It’s hard to imagine what the end of the world would look like, as it hasn’t happened yet. Will it be one giant explosion? The wretched aftermath of global warming? Or perhaps it’ll be a chaotic zombie apocalypse. We’ll be in the dark regarding this until the fateful day Earth meets its demise.
Yet, people still prepare for it. When a secret bunker was found on a farm in the Netherlands, police were floored by how this family of six were surviving, “waiting for the end of time.” But as investigators dug further into the group, they uncovered a tragic story that left the entire community shaken.
When 25-year-old Jan Zon van Dorsten took a stroll down to his local bar, The Café de Kastelein, in October 2019, he took a seat and promptly ordered five beers. The bar patrons may have noticed that something was a bit off with Jan.
Jan managed to take another solo trip to the bar a few days later, this time talking up the bar’s owner, Chris Westerbeek. As they talked, Chris began to realize that Jan had been through some… stuff.
His hair appeared ratty, his clothes were unkempt, and he just seemed to be overall confused. The more they got to talking, the more pieces of the puzzle Chris put together. Jan needed help, and he needed it ASAP.
“He said he had run away and needed urgent help, and that he had never been to school. Then we called the police,” Chris disclosed to local broadcaster RTV Drenthe. It became a heavier conversation than Chris had anticipated.
“He said he had brothers and sisters who lived at the farm. He said he was the oldest and wanted to end the way they were living.” Police immediately went to investigate Jan’s “home,” that word being used quite loosely. His home life was a living nightmare.
Police inspected a remote farmhouse in Ruinerwold, where Jan and his family lived. The officers found a hidden staircase behind a cupboard in the living room, which unbelievably led to a secret space.
“We found six people living in a small space in the house, which could be locked but wasn’t a basement,” police stated. This weird, secret room housed a 67-year-old man and five young adults aged 18 to 25 years old. Were they prisoners? It was a puzzling scene.
Throughout the family’s lengthy time in seclusion, they lived off the land, as the farm possessed a vegetable garden and a goat. Yes, one singular goat. RTV Drenthe reported that when Jan’s five siblings were initially discovered in the bunker, the poor souls thought they were the Earth’s last surviving humans.
Not only was this bizarre family of sorts found hidden beneath the farmhouse, but a 58-year-old Austrian handyman, named Josef B., was, too, found on the property, which was camouflaged by hefty, towering vegetation.
Reports say that Josef B. was the one paying the farmhouse’s rent, the landlords, Klaas Rooze and Alida ten Oever, having not one clue that there was also a family residing in the underbelly of the farmhouse. Josef B. was promptly arrested for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.
“We knew absolutely nothing of this. We rented the house for years to one man and now we learn someone was living there with children. We have no idea who it can be,” Alida explained.
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Not only were the landlords shocked, but so was the local mayor. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” mayor Roger de Groot said. He continued by revealing that many of the family members hadn’t even been locally registered.
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Since police found no records that proved the siblings were residents of the district (as Jan had warned the police), it’s believed that they may have been relocated to the farmhouse bunker and held captive. Let’s not try and imagine where they were initially held hostage.
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So, where does the mother fall into this disconcerting tale? Well Roger de Groot also disclosed in a press conference that the mother of the family passed away before they moved into the farmhouse bunker.
This disquieting story holds a lot of unknowns, including who the keeper of Jan’s mysterious social media accounts is. Jan has had a blooming social media presence since June, posting on both Instagram and LinkedIn, which is obviously odd. However, no one knows if Jan was actually operating the accounts himself.
Reports said the family was living in isolation “waiting for the end of time.” But recent social media posts made by Jan further indicate that the siblings simply may have been held hostage.
While it may have been a living nightmare, it’s not clear if the young adult siblings were confined to the small space round-the-clock. Josef B. allegedly owned a carpentry business, which saw captive Jan as an employee for months, but that’s not to say he definitely had contact with the outside world.
Similarly, Ruinerwold resident Jeffrey Scheper had contact with Jan a week and a half prior to his climactic visit to The Café de Kastelein. Jeffrey claimed that Jan had asked him for a job and new clothes. Hmm.
“We tried to ask questions, among other things because he said he had not been outside for nine years. Is it a belief? A cult? He said ‘yes,’ nothing more,” Jeffrey said of his conversation with Jan and Chris Westerbeek at the bar.
Some struggled to call Jan a victim, given his multiple opportunities to search for help. Well, it’s a more common phenomenon than you’d think; we know you’ve heard of Stockholm syndrome. But without all the details, it’s hard to say.
Then, on October 17th, a Dutch judge ordered Josef B. to detention for 14 days due to “suspicion of illegal deprivation of liberty and money laundering.” In the meantime, the investigation continued.
Dutch police soon arrested another suspect in this roller coaster of a story: the 67-year-old man who was thought to be the father of the siblings, Gerrit Jan van Dorsten. His involvement at first baffled police.
Well, according to police, he is suspected of being a “co-perpetrator of unlawful deprivation of liberty and of abuse, in the sense of prejudicing the health of others and money laundering.” And as it turns out, Gerrit may have known Josef B. for quite a while…
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Once Josef B.’s arrest became public news, his brother Franz suggested that Josef B. is a frighteningly persuasive man with “greedy, calculating and unpredictable” qualities. Oh, yeah, Franz also mentioned that Josef B. may have ties to a cult.
