BRUSSELS (AP) — It seems a mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective: A lord goes missing from his chateau, leaving behind a spent cartridge and a trail of blood. His body is discovered 15 days later, buried in a forest.
Belgian newspapers Saturday were chewing over what’s being called the “Murder at the Castle” — the case of 34-year-old Stijn Saelens, the lord of Wingene Castle. And the speculation, fueled by police arrests and questioning, has run rampant.
Was he done in by his in-laws, who opposed his plan to move to Australia with his wife and four children to take up organic farming? Or by Chechen criminals operating in Belgium? Or perhaps by an unholy alliance of the two?
Saelens disappeared from his chateau, a large turreted affair about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Brussels, on Jan. 31. Foul play was suspected immediately: Newspapers and broadcasters have reported that blood was found inside the house and along the driveway.
His body was found Friday, buried in a forest about a 15-minute drive away — a day after police arrested three people, including the lord’s father-in-law and brother-in-law, identified by 7sur7, a major Belgian news website, as Andre and Peter Ghyselbrecht, were arrested along with a friend of the father-in-law’s named Pierre Serry.
The broadcaster RTL reported that investigators had discovered that Saelens was in debt, and planned to take his family to Australia to live in a Russian community called Ringing Cedars, where he would start an organic farm.
A lawyer for the father-in-law said he was innocent and had a “perfect alibi.”
Nor are the unnamed Chechens off the hook. Three were detained and questioned Thursday, the day the other three men were arrested, then released for lack of proof. RTL reported that a plan of the lord’s chateau was found in their car.
A crime reporter for the broadcaster VRT said the detentions made it appear that investigators suspected a contract killing, involving somebody who ordered the hit, a mediator and the people who committed the slaying.
“It’s not clear why these people have been detained,” the reporter, Philip Heymans, offered. “But it is a meaningful development.”
The newspaper La Capitale focused Saturday on the story it said Saelens’s wife, Elysabeth Gyselbrecht, had given to investigators — that her husband told her he wanted to be alone in the chateau the morning he disappeared, so she left.
The newspaper also reported that Elysabeth Gyselbrecht told investigators that she went to Pierre Serry’s home the day after her husband’s disappearance and confronted him.
“Do you have something to do with the disappearance of my husband?” she told investigators she asked Serry, the paper reported. To which Serry is reported to have replied, “No.”
The discovery of the body, buried, accompanied by the presence of a police crane in the area, seemed to suggest, however, that the police had received specific information about the location. That only heightened media interest in the case. Two journalists were detained after entering the area that had been cordoned off by police.
And interest in the case seemed likely to grow. As La Capitale newspaper opined in a news article on Saturday, “Despite the discovery of the body, the story seems far from being explained.”
Follow Don Melvin at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin