September 8, 1996

At Burials, Belgians Seethe at 2 Sex Victims' Fate
By Alan Cowell

ASSELT, Belgium -- With grief glaringly public and intensely private, the people of this town Saturday buried two victims of a sex-crimes case that has confronted Belgium with unaccustomed self-doubt, anger and fear.

In separate services on a quiet, sunny Saturday two young women, Eefje Lambrecks, 19, and An Marchal, 17, who had been missing for more than a year, were laid to rest here. Their bodies were discovered last week on the grounds of a house in Charleroi owned by an associate of Marc Dutroux, who is the chief suspect in the case.

Dutroux is a convicted rapist of minors who has acknowledged abducting the young women. He has also said that he killed an accomplice.

Dutroux, a 36-year-old unemployed electrician, owned or visited several houses where, since Aug. 15, two sexually abused young girls have been rescued from a makeshift dungeon and two abducted 8-year-olds were found starved to death. Ten people have been arrested in connection with the cases, including a senior police officer.

Friday, police began digging for bodies at a house in Waterloo owned by Dutroux's mother-in-law, searching for clues to the whereabouts of seven other girls reported as missing in recent years.

"Never in my life has there been anything like this in Belgium," said Pol Vanspouwen, 83, a retired railroad engineer. Like others, he filed through Hasselt's 17th-century Town Hall Saturday to record condolences in volumes whose messages chronicle a sense of betrayal and helplessness among people who thought their society immune to such horror.

"On this day I feel that justice failed, that as a police officer in Hasselt, I failed personally," Patrick Konings, a local policeman, wrote. "I carry this with me every day and I pray it will never happen again."

An Gijbels, a classmate of Miss Marchal, who disappeared on a school visit to the resort of Ostend with Miss Lambrecks on Aug. 23, 1995, said: "I don't know what to write. I cannot even help in your sorrow."

Sabine Decoutere also came to the Town Hall on Saturday with her daughter Lisbeth, 10. "Justice failed," Mrs. Decoutere said.

"The whole apparatus failed." She was angry, like many other Belgians, over the fact that Dutroux was released from prison in 1992 after serving 3 years of a 13-year sentence for the rape of five children. "No one feels safe anymore," she said. "The children used to go and play by themselves in Belgium. All that's finished now."

A 22-year-old student, Debrone Els, said: "There's a lot of insecurity. You don't want to go anywhere by yourself anymore."

The killings have spread unease across Europe that Dutroux was part of a pedophile sex ring that had wider dimensions. Austrian police, who arrested four suspected pedophiles last week, suspect that a child-sex ring is centered in Slovakia.

Here, barely a conversation or an encounter goes by without reference to the Dutroux case, which has filled newspapers and television screens with details of abuse and cruelty.

Hundreds of people filed in charged silence into Hasselt's ancient Saint Quintinus Cathedral on Saturday afternoon for the service for Miss Marchal - broadcast across the nation in peak hours usually reserved for Saturday sports programs -- after a private service for Miss Lambrecks in a suburban Roman Catholic Church on Saturday morning.

But the acrimony surrounding the investigation of the killings intruded. Miss Marchal's family, which has accused the authorities of mishandling and possibly obstructing investigations into their daughter's disappearance, refused to allow some local officials to sit in the cathedral.

Copyright 1996 The New York Times

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