Father of concealed family arrested; Unification Church denies knowing them

Aerial photo of a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold where a family was found living in isolation for 9 years, Oct 2019
Aerial photo of a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold where a family was found living in isolation for 9 years, Oct 2019Photo: Politie

On Thursday the police arrested a second suspect in the investigation into the family found living in a hidden room on a farm in Ruinerwold. The suspect is the father of the family, 67-year-old Gert Jan van D. He is suspected of depriving his six children of their physical freedom, and assault by harming the health of others, the Drenthe police announced.

An amount in cash was also found in the farm. "It is not a matter of a few dozen euros and that's why we are investigating where the money comes from", deputy police chief Janny Knol said while discussing the case on Pauw on Thursday evening, according to RTL Nieuws. The father of the family is therefore also suspected of money laundering. 

Van D. is facing the same suspicions as Josef B., the tenant of the farm the family was found on who was arrested earlier this week. The 58-year-old man was arraigned on Thursday and remanded into custody for at least another 14 days

Van D. and six now-adult children were found living in a hidden room on the farm on Monday. The police believe they had been living there for around nine years. The family was found after the oldest son, a 25-year-old man named Jan, got out and made contact with local residents. "The children themselves say that they are between 18 and 25 years old, but because they are not registered in the basic registration, we actually do not know exactly how old they are", Knol said on Pauw. Where the children were born, is also unclear. 

Based on their conversations with the children, the police chief cannot yet say whether they were being held at the farm against their will. "We have spoken with the children only to a very limited extent. It is not easy to talk with the children, because we are very careful. It is a constant consideration: what do you do in the interest of care and what is needed in the context of the criminal investigation."

The children are currently being examined by psychologists. One of their goals is to find out whether the children were 'brainwashed', Knol said. "It is clear that they do not naturally exhibit the same behavior as you and me. What that means must become clear." 

Part of the police investigation is to find out whether the family's belief system formed part of their isolation. RTV Drenthe reported on Thursday that Gert Jan van D. and Josef B. are both affiliated with the Unification Movement. The cult, whose members are sometimes referred to as "Moonies", was started decades ago by Sun Myung Moon, who died in September 2012. The Unification Movement is known for its conversion methods and mass marriages.

The Unification Movement told NOS that the isolated family is not currently affiliated with the movement. "We do not know this group and were surprised", foreman Wim Koetsier said to the broadcaster. He thinks that Josef B. and Gert Jan van D. may have formed their own cult. 

Van D. was a member of the Dutch Unification Movement in Amsterdam in the 1980s, Koetsier said. He left the movement after a few years and went to Germany, where he was active for the German branch of the movement. After that he was no longer linked to the Unification Movement, according to Koetsier.

A statement the Dutch Unification Movement released on Friday states that Van D. was a member of the movement in the mid-80s, but left the organization in 1987, according to AD. A spokesperson for the movement in Germany told the newspaper that they knew Van D., but that he was never a member with them. 

One of Van D.'s cousins, who a member of the Unification Movement, told newspaper AD that the movement kicked Van D. out. "Thirty years ago the Unification Movement turned away from Gerrit Jan", the cousin said. "At that time he also broke of contact with the family." The cousin doesn't know why Van D. did this. "At some point he got some ideas in his head. Crazy ideas, but nobody in the family wants to talk about that. He started talking and discussing them, but the family immediately said: no, we don't want anything to do with that. At one point our church said: we cannot go any further with you."

Koetsier does not know where Van D. went and where he started his family. "But sometimes people who are spiritual start their own church or movement. I think this is the case with him. It could be that he thought he had a special mission."