In recent weeks, the Watermael-Boitsfort cemetery, located in Brussel’s southern outskirts, has been subjected to repeated theft, according to Belgian broadcaster RTBF. Criminals are apparently targeting grave plots and crypts, stealing ornaments, plaques, crucifixes, and effigies, presumably for their scrap value in bronze or copper.
“This is not an isolated act,” Olivier Deleuze, mayor of Watermael-Boitsfort, told RTBF. “150 funeral plots out of 2,000 have been targeted in barely three weeks.”
This spate of grave-robbing is a first for the cemetery, which has never been targeted in this way before. “It’s purely venal, there is no religious or political character, just venal, a bit like stealing the copper cables along the railways.”
Like most cemeteries, it is difficult, and often undesirable, to secure the site from thieves. As such, the cemetery is an easy target for would-be thieves. The cemetery is largely open and surrounded by the Sonian Forest. Mayor Deleuze says that he does not wish to secure the site.
“It’s out of the question to build walls three metres high and install barbed wire,” he said.
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The police are reportedly aware of the spate of robberies and the graveyard, and are conducting an investigation. By the end of the week, the local municipality will install surveillance cameras in order to help secure the premises and catch the culprits.
Thieves have been stealing copper in Belgium for decades, largely due to its high fetch prices from scrap merchants. At the time of publication, it is possible to sell scrap copper for as high as €6.80 per kilogram.
In 2020, an Infrabel employee stole 3.5 tonnes of copper from his employer, worth over €8,000 at the time. The employee was reportedly angry about losing his monthly work bonus.