Dutch family found locked away: Captive sibling’s secret pub visits
When a skinny young man with matted hair and a dirty beard walked into Cafe de Kastelein in the small Dutch village of Ruinerwold, owner Chris Westerbeek took notice.
In the town of fewer than 4000 residents, most of the pub’s patrons were regulars who knew each other well and the man stuck out like a sore thumb.
Aside from his bedraggled appearance, something else stood out. He appeared to regard his surroundings with an air of wonderment, as if he had never seen such a place before.
“It was immediately apparent to this man that something strange was going on,” the publican told website Algemeen Dagblad. “You could see he had no idea where he was or what he was doing.”
The man chatted with two regulars, “Mike” and “Jeffrey”, before vanishing into the night.
That was 11 days ago. When the man came in for the second time on Sunday night, looking “very confused”, Mr Westerbeek decided to approach him and find out more.
“It was clear this person needed more help than the average drunken regular,” he told public broadcaster RTV Drenthe.
“He ordered five beers and drank them. Then I had a chat with him and he told me he had run away and needed urgently help. Then we called the police.”
The story the man told was jawdropping. He told Mr Westerbeek he had spent almost a decade locked in the basement of an isolated farmhouse with his four younger siblings.
“He said he’d never been to school and hadn’t been to the barber for nine years,” the publican said.
“He said he had a younger brother and sisters who lived at the farm. He said he was the oldest and wanted to end the way they were living.”
‘NO IDEA THERE WERE OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD’
When Dutch detectives searched the farmhouse, set deep in the woods and invisible from the road, they found a secret staircase hidden behind a cupboard.
Inside the basement they found the escaped brother’s four siblings and their sick father, who is believed to have been bedridden since suffering a stroke several years ago.
Local Mayor Roger de Groot said the siblings, aged between 18 and 25, were not registered with authorities and may have had no outside contact for up to nine years.
“Police found makeshift living quarters where the family was living in hiding. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Mr de Groot said.
He said it was believed the siblings’ mother died before they moved into the property in 2010.
According to The Guardian, police were investigating the possibility the mother was buried somewhere on site.
RTV Denthe reported the family had been “waiting in the cellar (sic) for the end of time” but police have yet to confirm this.
The family appears to have been self-sufficient, keeping a handful of animals, including geese, a dog, and a goat, and growing vegetables in the garden.
A 58-year-old carpenter and handy man, identified only as “Josef B” by police and known to locals as “The Austrian”, was arrested on site. His relationship to the siblings, their father and dead mother is unclear.
Farmhouse owners Alida and Klaas Rooze said they took on Josef B as a tenant nine years ago but had no idea anyone else was living at the property.
“We knew absolutely nothing of this,” the couple told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD).
“We had rented the house to an individual and now we learn that a man was living there with children. We have no idea who this can be.”
MYSTERY OF MAN KNOWN AS ‘THE AUSTRIAN’
As far as anyone else, including the owners, was aware, the rambling farmhouse was inhabited by just one person.
Josef B, dubbed “The Austrian” by locals, was renowned for his woodwork skills, toiling in his workshop at an industrial property in the neighbouring town of Meppel for hours on end, seven days a week.
Tonnie, a carpenter who shared a workspace with Josef for seven years until the 58-year-old’s arrest this week, described him as “magic with wood”.
“He could do magic with wood. Really a craftsman.”
Tonnie said last Saturday — just one day before the family was rescued — he saw Josef loading two very large bags of toilet paper into his Volvo.
“I thought: That’s a lot for someone who lives alone. But at that moment I was not looking for anything (suspicious),” he said.
Tonnie said Josef was so private that in all the years he had worked next to him, he had learnt only a handful of things about the man’s life.
Josef had told him he lived on a farm, which he had been renovating for years, but never mentioned where it was or with whom he lived.
They chatted about all things DIY and sometimes Josef would ask Tonnie for advice — such as how to pour cement — but everything else was off limits.
“He did not let go of his private life in any way,” Tonnie said. “Except that he was born in Austria — I knew that.”
Josef’s neighbours at the farmhouse also tried and failed to get to know him.
A woman, named only as Keizer, said she and her husband presented him with a bouquet of flowers to welcome him to the neighbourhood in 2010 after he moved in.
She said he was so reclusive — installing surveillance cameras and erecting gates and fences that seemed to get a little higher each year — that Keizer and others began to suspect he was illegally growing hemp.
“No one ever came to his yard. We thought: it must have something to do with hemp cultivation or something. But this? We never suspected this,” she said.
On one occasion, her husband saw the yard filled with bales of hay, which puzzled the couple because “he didn’t have any animals that need straw”.
Keizer said the discovery of the hidden family made her wonder whether the straw was used for insulation “because you never heard anything”.
There has been speculation in local media the family had apocalyptic religious beliefs and voluntarily locked themselves away to prepare for the end of the world.
RTV Drenthe reported the family had been “waiting for the end of time” but the source for that quote was not immediately clear.
Josef’s carpenter acquaintance Tonnie said he did not present as religious in any way — let alone as some kind of cult leader — telling Dutch reporters: “He worked day and night. Also on Sundays. You don’t do that if you’re deeply religious.”
Police were tonight still trying to establish how and why the family came to be locked in the basement. A lack of birth certificates and other records for the family will make tracing their steps a complex process.
Josef B remains in custody and is suspected of being involved in the illegal deprivation of liberty and prejudicing the health of others, the Dutch prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Police said it was unclear whether the siblings and their father stayed in the basement voluntarily.
“The arrested man concerns the tenant of the building,” Drenthe Police said in a statement.
“We do not yet know what the relationship is with the other people. This is part of our research. He is locked in for interrogation and is still detained.
“We understand that everyone still has many questions. We have that too. That is why we want to do our research thoroughly and carefully.
“This means that we may not be able to answer everything immediately. Simply because sometimes we don’t have answers yet.”
Meanwhile, the siblings have been checked by doctors and moved to an undisclosed safe house. It is understood their father is being cared for at a medical facility.
Originally published as ‘Captive’ sibling’s secret pub visits