Family found mysteriously living in secret room for 9 years

Posted at 2:19 AM, Oct 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-18 02:19:13-04

After a family of seven was found to be living mysteriously, and with no one’s knowledge, in a farmhouse on the outskirts of a small Dutch town, a court ordered on Thursday that an 8th person, the farmhouse's tenant, be detained for two weeks.

The family had apparently been living in a small room in a farmhouse outside the town, perhaps since 2010, police said -- a fact that has surprised and puzzled people in the Dutch town of Ruinerwold, in the north of the Netherlands.

The case came to light when a young man visited the De Kastelein café in town.

"Last week he came in and ordered five beers, which he drank in one go. But then we closed," cafe owner Chris Westerbeek told local news station RTV Drenthe, which first reported the story.

In a later conversation, when the man came back on Sunday, "he admitted that he had run away and that he needed help," Westerbeek said. "Then, we called in the police."

"He said he had not been outside for nine years. Later, he also said that he had four brothers and one sister who lived on the farm. He was the oldest and wanted to put an end to the way they lived," Westerbeek told RTV.

Local mechanic Jeffrey Scheper who owns J. Scheper Autos, also met the young man in the café. Reached for comment by ABC News, he referred to a television interview he gave to Dutch television host Beau van Erven Dorens.

“We tried to ask questions, among other things, because he said he had not been outside for nine years: is it a religion? A cult? He said yes, nothing more," Scheper said in the interview.

On Monday, the police acted on his complaint that the young man was “worried about the living conditions of his family” and visited the house on the Buitenhuizerweg.

There, they found people living in a small room on the ground floor. The family told the police that they were all over 18 years old, although the police are verifying the people’s ages and their relationship to each other. They were taken into police care and were all seen by a doctor, the police said in a statement shared with ABC News.

The police say that it is unclear whether the family was living in the house voluntarily and how they came to be there.

“We understand that everyone still has many questions. We have those too,” police said.

On Tuesday police arrested a 58-year-old man who is the only tenant of the farm. His role in the case is still being investigated, according to police, but he is currently suspected of “being involved in illegal deprivation of liberty and prejudicing the health of others,” according to the North Netherlands Public Prosecutor.

Police said he was arrested because he did not want to “cooperate with our investigation.”

The man, identified as Josef B by RTV Drenthe, appeared in front of the examining magistrate on Thursday. The justice commissioner of the North Netherlands Court ordered that he be detained for 14 days “on suspicion of unlawful deprivation of liberty”.

"I have never come across anything like this before," said Roger de Groot the mayor of Ruinerwold at a press conference.

On Thursday, police said -- without any further explanation -- that they had expanded their investigation to other locations in northern Holland.

Local man Frank Wijers, who works at the garage just beside the café, told ABC News that the story was the talk of the town. “It’s a strange story,” he said, “Quite a shock!”

“It’s a very pleasant community here,” he said. “When you participate in public life, it’s alright. But if you don’t want to, that’s alright too. People leave you alone.”