Hidden rooms, cults and secret Facebook accounts: What we know about the Ruinerwold family.

Chris Westerbeek was working in his pub as usual when a man, scruffy and confused, entered.

The pub in the small Dutch town of Ruinerwold was usually frequented by locals, and the unusual man looked very out of place.

He ordered five beers and drank them by himself before leaving.

But days later the man returned, still scruffy, still confused. Then he began to talk.

“He was unkempt, with long tangled hair. We got talking. He said he had run away and needed help, and that he had never been to school. Then we called the police,” Westerbeek told media.

chris westerbeek
Chris Westerbeek outside his pub. Image: Twitter/@dvhn_nl.

The 25-year-old recounted his story to Westerbeek. He, Jan Zon van Dorsten, was the eldest of five siblings aged between 18-25. They lived with their father Gerrit Jan van Dorsten, 67, in a secluded farmhouse near Ruinerwold and had not had contact with the outside world for nine years.

Police discovered a staircase behind a cupboard in the living room led to a hidden room where they had lived for years, 'waiting for the end of time'. The father, reported to have had a stroke, was bedridden.

After being discovered at the farmhouse by police, father Gerrit Jan and his children were liberated and placed at a holiday park, while the farm's tenant and their alleged captor Josef Brunner, 58, was arrested and charged with illegally depriving them of their liberty.

Then came rumours they were members of the Unification Church cult, known as the Moonies.

According to witnesses at the park, the family would move in a circle together every 30 minutes – a ritual related to the cult – RTV Drenthe reported.

dutch family farmhouse
Image: AAP.

A statement from the Moonies, founded in 1954 by South Korean Sun Myung Moon, said Gerrit Jan“was briefly a member of our movement in the mid-1980s” but had left in 1987.

He was “known to have mental health issues” and his brother had not heard from him for over 30 years, it said, adding that there were no records indicating Brunner, a woodworker, had ever been associated with the movement.

Following these reports, Gerrit Jan was also arrested on suspicion of "depriving people of their liberty, harming the health of others and money laundering", police said in a statement on Thursday.

They said they were investigating allegations that a "certain belief in life or faith" lay behind the case.


Dutch and international media have reported that three people who say they are also Gerrit Jan's children have also come forward, claiming to have left the family eight years ago and have not heard from them since.

The mother of the children died a long time ago, according to reports.

Bizarrely, though neighbours and the landlord of the property had no idea there were people other than Brunner living at the farm, both Gerrit Jan and son Jan Zon used social media.

Jan Zon van Dorsten
Jan Zon van Dorsten. Image: Facebook.

After nine years of silence, it appeared Jan Zon began using Facebook and Instagram this year - but the most revealing social platform is LinkedIn, where he’s listed himself as the "online store manager" of a company affiliated with a company called Home Wood in Meppel, which De Telegraaf reported is owned by Brunner.

Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant linked Gerrit Jan with a Facebook page under the name John Eagles, where he interacted with followers and posted photos, videos and articles - mainly in English.

john eagles facebook
Image: Facebook.
john eagles facebook
Image: Facebook.

On his Facebook, 'Eagles' promoted a book he was writing about stretching, shared gardening tips and religious theories.

He posted a video of himself using a homemade wooden rowing machine and shared photos of his cats.

john eagles facebook
Image: Facebook.

Gerrit Jan, left bedridden after a stroke thought to have been at least two years ago, was first considered another victim of Brunner, but police now suspect he was complicit in his crimes.

He is being held away from his children, who were so isolated they reportedly spoke in a "fantasy language". On Monday, the examining magistrate extended his custody by 14 days.