Missing heiress found in cemetery
THE body of a Dutch hotel and catering heiress has been found buried in a cemetery in Belgium - 17 years after she vanished.
Corrie van der Valk's remains were positively identified after Belgian authorities ordered the exhumation of a grave containing an unknown woman hit by a train in 2001.
The dead woman's body had been so horribly mutilated that she could not be identified and was subsequently laid to rest in an anonymous grave.
The train accident happened in Belgium's Namur district on the same day Ms van der Valk was last seen alive at her family's rural homestead in the Netherlands but authorities did not connect the cases at the time.
The mystery was solved as Belgium exhumed the graves of more than 100 unidentified people for DNA testing and one matched with Ms van der Valk, according to The Brussels Times.
HUSBAND WAS 'PRIME SUSPECT' IN WIFE'S 'MURDER'
Corrie van der Valk, 58, was reported missing when she failed to show up at her husband Nico's 60th birthday drinks.
At the time the couple was separated but still living together at the family's farm in Nederasselt in the Netherlands along with their six children.
On the morning of her January 7, 2001 disappearance, Ms van der Valk reportedly told relatives she needed a change in her life.
She was not reported missing until three weeks later, when she failed to materialise at Nico van der Valk's party.
Dutch police quickly discovered that Ms van der Valk, who was heir to the family's 98-hotel fortune, was in the process of divorcing her husband and named him prime suspect in her possible murder.
Mr van der Valk repeatedly denied causing his wife any harm, but in March 2001 he was arrested, spending three weeks in custody before authorities released him without charge.
"I've known my wife for 40 years, she always managed to arrange everything perfectly," Mr van der Valk told media after he was freed.
"Although she gives me a lot of trouble, I am also a bit proud of her. She has also arranged this perfectly. She succeeded in getting 25 police officers out of the garden."
It was reported that Ms van der Valk had suffered from chronic depression and had been experiencing suicidal thoughts before she vanished.
Some speculated she had joined a cult or "New Age movement" and her yoga teacher told media she was convinced the missing woman had fled to India.
Even her own children believed for a time that she had fled to India to become a devotee of spiritual leader Sai Baba.
However, without a body, rumours Ms van der Valk had been murdered by her husband continued to swirl even after he was cleared by police in 2003.
Ms van der Valk was declared dead in 2008 after the statuary seven-year period, but her family remained haunted by the mystery of what happened to her.
GRAVE OF THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
Less than two months ago, Belgium's national missing person's unit started exhuming and testing unidentified bodies for DNA comparison.
One of the first to be investigated was the anonymous grave of a woman buried in a cemetery in Bois-le-Villers.
The woman had thrown herself in front of a train on January 7, 2001 - the same day Ms van der Valk was last seen alive in the Netherlands.
The injuries suffered by the woman, who was carrying only French and Belgian cash and a train ticket, were so extensive she could not be identified and because Ms van der Valk's family waited three weeks to report her missing, authorities in both countries failed to connect the cases.
Police from both countries have launched a joint investigation to reconstruct the last day of her life, including her lonely journey from Gelderland to Paris and on to Brussels South station where she boarded a train destined for Dinant.
"We are deeply upset, but also relieved that an end has now come to a long period of uncertainty," Ms van der Valk's daughter Sandra said in a statement at the weekend.