By Hilde Verweij
RUINERWOLD, Netherlands (Reuters) – Dutch police are questioning a man who paid the rent on a farmhouse where six members of a family were found locked away in a secret room after apparently living for years in isolation, authorities said on Wednesday.
Five siblings, estimated to be aged between 18 and 25, and a man they identified as their ailing father were found near Ruinerwold, a village in the northern province of Drenthe.
A man who police said had paid the rent on the property was detained, although they could not say on Wednesday whether he was suspected of a crime. Local mayor Roger de Groot had said on Tuesday that the 58-year-old was not the father of the family.
“The man is still in custody and is being questioned,” said Drenthe police spokeswoman Grietje Hartstra. “A lot is still unclear and we are investigating exactly what happened there.”
The family was discovered after one member, a 25-year-old man and the eldest of the siblings according to local media, sought help at a nearby cafe.
In a statement, police said they found the family in a “small space in the house which could be locked” and that it was unclear whether they were being held against their will.
Investigators have not commented on published reports that the family may have held apocalyptic “end of days” beliefs.
“There is a lot of speculation in the media about what happened, but as police we deal with facts. We still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Hartstra said.
The mother of the children was believed to have died before the family moved to the Dutch farm in 2010, De Groot said. None of the family members was registered as a resident with the municipality, police said.
The farm is located on a secluded plot of land on the outskirts of the village, where residents speculated about how anyone could have been hidden away for so long in their tiny community without being noticed.
“It’s possible here … (it) is such a remote spot, in the middle of fields,” said neighbour Roelie van Dijk. “You see it can happen anywhere. Not only in a big city but also in the countryside. And perhaps even more in the countryside, where you can hide completely.”
Van Dijk said she and her husband had seen a man driving in and out of the property for years and doing construction work. He always kept the gates closed and never socialised, she said.
Her husband Sjon said he once asked to see how the renovations were coming along, but the man yelled “no” and sped off.
“We tried to make contact, my husband just last week, with the man in the car…(But) he drove on. He went through the gates and locked them again.”
The siblings had apparently lived in makeshift rooms inside the farm and survived partly on vegetables and animals from a secluded garden on the property, local TV RTV Drenthe reported.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)