New DNA hunt for killer of Dutch schoolgirl

Mon, Oct 15, 2012, 01:00

DUTCH police have carried out the biggest DNA sweep in the history of the Netherlands, taking samples from more than 6,500 men in 12 separate villages, in a renewed attempt to solve the country’s most infamous murder – that of 16-year-old schoolgirl Marianne Vaatstra, in 1999.

The DNA sampling was completed on Thursday, and police said at the weekend that they had successfully collected samples from 89 per cent of the 7,300 men still living within a five-mile radius of the meadow where Vaatstra’s body was dumped 14 years ago.

The schoolgirl’s age and the particularly gruesome nature of the murder – she was raped, strangled and had her throat cut – caused revulsion in the Netherlands. As a result there have been repeated attempts over the years to find her killer, most recently in 2007 using 3D technology.

The department of justice has refused on a number of occasions to give permission for such a wide sweep, but in June it relented on the grounds that DNA testing has become much more sophisticated – and that police say they may have some of the killer’s DNA, which was discovered at the scene.

Hopes of a breakthrough now centre on a Playboy cigarette lighter found in the grass near the victim’s body in the field in Veenklooster, in the northern province of Friesland.

DNA found on the lighter, which was bought in a local shop, matches DNA found on the dead girl’s body – and police hope it may still lead them to someone closely related to the killer.

One of the most controversial aspects of this murder case in 1999 was that, because the body was found near a centre for asylum seekers, the focus of the investigation and of local anger rapidly became the refugees.

An Iraqi who had recently left the camp was detained in the UK, while an Afghan was detained in Turkey. Both voluntarily gave DNA samples and were ruled out.

Three years later, a more refined DNA analysis showed that the killer was most likely a white European male. Police now say they believe that, rather than it having been an opportunistic attack, the killer and victim probably knew one other and had arranged to meet in the field.

They say that of the 8,080 men living within five miles of that field in 1999, 358 are now dead. Some have moved away, and efforts are being made to trace them.