A former janitor accused of dozens of rapes and sexual assaults in France and Belgium over several decades will go on trial in France on Friday, after admitting to a spate of assaults.
Dino Scala, known as the “Rapist of the Sambre” — after the river near several towns along the France-Belgium border where he operated — was arrested in 2018 in northern France.
He confessed to around 40 rapes and assaults he attributed to uncontrollable “compulsions”.
The youngest victim was 13, the oldest 48, and most were attacked the same way — surprised on deserted streets in the early hours of winter, strangled and dragged into nearby bushes or trees.
Scala, now 61, is a former janitor at an industrial site who was also head of a local football club, and was described as well-integrated and sociable by locals in his town of Pont-sur-Sambre after his arrest.
“He has confessed freely since the beginning” and wants “to explain himself and answer the questions,” his lawyer Margaux Mathieu said.
He is charged with 17 accounts of rape, 12 attempted rapes and 27 sexual assaults or attempts — for 56 victims in total, though investigators suspect there were other victims who did not come forward to police.
“They hope to finally put what happened to them behind them, have the beginning of an explanation, and be heard and understood,” a lawyer for three of his accusers, Caty Richard, said.
Police sought the suspect in November 1996, when a 28-year-old woman said she was raped alongside a motorway near Maubeuge. Investigators found the attacker’s DNA at the scene but found no matches in police databases.
Other similar attacks followed, with more than 15 alleged victims over two years.
Despite increased patrols, the assailant was never found and the case was closed in 2003.
But three years later a new series of assaults in Belgium relaunched the inquiry, and police began to suspect that other earlier cases in the area might be linked to the same man.
It was only in February 2018, when a teenager was assault in Erquelinnes, Belgium, that video surveillance cameras spotted a Peugeot car at the scene, and Scala was arrested a few weeks later.
A knife, gloves and cords that could serve as garrottes were found during searches, and DNA matches were made at several of the crime scenes.
After his arrest he told investigators how he carried out his attacks.
“I hung around… I watched where women would pass by,” he said.
“I like to be secretive and hide… I have the nature of a hunter.”