The Sickening Crimes Of Marc Dutroux, The Child-Killing ‘Monster’ Of Belgium

Published October 12, 2023
Updated October 13, 2023

Marc Dutroux, who held six girls prisoner in his basement dungeon between 1995 and 1996, was only arrested after multiple tips and even a visit from the police, where they ignored the cries of his victims below.

Marc Dutroux

Wikimedia CommonsA pencil sketch of Marc Dutroux, a Belgian serial killer and child molester.

When young girls started disappearing throughout Belgium in the 1990s, police had every reason to suspect Marc Dutroux.

Not only had his own mother reported to the police that he was keeping girls prisoner in one of his several Belgium homes, but he had already been convicted of kidnapping and raping multiple young women and girls in the 1980s before he was let out on parole in 1992.

Still, it took a baffling amount of time for police to arrest Dutroux. And when they finally did, they learned he had kidnapped, raped, and tortured at least more six women and girls, four of whom had died.

To make matters worse, it was soon revealed that Dutroux had also been living on government funds and using drugs the government had paid for to sedate his victims, sparking public outcry against the Belgian authorities — and even conspiracy theories about pedophile rings and a government coverup.

This is the story of serial rapist and child molester Marc Dutroux.

Marc Dutroux Gets A Taste For Kidnapping

Home In Belgium

Alamy/Monasse T/ANDBZ/ABACAPRESS.COMThe house of Marc Dutroux in Marcinelle, Charleroi, Belgium, in 2021.

Marc Dutroux was born in Ixelles, Brussels, on Nov. 6, 1956. According to the BBC, he was the eldest of five children. Marc would later claim that his parents, school teachers Victor and Jeanine, often beat him. They separated in 1971, and Marc left home, embarking on a life as a drifter.

As an adult Dutroux moved from place to place, working as an electrician and, allegedly, a sex worker. Gradually, he turned to a life of crime — dealing drugs, stealing and trading stolen cars, and mugging. Allegedly, he amassed enough money doing this that he eventually owned seven houses.

Dutroux was married by the time he was 20 and had two sons. His first wife would later claimed that Dutroux had beat her and had multiple extramarital affairs. The two separated in the early 1980s, leaving Dutroux free to pursue one of the women with whom he’d had an affair: Michelle Martin. Martin would soon become his second wife — and an accomplice in his crimes.

In the summer of 1985, Marc Dutroux allegedly became frustrated with how tedious it was to pick up women — and decided to kidnap and rape them instead, with the help of his second wife.

“He told me kidnapping and raping them took less time than hitting on them,” Martin would say, according to the Belgian publication Nieuwsblad. “He said that would be to my advantage too. That way he had more time to spend on me. And, because he did it all for me, I had to help him with the kidnappings.”

But the couple didn’t operate alone. Jean Van Peteghem, a family friend, had been crashing at the Dutroux house after his relationship fell apart. Dutroux soon recruited Van Peteghem to help with his plans, convincing him that he “owed Dutroux.” Martin, meanwhile, would drive the van.

On June 7, 1985, they found their first victim: 11-year-old Sylvie D., who was walking home alone after swimming at a nearby pool. As they drove past the young girl, the men jumped out of the car, grabbed her, and pulled her into the van, putting tape over her mouth and eyes.

The kidnappers then drove Sylvie to a garage in Roux, where Dutroux raped her and took a photo of her on a polaroid camera before letting her go.

The other kidnappings happened in much the same way. A young woman or girl would be out walking by herself when she noticed a van following her. Then, a pair of men would grab her and pull her into the van, telling her they just wanted ransom money. They’d put tape over her eyes and drive her to a house — Dutroux’s.

There, she’d be held captive and raped by the two men repeatedly before they finally drove her back to her neighborhood and released her. Sometimes, the men would give their victims treats like chocolate and apples. Often, Dutroux photographed or filmed them naked.

Marc Dutroux Works The System From Prison

Sydney Morning Herald Report

The Sydney Morning HeraldA clipping of an August 22, 1996 article in The Sydney Morning Herald.

