I got swept up by the recent exposé in the New Yorker on Astrid Holleeder, the fifty-two year old Dutch native who is the key witness in an ongoing court case against Wim Holleeder — her older brother and one of the most dangerous criminals in the Netherlands. A practicing attorney and former legal confidante to Wim, Astrid made the decision to betray his confidence when she feared for the safety of her family.
The Holleeders grew up in a tough working-class neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Their father was a lifer at the Heineken brewery, a dipsomaniac who invested most of his paycheck guzzling the liquid courage he bottled at the plant.
As Holleeder tells it, her father was a mean drunk, a man who heaped abuse on his children. Among his many cruelties, he demanded his children finish every morsel on their dinner plate. "One night, Astrid was forced to eat so much that she vomited. He then ordered her to consume her own vomit, bellowing 'Eat it, ungrateful bitch.'
On November 9th, 1983, Alfred 'Freddy' Heineken — the aging heir to the Heineken conglomerate — was kidnapped and held for a matter of weeks. Subsequently released in exchange for five sacks of cash — the equivalent of thirty million in today’s dollars — the authorities' investigation eventually led them to Wim Holleeder and Cor van Hout.
The rag-tag duo were inseparable louts, young punks who weren't afraid to play with fire. Having fled the country, they were eventually discovered in Paris and extradited back to the Netherlands in 1986 where they were sentenced to eleven years in the clink (they were out in five).
While a majority of the ransom money was found incinerated in a forested area outside Amsterdam, a sack containing the equivalent of eight million clams was never recovered. It was an open secret that the outlaws had squirrelled it away, laundering it in nightclubs and cathouses in the red light district.
Like any good crime caper, the duo would sow the seeds of their own downfall, with greed and envy leading to van Hout's public assassination in 2003. In the subsequent years, growing turmoil forced Astrid to betray her brothers confidence, including the publication of Judas — a best-selling book — along with turning state witness.
With the trial set to continue well into next year, the eventual determination is far from clear. As Astrid Holleeder contemplates an uncertain future, she is left to wonder whether justice really is blind after all.