HEEL, NETHERLANDS (BNO NEWS) -- A former head nurse at a boarding school in the southeastern Netherlands was told that as many as 20 children were killed there in the 1950s, according to a television report aired on Sunday.
Last month, the Roermond Public Prosecutions Department launched a criminal investigation into the unusually high death rate at the St Joseph care home in Heel, a town in the province of Limburg. The probe was launched after records revealed that 34 boys under 18 died at the Roman Catholic home between 1952 and 1954.
Nico van Hout, a former head nurse at the institution, has told KRO's investigative journalism program Brandpunt that he was told in the late 60s that as many as 20 children had been murdered there by a previous friar. He said no one acted on the information he was told.
Van Hout first started working at St Joseph in 1969 when friar Augustinus, who had decades of experience in mental health care, told him about the deaths. "[Augustinus] took me to a small room and opened the door. 'Here were the coffins,' he said. Then he walked to the room next to it and also opened this door. 'This was the death room,' he said. 'The friar who worked here before me killed twenty'," Van Hout told Brandpunt, recalling his conversation with the friar.
Van Hout believes Augustinus was an 'extremely reliable source'. "I immediately believed him 100 percent. He wanted to tell me, because I was taking over his patients. He wanted to tell someone, he had nowhere to go with it," he said.
The former head nurse said he informed several authorities about the information he was told, including the then-president of the local court, but no one acted on the information. One of those people who was told the information was St Joseph's president Gerard Eijsink, who told Brandpunt he could not recall the conversation but said he was shocked to hear the allegations could be true.
The 34 boys, according to their death certificates, officially died of heart failure but were never properly investigated. Prosecutors said in August that it would attempt to question people who are still alive, but warned that no one can be convicted if crimes were committed and a suspect is found to be alive.
"The possibly suspicious deaths took place more than 55 years ago. If after investigation it appears that criminal offences are concerned, they will have expired by limitation," prosecutors said in a statement in August. "Therefore no coercive measures can be applied. In view of the extent of the matter and the impact such matters have on society, the [prosecutor's office deems a criminal investigation relevant."