Franz, who hasn’t seen his brother in 10 years, suspected that Josef B. met Gerrit in the ’90s through an Austrian cult subsequent to his military days. RTV Drenthe further reported that the whole family, including Josef B., belonged to the Unification Church, its members being nicknamed the “Moonies.”
The Unification Church, which is now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, “was deeply alarmed to hear of the family being held in inhumane conditions on a farmhouse in the Netherlands,” according to a statement emailed to Rolling Stone.
The institution’s statement divulged that Gerrit “is known to have suffered from mental health issues and left our organization in 1987.” The church, which is known for its mass marriage ceremonies, insists that it “champions three ideals: family, peace, and unification.”
“The situation discovered requires a careful approach, which is to include the provision of attention to and care of the young adults discovered. Various experts have been engaged. Accommodation has been provided for the six persons involved in a safe place,” police relayed.
Though the young adult siblings are thankfully safe and sound now, it doesn’t relieve the trauma of their decade of forced isolation. Sadly, captive situations often stay under the radar for longer than a decade; a girl half a world away found that out in the worst way possible.
Rosalynn McGinnis was supposed to live a normal life: she grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where she spent her days with her brothers at the park, playing the violin, and excelling in school. Still, there was something about Rosalynn that was extra special.
She was one of the most ambitious 10-year-olds at her school. She had dreams of becoming a veterinarian and of teaching violin. But these dreams — and any hope of a normal life — were crushed the day her mother met a man named Henri Piette.
At ten years old, the sexual abuse began. “He was never a stepfather,” Rosalynn said of Henri Piette. “He was a child predator.” Rosalynn would always be haunted by these events — and by the events that would soon take place.
Henri exerted his control over the family by moving them to Wagoner, Oklahoma, far away from the McGinnis’ family and friends. Now they were isolated with Henri, and things were about to take a bizarre turn.
See, Henri attempted to marry Rosalynn when she was 11. The “wedding” took place in a van and was officiated by Henri’s son. Henri then moved them into a small, shabby tent outside of Gore, Oklahoma. He was desperate to be alone with Rosalynn, and to cut the family off from society.
On January 31, 1997, Rosalynn’s hopes for a successful future were officially destroyed when Henri took her from school. “The next thing I know, my mother’s not there, my brothers are not there…and I am by myself with this man,” Rosalynn said.
Gayla made flyers printed with Rosalynn’s description and the plea to “please help find this child.” They stopped searching right before Rosalynn’s 13th birthday. Her family thought she would be missing forever.
And for a while, this didn’t change. After kidnapping her, Henri stripped Rosalynn of her identity by forcing her to wear glasses and to dye her red hair black. He had them both assume aliases, with Rosalynn as “Stephanie” and himself as “Billy Ira Sloop, Jr.”
When she was 13, Rosalynn ended up miscarrying her first baby. “I don’t even know how any human can do that to a child — what he did to me,” Rosalynn said. Henri then smuggled Rosalynn into Mexico, and it was there, when she was just 15, that Rosalynn gave birth to her first child.
They lived in poverty without the basic necessities new mothers require, like gas, heat, and other utilities. Still, one by one, Rosalynn continued to have babies. Henri spent what little money they had on drugs and alcohol, so she had to figure out how to survive on nothing.
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She begged on the street for money, and even sold ice cream just to scrape by. Henri was also getting more violent: allegedly, the violence escalated from beatings to shootings, and Henri once sliced Rosalynn’s arm so badly that it cut down to the bone. Life was beyond bleak for Rosalynn…until she met Ian and Lisa.
The British-American couple often saw Rosalynn and her kids at the grocery store, and they soon struck up a friendship. “They just wanted anybody to talk to because it was not something that they were allowed to do,” Lisa said of Rosalynn and her kids. Unfortunately, this brief hope for Rosalynn wouldn’t last.
Always on the move, Henri moved the family to a more remote location in the Oaxaca mountains, once again cutting Rosalynn off from any familiar faces. Here, she couldn’t even beg for money — they were all just trapped. All seemed lost.
Except, unbeknownst to Henri, Rosalynn maintained communication with Ian and Lisa. Though they did not immediately realize that something was amiss, when the couple visited Rosalynn at her new home in 2016, they saw the truth of her situation.
When Lisa and Ian went inside the ramshackle home, what they saw was horrific: three “stalls” instead of bedrooms, holes in the walls, and “very, very thin…foam exercise mats” for beds, Lisa described. Rosalynn and the kids were no longer just living in poverty. They were living in hell.
Lisa eventually learned Henri’s real age, (62), which was when she did the math: If Rosalynn’s oldest child was 17, that meant she must have been only 14 or 15 when she gave birth to him. Lisa told Ian, “This is wrong. There’s something seriously wrong.”
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Later, while Rosalynn was recovering from gallbladder surgery at home, Henri became belligerent and ordered her to do housework. That’s when Rosalynn had an epiphany. “I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man,” she said.