In the end, the police caught up to the serial rapists. Jean Van Peteghem had given away too much information about himself when speaking to the victims, and based on interviews with the girls, police were able to pinpoint him as a suspect — and he quickly confessed to everything, pinning most of the blame on Dutroux.

In 1986, Marc Dutroux and his wife, Michelle Martin, were arrested for the abduction and rape of five women and girls between the ages of eleven and nineteen. Police soon found damning evidence on both Dutroux and Van Peteghem, including a pencil case they’d stolen from one of the girls and sexually explicit photos and videos of the victims.

In 1989, Dutroux was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison for the kidnappings and rapes, and his accomplices Van Peteghem and Martin were sentenced to 6.5 years and 5 years, respectively.

While Dutroux was in prison, the BBC reports, his mother Jeanine wrote to the prison director about her son, issuing a chilling warning:

“I have known for a long time and with good cause my eldest’s temperament,” Jeanine wrote. “What I do not know, and what all the people who know him fear, it’s what he has in mind for the future.”

Dutroux’s mind was indeed on the future. He soon convinced prison health officials that he was disabled so that he would be given monthly financial benefits upon his release. He also convinced a psychiatrist to prescribe him sleeping pills — which he would later use to sedate his victims.

Despite his mother’s warning, Marc Dutroux was released on parole in 1992 after only three years of his sentence, leaving him free to commit more — and more terrible — crimes.

And this time, he wouldn’t make the mistake of setting his victims free.

Inside The Dutroux Dungeon

Dutroux House Demolition

Alamy/BELGA PHOTO/BENOIT DOPPAGNEThe destruction of the Dutroux house in Sars-la-Buissiere, Lobbes, in March 2023.

After Marc Dutroux’s release, he wasted no time in continuing what he had started. He began to build a “dungeon” in his basement. Between 1995 and 1996, he kidnapped at least six young girls and held them in the dungeon, where he tortured them and sexually abused them.

By the time he was arrested in 1996, only two of his victims, a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old, were alive.

Meanwhile, the public was beginning to panic as women and girls went missing throughout the country. On June 24, 1995, two eight-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, had disappeared near their homes in east Belgium, the BBC reported. Later that summer, on Aug. 23, teenagers An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks went missing while on vacation in Ostend, a seaside town.

Not long after these disappearances, Marc Dutroux’s own mother reported him to the police, claiming he was holding girls captive in one of his houses. Still, despite his record of kidnapping and raping young girls, it wasn’t until five months after the first disappearances that police searched his home.

On Dec. 6, 1995, Dutroux was arrested for car theft and would go on to spend almost four months in prison. A week after this arrest, the police finally searched Dutroux’s home. But despite hearing children’s voices, they failed to find the girls in the basement dungeon, claiming it sounded like the voices were coming from outside.

They also came across videos and undeveloped film, which, had they examined, would have shown Dutroux in the process of building the underground dungeon.

Martin later confessed she was aware her husband was holding eight-year-olds Lejeune and Russo in a secret dungeon, and that she was responsible for making sure they had food and water while he was in prison. But while she stopped by the house to feed the dogs, she claimed she was “too frightened” to feed the girls. They died of starvation.

Soon after Dutroux’s release from prison, on May 28, 1996, 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne disappeared while riding her bike to school in southwest Belgium. Then, on Aug. 9, 1996, 14-year old Laetitia Delhez was abducted while walking home from a swimming pool in southeast Belgium.

On Aug. 13, four days after this last kidnapping, and fourteen months after the first, Marc Dutroux was finally arrested for the kidnappings. He led the police them to the where he was holding Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez in a prison cell. They were both found to have been drugged and sexually abused.

He also led police to where he’d buried the emaciated bodies of eight-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo in the backyard of his other house in Sars-la-Buissiere, alongside the body of Bernard Weinstein, an accomplice Dutroux had turned on and murdered by burying him alive.

An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks’ remains were found buried in the garden of the Weinstein’s home. They, too, had been buried alive.

A Bungled Investigation Sparks Public Outcry

Wife Of Marc Dutroux

Alamy/BELGA PHOTO/NICOLAS MAETERLINCKPolice arrest a demonstrator during a protest after Michelle Martin, the ex-wife of Marc Dutroux, was released after 16 years of a 30-year sentence.

