Kiwi scientists take on cold-case killing
Amy Maas speaks to a man who confessed to his stepsister’s murder only so her body would be exhumed.
Dutch police have turned to New Zealand scientists to help solve the 1995 cold case of a teenager who was raped and killed.
Nicole van den Hurk went missing on October 6, 1995 after leaving her grandmother’s house in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, for the supermarket where she had a part-time summer job.
Seven weeks later, her body was found in a section of a forest not far from her grandmother’s home.
Police suspected several people of killing the 15-year-old, including her stepfather, Ad van den Hurk, and stepbrother, Andy van den Hurk, but for 20 years her death has remained unsolved.
Now, scientists at the ESR facility based in Mt Albert, Auckland, are tipped to solve the case using revolutionary technology which uses a mathematical and statistical method instead of testing the results in a lab. It is used when the DNA from several people is found on a single piece of trace evidence.
In this case, the DNA from three people were found in a single trace of sperm found on Nicole van den Hurk’s body.
In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Andy van den Hurk said he confessed to his stepsister’s murder in January 2011 in an attempt to get her body exhumed. He was never formally charged with her murder and has since retracted his confession.
‘‘I wanted to get her exhumed and get DNA off her. I kind of set
I wanted to get her exhumed and get DNA off her. I kind of set myself up and it could have gone horribly wrong. Andy van den Hurk
myself up and it could have gone horribly wrong,’’ he said.
‘‘To get her exhumed I had to put steps in place to get her exhumed. I went to police and said ‘I did it’. She is my sister, absolutely. I miss her every day.’’
The tactic worked, and Nicole van den Hurk’s body was finally exhumed in September 2011, and forensic scientists were able to collect three strains of DNA in a single trace of sperm.
Scientists at the Dutch Forensic Institute believe the traces of DNA belonged to her stepbrother, her boyfriend at the time, and another man they believed to be Jos de G.
Jos de G was charged with Nicole van den Hurk’s murder in January 2014 after also allegedly confessing to murdering her while he was a psychiatric patient. The charge was later downgraded to manslaughter.
The 46-year-old – who has several convictions for rape – denied killing the teen when he went on trial in November 2015 and his lawyers questioned the reliability of the DNA match, while at least three experts disagreed on the reliability of the DNA evidence.
Now, the DNA will be reanalysed by ESR scientists based in Auckland who will use the programme dubbed STRmix.
It is understood scientists will be able to sort the DNA, which will prove whether or not the Jos de G’s DNA is a true positive match.
A spokeswoman for ESR said the programme was established by scientists at the Crown facility along with Forensic Science South Australia in August 2012, and has been used in extensively since. It has also been verified by the United States Army Network, and it is understood to be used by the FBI.
ESR would not confirm how many requests it received to analyse DNA from other countries, or what fee it charged as it was confidential.
Dr Jill Vintiner, forensic programme manager at ESR, said it was not appropriate to discuss current cases.
Meanwhile, Andy van den Hurk said he hoped scientists in New Zealand would be able to help the family find closure.
He said he did not know why traces of his DNA were also found on his stepsister.
‘‘This has been the most crazy year of my life. I am not on trial, I have been cleared. Why would I kill my sister? I miss her every day.
‘‘My sister got murdered. I have to live with that. The pain is incredible.’’