When Henri was passed out, Rosalynn grabbed her kids and escaped to Ian and Lisa’s house. Thanks to them, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rosalynn ended up legally crossing the border into the U.S. Still, Rosalynn kept looking over her shoulder in fear of seeing Henri on her heels.
Every night, according to Rosalynn, she had nightmares of a menacing Henri standing over her bed. She knew the only way she would be free of him was if she shared her story with the world and stood with other victims of abuse. She also hoped her story would bring Henri to justice.
On June 13, 2019, Henri was found guilty of kidnapping, engaging in a sexual act with a minor, and a myriad of other charges. During the trial, Rosalynn told the world her devastating story — and once again proved her resilient nature. While the rest of the world applauds Rosalynn’s bravery, she can only think of one thing.
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Her freedom. “It’s a miracle I’m sitting here today,” Rosalynn said. She has hope for a better future, propelled by a promising GoFundMe page that has already raised $50,000. Rosalynn knew she would never get her childhood back, but she could try to salvage what was left of a childhood for her kids.
Rosalynn tapped into incredible strength we she picked her kids up and ran out the door. It was a calm, cool, collectedness similar to that shown by Cheryl Treadway on a warm spring day in May 2015, when her boyfriend, Ethan Nickerson, pulled a large knife on her.
The couple’s three young children were at school when the 26-year-old grabbed the blade and confiscated his long-time girlfriend’s cellphone. He kept Cheryl locked up tight — so she started thinking of ways to escape.
Without her cellphone, she couldn’t call the police, and screaming for help, she knew, would likely not have the results she wanted. So she appealed to Ethan’s sense of fatherhood: she had to pick the kids up from school.
Ethan agreed. But, he insisted, she couldn’t go alone, which was why he accompanied her to the elementary school to pick the kids up. They all rode home, probably in silence, the kids in the backseat unaware their father had just pulled a knife on mom.
Back at home, Cheryl was in an even worse place than she started. Not only was she stuck with knife-wielding Ethan, but now her three kids were, too. She couldn’t pick them up and run — but what could she do?
Cheryl thought hard, knowing the costs of a misstep. And then an idea hit her. She found Ethan and, once again, appealed to his fatherhood. “The kids are hungry,” she said. “Let’s order a pizza. Let’s get them some food.”
Ethan considered this for a moment. Maybe he felt a rumble in his own stomach, but he agreed. The kids were hungry. Pizza would do the trick. He relented and let Cheryl use her cellphone — but only to order a pizza through the Pizza Hut app.
Cheryl had her phone back, but she couldn’t call the police. What if he heard her talking? What if he checked her call history? Would he snap and use the knife he kept on his person? She had to be clever. So she was.
See, when you ordered a pizza through Pizza Hut’s phone app, there was a comment section to include special instructions — you could ask for extra pepperoni or leave a door code for your apartment. Cheryl used this to her advantage.
Along with an order of a large pepperoni pizza, Cheryl included a note to employees in the comments section. It read, “Please help. Get 911 to me. 911hostage help!” She placed her order, closed her eyes, and waited. That was all she could do.
Meanwhile, employees at the local Pizza Hut gathered around the computer aggregating online and app orders, all fixated on Cheryl’s message: Please help. In 28 years on the job, restaurant manager Candy Hamilton had never seen anything like it.
Inside her home, meanwhile, Cheryl waited by the window, watching. She didn’t know if her message was well-received at the Pizza Hut. The feeling of dread must’ve been palpable. What if they thought her call was a joke? A prank?
But because Cheryl frequently ordered from that Pizza Hut, the employees recognized her name. They knew this was no joke. “We didn’t even question it,” Candy, below, said. “We immediately called 9-1-1.”
The call reached the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched Lieutenant Curtis Ludden and his deputies to the home of Cheryl Treadway and Ethan Nickerson. They parked their cruisers out front.
The relief Cheryl felt as the police arrived must’ve been euphoric. But still, she had three children to escort from the home before Ethan noticed the police. If he did, would he put that knife to use? Salvation was so close, but only if she played this smart.
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With her youngest child in her arms, Cheryl wrenched open the front doors, running for the police. Before she could catch her breath, she told Lt. Ludden, below, that her other two kids were stuck in the house with a knife-wielding Ethan.
Though she didn’t know it at the time, Cheryl was incredibly lucky. You see, Lt. Ludden happened to be the lead negotiator on the crisis team. He’d talked down any number of people in his career. Ethan, he knew, would be another tally mark.
The deputies escorted Cheryl to safety, and Lt. Ludden went to work on Ethan. After 20 minutes, the lieutenant convinced him to drop his knife and surrender. Officers recovered the other two children unharmed. Cheryl and her kids were finally safe.
Afterward, Lt. Ludden celebrated Cheryl’s smarts. “I don’t know if I ever would have thought of it,” he said. “I mean it’s just something that she did so naturally. The boyfriend never knew about it until he saw us coming around the corner.”
Candy — the manager of the Pizza Hut — praised the mother, too. She’s “the hero in this situation,” Candy said. “She just thought outside the box…I think that’s amazing.” Incredibly pizza saved another life just a few years later.