"I've never experienced anything like it", mayor says about off-the-grid Drenthe family

Police at a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold, where a family was found living in seclusion for nine years, 15 Oct 2019
Police at a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold, where a family was found living in seclusion for nine years, 15 Oct 2019Photo: Politie Drenthe/Twitter

"I have never experienced anything like this", mayor Roger de Groot of municipality De Wolden said about a family found in a farm in Ruinerwold. The family, a father and six children, lived a "withdrawn existence" in "secluded provisional spaces" in the farm for nine years, the mayor said in a press conference, NOS reports

A 58-year-old man was arrested. He is not the father of the family, as previously reported, but the tenant and main resident of the property. What his connection to the family is, is still under investigation, both De Groot and the police said. Newspaper AD identifies him as Josef B.

The children are between the ages of 18 and 25, De Groot said. The police said about the family: "As it now seems, they are not registered in the municipal administration. They indicated themselves that they are of age. This will of course be further investigated. They say they are a family, a father with five of his children." The police are investigating whether they lived on the farm voluntarily. According to the mayor, the mother of the family died before they moved into the farm.

The family was discovered after the oldest son, a 25-year-old called Jan, started appearing at a local bar and asked for help. He first appeared at closing time on October 5th, owner of bar De Kastelein, Chris Westerbeek, said to Trouw. "I just wanted to close, there were still some 20 customers and everyone was already wearing their coats." The young man look neglected, Westerbeek said. "He wore very wide, old-fashioned clothes, it looked to be from the 1970s. Bit long, dirty hair, a hood and somewhat shy of people. He was quite skinny and had a beard. Because we were closing, I asked him to leave again, after which he left, walking into the night."

When he came back this past Sunday, Westerbeek started talking to him. He ordered some beer and paid for it, telling Westerbeek that he stole the money from 'papa'. He said his father is sick and that he has a younger brother and sisters. "I found him a bit confused, absent, a little sad. He said his name was Jan, answered with difficulty and looked at the floor a lot. You could immediately tell that something was wrong with him." He asked for help and Westerbeek called the police. "They came and talked to him in the car for a long time and took him away. I heard him say to them: 'I don't exist in this world, I don't exist in your computer."

Jan may not be registered on any government computers, as he said to the police. But he does have a social media presence. According to newspaper AD, he's been very active on social media since the start of this year. On social media, Jan says that he works as "handyman" for Josef B., the farm's official tenant and the man arrested by the police. Over the past days, Jan posted photos as he roamed around the village in the dark. He posted a photo of the Ruinerwold place name sign, a church in the village, and a picture of himself in the pub where the authorities were eventually summoned to. The young man also manages various company pages on Facebook that are linked to Josef B. 

On his LinkedIn page, Jan said that his mother died in 2004 and that the family lived in Hasselt until then. He writes that his parents had a successful business until his mother died. "In the meantime, that has passed... in 2004, Mum died and every day we are happy take care of Dad." In 2005, the family moved to Zwartsluis, where they lived for three years. Then they moved to Meppel, and in 2010 to the farm in Ruinerwold. 

Exactly what was going on with this family, is still very unclear. "We understand that everyone still has many questions. We have them too", the police said. "That is why we want to do our investigation thoroughly and carefully. This means that we may not be able to answer everything immediately. Simply because sometimes we don't have answers yet. Or cannot share them."

That the family was waiting for the end of time, as RTV Drenthe reported on Tuesday, mayor De Groot called "an extraordinary story". He could not say where it came from or whether it is true. He also could not give further information about the family, due to privacy and the ongoing police investigation.