The Brabant Killers: De Bende van Nijvel

 

De Bende van Nijvel (in English: the gang from Nijvel) were a three-man killing team from Belgium who murdered 28 people in Belgium in the 1980s. They are also known as the Brabant Killers. They have never been caught or identified.

Early Crimes

The gang’s crime spree began in early 1982, in Dinant, Belgium, which is in the Belgian province of Brabant. The crimes started as thefts, with no one being injured. The gang stole guns and cars. In mid-1982, their crimes began escalating when police responded to the scene of a robbery at a grocery store. The gang shot and wounded the officers. At the scene of their next robbery, of a gun store, a policeman was killed.

(September 30 1982: Armed robbery of a weapons dealer in Wavre, Belgium. Fifteen firearms were stolen, including sub-machine guns)

Escalation

The crimes took an even more sinister turn in December 23, 1982. The gang robbed a restaurant, but this time the caretaker of the restaurant was found tortured and murdered. Throughout 1983, the gang committed more robberies, often targeting grocery stores, weapons stores, and cars. 1983 saw an escalation in the frequency and severity of the attacks, and many were killed. Incidents included: Car robbery (one killed), grocery store robbery (one killed), textile factory robbery (one killed; one severely injured), gas station robbery (three killed; one severely injured), restaurant robbery (one killed), another grocery store robbery (one killed) and jeweller robbery (two killed).

By this time, police officers had responded to the scene of several ongoing robberies, however they were unable to apprehend the perpetrators. The scene at the gas station robbery was quite dramatic; after killing a couple and stealing their car, the gang began burglarizing the nearby store. Two officers responded to the scene, and both were shot. One died and one survived. The gang drove off in the stolen car, a Mercedes, and one other car which was stolen in an earlier robbery, a Saab, with more police officers in pursuit. They had used a little-known minor road to escape, leading investigators to believe that the gang may have lived in the area. The gang ditched the stolen Saab, from which police were able to collect fingerprints. That evidence would later mysteriously vanish, either destroyed or ‘lost’.

Massacres

In 1985, after a over a year of no activity, the scale of the crimes escalated to new heights. On September 27, 1985, two chains of the grocery store Delhaize were robbed. At the first robbery of a Delhaize store in Braine-l’Alleud, $6000 was stolen, three people were killed and two injured. The gang rushed off in their getaway car, and only 25 minutes later, a second robbery happened at another Delhaize store in Overijse where about $25,000 was stolen, five were killed including a child and one wounded.

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(The Delhaize in Braine-l’Alleud after the robbery by the Gang)

(The body of Leon Finné under a blanket. One of the victims at Overijse.)

Following these robberies, security was increased in stores in the region, including armed guards. The next, and last, deadly robbery of the gang would have people suspecting the gang had inside knowledge or cooperation. Despite patrols and officers nearby, the gang were able to carry out their bloodiest attack yet, with no engagement from nearby officers until it was too late.

The November 9, 1985, incident was the gruesome ‘finale’ of the Brabant Killers. The location was again a Delhaize grocery store, however a different one than those that had already been burglarized. This location was in a small town called Aalst. Around 7pm, the gang entered the store, wearing bizarre face paint and disguises. They shot anyone who looked at them, including children, under the pretense of eliminating witnesses, though the killers seemed to take pleasure in their actions. Eight people were killed and a further seven injured. Below is one story of the incident:

David Van De Steen was only a little boy when his life was almost ended. He and his parents and sister were shopping at Delhaize in Aalst that night. David described his experience in a news article (click here to read full article): 

David Van De Steen was barely 9 when the Gang of Nijvel shot his family. “I was seriously injured myself and was in hospital for almost a year. My grandparents raised me”

(David Van De Steen, 2010s)

November 9, 1985, 19.37 hours. David Van De Steen, his parents and his sister had just shopped in the Delhaize in Aalst and stepped into the parking lot to their car. David and his mom walked right behind his dad and sister. It was their last moment together.

“Do not shoot, that’s my daddy!” His sister called. “A loud bang followed, as if fireworks exploded under your nose. My sister and my father collapsed. The cry of pain that escaped my father’s mouth will stay with me all my life. Then the shrill, panicky voice of my mother: ‘Run, David! Get out of here!’ And then again a bang.”

David obeyed his mother and fled back into the store where he hid near the comic strips. But suddenly one of those gangsters stood before him. “I looked straight into the well-worn barrel of his gun. He grinned and shot. “

Only days later did he wake up in the hospital. He had a gunshot wound to the hip. The artery and muscles in his leg were cut in half. In the hat he wore, two bullet holes were located just under the pompon. David was very lucky that he was still alive. He lay in hospital for almost a year and still feels pain today. 

 

The gang took their loot and headed to their getaway car. But they didn’t leave straight away, they only left when police arrived at the scene. The gang and officers exchanged fire before the gang drove away. Police pursued for only half a kilometer before ‘losing’ the gang.

