Police receive more than 200 tip-offs about murdered women after Interpol appeal

Interpol launched Operation Identify Me to discover the identities of more than 20 murder victims

Operation Identify Me. Photo: Interpol
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Police have received more than 200 tip-offs after a global appeal to identify 22 unidentified murder victims.

The possible leads came after Interpol made its Black Notices public for the first time as part of an international campaign to identify more than 20 murdered women and children.

Operation Identify Me was launched last week in an attempt to identify 22 female victims, believed to have been murdered in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, but whose identity has never been established.

The international crime agency took the unusual step of making public the Black Notices – to which access was previously granted only to police forces – because they believe the victims have a global connection.

The victims were women and girls whose bodies were found in bogs, wells and rivers – some of the deaths date from more than 40 years ago.

Now, following the global appeal, people from around the world have provided possible names for the victims and given the crime agency "concrete leads", it said.

"One week after the launch of Operation Identify Me, important new information has been received in the search for the identity of 22 deceased women," Interpol said.

"Police organisations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have so far received more than 200 tips, by providing potential names of victims in several cases."

The agency has received 122 calls relating to deaths in Germany, 55 for Belgium and 51 for incidents in the Netherlands.

"The appeal has received an overwhelming amount of media attention, which is reflected in the information received so far," Interpol said.

"While some members of the public have shared information about the potential origins of clothing or jewellery, others have pointed to possible names of specific victims. Tips have come from all over the world, which shows the importance of communicating globally on such cases."

A facial reconstruction has been created for each of the victims as well as information about the place and time they were discovered, personal items found on the bodies and their clothing and jewellery.

A printed T-shirt, a silver bracelet and a rose tattoo are among images posted to Interpol's website and social media accounts.

The oldest cold case involves a girl, believed to be 13, who was found in a parking lot by hikers in the Netherlands in 1976 and thought by police to have come from Germany.

Another one is a woman found in Belgium almost 32 years ago. Her body was discovered in 1991 in a rainwater well in the town of Holsbeek, about 40km from Brussels. Her body might have been in the well for up to two years, police believe.

“We are extremely grateful for all the support and attention," Martin de Wit of the Dutch Police said.

“We have heard from experts from all over the world spontaneously offering their help. It is heartwarming to see how people are massively sharing the call online and continue to do so.

“The women in the campaign deserve to get their names back, and the information we are receiving now gives us hope for several cases. Every tip can make a difference for the next of kin of the victims."

Investigators in the three participating countries are now analysing the information received.

The police fear the bodies may have been left in different countries "to impede criminal investigations" and that some of the women may have come from various regions of eastern Europe.

"These could be women who decided to take a tourist trip, but also potential victims of human trafficking," Francois-Xavier Laurent, manager of Interpol’s DNA database, told The National.

"As this is the first launch we decided to keep it small, but it is already proving successful and other states have already asked us to help them too."

Susan Hitchin, of Interpol's DNA unit, is urging people to continue sharing the appeal widely.

“We continue to call for any piece of information that could help investigators connect the dots and remind the public that full case details, including photos and videos, are available for consultation on www.interpol.int/im.”

Updated: May 17, 2023, 1:57 PM