The Kidnapping of Freddy Heineken
The Kidnapping of Freddy Heineken is often referred to as ‘the almost perfect crime’. The gang came unstuck in farcical fashion, however, when one of the kidnappers phoned for a Chinese takeaway and unwittingly alerted police to the hostages’ location.
One autumn evening in 1983, Cor van Hout, Jan Boellaard, Frans Meijer, and Willem Holleeder kindly showed Freddy Heineken the way to their car by pointing at him with their sub-machine guns. Carefully following these directions, Heineken and his driver Ad Doderer spend the next three weeks stuck in improvised prison cells in a warehouse in Amsterdam. Communicating via codified adverts in newspapers, the kidnappers managed to extort 35 million guilders (about sixteen million euros, adjusted for inflation) from the Heineken family. Since it’s pretty difficult to run away when your pile of paper money weighs over 400 kilos, the kidnappers were either arrested or turned themselves in shortly after Freddy Heineken was freed by police officials following an anonymous tip.
It all starts on a rainy evening in 1983. Beer tycoon Alfred (Freddy) Heineken leaves his office building with two female assistants. At about 40 feet away, his driver Ab Doderer awaits him in an armoured Cadillac Fleetwood.
It was 6.56pm precisely when the billionaire brewery owner Freddy Heineken left his office at “the Pentagon” in Weteringplantsoen, a fashionable part of Amsterdam.
In the normal course of events, he and his chauffeur Ab Doderer would have made their traditional journey back to his home in a picturesque town 25 miles outside the city but that evening the event that one of Europe’s richest men had long been dreading came to pass.
A group of masked men wielding firearms bundled Heineken and his driver into a minibus and drove them at speed down a cycle path to a pre-prepared safe house in the city’s port area.
The abduction set in train a dramatic three-week stand-off between the police and kidnappers which became a rolling news story to rival the tale of the Great Train Robbers in this country and culminated in the payment of a £12 million ransom – the highest ever paid for a kidnap victim at that time.
The ringleader of the gang was Cor van Hout, who – with his former classmate Willem Holleeder – worked as a heavy for landlords who needed muscle to evict squatters.
Two years before the kidnapping the four friends Cor van Hout, Willem Holleeder, Frans Meijer and Jan Boellaard decided they wanted to become rich quickly. They wanted to do a kidnapping. During the preparation it was initially unclear who would be the victim. They had several candidates, including:
- Wisse Dekker (CEO of Phillips)
- Albert Heijn (CEO of AHOLD)
- Anton Dreesmann (Director Vroom & Dreesmann)
- Alfred Heineken (Major shareholder of Heineken)
The preparation required a lot of thought, time and money. The four friends invested 100,000 Dutch guilders to pay for what they needed. Jan Boellaard possessed a 140 feet Romney Shed in the western harbour area of Amsterdam. They built two cells behind a wall with a secret door. From the workshop which was located in the shed, you could not see the cells and nobody noticed that the room was now twelve feet shorter than before. During the kidnapping, when Heineken and Doderer were locked in these cells, people walked in and out the workplace without noticing anything unusual.
When the preparations were in full swing, Martin Erkamps was added to the team. He had a limited role in the kidnapping. He helped the kidnappers to steal cars that were used during the crime.
The money transfer was the most complicated part of the kidnapping. They came up with an idea to use pneumatic tube transport. That way they could stay at a reasonable distance while receiving the money. However, a test showed that this entailed a lot of risks and it was too difficult to achieve. Another option was to get the money thrown in the water by the negotiators so that the kidnappers could collect it using diving equipment. A problem with this method was the weight of the money. The millions of paper money would be hard to handle underwater. The weight of the money was a problem for the kidnappers. They didn’t want to demand bills of 1000 dutch guilders to decrease the chances of getting caught afterwards. The kidnappers wanted the police to think they were German. They bought almost all the materials in Germany such a manufactured typewriter, A4 paper with a German watermark and all that was found in the cells came from Germany.
Along with their accomplices Jan Boellaard, Frans Meijer and Martin Erkamps, van Hout and Holleeder had prepared two soundproofed cells accessed via a hidden door in a walled-off section of a hangar that was used as joinery works by a wood-manufacturing company in the harbour area.
The gang was careful to carry on their daily lives as normally as possible, caring for their prisoners outside working hours.
Heineken later revealed that the only human contact he and Doderer had with their abductors during their 21-day incarceration was with a man in a balaclava who brought them coffee and ham sandwiches in the morning and a hot meal in the evening.
But as a man used to getting his own way Heineken wasn’t above making his own demands to his captors and one day left a note for his jailer asking for a robe, pyjamas and shaving supplies. In the end he had to make do with some popular novels, his reading glasses and an occasional cigarette.
“Communication with the jailer was very bad, mostly by sign language or a note,” he later admitted. “On one of the last days, a note said the ransom had been paid. Then some hope came. But there was no freedom.”
Interest in Heineken’s fate was heightened by the fact that he was not only rich but an extremely flamboyant figure who was famed for restoring his family fortunes after buying back the Heineken business in 1954.
His father Henry Pierre had sold the company 12 years earlier amid accusations that he drank too much and Heineken junior felt the loss keenly.
He was still a student when he revealed his determination to restore the lager-maker to family ownership in a letter to Henry Pierre. “I have my mind set on restoring the majority of shares in Heinekeninto the hands of the family,” he wrote.
