DNA test leads to arrest for 1999 murder of girl

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

THE biggest DNA sweep in the history of the Netherlands has led to the arrest of a 45-year-old man for the country’s most infamous unsolved murder – that of 16-year-old schoolgirl Marianne Vaatstra, who was raped, strangled and had her throat cut in a remote field in May 1999.

The murder caused a public outcry because of its particularly gruesome nature, but also because police mistakenly linked it to a centre for asylum seekers near where the body was found. By the time two suspects, an Iraqi and an Afghan, were ruled out, other leads had gone cold.

The department of justice finally gave the go-ahead last month for DNA samples to be taken from up to 8,000 men in 12 separate villages in the vicinity of Veenklooster, in the northern province of Friesland, where Marianne’s body was found.

The department had refused this permission but came under pressure from the victim’s father, Bauke Vaatstra, when detectives said they believed advances in DNA testing might allow them to match DNA on a Playboy cigarette lighter, bought locally and found at the scene, to the killer or a close relation.

More than 6,500 DNA samples were taken over the past six weeks, and early yesterday morning the 45-year-old man was arrested at his farm at Oud Woude, just 2½km from where Marianne’s body was found 14 years ago.

A team of more than 20 detectives and forensics experts moved into the farm immediately after the arrest and was still gathering evidence late last night.

No criminal record

The man being held was identified locally as “Jasper S”, married with two children, who gave a sample voluntarily as part of the police sweep. He was 31 in 1999. He has no criminal record.

Mr Vaatstra said Marianne’s family – who live nearby in the village of Zwaagwesteinde – had been told officially that the DNA test had produced a 100 per cent match.

“It’s a huge shock even though we expected it,” he said. “At first you think it can’t be happening because it’s been 14 years. But then you get a phone call one Sunday night at 11 o’clock with the message: ‘We’ve got him’.”

The DNA sample is being double-checked, but Mr Vaatstra said prosecutors considered the case closed.