Austrian man held Dutch family captive on farm

RUINERWOLD (The Netherlands) • Dutch investigators suspect an Austrian man held a father and five adult children against their will for nearly a decade on a remote farmhouse before they were finally rescued, officials said.

The 58-year-old man, identified by the media as Josef B, was arrested after police this week discovered the family of six in a tiny secret room in the building in the village of Ruinerwold in the northern province of Drenthe.

The mystery deepened with reports that the oldest of the children, who had walked into a bar on Sunday and raised the alarm about their captivity, had been active on social media this year.

"In the investigation, the man is currently suspected of being involved in illegal deprivation of liberty and harming the health of others," Dutch prosecutors said in a statement.

Police also raided two properties as part of the investigation, including a former toy store owned by the suspect in the town of Zwartsluis, 16km from Ruinerwold.

The Austrian foreign ministry had earlier said an Austrian national from Vienna was being held in relation to the case, but added that the man did not want to have contact with Austrian officials.

The mayor of Perg district in Upper Austria state said the arrested man had worked as a carpenter and lived alone for 10 years before leaving for the Netherlands in 2010, describing him as "reserved" and "discreet".

The man was reportedly known in Ruinerwold as "Josef, the Austrian" and Dutch media said he was the one who had held the group, renting the house and planting vegetables for them in the garden.

According to media reports, the family had spent years "waiting for the end of time", although officials would not confirm that.

The sibling who raised the alarm, a 25-year-old who has only gone by the name of "Jan", kept a Facebook account and posted an update in June for the first time in nine years, saying he had started a new job, according to Dutch media.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2019, with the headline 'Austrian man held Dutch family captive on farm'. Print Edition | Subscribe