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article imageSuspect in 1998 murder of Dutch boy appears in court in Spain

By Sara MAGNIETTE with Daniel SILVA in Madrid (AFP)     Aug 27, 2018 in Crime

A survival expert wanted over the brutal 1998 rape and killing of a young Dutch boy appeared in court in Spain on Monday after one of the most extensive murder investigations to date in the Netherlands.

Joseph Brech, 55, was arrested near Barcelona Sunday over the murder of eleven-year-old Nicky Verstappen who vanished two decades ago on August 9 at a summer camp in southern Limburg province, near the German border. Brech had worked at the camp at the time, according to Spanish police.

Verstappen's body was found a day after his disappearance close to the camp site, with authorities later confirming he had been sexually abused before his death.

Police at the time mounted a massive search closely followed by Dutch media and the public, but the killer remained on the loose -- until advanced DNA testing earlier this year led officers to Brech.

Survival expert Joseph Brech was arrested on Sunday in a mountainous area some 50 kilometres from Ba...
Survival expert Joseph Brech was arrested on Sunday in a mountainous area some 50 kilometres from Barcelona
Spanish Police, Spanish Police/AFP

Spanish police on Monday escorted the suspect to a tribunal in the city of Granollers where he will be interviewed by video conference by judges from Madrid's High Court, which decides on extradition requests, a spokeswoman for Catalonia's High Court of Justice told AFP.

His arrest follows a public appeal on Wednesday, during which Dutch detectives shared photographs of the suspect.

A Dutchman living in Spain recognised the man in the photos and sent a tip-off to Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf, which contacted police.

Brech was living "in a tent in the woods" near an abandoned and isolated house where several homeless people live, the unidentified man told the newspaper.

"He told me he liked living in nature and that was why he was there," the man said.

- Answers -

The suspect -- an experienced mountain climber who had scaled Mount Everest -- was detained on Sunday afternoon in a mountainous area near the town of Castelltercol some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Barcelona while he was going out to cut wood, Spanish police said in a statement on Monday.

He had extensive survival gear at the time of his arrest, including fishing roads, a book on edible wild plants, batteries and dehydrated foods.

In a picture shared by Spanish police, Brech appears face down on a dirt road with his hands handcuffed behind his back as police stand over him.

The boy's mother, Berthie Verstappen, said the family did not expect the arrest would come so soon after last week's police appeal.

"We feared he would hide so well that he would not be found for months. We would love to have answers to the questions we have, even if we dread hearing what happened," she told Dutch public television on Sunday night.

- 'Relieved' -

Brech could be extradited to the Netherlands later this week if he cooperates with the authorities, otherwise the process could take 60-90 days, the chief prosecutor in Limberg, Jan Eland, told Dutch news agency ANP.

"We are relieved that it went so quickly. Now we can enter into a new phase of the investigation," he added.

The case regularly returned to the public eye in the Netherlands over the past two decades.

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.

As time ran out to catch the suspect, police in February appealed to 21,500 men to donate DNA samples in a bid to close in on the perpetrator.

Advanced DNA testing.
Advanced DNA testing.
Lex van LIESHOUT, ANP/AFP

Some 16,000 men living in the area where Verstappen was murdered volunteered to hand over DNA samples.

But Brech, a former scout worker who was 35 at the time of the murder, was not among the volunteers, and as he was previously interviewed as a witness, police became suspicious.

When his family reported him as missing in April, Dutch and French police searched his cabin in France's mountainous eastern Vosges region, where he owns a chalet.

They found traces of DNA on his personal belongings which matched samples taken from the slain boy's clothes.

A European-wide warrant for Brech's arrest was issued on June 12.

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