On the morning of the 23rd of January, 2009, parents dropped their children off at the “Country of Fables” creche in the Flemish village of Sint-Gillis-bij-Dendermonde in Dendermonde, Belgium.
At around 10AM, the babies in the creche were being put down in the cribs for their morning nap when the doorbell of the creche rang out. A member of staff approached the door and was met by a man who was had his hair dyed red and his face painted white with black around his eyes.
The man said: “I have a question – can you help?” Before the woman had a chance to respond, the man barged his way into the creche. Once inside, she got a fuller view of the unknown man. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest and was carrying a 12-inch knife.
Once inside, the man unleashed a frenzied and sustained attack. He turned to the creche worker, 54-year-old Marita Blindeman, and stabbed her to death. He then turned his attention to the babies inside the creche, none of whom were older than three-years-old. The man slashed and stabbed in an eight-minute massacre during which he was said to be eerily calm, before fleeing from the nursery on a bicycle.
In addition to Marita, the man had killed nine-month-old Corneel Vermeir and eight-month-old Leon Garcia-Arbesu. He had seriously injured twelve other children, including a six-month-old and a three-year-old. They were all transported to hospital, where they survived, albeit not without psychological and physical scars that would last a lifetime.1
Back at the creche, a member of staff called police who were dispatched to the scene in search of the suspect. They had a description of the attacker, and he was spotted in the nearby town of Lebbeke. When he was searched, he was found to be carrying a knife, a hatchet and a fake pistol.
In his backpack, police also found a list of other creches which police speculated he planned on attacking next. “He knew where he had to go,” said Prosecutor Christian Du Four.2
The man was identified as 20-year-old Kim De Gelder, who lived in a village near Dendermonde. With the perpetrator under arrest, police obtained a search warrant for his apartment. Here, they found a wooden fibre board daubed with a human silhouette which was covered in stab marks. De Gelder had been practicing before the attack.3
In the wake of his arrest, it was discovered that just days before committing the creche massacre, he had stabbed a 73-year-old woman to death in her own home. He had disguised himself as a water inspector and tricked his way into the home of Elza Van Raemdonck, who he then stabbed to death.
After Elza bled to death, De Gelder wiped the blood off his knife on her clothing, and then went in search of other victims. Thankfully, nobody else was home at the time.
When he was arrested for the attack on the creche, police had found a file on his computer that had precise information about Elza, and it had been created several days before she was killed, indicating the murder was pre-meditated. Next to her name, he had written: “Result of the action: one.”
His computer also contained details on the “Country of Fables” creche, indicating that it too had been targeted, as well as several other creches that De Gelder never got the chance to attack.4
De Gelder appeared in court, where prosecutors read aloud the 54-page indictment. When he was referring to as a “serial killer” who was “unscrupulous, self-centred, manipulative, arrogant and sadistic” a grin spread across his face. The prosecutor said that De Gelder had planned on killing all 18 children that were present at the creche.
De Gelder was charged with four counts of murder and twelve counts of attempted murder.
There was never any doubt that De Gelder had carried out the murders, but the trial would focus on whether he was suffering from a psychiatric illness that had affected his judgement when he committed the crimes.5 When De Gelder was arrested, he had made a full confession to the murders, but said that he was legally insane and should be sent to a psychiatric institution as opposed to prison.
De Gelder told his defence attorney, Jaak Haentjens, that he had been “troubled by depression as a teenager” and at one point, had heard voices in his head. He said that while 15 or 16, he had “strange behaviour” and his parents wanted him to be committed to a psychiatric facility when he was 18-years-old but this never went ahead. He commented: “A psychiatrist said that committing him was not necessary.”
In the two years since then, De Gelder had found himself unemployed and living along in his flat. He had increasingly cut himself off from other people, and was described by former classmates as a “loner.”
Since the attack, De Gelder had acknowledged that he had done something “inhuman” but still expressed no remorse for his actions, his defence attorney said.6 However, defence attorney Haentjens later commented: “When he is confronted with what happened, he says that he does not remember anything, but says that he is sorry and thinks that what happened to the victims is horrible.”
According to De Gelder’s defence attorney, he was suffering from schizophrenia. According to psychiatrists, however, De Gelder was malingering his symptoms in an attempt to avoid a guilty verdict. He instead diagnosed him with schizotypal personality disorder with psychopathic traits and narcissistic features.7
De Gelder testified on his own behalf during the trial. He said: “I had planned to kill as many people as possible but once I got into the creche, I changed my mind and recognised it was not a good thing. But people got in my way and panicked.”
The judge questioned: “And the baby in its play area that you stabbed, this baby was also in your way?” De Gelder quipped back: “Do you know what panic is like? Perhaps in the same situation, you would have done the same.” He then commented that he was aware one should not kill, but said: “I did not see any other choice.”
He explained that at first, he considered taking his own life by lying underneath a train, but then changed his plan to “taking the lives of others.” He also admitted that when he claimed he heard voices as a teenager, he was lying.8
In 2013, De Gelder was convicted of four murders and sentenced to life in prison. The jury had determined that there was “not the least bit of doubt” that De Gelder could be held accountable for his actions.
- Agence France-Presse, 24 January, 2009 – “Belgian Charged with Creche Killings”
- The Toronto Star, 27 January, 2009 – “Daycare Killing Suspect Tied to Death of Woman”
- Herald in Sunday, 24 February, 2013 – “Baby Killer Practised Stabbing”
- Agence France-Presse, 27 January, 2009 – “Belgian Day Care Knifeman Heard Voices”
- Associated Press, 22 March, 2013 – “Belgian Convicted in 4 Deaths”
- The Toronto Sun, 28 January, 2009 – “Man Who Slashed Babies Heard Voices”
- Nieuwsblad, 15 March, 2013 – “’Kim De Gelder knew what he was doing and did what he wanted”
- Agence France-Presse, 25 February, 2013 – “Batman Joker Child Killer Claims No Choice”