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‘Josef the Austrian’ who rented Dutch farmhouse where family ‘waited for the end of times’

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The man who rented an isolated Dutch farmhouse where a family were ‘waiting for the end of time’ has been arrested for imprisoning them in a ‘secret room’.

A family of six were discovered after the eldest son, 25, walked to a nearby bar in Ruinerwold, 60 miles north of Amsterdam, on Sunday, ordered five beers, and asked for help.  

Officers found his four brothers and sisters, aged between 18 and 25, along with their father in a room hidden behind a staircase. The family were taken to a safe location while the seventh person – Austrian Josef B, 58 – was arrested.

Josesef B, known as ‘Josef the Austrian’ will appear in court on Thursday, as it emerged the ‘odd-jobs-man’ had asked neighbours for renovation tips such as laying concrete. 

A view of the remote property from a drone, showing plots close to the main building which were used to grow vegetables

A view of the remote property from a drone, showing plots close to the main building which were used to grow vegetables

Investigators admit they are deeply puzzled by the case and are still working to answer key questions – such as whether the family, who had been living in a ‘small, enclosed space’, were held against their will by Josef B. 

However more details may emerge when he appears in court for the remand hearing, after being charged with the deprivation of liberty and prejudicing the health of others.  

Neighbours told local media they were puzzled by the man – described as a skilled ‘wood-worker’ – after he appeared to have renovated the isolated home alone. 

Jospef B would reportedly ask locals for tips on building and construction but would not elaborate on where he lived or with whom. 

One local told Bild newspaper: ‘The man has renovated all this alone, came with his trailer and building materials. I’ve always wondered “how can he do it all on his own?” 

Officers raided this property on Sunday where they discovered Jan’s family living in an ‘enclosed space’. Josef B, 58, who rented the property, was arrested after refusing to cooperate with the investigation

‘He must have had help, it can not be done on his own.’

Residents also claim Josef B had surveillance cameras around the property, kept the gate locked and peered through binoculars. 

He would reportedly ‘chase’ people away that strayed too close to the house. 

‘It was enough for you to come near the farm and he sent you away. He followed everything with binoculars,’ one local told Aftonbladet.  

Local media said Josef B had a small workshop in Meppel and came to the Netherlands in 2010, the same year the family were locked up at the remote house, though the Austrian authorities have yet to confirm this.  

It comes after the first pictures emerged of Jan Zon van Dorsten, 25, who saved the family after he walked to a nearby bar and asked for help. 

Jan Zon van Dorsten, 25, is the son who alerted Dutch police to the plight of his four brothers and sisters and their father, who were living in isolation at a remote house while apparently waiting 'for the end of times'

Jan Zon van Dorsten, 25, is the son who alerted Dutch police to the plight of his four brothers and sisters and their father, who were living in isolation at a remote house while apparently waiting ‘for the end of times’

Police say Jan had been living in a ‘small, enclosed space’ for the last nine years until he appeared at the bar. 

The mystery is deepened further by the fact that Jan, the eldest son, had access to social media and had been active on Facebook since June this year. 

Posts on his public profile show he used the platform for several years until 2010, when he posted saying that he had moved to Ruinerwold – the village where the house is located.

The profile then goes silent until June this year, when it suddenly reactivated with a post announcing that Jan was working as an online store manager at Creconat, located in Meppel – a village around four miles from Ruinerwold.

Jan raised the alarm after walking from the house to a local bar where he ordered five beers and told the bartender that he couldn't go home

Jan raised the alarm after walking from the house to a local bar where he ordered five beers and told the bartender that he couldn’t go home

‘Creativity for everyone!’ the post says.

Creconat is associated with a timber company called Native Creative Economy, also based in Meppel, which is owned by Josef B, according to De Telegraaf

Police raided the premises on Monday, a neighbour said. It is not clear what, if anything, was found.

Jan spent his time on social media posting pictures of nature and promoting causes, such as climate strikes.

Police continued working at the property Wednesday, as they try to unravel the mystery of how the family came to be there, and whether they were being kept against their will

Police continued working at the property Wednesday, as they try to unravel the mystery of how the family came to be there, and whether they were being kept against their will

On Saturday he uploaded three photos of landmarks around Ruinerwold that were taken in the dark. It is thought these were taken while he was walking to the bar. 

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It is reported he went to the bar three times before the barman – Chris Westerbeek – called police, describing Jan as dishevelled, confused and needing help.

None of Jan’s family were registered on government databases, police have confirmed – perhaps indicating how they managed to go undetected for years. 

Police say they are puzzled by the case - a mystery that is deepened by the fact that Jan had access to social media and had been posting since June this year until the time he was rescued

Police say they are puzzled by the case – a mystery that is deepened by the fact that Jan had access to social media and had been posting since June this year until the time he was rescued

Jan Zon van Dorsten

Jan Zon van Dorsten

Jan was active on Facebook until 2010, when it is thought his family moved to the house, before his profile went silent – only to activate again in June this year

Police were still present at the house on Wednesday, three days after the initial raid took place

Police were still present at the house on Wednesday, three days after the initial raid took place

The house is located in Ruinerwold, around 60 miles north of Amsterdam, and it is thought the family moved there in 2010

The house is located in Ruinerwold, around 60 miles north of Amsterdam, and it is thought the family moved there in 2010

Local media reported Josef B was born in Vienna. The Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could only confirm that Josef has requested not to be contacted by the embassy, and has refused their help.

A man named online as Tonnie, who had the workshop next to Josef’s, told Dutch news site ED that he was a highly skilled woodworker and often made parts for pleasure yachts. ‘A real craftsman,’ he said. 

Alida ten Oever, who owned the house and rented it to Josef, said that he always paid rent on time and that she never saw signs of other people living at the property.

Neighbours told RTV Drenthe that Josef was a private man who never allowed visitors inside the house.

The house itself was set back 200 yards from the nearest road, and another 100 yards from the nearest building. 

Pictures show it was surrounded by trees, blocking off the view, and also had a perimeter fence.

Vegetables were being grown in plots surrounding the property, while a goat was also kept there.  

Locals who visited said there was a security camera trained on the yard, and there were suspicions within the village that Josef was growing cannabis.

Police raided the property along with a workshop belonging to Josef B in the nearby village of Meppel, where Jan listed himself as working

Police raided the property along with a workshop belonging to Josef B in the nearby village of Meppel, where Jan listed himself as working 

Bar owner, Chris Westerbeek, recalled the 25-year-old man came in numerous times over a number of days and looked 'confused'

Bar owner, Chris Westerbeek, recalled the 25-year-old man came in numerous times over a number of days and looked ‘confused’

Police spokesman Ramona Venema confirmed the family was found at the remote house

Police spokesman Ramona Venema confirmed the family was found at the remote house

However, as news of the family spread, there was widespread shock and disbelief.

‘We are quite perplexed about it all,’ landlady Oever said. 

Ruinerwold mayor Roger de Groot told a press conference that neither he nor the police had ever seen anything like it. 

Speaking about the inside of the house, he added: ‘The police found a number of rooms with makeshift furnishings where the family lived a withdrawn existence. That is where the six were found.’

He denied that the family had been living in a basement.

A statement from local police said Josef B was refusing to cooperate with the investigation but was detained and being interrogated. 

‘We understand that everyone still has many questions,’ a police spokesman said. ‘We do too. That is why we want to do our research 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 we cannot share them.

‘We have called in a Large Scale Investigation Team (TGO). Investigators are probing possible criminal offenses under the leadership of the Public Prosecution Service.’ 

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