The public was shocked to learn that despite multiple tips and searches of Dutroux’s home, it took 14 months for police to piece together that Dutroux had been behind the kidnappings all along. Had the crimes been solved sooner, it was possible that the four victims who died could have survived.

The case caused such outrage that on Oct. 20, 1996, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Belgium to march in support of the victims and their families and in protest against the way authorities had mismanaged the case.

Over time, theories began to surface that Dutroux had been part of a larger pedophile ring involving people in high places, and that authorities had been protecting Dutroux to cover up their own involvement.

In 1996, a woman named Regina Louf told investigators that she’d been “given” by her parents to a family friend at the age of 12 and brought to sex parties, where powerful people tortured and raped and sometimes murdered young girls. She alleged Dutroux would bring drugs — and eventually, girls — to the parties.

And though elements of Louf’s evidence were corroborated, local news made her out to be a fantasist. When Dutroux’s case finally went to trial she was not allowed to appear as a witness.

However, it would take years for a date to be set for Dutroux’s murder trial. Authorities claimed it was because the conspiracy theories had led them on a wild goose chase looking for a mythical pedophile network. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that valuable witnesses — 20 of them — died under mysterious circumstances.

On April 9, 1997, an independent parliamentary committee investigating the case released a report revealing the police had been “inhumane, inept, inefficient and ill-equipped” in dealing with it.

As if the case hadn’t been disastrous enough, in April 1998, Dutroux escaped from prison. And though he was was quickly recaptured, the fallout of this fiasco was immediate: Belgium’s police chief, justice minister, and interior minister all resigned. Then, in July 1999, Hubert Massa, Advocate General in the case, died by suicide.

Finally, on March 2004, Dutroux’s case went to trial.

The Trial Of Marc Dutroux

Paul Marchal

Alamy/BELGA PHOTO/Yorick JansensPaul Marchal pictured during a tribute ceremony for the 25 years of the disappearance of An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks, in 2020.

Marc Dutroux’s trial lasted three months and involved hundreds of witnesses. Dutroux readily confessed to the kidnapping and rape charges, but denied involvement in the deaths of any of the girls.

Both survivors, Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez, gave searing testimony.

Dardenne said Dutroux was the one who kidnapped her, that he was the only captor she saw during her 80 days in captivity, and that he was the only who abused her.

Delhez said that in the four days she spent in captivity, Dutroux chained her to a bed and raped her repeatedly.

“He didn’t give a damn. He would ask (if it hurt) while smiling, as if it made him laugh,” she said, according to BBC.

Dutroux, meanwhile, claimed to be part of the rumored pedophile ring, presenting himself as a mere pawn in these crimes than as the main perpetrator. Prosecutors found no evidence to confirm the pedophile ring existed.

Dardenne also asked Dutroux why, if such an organization existed, he hadn’t given her to the supposed pedophile ring. Dutroux said it was because he was “attached” to her.

“I did not give her because I knew that she was going to be killed,” he said.

On June 17, 2004, Marc Dutroux was convicted of rape, kidnapping, and leading a child kidnap gang. He was also found guilty of murdering An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks, and Bernard Weinstein, his accomplice. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Michelle Martin was found guilty of killing the two young girls she’d knowingly neglected to feed while her husband was in jail, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Two other alleged accomplices, Michel Lelièvre and Michel Nihoul, were also tried and sentenced to 25 years and 5 years, respectively.

Since his conviction, Marc Dutroux has filed for conditional release multiple times. To this day, he is still incarcerated in prison in Nivelles.

After reading about depraved child molester Marc Dutroux, read about Mary Bell, whose obsession with death led her to become a serial killer by the age of 11. Then, go inside the crimes of Westley Allan Dodd, the child molester who murdered three young boys in the 1980s.

Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. A writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Matt has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah State University and a passion for idiosyncratic news and stories that offer unique perspectives on the world, film, politics, and more.
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Donahue, Maggie. "The Sickening Crimes Of Marc Dutroux, The Child-Killing ‘Monster’ Of Belgium.", October 12, 2023, Accessed June 16, 2024.