A Dutch father who spent nine years locked away at a farmhouse with his adult children was trying to start a cult, according to reports in the Netherlands.
The 67-year-old was a former follower of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, often described by critics as the “Moonies cult.” The church identified the man as former member Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten in a news release on Friday.
Willem Koestier, a spokesperson for the Church in Amsterdam, told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that he crossed paths with van Dorsten in the 1980s. He added that the man left the church and seemingly wanted to start his own cult.
The father was arrested Thursday on charges of unlawful detention, a form of abuse and money laundering, Dutch police said. Authorities have not independently confirmed his name, although it is being widely reported in Dutch media.
Van Dorsten was found in medical distress on Monday after the eldest of his six children, aged 18 to 25, ventured into the nearby village of Ruinerwold and shared his family’s tale of apocalyptic isolation. The man told a bartender that his family had been locked away at a secluded farmhouse for the last nine years while they waited for the “end of days.” He said he wanted his isolated lifestyle to end.
Police later found Van Dorsten and his five other children in a locked room at the farmhouse. They also found a large amount of cash on the property, which apparently prompted the money laundering charge.
Van Dorsten is the second suspect to be arrested in the case. A 58-year-old man who was arrested on Tuesday has been charged with unlawful detention and harming others’ health. Dutch media have identified him as Josef Brunner, a handyman on the property who paid the rent and brought in supplies.
The Unification Church says Brunner was never among its members.
Authorities do not release the names of suspects in accordance with Dutch privacy laws.
The siblings’ names have also not been released, in part because authorities didn’t know they existed. The children were never registered at birth and never attended school, according to police chief Janny Knol.
“Basically we know nothing of them,” she said in a Dutch TV interview. “This is an extraordinary situation.”
Several current and former neighbours have come forward to share details about the family and their peculiar behaviours.
Neighbours living around the Ruinerwold farm said they’ve seen the family walking in circles together outside, according to local station RTV Drenthe.
Former neighbour Sandra Van de Kamp Soer told De Telegraaf that she lived next to them when they resided in the town of Hasselt, up until approximately 15 years ago. She said the mother, who spoke English, was still alive at that time.
She described the father, van Dorsten, as having a “long Jesus beard,” and said the children “also had long hair … You could barely see who the boys or girls were.” She added that the father “arranged births himself.”
Van de Kamp Soer added that Brunner, the handyman who was arrested, also lived in their neighbourhood at the time.
The newspaper de Volksrant also reports that Brunner and van Dorsten were neighbours in Hasselt and that Brunner later became Dorsen’s tenant at the farmhouse.
Van Dorsten’s estranged family told the publication that they lost contact with him in the 1980s. His brother is still a member of the Unification Church, the church said.
Police have enlisted a team of psychologists to help the isolated siblings and gather evidence in the case.
“With a team of psychologists we are trying to understand what we see,” Knol said.
The liberated siblings have been moved to a holiday park for the time being.
—With files from Reuters