, thinking that this might be another example of his brother trying to make himself seem more important than he was. But he eventually spoke about this confession to an acquaintance, who then got in touch with survivor David Van de Steen, who had remained an advocate of the case for years.
From here, David Van de Steen would report the confession to authorities in February of 2017. In the meantime, he would begin doing his own preliminary research of the man in-question, Christiaan Bonkoffsky. Police did the same.
In October of 2017, police went to the press with the information, believing it to be valid. They had made contact with Bonkoffsky's brother, who confirmed hearing the confession come from his deceased brother two years beforehand.
"In the beginning I was in denial because I really struggled with it. But today I can say formally that this is my brother."
The evidence against Christiaan Bonkoffsky is pretty striking. Outside of his overall description - standing 1.9 meters, tall and lean, occasionally wearing a mustache - he had the demeanor for the crimes. He was paramilitary, having spent half-a-decade in one of Belgium's most prestigious law enforcement agencies. He had training not accessible by many outside of these units, and was well-aware of how the local police force would respond to any incidents bordering on terrorism - such as the Brabant Killers.
When police looked through the evidence linking Bonkoffsky to the crimes, they also noticed that on the days after many of the Brabant Killer assaults, he had taken a day off. This also coincided with a medical leave he had taken in September of 1985 - just a day before the Brabant Killers resurfaced with attacks in Braine l'Alleud and Overjise. He took his leave, for an ankle injury, on September 26th; the Brabant Killers attacked for the first time in over two years the very next day, on September 27th.
Then, in November of 1985, Chris Bonkoffsky had taken two months off of his duty for a broken ankle. Many think that this would rule him out for the final, brutal November 9th assault... but many witnesses recall seeing the Giant walking with a noticeable limp.
Only time will tell whether this information leads to any answers or convictions. But the news of Chris Bonkoffsky's potential involvement in the attacks of De Bende van Nijvel has provoked serious changes in the investigation.
Committee P, the nickname given to the Permanent Oversight Committee on the Police Services, has begun to officially investigate ties between the gendarmerie and the Brabant Killers. The ties they are investigated are something that would have been seen as a conspiracy theory just weeks ago, implying that there is still plenty left to uncover in the case.
Every bit of news tying the crimes to the gendarme police force are being examined, including the links between the ammunition used by the Killers and a shooting club located in Aalst, which Bonkoffsky visited regularly.
In the weeks after the news broke, police received over one-hundred solid tips, which are now helping them unearth information hidden away decades ago.
Patricia Finne, the daughter of Brabant victim Leon Finne, says it best: "I really hope that this will lead to dismantling the rest of the gang, whether they are dead or not."
As of this episode's recording, police have yet to make any charges stick against Brabant Killer suspects.
Madani Bouhouche. Robert Beijer. Jean Bultot. Pierre Carrette. Patrick Haemers. Chris Bonkoffsky. Michel Libert. Phillipe De Staercke.
By this point, these are just names to all of you. I'm sure that many of them blend into one another; making them just a series of scumbags that plagued the area of Brussels in the mid-1980s.
It's possible that none of them are guilty of the crimes committed by the Mad Killers of Belgium. However, it is possible that at least one of them - if not several - was involved. Not only by their proximity to the crimes, but by their violent natures which were exposed in the following years.
The current investigation, which seems to have focused on the recent news, still has to pay for decades of inactivity. Leads that might have been solid thirty years ago have since dried up, but that hasn't stopped the gears of justice from spinning. Police remain convinced that the answer lies out there, waiting to be discovered.
There are still another eight or so years until the statute of limitations evaporate on the various crimes committed by the Brabant Killers. The DNA profile of one of the killers has been established, based off of forensics discovered at the multiple crime scenes. To date, that DNA hasn't been matched with any known suspects, but that could change on any given day.
What we know about the Brabant Killers - also called the Mad Killers of Belgium and De Bende van Nijvel - hasn't changed in some time. They were cold-blooded murderers, who seemed better at killing innocent, defenseless individuals than they were at stealing. Throughout their two dozen attacks, they killed at least twenty-eight people and wounded forty more, stealing a grand total of maybe $200,000 over the span of three years.
Survivors noted their apparent glee at killing people - this was most notable during their final attack. They seemed to thrive off of fighting an unfair battle, waging war on an unsuspecting populace.
A 250,000 Euro reward exists for information that will lead to the discovery or capture of the Brabant Killers. If you know anything, please get in touch with police authorities.
To this day, the Brabant Killers are still feared throughout Belgium. For a time, they existed as boogeymen - a story parents would tell their kids to get them to come home before bedtime. But, an entire generation has been born and raised to adulthood since the Brabant Killers last struck... and in that time, new nightmares and terrors of the night have come and gone. Their name - which changes depending on your location - has become just a relic of a day gone by.
The thing that hasn't faded away, though, is the need for answers. The public, the victims, the survivors, law enforcement itself... they all clamor for it. Only time will tell whether old leads or new updates will lead to those answers.
Until such time, the story of the Brabant Killers remains unresolved.