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Cold case: Search for clues in 21-year-old disappearance

The canal at Ingelmunster, one of the sites searched. © Flemish Waterways

Members of the missing persons unit of the federal police this week carried out searches on a canal in West Flanders, in connection with the disappearance of a man 21 years ago.

Christophe Maertens was 26 when he disappeared in January 2000, leaving his home in Izegem and driving off in his red Daihatsu Charade. He was never seen or heard of again.

But cold cases are the bread and butter of the missing persons unit, and founding chief Alain Remue. The unit was set up in 1995 in its present form, although a forerunner had been in operation previously.

The unit came about because of the disappearance of young girls, some of whom turned out to be the victims of serial killer Marc Dutroux, now serving life in prison, and others the victims of Michel Fourniret, who died this week in prison.

The latest search was triggered by a sonar boat the unit sent onto the Roeselare-Leie canal in West Flanders, which turned up four results worthy of further investigation, Remue explained.

“That resulted in a report in four places that there was ‘something’ on the bottom,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “We sent in divers to clarify matters.”

The divers searched near the watersports centre in Kachtem, near the Zuidkaai in Ingelmunster and at Otteca in Oostrozebeke.

In Kachtem we found a large log and a trailer, in the other places there was a wheel, a concrete block and a steel beam. So there was something everywhere, but we got no results relevant to our case.”

The results may be disappointing, but neither Remue nor his unit have any ideas of giving up on the case of Christophe Maertens.

Even after 21 years, it is still worth making the effort. We assume the man from Izegem is somewhere in the water with his car. Otherwise, he would have turned up somewhere long ago,” Remue said.

The only question is where he ended up in the water. Today we know that it is not in the four places that were marked last week. It should come as no surprise that we have taken this initiative. The techniques for detecting things under water have clearly improved recently, hence our decision.”