The Knaepen's family house catches on fire in Starý Lískovec, Brno suburb, on August 1st, 2001 at about 03:00 a. m. The fire starts the greatest and long lasting police operation within the South-Moravian Region. It lasts for three months. Tens of criminalists, hundreds of policemen and soldiers are doing their best to save the lives of two siblings who have been missing. An eleven-year old boy and a thirteen-year old girl are found dead. A fourty-one-year old murderer, Stephan Knaepen, a man of a Belgian nationality, is found dead too.
There are sleeping five people in the reconstructed part of the house when it catches on fire: Stephan Knaepen's Czech wife (23), their three children and their grandmother, Stephan Knaepen's mother-in-law. Their dog wards off the danger. Its persistent squealing and barking wake the mother up. She gets up and goes to the hall. She can smell petrol and gas there. She wakes up her mother and they check the house in order to find the source of that smell. The door of the room where the gas appliances are is locked. But none of them remembers locking it in the evening. What is more, there is a petrol can in the hall. Who has brought it? And when? She comes to the conclusion that she, her mother and her children are supposed to die in the fire. She is sure the unknown has locked the door to lock them in the burning house. And thus she calls Police and the fire brigade in. But the gas bursts before their arrival. They break away from the house through the window.
The firemen confirm the speculation that the house was set on fire purposely. There are four centres of fire. Another petrol can is found in the house. The fire raiser pours petrol over the doors and set them on fire. Gas escapes from a gas valve which has never been used. The valve is two metres above the floor. The fire raiser is sure to open it while the people there were sleeping. The crimescene search forecloses the possibility of breaking into the house. There were two dogs running about the garden and thus any trespasser could not break in. The young woman says that nothing has been stolen from her house. The criminalists are sure that the house was set on fire purposly. The fire rasiser is a person who knows that house very well and who is possible to call on whenever he wants.
A day later, on August 2nd, 2001, Ing. Vosmanský reports at a Brno police station that he has been missing his two children: an eleven-year old son and a thirteen-year old daughter. They are supposed to be on a two-day trip with his son-in-law, Stephan Knaepen. They want to go sightseeing round the Southern Moravia, stay out over night and return home on August 1st. They leave Brno by car. It is Renault Escape of a silver colour. The car is equiped with two sleeping bags and some camping equipment.
Both Stephan Knaepen and the children have their mobile phones on them, none of them answers either the parents' phone calls or their messages. The children send the very last message to their mother on July 31st at 4:33 p. m. They even write about the place they are staying, but their mother does not remember the place, she only thinks they are somewhere near Boskovice. Stephan Knaepen sends a message to his wife two hours earlier, at 2:30 p. m. He writes: "We are just in front of the castle in Ostrožská Nová Ves, near Uherské Hradiště." But he is lying about the place. According to the operator, they are near Boskovice.
Stephan Knaepen is said to pass a service school in France. He serves in Foreign Legion then. He suffers an injury and is civilianized. He draws a disability pension. He has been married three times. He likes travelling and sightseeing (especially castles, chateaus and their ruins). He is keen on arms, he subscribes lots of journals of the Army and arms. He collects conditions of use of various pharmaceuticals. He has three children and is thought to be a kind and loving father who never punishes his children. But his behaviour changes in June 2001. He is supposed to pay a large sum of money, a kind of a debt from his previous marriage in Belgium. His Czech wife is said to have been attacked by her husband several times. She apologizes for his behaviour: their house is under the costly reconstruction and is still half-livable and thus he becomes a bit nervous. She even says it is only her who is responsible for all their fights and cross-purposes.
The information about the missing and their plans are rather short or even fragmentary, however, Police raise a countrywide search. All the Czech policemen got aquainted with that case. A special team, called "Children", consisting of eleven experienced criminalists, is established. Its only purpose is to search out the missing children. They have a nineteen-item method. The yellow press journalists do not hesitate, fabricate their stories and write for their newspapers about the case for the following three months. And thus policemen are thought to be a group of bushleaguers. On the other hand, various lunatics and some should-be visionaries become the most qualified people in that matter. The children die on July 31st, 2001, the murderer one day later. But Police have no information about them that day...
A man finds a fouling corpse at the fringe of a forest near Ostopovice on August 7th, 2001. The identity card and the mobile phone belong to Stephan Knaepen. The dead man has binoculars round his neck. There is a fine view of the Knaepen's house even by naked eye from that place.
The pathologist find an appendicitis scraf and a complete dental prosthesis at the autopsy. Stephan Knaepen's identity is proved by the genetic expertise. There are no violence marks on the body. The man was suffering from a serious presbycardia. Six kinds of medicaments are found in blood of the dead Knaepen: a remedy for mental illnesses, vigilance, schizophrenic psychosis, a painkiller and a remedy for violence and psychosis suppression. One of the medicaments is used while anesthetizing. Knaepen dies of a heart failure after taking lots of various medicaments.
One day later, policemen find Knaepen's abandoned vehicle in Ostopovice. And the missing siblings' mobile phone and lots of medicaments coming up to the inquest. A plastic petrol can adapter and a plastic binder are found in the car boot. The same plastic binder was used to bind up the missing children. Among the things which are connected with the fire in the house, there are two letters found in that car. One of them is written in Flemish, the other one is written in English. The two letter are strikingly similar to the ones written by self-murderers. The very last lines say: "I don't regret it. I know it must happen. My life isn't worth living any longer…"
The police specialists extrapolate some places where the missing siblings could be found. They also take into account Stephan Knaepen's liking for castles, chateaus and their ruins. Bučovice, the place they were seen for the very last time, and some local water dams children can swim in, are included too. Those places represent the assumed axis of travel of the missing children: Brno – Bučovice – Brankovice – Buchlovice. It means several hundreds of kilometers. Some people say they saw those children at the confectioner's in Buchlovice. That information is proved to be wrong later on.
The fly cops are supposed to go through that area, including the side roads, to learn whether the Knaepen's car or the children were seen there. By the way, one of the police patrols stops only 300 metres from the place where the missing children are lying dead. As the children are said to have taken their bathing suits on the trip, many of the water dams at the particular area are searched by the police divers.
The thermography used in the search after the missing children fails. The children's dead bodies are hidden in the sleeping bags which are very good heat insulators. The public is asked to give any information about the missing children. Police receive over 150 announcements within four months. There are only two policemen to process the information. When the information seems to be relevant, policemen and soldiers are sent to the particular place immediately. They manage to search through the area of fifty-six square kilometers and the helicopter equiped with the thermography manages to search through the area of 300 square kilometers within a single day, August 24th, 2001. Nearly 650 policemen and soldiers are involved in the search some days…
No information about the missing children comes from Interpol either. Nevertheless, a yellow press writes about the children living in a luxury district of Paris. The children are said to have been kidnapped by two men who are sure Knaepen is the children's father and that is the right way to make him pay his debts. The other one writes about an international gang kidnapping children to be taken abroad in order to make a profit from an illegal transplant operation.
On November 25th, 2001, near Brankovice, Vyškov, a casual walker finds two sleeping bags hidden under fallen leaves. There are two children's dead bodies in them. Their hands are bind up with a plastic binder. The missing children have already been found now. The autopsy proves that the children were strangled. The whole case is put on the shelf a few months later. The yellow press leave that case even before that.
The photographs and the basic facts dedicated to the Museum of Crime by
the chief commissioner captain Vladimír Matoušek
a team of inquiry member.
© Miloslav Jedlička, D. C. L.
Translated by inspector WO Pavel Vršovský, M. A.