Outside the tiny Dutch village of Ruinerwold, a dilapidated farmhouse stands half-hidden by trees. It’s a peaceful, pleasant scene. But within moments the calm is broken as police storm the abandoned building. Concealed by a cupboard, they find a hidden staircase which leads them down into a secret room. And there, they find something that stuns them all.
It all began on October 13, 2019, when a strange man appeared in a bar in Ruinerwold. Dressed in old clothes and with an unkempt appearance, he startled locals with his strange ways. But as he drank beer after beer, he made a disturbing confession. Clearly, he needed help, and before long the owner contacted the police.
The following day, the terrifying truth finally emerged. And for the residents of Ruinerwold, it was a development that shocked the community. For years, they had no idea about the dark secret that was lurking in their midst. Now, though, the eyes of the world were on them as a bizarre story unfolded.
When most people think of the Netherlands, they think of the bustling streets of Amsterdam or the tulip farms of the central regions. However, few tourists make it as far as the province of Drenthe, tucked away in the country’s northeastern corner. Here, the land is mostly dedicated to agriculture, and green fields stretch as far as the eye can see.
With fewer than 500,000 residents spread across over 1,000 square miles, Drenthe is one of the Netherlands’ least populated regions. And although some of the locals gather in cities such as Emmen and Assen, many live in isolated villages that have changed little over the years.
Located on the southwestern border of Drenthe is the tiny municipality of Meppel, home to some 30,000 residents. However, this sleepy 16th century town is a veritable metropolis compared to Ruinerwold – a rural village situated some four miles to the northeast. There, less than 3,000 people live in what has long been a peaceful and tight-knit community.
In fact, the most exciting development to happen in Ruinerwold in recent times occurred in 1998. That year, the village was joined with the nearby municipality of De Wolden, becoming part of a wider community – at least on paper. However, life in the quiet rural hamlet continued in much the same way that it had for generations.
According to the mayor of Ruinerwold, it is the sort of place where everybody looks out for one another. So, it came as even more of a shock when a series of bizarre events unfolded in 2019. According to reports, the drama centered around a seemingly deserted farmhouse on the outskirts of the village.
Before then, the residents of Ruinerwold knew little about the farmhouse or who lived there. Apparently, it was obscured by high fences and trees, and the windows were boarded up. In fact, it looked to many as if it had been abandoned. However, some neighbors noted that that did not appear to be the case.
In fact, local residents reported seeing a lone man at the isolated farmhouse. According to them, he visited the building regularly and was in the process of carrying out renovations. But aside from a dog and a few geese, nobody could recall any other signs of life in or around the property.
Then, in October 2019, all that changed. One day, Chris Westerbeek was working at Café De Kastelein, the small bar that he owned in the center of Ruinerwold. But just as he was about to close up for the day, a stranger appeared. And immediately, Westerbeek knew that something was amiss.
According to Westerbeek, the man appeared to be in a dazed state. Moreover, he was dressed in dated clothes and was sporting a disheveled beard. As it was nearing closing time, the proprietor of the popular venue asked the man to leave. However, on the evening of Sunday October 13, the stranger came back.
And this time round, Westerbeek decided to find out exactly who the stranger was – and what he was up to. However, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. As the two men sat together on the terrace of the Café De Kastelein, a strange story began to unfold.
According to Westerbeek, the man drank five beers as he made his startling confession. Apparently, he had spent almost a decade confined to the farmhouse outside the village. And what’s more, he wasn’t alone. In fact, he claimed that he had a number of siblings who had also been kept isolated from the outside world.
In fact, Westerbeek claims that the man told him he had not left the farmhouse in all of nine years. “You could see he had no idea who he was or what he was doing,” the bar owner told local news broadcaster RTV Drenthe in October 2019. “He said he had run away and that he urgently needed help.”
In an interview with the BBC, Westerbreek went into more detail about the strange encounter. “He had long hair, a dirty beard, wore old clothes and looked confused,” the bar owner recalled. “He said he’d never been to school and hadn’t been to a barber for nine years.” But there was more.
“He said he had brothers and sisters who lived at the farm,” Westerbeek continued. “He said he was the oldest and wanted to end the way they were living.” And although he had no way of knowing whether the stranger’s story was true, the bar owner contacted the police. Maybe they could help or, at the very least, check out the claims.
Yes, and on October 14, police officers arrived at the farmhouse to investigate. But when they crossed over the canal to conduct a search of the property, they initially didn’t find anything untoward. However, a closer inspection revealed a secret staircase hidden behind an unassuming cupboard. Descending the staircase, the officers found themselves in a hidden room.
And there, they discovered evidence that a family of seven had been living in secret. Apparently, the group consisted of six adults between the ages of 18 and 25, as well as a man, 58. However, initial reports varied as to whether or not he was the father of the others.
But what were these six young adults doing hiding in a room in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse? And why had none of their neighbors ever seen them on the property? Soon, it emerged that they had been kept in total isolation on the farm. Indeed, they’d never left to attend school or participate in the wider community.
