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Memorial garden to be built on the site of Marc Dutroux's house

CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: Police officers stand in front of Marc Dutroux's house in Marcinelle, on Thursday 10 September 2009. (BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR)
07:39 05/04/2021

A memorial garden in honour of the victims of Marc Dutroux, to be called "Between Earth and Heaven", will be created in Marcinelle, near Charleroi, on the site of the child killer’s former house.

The house was adapted by Dutroux to create a hidden cell in the basement, whose door was disguised by a shelving unit. The hiding place, which was discovered after Dutroux was arrested on 13 August 1995, was the place where two kidnapped children, Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo, were imprisoned, sexually assaulted and where they eventually died.

Dutroux’s last two victims, Sabine Dardenne and Laeticia Delhez, were also kept at the house before being rescued, alive but traumatised, after a witness identified Dutroux’s van at the scene of Sabine’s kidnapping.

The local authorities presented the project with Julie and Melissa's parents on Friday.

A landscaping and urban development of the site on and around the house and in the surrounding streets will take place, with the creation of a memorial garden as its literal and emotional centrepiece. The garden will be located at the intersection of Rue des Damzelles and Avenue de Philippeville and will be designed with nature, space and light in mind.

A tree, surrounded by a wall, which is planned in front of the memorial, will allow people to sit, gather or take a break in the public space. The goal will be to find a peaceful place, of memory and among nature. Two facades on either side of the garden will be used to display the work of contemporary artists.

For Paul Magnette, the mayor of Charleroi, the memorial will "not erase but soften the memories; those of the families of the victims, those of the people here, those of a whole country scarred by tragedy.”

“Charleroi has chosen to create a memorial garden on Rue des Damzelles; a memorial garden 'between earth and sky' as the parents called it,” he added. “Admittedly, it took time but a time that was needed. Together with the parents of Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo, we took the time to think about this garden, to consider it and to give it the vocation of appeasing the memory, to create calm and solemnity."

Gino Russo, Mélissa’s father, who was present at the presentation of the project, admitted that it had not always been an easy process: "When we were offered the destruction of the house, it was not easy. It was a difficult decision because of the historical burden of this building. Finally, between us parents, it was discussed, and it was decided it would be better to replace it with a memorial that we could choose with the team at the design office. But we had to accept the idea of demolishing the building first before we could make any real progress on the project. Then the collaboration was perfect."

Jean-Denis Lejeune, Julie's father who was also present, believes that the memorial must meet a need: "It is something that will be done smoothly in classical tones and we have evolved the project together. I think it's a good thing so that we don't forget but think about it with a sense of positivity in our society. And that we can really think about the future of our children."

The redevelopment project is expected to begin in the coming months.

Written by Nick Amies