A history of Dutch criminal Willem Holleeder

Edition 22 March, by Hendrik Ike

Willem Holleeder is one of the Netherlands most notorious criminals, having earned a national, and indeed international profile as one of the most recognised names in Dutch gangland culture. The twice-convicted felon is currently standing trial for five counts of murder, one count of manslaughter and two counts of attempted murder. The court is now two months into a three-month sitting. To many within the Dutch public, these accusations will have been met with little surprise. Holleeder, 59, has been a well-known household name since his rise to criminal stardom with the kidnapping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken in the early 1980s. The kidnapping, along with the fallout and his subsequent activities, remains the central anecdote of his reputation today. He has been under investigation since his last release from prison in January 2012 and is now the subject of an entirely separate rack of alleged offenses.

Willem Frederik Holleeder, nicknamed ‘De Neus’ due the size of his nose, was born in 1958 in Amsterdam, and spent his early years rising through the ranks of local petty-crime with his neighbourhood friends. One of these friends, Cor van Hout, would later become an accomplice to the Heineken kidnapping in 1983. The initial spark of the kidnapping was the sacking of Holleeder’s father from the brewery by Heineken due to alcoholism. After three weeks imprisonment in a secret location within the western part of the Amsterdam harbour area, Heineken and his chauffeur Ab Doderer were recovered by Dutch police after their captors had already fled with the ransom money. Holleeder and his conspirators would eventually be caught, along with three-quarters of the 35 million guilders, which roughly equates to 16 million euros. The remaining quarter however was never recovered and is supposed by many to have served as the basis for Holleeder’s expansion into the criminal underworld of the capital following his release from jail in 1991.

His old childhood friend, Cor van Hout would eventually be murdered in 2003, along with the famously corrupt property tycoon Willem Endstra in 2004. Endstra is alleged to have played an instrumental role in Holleeder’s money laundering activities following his release from jail yet was also accused of playing a role in organising a failed assassination attempt on Holleeder himself, who was reported to have been extorting Endstra substantially during the early 2000s. Thus, this complicated web of crime has become the bane of investigative Dutch law-enforcement for the past two decades. This is not helped by the fact that Holleeder has skilfully developed his charisma and conduct to absolve himself of any direct involvement in the crimes he has been accused of. This trait was laid painfully bare when Holleeder appeared in a decried interview on College Tour, a well-known Ducth television programme. Many members of the Dutch public objected to giving a convicted criminal such a platform for publicity. The criticism being that it aids the slow and steady construction of the Holleeder myth and legend. He was even featured in a musical release entitled ‘Willem is Back’ along with Lange Frans, a Dutch rapper.

More practically speaking, Dutch lawyers must contend with Holleeder’s ruthless disassociation with anyone who may help implicate him with criminal charges, through any means. This is admitted by both the prosecution and defence; his lawyer Sander Janssen stated to the court on its opening day that Holleeder’s association with Dutch crime did not prove “that he had an interest in or played a role in ordering liquidations”. However, it has emerged that the prosecution’s best chance in concretely proving the guilt of Holleeder lies closer to home; his family. His two sisters, Astrid and Sonja, have both emerged as his fiercest critics. On the sixth session of the court proceedings, Sonja commented on Holleeder that “He makes you silent. You can not talk about anything. That is Wim. If you have knowledge of something, it will pull you into something.” When asked about the relationship Holleeder has with his sisters, he is reputed to have stated that he has been disappointed in his sister Sonja’s statements, but he deliberately withheld from berating her. “She keeps lying and cheating, but she remains my favourite sister,” said Holleeder. This may be personal, but it may also be because that the main clout of the prosecutor’s case stems from revelations unearthed by Holleender’s other sister, Astrid. Astrid secretly recorded conversations with her brother along with two other crown witnesses who are now in witness protection schemes.

The main prosecutor of Holleeder outlined his view of him in his opening statement as “a common criminal, a blackmailer, and in our opinion, a cold killer.” He later said that “With this case we aim to begin to get rid of the myths surrounding this “cuddly criminal”, in an apparent reference to Holleeder’s appearance on the television chat show College Tour. How indicting the evidence will be on Holleeder’s part is yet to be fully realised. He has repeatedly denied any involvement of the murders attached to his name, including Cor van Hout, Willem Endstra, and Thomas van der Bij in 2006. Witness testimonials are a powerful force as the trail develops, yet the lack of any forensic evidence directly linking Holleeder to any of his alleged crimes continues to hamper efforts from the prosecution bench. Yet, the chaos surrounding the suspicious events of the last 20 years continues to form a dark cloud with Holleeder at the centre. Activities outside of court, such as the publication of Astrid’s bestselling book Judas in 2016, have further painted Holleeder with a damning brush. Within the book, Astrid describes her relationship with her brother and the disdain she holds for him. “During his detention, my brother developed a serious heart condition,” she writes. “He barely survived, but he did because, as my mother used to say, a weed doesn’t perish. I was surprised he had a heart at all.” This may be a direct reference to the killing of Cor van Hout, who was a close friend of Astrid. The defence has argued that the publication of such a book distorts the reality of factual evidence – and that the personal story of Astrid Holleeder cannot be taken to be true in its entirety. “It’s not very favourable for any criminal case to have a book like this come out during the proceedings,” Mr. Janssen has commented. “You never know if a witness will tell you something because he or she knows about it, or because he or she read it in a book.”

Still, these latest discoveries are starting to bite in the court room. According to the live blog of nu.nl, Holleeder is becoming increasingly emotional and irate as he perceives his sisters lining up to put him behind bars. Questions remain concerning the hard facts behind his alleged crimes. However, whether innocent or not, the acute betrayal Holleeder feels from his family is becoming increasingly plain to see for all those involved within the court room. Situated in Amsterdam and known as ‘De Bunker’ for its intense security, the ongoing events within may come as a relief, or a surprise, to those outside.