Instead, it’s believed that the group had holed up on the farm in anticipation of a catastrophic doomsday event. In fact, some of the younger members may not have even realized that there was a world outside their property. And while they lived there, reports claim, they were simply “waiting for the end of time” to arrive.
Again, reports vary as to who exactly was living in the house when the police arrived. However, it seems that the man Westerbeek met was the oldest son, who was 25 at the time. And, furthermore, all the evidence seems to support his claim that the family had been living in isolation for years.
Baffled by this discovery, police took the 58-year-old man into custody. And soon, the quiet village of Ruinerwold found itself at the heart of an international sensation. As press descended on the rural community, officials could only tell them that the investigation was ongoing. But over the following days, a number of bizarre details emerged.
According to reports, the people living on the farm were self-sufficient, surviving on vegetables that had been grown on the land. However, none of the young adults were registered locally. In fact, some sources claim that they did not even have birth certificates to identify themselves.So who were these people? And why were they waiting for the end of the world?
On October 17, police made a startling announcement. Apparently, they had made another arrest in connection with the investigation. By that time, the initial suspect had been detained on the grounds of deprivation of liberty and harming the health of others. And later that day, a 67-year-old man was brought in on the same allegations.
While all this was unfolding behind the scenes, the residents of Ruinerwold struggled to come to terms with the news. And according to Roger de Groot, the mayor of the village, many of them were racked by guilt. “They wonder: how did this happen in our village, how did we miss this?” he told RTL News.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” de Groot admitted in an interview with local reporters. Meanwhile, others residents spoke of the realization that something so sinister could happen within their community. “I am shaking on my legs,” one neighbor told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. But there was some good news to be had.
Yes, because after the family members were removed from the farm, they were placed in a safehouse to recover. And as the days passed, experts were able to take a closer look at them. In a statement, police claimed that a doctor had pronounced them in good health. Moreover, they appeared to have been educated to at least a basic level.
And over time, the identities of those involved became public. Apparently, the older man, Gerrit Jan van Dorsten, was actually the father of the young adults trapped in the house. Meanwhile, the suspect who police initially arrested was known as Josef B., the tenant of the farm property itself.
Now, on October 18 a statement from other members of the van Dorsten family, estranged from Gerrit, was made public. In it, they claimed that Gerrit Jan van Dorsten had severed all ties with them back in the 1980s. Furthermore, they hadn’t heard from him since and attested that he’d instructed them not to go looking for him or his children.
Mind you, the statement claimed, all that had changed around 2011. That year, the family were made aware that three of van Dorsten’s children had escaped from their father and made contact with other relatives. Happily, the younger members were able to reunite with their family, including estranged uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents.
Despite this development, the family claims that they knew nothing about the six other children still living with their troubled relative. But soon, the local news outlet De Stentor was on the case. And before long, reporters had tracked down some old neighbors of van Dorsten and his children.
Apparently, the family had lived in the eastern municipality of Zwartewaterland before relocating to rural Drenthe. And according to an October 2019 article in the NL Times, neighbors had not noticed anything unusual about them. “[The daughter] was a very normal girl, did an internship at the flower shop and went to school at Agnieten College,” one acquaintance is reported to have said.
However, the same neighbor noted that the family’s son was clearly having difficulties at home. Sadly, this was supported by another witness, who claimed that the boy was friends with her own child. “He ate here quite often,” she is reported to have said. “It was clear that he was not used to eating at the table. It was clear he didn’t come from a warm family.”
Around the same time, reporters discovered that a truancy officer had investigated the family while they were living in Zwartewaterland. But it appears as if they found nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, no further action was taken – although it is unclear whether the children were being educated at home.
Three days later, though, there came another twist in this strange tale. Apparently, it emerged that van Dorsten had recorded a number of bizarre videos back in 2006. And in them, he spoke about a battle that was being fought in the spirit world. Moreover, he also appeared to discuss the complexities of familial relationships – albeit in a strange and garbled way.
According to RTV Drenthe, van Dorsten was no stranger to unusual beliefs. In fact, back in the 1980s, he was a member of the Unification Movement. Established in South Korea in 1954, this religious body has often been referred to as a cult, and its members follow their own interpretation of Christianity.
Today, members of the Unification Movement are popularly known as Moonies, and their strange beliefs have attracted much criticism. And according to reports, it was as followers of this controversial religion that van Dorsten and Josef B. first met. However, a spokesperson for the movement claimed that the man arrested at Ruinerwold was no longer a member of their organisation.
As time has passed, different sources have added even more layers to the baffling mystery. For example, some have claimed that van Dorsten was bed-ridden when the police arrived, having suffered a stroke in recent years. Meanwhile, others have noted that the mother was unaccounted for, suggesting she may have died and been buried at the farmhouse.
Today, the investigation continues as authorities seek DNA tests to determine whether van Dorsten really is the father of the six adults. Meanwhile, curious reporters have managed to find their way inside the remote farm. But as newspapers splash with photographs of the “House of Horrors,” Ruinerwold, sadly, has been left with more questions than answers.