the “rapist of the Sambre” appears for 56 rapes and sexual assaults

The trial of Dino Scala, accused of being the author of 56 rapes and sexual assaults in the Sambre Valley since 1988, opens this Friday in Douai, in the North. He faces 20 years in prison.

It is a vast “cold case” which could never have found a conclusion. But in one arrest, investigators may have put an end to 56 different cases, some 30 years old.

Arrested in February 2018, Dino Scala, nicknamed the “rapist of the Sambre” – since he was acting in the valley of the same name – appears before the Court of Assizes of Douai from this Friday. Now 61 years old and accused of being the author of 56 rapes, attempted rapes and sexual assaults since 1988, he faces 20 years of criminal imprisonment.

Quiet place and aggression from behind, the “Scala touch”

From Fontenelle, in the north of France, to Namur in Belgium, the Sambre river is 190 kilometers long. But the study of a portion of 30 kilometers is enough to retrace the criminal course of Dino Scala.

The first complaint dates back to 1988. A young woman says she was attacked in the early morning in Maubeuge, her assailant having managed to immobilize her by holding a cloth over her mouth. Thereafter, similar complaints surface almost every year until 2018.

The operating mode is the same each time: discreet, the individual seems to spot its prey very early, between 5 am and 8 am, in rather isolated areas. Under the threat of a knife, and using a cord or a scarf, he intervenes from behind and thus forces his victim to carry out his orders. The “Scala touch”, blows a lawyer.

Scattered complaints

Problem: if the complaints multiply over the years, they are filed in various local police stations, giving rise to scattered investigations. “Twenty years ago, we did with the means at hand. At the time, nothing was yet digitized. No reconciliation was therefore made between the police stations where complaints were filed”, explains to BFMTV.com Me Sandrine Billard, who represents three alleged victims.

Like the local media, the police do not really communicate on these scattered facts. “The authorities may not have wanted to sow a wave of panic,” said the lawyer. The “rapist of the Sambre” does not yet exist, the police services not considering that all the crimes could have been committed by one and the same person.

A judicial investigation opened in 1998

It was at the end of the 1990s that the investigators reported a first connection between several complaints, filed in particular between 1996 and 1998. The procedure, once again, is always the same. DNA is also taken from several crime scenes.

First big step forward: the different samples match each other, it is indeed the same person.

In July 1998, the judicial police of Lille is finally seized of the judicial information, within which are grouped fifteen cases. But there again, the investigations are slipping and the culprit, still at large, continues to crack down. Three robot portraits are made from the testimonies of certain victims, but are not alike, the aggressor acting from behind and, often, his face concealed.

Several hundred men heard, in vain

Still along the Sambre, on the other side of the border, similar cases are emerging. After having operated in the vicinity of Maubeuge, the individual seems to be redirecting to Belgium, from 2004.

Research is carried out in the local companies of the cities where the facts occurred. Expertise is carried out from the DNA, to try to go back to the suspect. In vain. In total, several hundred men are heard by the police during this sprawling investigation. All these hearings end in failure.

“Twenty years ago, this type of file is not a priority. There is a kind of indifference. Today it would not happen like that, mentalities have changed”, comments Me Hervé Banbanaste, lawyer for another victim, contacted by BFMTV.com. “But this is the question that will be at the heart of the trial: why has it taken so long to solve these crimes?”

A decisive turn in 2018

Thirty years after the first facts, the investigation takes a decisive turn. On February 5, 2018, a 17-year-old girl was sexually assaulted. An individual tries to touch his chest, near Erquelinnes, in Belgium.

But the police, this time, have an asset: CCTV images show a man parking his car near the place of the attack, at the time of the facts, not far from the company Jeumont Electric. The Belgian report goes back to the French investigators on February 14, who can in turn go back to the suspect.

Twelve days later, on February 26, 2018, Dino Scala was arrested as he left his home in Pont-sur-Sambre in the early morning. Cords, knives, a scarf… At home as in his car, the investigators got their hands on all the elements cited in the testimonies of the victims. Even more, the DNA confirms it: the suspect is indeed the man we have been looking for for years.

