In a press conference 20 years after her son's death, Berthie Verstappen last week fervently thanked one man — Peter de Vries. “If it hadn’t been for you, the investigation wouldn’t have moved forward,” she said.
De Vries, a Dutch crime reporter with 40 years' experience, became the spokesperson and advisor to 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen's parents after his murder.
After the arrest of a suspect Monday, two decades after his body was found, the man closest to the case told Euronews what the last 20 years have been like for his family and what he thinks will happen in light of last week's breakthrough developments.
A case that shocked the Netherlands
The murder of Nicky Verstappen, a freckle-faced schoolboy, became the cold case that has gripped the Netherlands since 1998.
When he disappeared from his tent at a summer camp and was later found killed, the Dutch public was vying for justice — but none was provided and the case faded from everyone's minds.
After new DNA was recovered earlier this year, the largest DNA testing project ever in the Netherlands ensued, with more than 14,000 men voluntarily providing samples to the investigation.
Jos Brech, who lived nearby, was reported missing and did not provide a sample. Police then examined his home and discovered he was a 100% match for the DNA found on Nicky's body.
This triggered a Europe-wide manhunt and led to the arrest of Brech in Spain last Sunday.
Brech had been spotted near the scene of the crime in 1998 but thought to simply be a passer-by.
From reporter to advisor
De Vries explained that his relationship with Berthie and Peter Verstappen started when they called him shortly after the murder as they "had some doubts about whether or not the police were doing a good job". It would turn out to be a 20-year journey.
"Of course I didn't know at the time the case would go on this long," the investigative crime reporter said.
This relationship developed, with de Vries supporting and advising the family whenever they needed it. "I had maybe more than one thousand calls with Berthie and Peter Verstappen," he said, "finally, I became the only person they really trusted."
When the reporter thought that police and media interest was waning, he decided to raise money to offer as a reward, collecting 500,000 Dutch guilders (around €226,889) — the money was never claimed as they never received the "golden tip" they so needed.
How is are his parents coping with the developments so many years after Nicky's murder?
"The family is feeling very much relieved because they were fighting and struggling for 20 years to solve this case," said de Vries.
"In this time they had to deal with many disappointments and also had to fight the system because attention from police, the justice department and the press was fading away. So it was a long struggle.
"Many times they asked themselves: 'Is it still possible to solve this case, or will it remain unsolved for the rest of our lives?'"
In all his experience, where does de Vries think the case is going now?
"The suspect has to be extradited to Holland and when he arrives in Holland, detectives can start their investigation and interrogations," he said.
"Then he can tell his side of the story and, of course, he has a lot to explain."
Brech is due to be extradited to the Netherlands, where he faces charges of sexual assault kidnapping, and murder.