10 May 2023

Police Operation Identify Me is asking the public for the first time to help with the identification of 22 murdered women

The network of police forces worldwide is asking the public to identify bodies of young women found between 1976 and 2019 in Europe.

A campaign called Operation Identify Me has been launched, with police asking for public help to seek information about unidentified women’s bodies. The black notices are usually kept internal through Interpol’s network of police forces around the world, so this marks the first time they have gone public seeking this type of information. 

The bodies were found in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany between 1976 and 2019, with an unsolved murder of a woman in Amsterdam around 1999 sparking the outreach by Interpol. Forensic detective Carina Van Leeuwen has been trying to solve the mystery of this murder since joining Amsterdam’s cold case team in 2005. A case of this sort is deemed cold if it is still open and unsolved after three years. Van Leeuwen contacted neighbouring countries Germany and Belgium and learned of many other cold cases where women were murdered. A list of 22 cases combined ( Belgium seven, Germany six, and the Netherlands nine) was cultivated and the Interpol went on to release them to the public, with an easy way to contact them if any information was known.

Most victims were between the ages of 15 and 30 and remain nameless. The full list of names is available on the Interpol website with details that include photographs of clothing, jewellery, and tattoos as well as facial reconstruction sketches. In a video for Operation Identify Me, a plea is made to the family, friends, and loved ones of these victims, saying “Give these women back their identity”. 

Disproportionately gender-based violence frames the push for this European Operation, with Van Leeuwen making the case that by working across borders with wider public awareness, these cold cases can finally come to a close.

One of the Operation Identify Me cases refers to a Belgian woman dubbed ‘The woman with the flower tattoo’. The image shows a black flower tattoo with colour around it and ‘R’Nick’ written next to it. The description reads “She wore a t-shirt (dark blue, purple and light green) with the inscription ‘SPLINTER’ and ‘1990’, dark blue Adidas training trousers with three green stripes and dark walking shoes, size 40, brand ‘DAG’.” She was found lying against a grate in a river in Antwerp in 1992.

Multiple other cases are listed, with Interpol hoping that publicising these black notices with prompt memories. The reason these cases are being brought back is also due to the availability of new technology. In some of the 22 cases, facial reconstruction has been produced with the help of advanced computer software according to the skull. The first of its kind, the promising work being put into giving these women back their identity is providing hope for future schemes to combat violence against women and girls.

  • Writer Ella Chadwick
  • Banner Image Credit Pexels

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