Home International ‘Devil couple’ who hid out in SA convicted of murder in Belgium

‘Devil couple’ who hid out in SA convicted of murder in Belgium

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Two of Europe’s most wanted criminals, Claude Lacote and his wife Hilde Van Acker, who lived a colourful life while on the run, have been convicted of killing a British businessman at a Belgian seaside resort a quarter of a century ago.

Jean-Claude Lacote (Back 3rd R), 54-years-old, and his Belgian wife Hilde Van Acker (L), 57-years-old, sit in the dock during a session of the Assizes Court of West-Flanders, in Brugge. Picture: Kurt Desplenter / various sources / AFP

Brussels, Belgium – A Franco-Ivorian man and his Belgian wife have been convicted of killing a British businessman at a Belgian seaside resort a quarter of a century ago.

The court in the Belgian city of Bruges late Tuesday found Jean-Claude Lacote and his wife Hilde Van Acker quilty of shooting dead 44-year-old Marcus Mitchell.

Lacote, 54, and Van Acker, 57, were arrested in the Ivory Coast two years ago after living a colourful life on the run in the US and Africa.

They had pleaded not guilty but now face possible life imprisonment.

The trial, which began March 5, had revealed multiple lives of Lacote, who has been a clothing dealer in the United States, was a television producer in South Africa and ran an airline in Ivory Coast.

Prosecutors portrayed the couple as “professional criminals” and said the murder was linked to an attempted fraud.

On May 28, 1996, aviation executive Mitchell was found dead in De Haan, an upscale Belgian North Sea beach resort, with two bullets in his head.

Investigators quickly discovered that he had been in regular contact with Lacote and Van Acker by telephone.

According to prosecutors, Mitchell had loaned Lacote a large sum of money for a false lead on a potential lucrative deal and the pair had fallen out.

The investigation turned up extraordinary details of the couple’s life since the killing.

TV reality show

They were arrested on June 2 1996, shortly after the body was found, at Charleroi airport outside Brussels.

Released on bail later the same year they fled to the United States, where they married and founded a clothing business in Miami, Florida.

In 2007, Belgian investigators tracked Lacote to South Africa, but were not able to arrange his arrest.

In South Africa, Lacote produced a TV reality show on true crime stories and claimed to have excellent relations with the local police.

The couple moved to Ivory Coast and lived there for a decade, raising a daughter born in 2007, but were eventually arrested in Abidjan in November 2019.

Lacote had taken charge of an aviation company backed by a Lebanese businessman and gained access to high-level Ivorian political circles.

But he said he had refused a post as a government minister in order to raise his daughter in a better environment than the one he had known.