Dutch police find reclusive family ‘waiting for the end of time’

Man and six young adults found living in hidden cellar of farmhouse in north Netherlands

The farmhouse where a man and  six young adults were found living in the cellar, in Ruinerwold in the province of Drenthe, the Netherlands. Photograph: Wilbert Bijzitter/EPA

The farmhouse where a man and six young adults were found living in the cellar, in Ruinerwold in the province of Drenthe, the Netherlands. Photograph: Wilbert Bijzitter/EPA

 

Police have found a 58-year-old man and a family with six young adults, aged between 18 and 25, living in the hidden cellar of an isolated farmhouse in the northeast of the Netherlands, “waiting for the end of time”.

They were discovered on Tuesday when the alarm was raised by a local publican who said that the eldest male – looking considerably older than 25 because of his dishevelled appearance – had walked into his bar the previous day, explained where he came from, and said he didn’t want to go back.

“He was very confused,” said the publican, Chris Westerbeek. “He ordered five beers and drank them. When he started to talk he said he had run away, that he hadn’t been outside for nine years, and that he had brothers and sisters who were still hidden at home.”

Mr Westerbeek contacted the police and the local mayor and within hours they had found the remote and boarded-up farmhouse, almost invisible from the roadside, near Ruinerwold, a village of fewer than 3,000 people, in the province of Drenthe.

In the living room of the farmhouse, hidden behind a large cupboard, police found a secret flight of stairs leading down to the cellar.

There they found the 58-year-old man who had suffered a stroke some years before and was confined to bed.

Ramona Venema, a police spokeswoman, said that because the man would not co-operate with their questioning, other than to say they were “waiting for the end of time”, he was arrested.

He and the young adults, who had never been to school, were then taken by ambulance to a local holiday park to be temporarily rehoused and have medical checks.

Ms Venema said there were “still more questions than answers” and that therefore she could not confirm the relationship between the seven people living in the house.

She said it was quite possible that the younger ones never realised there were other people in the outside world.

There was no sign of the siblings’ mother, and the police said it could not be ruled out that at some point she had become ill and died, and had been buried in the grounds – which are now sealed off and being examined by forensics teams.

Because it was boarded up, most of the neighbours in this scattered area seemed to believe the house, which is screened by trees, was empty.

One said he had occasionally seen a man tending a vegetable patch, a goat and some geese, though this was rare and he had never seen lights.

The local postman said he had never delivered a letter there – which in retrospect, he agreed, was “strange”.