Dutch detectives said on Wednesday they have identified a suspect in the brutal murder of a young boy two decades ago, in a case that has gripped the Netherlands.
Nicky Verstappen’s body was found on August 11 1998, a day after he disappeared from a youth camp in southern Limburg province. He had been sexually abused before he was killed.
Police at the time mounted a massive search closely followed by local media and the Dutch public, but the 11-year-old boy’s killer was never found.
As time ran out to catch the suspect, police earlier this year appealed to more than 20,000 men to donate DNA samples in a bid to close in on the perpetrator.
"New investigative techniques gave us new opportunities. We now have a one-on-one DNA match with the (DNA) traces found on Verstappen’s body," police detective Ferdinand Schellinkhout told a press conference in the southern city of Maastricht on Wednesday.
"We are looking for Jos Brech, 55. He was last seen in France."
Dutch and French police believe that Brech – who was interviewed at the time of the crime as a witness – is hiding somewhere in France’s mountainous eastern Vosges region, where he owns a chalet.
His family reported him missing in April after the former scout worker, who is believed to be a survival expert, told them he was going for a walk in the mountains, Schellinkhout said.
"We are convinced that the suspect has gone into hiding," Limburg police chief Ingrid Schaefer-Poels told journalists, asking the public to contact police with any information of his whereabouts.
Wednesday’s announcement brings Verstappen’s family one step closer to what happened to Nicky the night he disappeared, in what became one of the most extensive murder investigations to date in the Netherlands.
Police said new digital techniques helped them to develop a DNA profile in 2008, from traces found on Verstappen’s clothing, but there had been no match.
Earlier this year, some 16,000 men living in the area where Verstappen was murdered volunteered to hand over DNA samples after a call by detectives.
However, Brech who was 35 at the time, was not among the volunteers but as he was previously interviewed as a witness, police became suspicious.
When his family reported him as missing, Dutch and French police searched his cabin in the Vosges region.
"We found traces of DNA on his personal belongings. It was a match," said chief prosecutor Jan Eland.
A European-wide warrant for Brech’s arrest was issued on June 12.
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