Interpol Black Notices Made Public for First Time
Updated: May 12
Photo: Michael Fortsch
Interpol is assisting Belgian, Dutch and German police forces to identify 22 women whose bodies were discovered between 1976 and 2019, but who were never identified. Interpol’s Operation Identify Me is an international campaign calling on the public to come forward with any information about the victims.
What is known is that each of the 22 women met violent deaths and their bodies were discovered in awful circumstances including dismembered body parts abandoned in suitcases, wheelie-bins, and ditches. Despite national efforts, police investigations have gone cold. In each investigation police were led to believe that the victim was not originally from the country in which their body had been found, a factor that seriously hampers police inquiries. This is where Interpol comes in.
As part of Operation Identify Me, Interpol has issued a Black Notice for each case in the hope that information sharing across borders will help solve the cases. Interpol has several categories of notices that can be used by domestic police forces to request information from police forces in other countries. Red Notices are the most well-known, but there are seven different types of Interpol notices and Black Notices are used to seek information on unidentified bodies.
By 2021 there were 1,999 valid Black Notices on the Interpol database. In general, Black Notices are not made public and are only circulated among police forces from Interpol’s 195 member countries. However, making some of the police data available to the public from these 22 cases will drastically broaden the reach of police searches. On the day the operation was launched it had been widely picked up by international news outlets including being reported in Brazil, Spain, and the Balkans.
Data from the Black Notices includes facial reconstructions using the latest technology, images and detailed descriptions of clothing and jewellery found on the bodies, and in one case from 1992 a photo of the victim’s tattoo has been shared. It is hoped that this information will trigger memories amongst members of the public and enable police to re-open the cold cases, or to at least be able to give the women back to their loved ones. Detective Carina van Leeuwen, of the Netherlands, told the BBC that all the bodies she has ever identified in her career had one thing in common, that "no matter how long it took to identify them, they all had somebody who missed them."
Operation Identify Me is a prime example of how Interpol can assist domestic police forces in broadening the scope of their investigations and facilitate cooperation between National Central Bureaus. Police suspect that those responsible for the 22 Operation Identify Me murders purposefully disposed of the victim’s bodies in other countries to impede police investigations. The vast open borders in the regions where the women’s bodies were found makes it extremely difficult for police to track cross-border criminal activity. Dr Susan Hitchin, coordinator of Interpol's DNA unit told the BBC that increased global migration, and human trafficking, has led to more people being reported missing outside of their national borders.
Given the volume of international coverage that Interpol’s Operation Identify Me has attracted, there is a real chance that those responsible for the dreadful killings could be brought to justice.