“I had a hunter’s spirit”

After remaining silent during a first hearing, Dino Scala will finally recognize about forty of the facts with which he is accused. Little by little, he returns to his way of proceeding.

“It’s always the same scenario. It’s always the same period, it always starts around mid-September until April-May. It’s always pretty much the same hours, the same places, the same times , it’s cyclical”, he analyzes himself during one of the interrogations to which he was subjected.

Dino Scala first spots his victims, observes them on their morning commute for a few days, before taking action.

“I was crouched and waiting for the opportunity. You know, I had a hunter’s mind. It’s kind of how a hunter comes across game and is about to fire.”

A very “secret” Scala clan

What in Dino Scala’s life could have made him such a sexual predator? In the family, we often evoke the rumor according to which the father of Dino Scala would himself be the author of sexual abuse. Some describe violent relationships between parents and an authoritarian patriarch imposing his law, while others speak of a close-knit, “formidable” and loving family”. A Scala clan “kept by secrets”, summarized a witness.

Anyway, in front of the investigators, Dino Scala claims to be angry with women. Those in his way on winter mornings are therefore the victims of his sexual urges. On the Belgian side, this way of acting only when the days get shorter will earn him the nickname of “rapist of early winter mornings”.

The latter is categorical: he was not himself during these rapes and attacks, and regrets not having been treated. But the reports of the psychiatric experts who intervene in the case are without appeal: no abolition of discernment or personality disorder are recognized in Dino Scala during his acting out. He does, however, present with an atypical form of “sexual sadism disorder”.

“The fact of taking action satisfies me, but you can’t say that I feel pleasure,” he said during one of his interrogations. “Besides that, I’m normal.”

“He blended in with the population”

“Normal” is what most of those who knew him would have said of Dino Scala. Father of five children from two different marriages, good employee at Jeumont Electric, invested in the life of his town, coach and president of the local football club, a clean criminal record… Before being designated as the “rapist of la Sambre”, Dino Scala is rather a popular “everyman”, whose existence does not make waves.

“Nothing exceeded, he blended into the population. He was a man without stories who benefited from judicial indifference”, describes Me Hervé Banbanaste.

This explains why, for years, his close entourage suspected nothing. “If it’s him, he hid his game well,” said a member of his family to investigators. Respectful, helpful, courageous… Words that come back to the mouths of those who have known him, while he was acting without everyone’s knowledge.

The prescription in question

Sometimes several decades after the fact, the phone call from the police to announce the arrest of a suspect has had the effect of an electric shock, in some victims.

“They had learned to live with what had happened to them, to put it under the rug. This arrest woke up the sleeping monster”, testifies Me Emmanuel Riglaire to BFMTV.com.

While certain facts are prescribed – the limitation period for rape being set at 20 years in France and 10 years in Belgium – this question should be addressed at the start of the trial, this Friday. However, it should not pose a problem, hopes Me Sandrine Billard. “We have the possibility of extending the prescription in the event of serial crimes, when we have the same modus operandi, the same profile of victims, and that there have been facts regularly”, she explains.

For the 54 victims who are still alive, the hearing then opens the possibility of turning the page and, finally, starting a process of reconstruction. “My clients are afraid of being confronted again with their attackers,” continues the lawyer. “Are they going to watch it? I don’t know. The test is already to go to the bar. But they want to be there to tell what happened to them one last time.”

“The main objective of this trial is to understand who Dino Scala is, to understand his motivations or the unconscious motives of his impulses”, advanced his lawyer, Me Margaux Mathieu, during an interview published Thursday in The voice of the North. “He will do everything possible to answer questions from the court and the jurors,” she continues.

The lawyer intends to anchor her client’s defense in the fact that he did not recognize a dozen of the facts with which he is accused, unlike the others. “There are attacks that do not fit at all with the physical description of my client and even less his modus operandi”, concludes Me Margaux Mathieu.

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