International police need help identifying 22 murdered women and girls

Police across Europe have appealed for help identifying the bodies of 22 women and girls they believe were murdered.

The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) has shared facial reconstruction images of what it is thought the victims, found in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, looked like.

The pictures are accompanied by descriptions and photos of tattoos, jewellery and other possible identifiers.

Their ages range from 15 to 30 and they were all discovered dead in the years between 1976 and 2019.

Dutch police said most ‘died violently’ with some showing signs they were ‘abused or starved before they died’.

The unsolved cases include a woman who was found dead in the Groot Schijn River in Antwerp, Belgium and one who had been burned in a forest in Altena-Bergfeld in Germany.

One woman, who may have been as young as 16, was stuffed into a bag and dumped in the IJ River in Amsterdam.

Forensic detective Carina Van Leuven said: ‘Partly because the women are likely from countries other than where they were found, their identities have not yet been established.

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‘It is possible that their bodies were left in our countries to impede criminal investigations.’

This is the first time Interpol has shared black notices (details about unidentified bodies) with the public, as these are usually only seen by Interpol units around the world.

The project, called Operation Identify Me, began after detective Van Leeuwen and a colleague reached out to forces in Germany and Belgium while trying to solve a the case of a woman who was found dead in a wheelie bin in Gaasp river in Amsterdam in 1999.

Ms Van Leeuwen had been trying to identify the victim since 2005 but was unsuccessful and eventually reached out to neighbouring countries.

Once working together, the forces realised there were multiple women and girls who had been killed and were still nameless after extensive investigation.

So they decided to compile a comprehensive list of all the information they have and see if the public would be able to help.

The coordinator of Interpol’s DNA unit, Dr Susan Hitchin, said more and more people are being reported missing outside of their national borders because of increased global migration and open borders in Europe.

She said: ‘Women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking. This operation aims to give back to these women their names.

‘Perhaps people will recognise an earring or specific item of clothing that was found on the unidentified woman.’

Detective Van Leeuwen said while she hopes identifying the victims will lead to the arrest of dangerous people, she is most concerned with ‘the woman’s identity – just to give her back to the family’.

She has promised to ‘never give up’ on the woman found in the wheelie bin or any of the others she is investigating.

She added: ‘You’re a person, you have a name, you have a history, and the history has to be told until the end, even if the end is tragic and horrible.’

You can see the full list of victims, and the details known so far, here.

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