Modern Dutch Heroes: Peter R. de Vries

On a warm summer evening in July of last year, one of the Netherlands’ most respected and beloved journalists was leaving the television station on the Leidseplein in Amsterdam. Having just featured on the entertainment and news program “RTL Boulevard”, where he was a frequent guest, Peter R. de Vries never made it to his car and never made it home. He was brutally gunned down by a young assailant and taken to the hospital in critical condition. For the next several days, a stunned nation waited for an update on the investigative journalist’s condition. For nine days the nation waited until finally, on 15 July 2021, Peter R. de Vries succumbed to his injuries.

For most foreigners to the Netherlands, Peter R. de Vries was not a well-known figure. But after his attack, if you caught a glimpse of any news or talk show, you undoubtedly saw reports on his life: how he started in investigative journalism, his passion for reporting on crime rings in the Netherlands and of course the case that made him known in the US: his coverage of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005. Now, people who remembered that case thought to themselves: “Oh yeah, I remember him.”

On a Dutch talk show in 2006, De Vries held and interview with Joran van der Sloot, the main suspect in the American teenager’s disappearance, and his parents. De Vries made several remarks questioning Van de Sloot’s credibility and ultimately accused him of complicity in her disappearance. This remark led to Mr. Van der Sloot throwing a glass of red wine in De Vries’ face. A couple of years later, Mr. De Vries garnered the global spotlight when he claimed to have solved Natalee Holloway’s disappearance using hidden-camera video confession from Joran van der Sloot explaining the death of Ms. Holloway and his part in the disposing of her body at sea. (Mr. Van der Sloot said later he was lying in the video and the Aruba police determined there was not enough evidence to justify a re-arrest of Van der Sloot.) This video was broadcast worldwide, including major US news outlets including Fox News, ABC News and Good Morning America. This same year, 2008, Peter R. de Vries won the prestigious International Emmy Award for Current Affairs for his continued reporting on the Holloway case.

Before the Natalee Holloway case catapulted him into investigative journalism super-stardom, Peter R. de Vries covered dozens of national crime cases that have become defining moments in recent Dutch history. He started his career as a general reporter for De Telegraaf newspaper, and quickly shifted to crime reporting to expose the organized crime rings in the country. Some of his earlier cases included covering the kidnapping of Dutch beer tycoon Freddy Heineken (aboutwhich he wrote two books); the 1994 murder of Dutch flight attendant Christel Ambrosius; and the 1998 murder of 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen, whose murderer was only recently convicted due to De Vries’ continued efforts. More recently, he was covering the trial of leading members of the Mocro Mafia, a Dutch-Moroccan crime ring. The suspects in his murder are connected to this crime ring as well.

As editor-in-chief, De Vries also helped transform the male-targeted magazine Aktueel into more of a crime magazine in the mid-80s and even hosted his own crime reporting show, ‘Peter R. de Vries – Crime Reporter’, from 1995 to 2012. After a brief stint with politics, De Vries returned to crime reporting and over the decades became a symbol of honest journalism in the pursuit of justice and the truth. The nation came to know him for his integrity, his compassion for victims, his love for fairness and the belief in the justice system in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands celebrated him for helping bring corruption in many sectors to light, bring criminals to face the law, and for grieving alongside family members and loved ones of victims of crime. For those from the US, he’s the Dutch version of John Walsh (of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ fame) with the persistence and integrity of Woodward and Bernstein.

For his lifelong pursuit against crime, his support for victims’ families and friends, for the indelible legacy he has left on Dutch and international journalism with his integrity, honesty and character, on this anniversary of his untimely passing, we can all hail Peter R. de Vries as truly a modern Dutch hero.

Written by Marla Thomson