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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 11
The Dutch Gangster Betrayed by His Sister
About
Patrick Radden Keefe tells the story of how Astrid Holleeder exposed a notorious Dutch gangster who happened to be her brother.
Read the story.
Released on 07/31/2018
Transcript
So I heard a while back about this book
that had been a massive best seller in the Netherlands.
It sold 500,000 copies in a country where there are only
17 million people, so this was a huge phenomenon there.
The book is called Judas,
and it's by a woman named Astrid Holleeder.
At the point where the public in the Netherlands realized
that Astrid Holleeder, the sister of this gangster,
Willem, was going to testify against him
and so was his other sister Sonja,
it became this massive public spectacle.
Her older brother is a guy named Willem Holleeder,
he goes by Wim.
He's been a hugely famous gangster for decades
in the Netherlands, kind of the biggest criminal mastermind
in Amsterdam.
His father, whose name actually was also Willem,
was an alcoholic and kind of a sadist
who beat the members of his family,
and inside this claustrophobic little house,
really kind of ruled with an iron fist.
And the interesting thing about the father is
he worked at the nearby Heineken plant.
Heineken was this huge
economic success story in the Netherlands.
Freddy Heineken ran the company,
and Wim Holleeder's father worked there.
And he revered Freddy Heineken.
Freddy Heineken was a hero.
Willem Holleeder initially dabbles in petty crime
and various types of fraud
and then he gets into armed robbery.
And then what made Willem Holleeder famous
is that in 1983, he and his best friend Cor van Hout
and a few other criminal associates
kidnapped Freddy Heineken.
They kidnap him
and get an enormous ransom
and then flee to France and go into hiding.
Looks as though they might actually manage to
get away with it, but what happened is,
because this is a family story,
Cor ends up calling back to Amsterdam
to talk to Sonja,
Sonja Holleeder, Wim's sister, Astrid's sister,
who he's romantically involved with and has a child with.
And the authorities know that they should be watching her.
They are tracing her calls,
and so, they figure out where it is
that these guys are hiding in Paris and they pick them up.
The Heineken family never recovered all of the ransom.
They recovered some of it.
The authorities recovered some of it.
There was some enormous amount of money, some people say
on the order of about nine million Euros today
that was never recovered.
And so, Willem Holleeder and Cor van Hout
take this money, even as they're getting locked up,
and according to Astrid, Willem's sister, what they did was
they gave it to criminal associates of theirs
to start investing the money
so when they come out of prison after a number of years,
they're actually much richer
and at that point, extremely well-known in Amsterdam.
Cor van Hout and Willem Holleeder are still very close.
They're still kind of criminal partners.
Their families spend a lot of time together.
And at a certain point, somebody tries to shoot Cor van Hout
to kill him.
Cor's terrified.
He doesn't know who's trying to kill him.
And Wim goes and says, Oh, I think I figured it out.
It's these two gangsters in Amsterdam,
and they want to essentially extort money from you.
They want you to pay.
And Wim kind of urges Cor to pay.
Cor doesn't want to.
So there's a second attempt. (gunshot)
A sniper tries to shoot Cor in front of his house.
Again, he gets away and survives.
And then there's a third attempt.
He's out in front of a restaurant one day
when two guys drive on their motorcycle
and spray him with bullets, and they kill him.
Astrid, privately, already at that point
is beginning to suspect that it wasn't some random gangsters
in Amsterdam who killed Cor,
it was her own brother,
and that Wim, because he was jealous of Cor,
because he felt threatened, because he was paranoid,
because he wanted to actually
get more of Cor's share of the Heineken ransom,
which they still had, had wanted to eliminate Cor and did.
And so, inside this family, you have this crazy dynamic.
Wim is still this very forceful figure.
He sees both of his sisters all the time.
He sees his niece and nephew, whose father, it seems
he may have actually had killed.
And privately, they all suspect
that actually he did this.
But it takes them a long time to summon the nerve
to turn on him.
Astrid Holleeder, she and her sister Sonja,
secretly started wearing a wire
and recording conversations with him,
in which he made admissions to criminal activity.
(speaking foreign language)
He belittles his sisters.
He threatens to kill them.
He threatens to beat them.
Their portrait of a guy who is every bit as abusive
as their abusive father was and more so.
Now she is the star witness in the case against her brother.
They call it the mega trial.
It's held at a special kind of armored courtroom
on the outskirts of Amsterdam,
not the normal courthouse,
but a place that they all call the Bunker.
And then inside the courtroom,
Astrid, when she testifies, does so behind a screen,
and she does this because when she turned on her brother,
she had to go into hiding
because she believes that he now wants to have her killed.
And so, she's behind a screen,
and you can hear her voice.
But you can't see her.
And her voice fills the courtroom.
And you can see Wim there,
and it clearly drives him mad to have his sister
telling these stories about him
and actually playing audio of secret conversations
that the two of them had that she recorded.
And you watch him and he's just like a symphony of ticks.
It's all this kind of passive aggression.
He's kind of moving all around,
he's twirling his glasses around,
he's scoffing, he's laughing,
he's kind of clearing his throat,
he's whispering to his lawyers.
And so, the drama of this scene is really something.
Since turning on her brother,
Astrid Holleeder, she's gone into hiding,
but it's a really strange situation
because she's gone into hiding in her own city,
which is Amsterdam, which is not a big city.
She told me she has prosthetics, she has wigs.
She'll often dress in black.
And then I had this hilarious, kind of mortifying experience
of being at a lunch with Astrid and her family,
with her mother, with her daughter, her sister Sonja,
Sonja's children, and we were all talking.
And at a certain point, I looked up.
There was this kind of dissonant movement
at the edge of the room, and I looked up
and there was a man walking towards me fast
with a bald head.
And by the time I realized what was going on,
he had crossed half the room and was approaching me.
And I stood up genuinely a little panicked
because maybe just reporting the story had made me paranoid.
And then everybody started laughing.
And Astrid pulls this Latex mask off.
It was both hilarious and embarrassing
and a little unsettling at the same time.
When Astrid was young, she trained dogs.
What she said to me was that she thinks of her brother
in the way that you would a wonderful dog
that you love dearly but that bites children
and that sometimes you have to choose the children
and put the dog down.
But I also think that there may be some sense in which,
for Astrid in particular,
she still feels this connection with her brother,
that she's kind of obsessed with him,
and she's determined to put him away,
but she also feels deep emotional ambivalence
about this thing that she's done.
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