Earlier this month an unkempt young man with long blonde hair and shabby clothing walked into a local bar named “Cafe De Kastelein” in rural Ruinerwold in the Drenthe province of North Eastern Netherlands and ordered five pints of beer.
According to the other patrons the young man chugged five beers in a row, causing the concerned owner to strike up a conversation with the distressed young man to discover that he had been kept in a farmhouse along with several siblings and desperately wanted to escape his situation. According to the owner, Chris Westerbeek, the young man spoke “like a child” and confessed that he had been kept in a small secret basement room in rural farmhouse nearby. He said he had little to no contact with the outside world, hadn’t had a haircut in almost a decade and no longer wanted to continue living in the conditions he and his siblings had been kept in for so long. His clothing was described as something “from the eighties”.
When the young man left a call was made to the local police who launched an investigation into the children in the basement.
The young man was later identified as 25 year old Jan Zon Van Dorsten. He had never attended school and lived in a small secret room under a farmhouse that was accessible only by a door concealed behind a large cupboard in the living room. Although they could apparently read and write the adult children, aged 18 – 25, were reported to talk in a “fantasy language” as a result of being locked away from society for so long. None of them had been officially registered, nor had they received medical care and it is not known where any of them were born or exactly how old they are.
A couple of online profiles feature selfies and self timed photographs of 25 year old Jan Zon sitting beneath trees and working at a laptop. Reports state that he was active on social media up until 2010 and only recently reactivated his profiles this summer to post about his job at Creconat, a woodworking company.
Media outlets reported that the family were apparently members of a doomsday prepper cult awaiting the apocalypse, but theories about their beliefs and practices are being investigated. Aerial photographs showed a functioning vegetable patch and animals, including a goat, on the property grounds, which is encircled by trees to obscure it from the landscape. The family were self-sustained, growing their own vegetables and rearing their own animals, they also had pet cats and dogs that roamed around the house and surrounding land. The family is said to have ran a business called "Natural homes" in Zwartluis.
When police made a visit to the house they found an elderly man who appeared to be confined to his bed following a stroke that may have happened a couple of years earlier. The man was reported to be the father of the five 18-25 year olds and was later identified as Gerrit Van Dorsten.
Despite the families isolation Van Dorsten maintained a social media presence and made status updates to a Facebook profile allegedly posting under the online handle of “John Eagles”. He uploaded images and videos from around the property including pictures of him exercising on wooden DIY workout equipment and practicing Tai Chi. He also reportedly ran a blog where he would write about his beliefs as well as penning more practical articles on DIY and gardening. Another man, a 59 year old, was also living at the farm house. He is said to be a friend of Van Dorsten’s and was later identified as a carpenter named Josef Brunner. The two were previously neighbors in another area before moving to the farmhouse, a neighbor told reporters that the children didn’t seem to attend any local schools and only played in the yard. They moved after the sudden death of their mother whom no one in the neighborhood knew was ill.
The same article states that Brunner would buy in bulk from a local Lidl supermarket and stock the farm house. He apparently had a small, illegally built dwelling of his own several miles away and would drive to and from the rural farm house daily.
Neighbors claimed he put up surveillance cameras in trees around the property and could be often seen looking through binoculars.
News outlets tracked down one of Austrian-born Brunner’s estranged brothers, Franz, who said the two had not been in contact with each other for many years. Franz revealed that Brunner was assumed to have moved to South Korea after a stint in the military and said that he was he was a one time a member of the Unification Church, a cult founded by Sun Myung Moon in the mid-seventies. Reports state that Brunner and Van Dorset may have met through their connection to the Netherlands based branch of the Unification church.
The Unification church responded to the story confirming that Van Dorsten was indeed a member of their church in the eighties. According to an official statement released by the organisation he left in 1987 due to issues with mental health. They stated that they did not agree with or condone his actions. They have not confirmed if Brunner was a member or not.
Expanding on the point that van Dorsten ceased to be a “Moonie” due to mental health issues, Van Dorsten’s brother (who according to the Independent reportedly joined the Unification church with him in the eighties) stated that those around him began to distance themselves as they felt as though Van Dorsten was “getting crazy ideas in his head” that the rest of the family did not know how to deal with.
According to reports Van Dorsten had another set of children who had escaped several years earlier. The three children have been named in the media as Dino, Shin and Marjan and they had no idea that Van Dorsten had more children and had not been in contact with him since their escape in the mid-2000s.
The family is believed to have moved to the area around 2010 and were not interested in knowing or socializing with their neighbors. Although the farmhouse was in an isolated area a local man told ABC news Australia that people who lived in the vicinity often fished not far from the property and that there was also a footpath that ran parallel to the house. Several neighbors interviewed by local reporters claimed that they believed only one man lived at the farmhouse and said they weren’t aware of the siblings existence.
Despite originally believed to be a victim, Gerrit Van Dorsten has been arrested “on suspicion of deprivation of liberty, harming the health of others and money laundering” along with Brunner.
Thousands of Euros in cash was found on the premises, a sum so large police launched an investigation into where it came from and what it was for. The police suspect that Brunner and Van Dorsten were accomplices and the investigation is ongoing.