Residents have revealed the man accused of holding a family of six captive on his rented farm property in the Netherlands used to be their next door neighbour.
Josef B and the father of the five children were close companions when they lived in a quiet cul-de-sac in the Dutch town of Hasselt, according to neighbour Sandra Van de Kamp Soer.
She told Dutch publication De Telegraaf the father, Gerrit-Jan, was a writer with long hair who kept his family’s lives relatively private when they lived in her street in 2004.
“They were very alone. Nobody came there. The family left on Sunday, they seemed to go to church,” Ms Van de Kamp Soer said.
She said the children also had long hair and it was difficult to distinguish who was a boy or a girl.
Ms Van de Kamp Soer said her daughter used to play with one of the girls from the home. She described the inside of the house as everything made out of wood. Gerrit-Jan and Josef B are said to share a passion for woodcraft.
She also said Jan Zon van Dorsten, the 25-year-old who raised the alarm in a local bar in Ruinerwold about their living conditions at the nearby farm, wasn’t the oldest child in the family and that three older children were estranged from the family.
She said all the children in the family had home births.
Ms Van de Kamp Soer told Mail Online that Josef B only lived in the home for a matter of months but the family had taken down the garden fence between their homes. She said after Josef B moved out, the family was in regular contact with him.
She told De Telegraaf Josef B was an introvert and never greeted other neighbours.
According to the neighbour, Gerrit-Jan’s wife suddenly died in 2004 after battling colon cancer. When told about her death, neighbours were shocked as they hadn’t been informed of her condition previously. The family moved out soon after.
According to Jan Zon van Dorsten’s Facebook account, he moved seven kilometres north to Zwartsluis in 2005 and then 12 kilometres northeast to Meppel in 2008.
It is believed the family relocated to Ruinerwold in 2010 – six kilometres from northeast of Meppel - when it was believed they moved to the farm property and the alleged imprisonment commenced.
Jan updated his living history on his Facebook account in September. The account also features selfies, photos of Ruinerwold by night and several climate change posts. All the activity was shared in recent months.
Authorities were only alerted to the family, who told police they are a father and five adult children aged between 18 and 25, after Jan walked into a local bar for a second time this month.
“It was immediately apparent to this man that something strange was going on,” owner Chris Westerbeek told Algemeen Dagblad of his first visit 11 days ago.
He said Jan was acting strangely and his rough appearance made Mr Westerbeek curious. He left without note but returned over a week later. The second time, Mr Westerbeek approached him to find out more.
“I had a chat with him and he told me he had run away and urgently needed help. Then we called the police.”
Mr Westerbeek says Jan claimed he was living in isolation with his four younger siblings and he wanted to “end the way they were living”.
According to local media, authorities have struggled to communicate with the victims as they were using a “fantasy language” at times, Mail Online reported.
While it was initially reported police had found the family locked in a cellar at the secluded farmhouse, authorities later clarified the family were kept "in a small room in the house that was closed off".
Local media reported the room had no windows and the entrance was hidden.
Josef B, a 58-year-old Austrian, was arrested by authorities on Tuesday and will front court on Thursday (local time) charged with unlawful detention and harming others’ health.
The mayor of Ruinerwold, Roger de Groot, said the suspect was not the father of the family and that he was renting the farm property.
"A lot is still unclear and we are investigating exactly what happened there,” said Drenthe police spokeswoman Grietje Hartstra.
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