By Matthieu Demeestere
Charleroi, Belgium — Belgium on Tuesday opens a memorial garden on the site where notorious serial killer Marc Dutroux imprisoned his young victims, more than a quarter of a century after his crimes shocked Europe.
Authorities in the city of Charleroi last year tore down the “house of horrors”, in which Dutroux tortured and raped children in a soundproofed dungeon.
The parents of two of his victims, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, will be there to formally inaugurate the tree-filled garden decorated with a mural of a child watching a kite soar into the sky.
“What the memorial will represent is not death, it’s life,” said lead architect Georgios Millis told AFP.
“It was a very complicated project because of the severity of the tragedy and circumstances that are still very sensitive for the families,” he said.
Sentenced in 2004 to life imprisonment, Dutroux, today aged 66, was found guilty on charges including murder, kidnapping and rape involving six girls and young women in 1995-1996.
The modest red-brick building in the Marcinelle suburb of Charleroi became infamous when in August 1996 Dutroux led police to two kidnapped teen girls, aged 14 and 12, cowering in the basement.
The investigation into Belgium’s worst paedophile crimes established that eight-year-olds Julie and Melissa had also been held at the property for months.
Their bodies were found buried at another property. A postmortem showed they had been starved to death.
Public shock turned to fury as it emerged not only that police had missed a string of clues, but that Dutroux had been released from jail in 1992 after serving just three years of a 13-year sentence for the abduction and rape of five girls.
Gino Russo, the father of victim Melissa, said important questions in the case remain unanswered.
He asked for the basement to be left intact for potential future investigations.
The authorities agreed, and the dungeon remains under the ground.
Russo told AFP he had “made a concession” to the city of Charleroi by collaborating on the memorial project.
He said it was “impossible” Melissa and Julie could have survived in the cramped cellar of just a few square metres for over 100 days without outside care.
“My indignation remains undiminished, it has not been appeased,” he said.
Dutroux dropped a bid for parole in 2020 after a psychiatric report concluded he remained dangerous.
His former wife Michelle Martin, who was found guilty of aiding him, and a co-conspirator have already been released from jail.
Authorities also demolished another house this year in the village of Sars-la-Buissiere, where the bodies of Julie and Melissa were discovered.