'My father strangled me until I thought I was dead... then he let go': Children of Dutch doomsday cult tell of horrors of being held hostage by cultist parent who abused them for nearly a decade

Daily Mail, UK/October 29, 2023

By Harry Howard

For nearly a decade, they were at the mercy of a father who saw himself as the new Messiah.

In a case that shocked the Netherlands, Gerrit-Jan van Dorsten was alleged to have confined nine of his children to the family's farmhouse in a remote Dutch village, in the apparent belief he was preparing them for a new society called Eden.

There it was alleged that he sexually abused two of children, and repeatedly assaulted the others.

This week, the award-winning Dutch TV documentary series about the saga began airing on the BBC and was released in full online.

It features testimony from the four eldest children who opted to break away from their father's influence - the other five have chosen to remain loyal to him.

Son Shin, 31, tells viewers in the third episode how the 'worst experiences were the strangling', with the father allegedly holding his grip on his son's throat until 'you thought you were dead.'

Meanwhile, his daughter Mar Jan, 30, says how she always feared that he would give her 'a real beating' and would 'scream very loudly'.

One child is said to have spent an entire year living in a dog kennel when he was 13, after his father told him he was evil.

Van Dorsten, who was once a member of the South Korean Moonies sect, was arrested on suspicion of holding his children against their will but was ruled unfit to stand trial in 2021 after suffering a debilitating stroke.

The case came to light in October 2019 when van Dorsten's son Israel, who was then 25, escaped from the farmhouse and told staff in a bar that his family needed help.

The Hidden Children of Ruinerwold Farm was first released in the Netherlands in 2021.

Filming began shortly after the family were found by police.  

Speaking of his father's alleged abuse, Shin, who left the family in 2009, says: 'From what I can remember, looking back the worst experiences were the strangling.

'He strangled you until you thought you were dead and then he let go.

'So you would gasp for air, he did that regularly. And he went through phases. At some point, he started hitting you on the head, always on the same spot.'

He adds: 'And somehow the very worst was when I came home from school and I had sexual feelings for girls or something.

'He could tell, and then I had to take a cold bath.

'I still hate cold water, maybe a lot of people do. But it would take so long that I'd get out of the bath half crippled.'

Asked what the 'worst' that could happen was, Mar Jan, who left the family in 2008, says: 'That he would give you a real beating.

'He always paced up and down the room and he could scream very loudly and look very angry. And sometimes he would scream in your face.'

Van Dorsten is alleged to have sexually molested his son Edino, now 28, after telling him that their late mother's spirit had entered him.

His wife Maria had died 20 years earlier, but when alive had appeared to be accepting of his bizarre behaviour.

The documentary - which was filmed five weeks after police had raided the family farm - shows footage of van Dorsten's rantings to his children.

In one moment, the mother is seen smiling as he aggressively goads them.

Van Dorsten had told in old footage how he was trying to create a personal paradise where his children could live.

This meant there could be little or no contact with the outside world, although his three oldest children were allowed to go to school.  

In 2021, a court ruled that a 2016 stroke had so badly affected the father's ability to communicate and comprehend that continuing with the case would breach his fair trial rights.

He had been charged with depriving the children of their liberty from 2007 to 2019 and 'punching, kicking and denying food and drink'.

In June last year, an Austrian handyman was jailed for helping van Dorsten isolate his children.

The man, identified only as 61-year-old Joseph B. due to Dutch privacy rules, played an 'essential role' in the deprivation of liberty.

He bought groceries for the Dutchman and even rented the farm on his behalf.

He had a 'different role' to the father but there was 'sufficiently close and conscious cooperation' between them to show that he was also guilty, a Dutch court ruled.

Israel's initial raising of the alarm came when he walked into the bar in Ruinerwold, drank five pints and then told staff that his father had been keeping him and his siblings captive for years.

Corinne Jeekel, a lawyer representing the eldest four children, told Dutch broadcaster NOS that they were disappointed with the decision.

'It is a great shame for the clients that there will be no criminal judgment', Jeekel told national broadcaster NOS in March 2021.

The rest of the family, however, stood by their father.

'The youngest five children are very happy,' defense lawyer Robert Snorn told local broadcaster RTV Drenthe.

Prosecutors said at the time that the children were free to choose their own futures, even if that means returning to a life of isolation.

'In the past 18 months, the children have got to know our society, have been able to participate in it and have received spiritual and medical care,' they said.

'If, now that they have been able to taste the alternative, they nevertheless choose to want to live in seclusion with their father again, to exercise their faith... that is their choice.'

In 2019, it emerged van Dorsten had used Facebook to post a series of photos and videos about his life and to rant about good and evil.

The clips also showed him using a homemade rowing machine with classical music playing in the background.

Using the pseudonym 'John Eagles', he filmed himself doing stretching exercises in the garden of his farmhouse.

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