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One of the Brabant Killers’ most tragic survivors subject of new film
In the first half of the 1980s, the people of Belgium suffered a trauma from which they have yet to recover. Les Tueurs fous du Brabant, or the Brabant Killers, as they came to be called, murdered 28 people in random shootings.
The shootings were part of 18 robberies of mostly supermarkets, but also restaurants and jewellers, taking place between 1982 and 1985. While not all robberies attributed to the Brabant Killers ended in fatalities, several did. The group of men shot at random, killing both adults and children.
More than 30 years later, none of the gang have ever been positively identified, and no one was punished for the crimes. On Wednesday, a movie about the events will be released across Belgium.
Niet Schieten (Don’t Shoot) by Belgian director Stijn Coninx (pictured right) is the story of one of the victims, nine-year-old David Van de Steen. Both his parents and his sister were killed before his eyes during the Brabant Killers’ final raid. They were grocery shopping at a Delhaize supermarket in Aalst.
The film is based on a book of the same name, written by a Belgian journalist in collaboration with Van de Steen (pictured left). The title comes from Van de Steen, who heard his sister yell “Don’t shoot, that’s my dad!” before the family was killed.
Van de Steen, who was shot in the leg during the attack, also worked closely with Coninx on Niet Schieten. Coninx is the director of the Oscar-nominated Daens and several other films, and, at 61, he remembers the Brabant Killers all too well.
Had the killers been caught, the tragedy would have remained, but the wounds would have healed – not just for Van de Steen but for the rest of Belgium. Not only did that not happen, the story took so many twists and turns over the years –new evidence, new allegations, more rumours – it has never stayed out of the headlines.
The entire story is the stuff of pulp fiction. Witnesses to the attacks have provided a wealth of information, including that there were three core men who were at many of the robberies. They came to be known as ‘the giant’ (he was tall), ‘the old man’, also known as ‘the driver’, and ‘the killer’ (he did much of the shooting).
It has also long been theorised that the gang was part of the gendarmerie, the para-military police force that was reformed, dropping the name, in 2000. In 2014, a man living in France was taken into custody after he boasted of being a part of the gang. The entire country held its breath. He was later released, with police saying he was mentally ill and had no connection.
Last year, a man in East Flanders said that his brother had been a member of the gendarmerie and that he was ‘the giant’. His brother had told him on his death bed three years earlier, he said. This revelation has never been proven nor disproven.
Naturally, the fact that the gendarmerie never solved the crime had led to speculation that the gang was being protected. Or that police were simply incompetent, faced with so many crimes, committed right out in the open in broad daylight, but never solved.
And then there’s the motive, which no one can get their heads around. Very little money was stolen over the years. Had money been the motive, there were better marks than Delhaize.
At this point, no one really expects the case to be solved. And that’s why it’s impossible for Belgians to put it collectively behind them. “I don’t make any illusions,” Coninx told De Morgen. “The film isn’t going to settle anything about the case. I just hope that we can share all of this outrage among as many people as possible.”
Photo: Brabant Killers survivor David Van de Steen and director Stijn Coninx