(A broken window of Jan Palsterman’s car. One of the victims in Aalst. It is believed he was shot as he tried to drive away)

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(Interior of Delhaize in Aalst after the attack)

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(Exterior of Delhaize at Aalst)

 

Later in the evening of November 9, 1985, a witness spotted a seriously injured man, believed to be gang member, on the side of the road. Decades later, forensic evidence found that a weapon had been fired at this location, leading investigators to believe that a gang member was killed by his accomplices. This would line up with the fact that the gang fell quiet after the November 9 incident. My theory is that the other gang members finally thought the man who killed the children had gone too far, killed him, and stopped their criminal activity. No children were killed by the gang until 1985, when two children were killed and more injured.

Who were the gang members?
It is not known how many men were members of the gang. However, a core three have been noted. They are known as: The Giant (a tall man who was the ringleader); The Killer (a man who did most of the killing, he was thought to have killed at least 22 of the 28 victims) and The Old Man (a middle aged man around aged 50 who drove the getaway car). Police believe that the gang member known as The Killer was the one who died on November 9, 1985.

(Wanted poster with sketches of the suspects. Translation: Wanted poster. Killers of Brabant Wallon. Tel: 017/258/300 (Guaranteed anonymity). Physionomies dating from 1982 to 1985. Cell Brabant Walloon. Dr. Pircard Street, 64 – 6040 Jumet.)

(Newer sketch of ‘The Killer’)

None of the gang members have ever been identified, until…

Deathbed confession

In 2017, 32 years after the last Brabant Killers attack, news broke of a deathbed confession made by The Giant, the ringleader of the group. The brother of The Giant shared this news with Belgian media. He said “In the beginning I was in denial because I really struggled with it, but today I can say formally that this is my brother.” The Giant had died in 2015, and allegedly confessed his crimes to his brother on his deathbed. The Giant was Christiaan Bonkoffsky. Christiaan was a police officer. He was dismissed from the Diane Group, an elite police commando unit, in 1981. As we recall, the Brabant Killers began their crime spree in early 1982. Christiaan Bonkoffsky is from Aalst, which is the same town where the final supermarket killing went down. Was this massacre too close to home, which led him to want to end the crime spree?

Christiaan Bonkoffsky was removed from his post at the Diane Group after his gun accidentally unloaded. He was reported to have been deeply bitter about the career-ending incident, drinking heavily until his death in 2015, aged 61. This would mean he would have been aged 28 at the beginning of the gang’s crime spree in 1982. A former girlfriend of Christiaan, named Nicole, said that he had become furious when she once suggested that he looked like the police sketches of a member of the gang.

(Christiaan Bonkoffsky)

(Christiaan Bonkoffsky; Composite of one of the suspects)

(Christiaan Bonkoffsky in uniform [right]. He appears quite tall)

What were the motivations?

Financial motivations have been dismissed as the gang often did not have large financial gains from their robberies, in one instance the main items they stole was tea and coffee. It has long been thought that the gang sought to destabilize the Belgian state. Some think it was a plot by a far right anti-communist organization named Westland New Post. Personally, I think it’s a lot simpler than that. I think Christiaan Bonkoffsky wanted revenge on the police force after being fired in 1981. The gang made a mockery of police. The investigation was run so poorly that many Belgians thought the gang were a part of the police force themselves. Rumours of collusion or cover-up ran rife. I imagine trust in the police at this time would have been pretty low. The first people killed by the gang were police officers. In several instances, it seemed like the gang waited at the scene of the crime for police officer response. In the last attack on a grocery store, The Giant is specifically noted as having waited outside of the getaway car and exchanged fire with the officers.

Readers, do you think Christiaan Bonkoffsky is really The Giant? What do you think were the motivations of the gang?

Additional Info

(Map of the attacks from http://bendevannijvel.com/. You can see the full interactive map [it’s in Dutch] by clicking here.)

A film about David Van Steen’s experience on the night of November 9, 1985 will be released in October 2018. Trailer below (in Dutch):

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4 thoughts on “The Brabant Killers: De Bende van Nijvel

  1. Former Texas peace officer and crime blogger. My normal posts are American-related and more specifically, crimes that have occurred in the state of Texas. This evening I was researching a murder case in Dallas, Texas and found Christopher Whelan’s phenom website. Shuffling through I discovered his post about the Brabant Killers. Although I was stationed in Belgium in ’87 while in the Army, I never heard about the crimes and years later researching active shooters ( world wide ), the Brabant crimes never surfaced. Had to learn more. After a dozen sites that cobbled together bits and pieces of information with generally no photos, Considering Cold Cases brought everything together, putting this horrific story in context. Interesting to note that the likely killer ( Christiaan Bonkoffsky ) was not only a former police officer but a member of Belgium’s highly trained SAS-style anti-terror unit, ‘Group Diane’ ( now renamed, CSU ). The weapons handling alone would have ruled out the normal criminally-inclined burglars, bank robbers, thieves as suspects but what was most shocking were the ’85 massacre’s at the two grocery stores and the feeble, negligent response by local law enforcement that, like past crimes, show an almost willful disregard by police to engage. Brutal slayings that match any modern active shooting crime scene. There’s more to this story for sure. Thank you for putting all the loose ends together.

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  2. The picture of the ex-police officer/confessed bende van nijvel gang member posing next to patrol cars seems to date later then 1981 because he is standing in front of a mk2 golf from maybe 1983-84. So he couldn’t have been fired from the police in 1981. Other than that it was a great post this, not much info in english on the Brabant killers on other pages. Great work!

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