Operation Graveyard: 250 graves opened by Missing Persons unit
Share article:
Share article:

Operation Graveyard: 250 graves opened by Missing Persons unit

The Missing Persons Unit searching for DNA from unidentified remains. © Missing Persons Unit

The Missing Persons unit of the federal police has begun carrying out what is being called Operatie Kerkhof (Operation Graveyard) – opening up 250 graves of people buried without a name, in an attempt to solve some of the country’s open missing persons cases.

Belgium has 759 outstanding cases of unexplained disappearances. Some of them have been well-publicised, others not at all.

One of the better-known cases is that of Nathalie Geijsbregts, who went missing aged ten on her way to school in 1991. Five years, on the 25th anniversary of that date, her mother Anita Pintjens described to Het Laatste Nieuws the feelings ever new initiative brings.

“After 25 years, a person can no longer hold out very much hope, can they. In all those years so many criminals have passed through: Dutroux, Fourniret, Ronald Janssens. There was always hope for a breakthrough. But again and again that great disappointment followed. In the long run, you don’t believe anything any more, and you completely lose faith in a breakthrough.”

The breakthrough hoped for from this new operation relies on DNA, a technology that wasn’t available to police when Nathalie went missing. The plan is to open up the 250 graves that are the last resting place of people who died and were buried without being identified.

The police will take a DNA sample from the grave, which will then be compared with the growing DNA database. The hope is that the fate of at least some of the 759 missing persons cases still open will be identified.

We cannot guarantee the families of a missing person that we will find their loved one. But we want to do everything we can,” said Alain Remue, who has led the Missing Persons unit since it was created in 1995.

At that time, the disappearance of two missing eight-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo, had the country in an uproar. As a result, the cases of other missing children, including Nathalie, came into the headlines.

Julie and Mélissa, sadly, had become two of the victims of serial killer Marc Dutroux. What happened to Nathalie remains a mystery.

The DNA database was set up in 2018, and consists of DNA samples from all persons reported missing where available, and if not from close relatives. It can then be stored and referred to whenever unidentified remains are discovered.

Sometimes we can rely on the pillow of a missing child, other times on a saliva sample from the mother,” Remue said.

My last glimmer of hope is a DNA match,” said Anita Pintjens, speaking again to HLN.

Imagine that there is a match. Then we will finally know where Nathalie is. I think to myself: you have to grab on to every straw. Of course I hope for a breakthrough. But it is a tentative hope. We’ve already seen too many setbacks.”

Latest news

Up to 100 km/h winds expected across Belgium on Wednesday night
Gusts of up to 100 km/h are expected across Belgium on Wednesday night, according to the Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI), which has issued a ...
Cycling traffic officially added to VRT’s traffic bulletin
Usually a list of updates for drivers on busy roads, traffic bulletins will now include the latest travel news for cyclists in Belgium, VRT announced ...
MEPs call for European strategy to protect workers from asbestos
Members of the European Parliament are calling on the Commission to create a strategy for removing all abestos from buildings in order to reduce the ...
Mandatory vaccine for carers: employers call for sanctions
In a notice submitted by the National Council for Work (CNT), employers have called for heavy penalties for healthcare workers who refuse to receive ...
Police pension protest blocks several Brussels crossroads
On Wednesday, around 350 police officers expressed their dissatisfaction about the unclear pension scheme, low salaries and politicised police unions ...
Belgium in Brief: A Consultative Committee Sequel
Sequels often have a lot to live up to and when it comes to movie franchises, it gets difficult to keep up the hype once you get towards the final ...
25 years ago today: 300,000 people marched in white against child abuse
On this day 25 years ago, over 300,000 people marched in Brussels to demand a more effective justice system and to support the families of Julie, ...
Windy weather forecast should lower gas prices
After weeks of relatively calm conditions, a return to windy weather should lower Europe's soaring energy prices. Wind turbines in the UK and Germany ...
EC calls on candidate countries to focus on fundamental reforms before they can join the EU
The Commission adopted yesterday its 2021 Enlargement Package, providing a detailed assessment of the state of play and the progress made by the ...
Cigarette-eating robot patrols Ghent streets to fight littering
A litter fighting (and eating) robot will be patrolling the streets of Ghent in the coming weeks in an effort to raise awareness of the growing ...
Display of child’s room in Brussels raises awareness of foster families
An exhibit that features a fictitious child’s bedroom has been on display since Tuesday at the Place d'Armes in Namur, with the support of the ...
Brussels Airport becomes shareholder in SkeyDrone
The Brussels Airport company has signed an agreement to become a 50 percent shareholder in SkeyDrone, a subsidiary of skeyes, the Belgian Air ...