“It’s not my plan to become very rich . . . but it is a matter of pride that any children I might have can inherit a stake in Heineken, like I did from my father and you inherited from your father.”
Legend has it that Heineken hired a Rolls Royce, had himself driven to the bank and immediately secured a 400,000 guilder loan (£122,000) after convincing them that he was someone to be reckoned with.
That was quite a bold move, He had absolutely no money but managed to get a bank loan anyway. This explains his later obsession with keeping the business in the family.
In those early days, Heineken spent time in the company’s sales office in New York and it was during his time there that he was struck by the power of advertising as exemplified by the campaigns coming out of the agencies on Madison Avenue.
The memory of their impact never left him and when Heineken was appointed to the executive board of the company in 1964 he insisted on taking personal control of advertising campaigns.
Under his watch, Heineken’s London-based international ad agency Lowe Howard-Spink came up with an award-winning campaign featuring the copy line, “Heineken reaches the part other beers cannot reach”, and sales rocketed.
Heineken was instrumental in building up a family business founded by his grandfather into one of the world’s largest exporters of beer. The beer, in its green bottles, accounts for about 40 percent of the beer imported by the United States. By the end of the 19th century, Heineken was being exported to France and the Dutch East Indies, and when Prohibition came to an end in 1933, Heineken became the first foreign beer allowed into America.
The beer was sold on a limited scale in the United States before World War II, but sales did not begin to climb until Heineken, then a young man just starting in the family business, went to New York after the war and walked the streets of Manhattan showing samples of his product to bartenders.
In 1960, Heineken hit a milestone by selling a million cases in the United States.
Heineken was married to Lucille Cummins, from a Kentucky family of bourbon distillers. Not that this appears to have cramped his style.
In 1996 a Dutch writer, Barbara Smit, attempted to do the job for him, publishing a book called Heineken, A Life in the Brewery. For nine months she studied the history of his empire, and met Heineken himself for the first time in September 1994.
“As things turned out”, she recalled, “the introduction was very frosty indeed. Freddy was standing in a group of foreign media correspondents in the reception of the closed-down Heineken brewery on the Stadshouderskade in Amsterdam when he greeted me in his blunt, despotic style: ‘We’ll meet again in court’, he mumbled.
“What happened the next moment was characteristic of Freddy. I was immediately invited ‘for tea’ at the Pentagon, his private office on the Weteringplantsoen. On the telephone the following morning, he said he would drop some drugs into my teacup and then undress me; but when I arrived on the day appointed, he proudly showed me around the building.”
In the course of this tour, Heineken took Miss Smit to the bedroom suite at the back of his office, which boasted a four -poster bed, a shamrock-shaped jacuzzi, and a painting on the wall of a naked woman stroking a cat – the picture bore the crass title, The Woman With Two Pussies.
The writer met Heineken on five occasions, with the meetings lasting up to four hours. “Sometimes he clearly sought to impress me,” she observed, “by conducting in my presence, for example, an utterly informal telephone conversation with Queen Beatrix on his birthday, and engaging in lengthy small talk to illustrate his closeness to the seat of power.
Indeed, members of the Dutch royal family were regular guests on his yacht Something Cool. The couple owned homes in Paris, Cap d’Antibes and St. Moritz and had an extensive art collection, including many Picassos.
Heineken and Doderer were handcuffed in the back of the van. They were forced to put a helmet on with the visor taped so they could not see where they were going. Heineken knew immediately what was going on and offered the men to write a cheque while they were still in the van. The kidnappers didn’t respond to this offer.
A taxi driver had seen the struggle in front of the office and followed the van through Amsterdam. They eventually arrived at a bicycle tunnel, where the kidnappers had removed the poles earlier. This is where they switched to two other cars. The van blocked access for other cars which bought them extra time.
During the transition Willem Holleeder walked with his gun drawn towards the taxi. The taxi driver backed out and fled. The kidnappers continued their way to the western harbour area where the shed with the cells was located. They didn’t encountered any police on their way. Heineken and Doderer got pajamas on and were imprisoned.
The two cells were hidden behind a wall in the shed. The wall had a secret door, which was almost impossible to see. Care took place outside working hours, because the shed was still being used by construction workers. Because of disappointing negotiations the abduction eventually lasted three weeks.
Heineken and Doderer were chained to the wall most of the day. They slept on a mattress on the floor and had a chemical toilet at their disposal.
After 4 days, the kidnappers opened the doors of both cells. This is when Heineken found out that not only he, but his driver Ab Doderer was kidnapped as well. They were allowed to talk to each other a few minutes a day, but the two men spent most of the three weeks on their own.
The kidnappers and the police communicated by letter, coded newspaper ads or they recorded Heineken or Doderer on tapes which they used to give instructions by phone. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of 200,000 Dutch, German, French and U.S. banknotes with a total value of 35 million dutch guilders (22 million U.S. dollars).
Despite Heineken’s fame, and a massive manhunt mounted by Dutch police, the authorities failed to track him down and the family eventually paid up after commumicating with the kidnappers using coded advertisements in newspapers.
During his period in captivity, Heneken allegedly told his captors: “There are two ways to be rich in this world – you can have a lot of money or you can have a lot of friends.
But you can’t have both.” He turned out to be right.
The first attempt to transfer the ransom failed. The kidnappers demanded that the car with the ransom was a white van with two red crosses and left from a specific location. However, this failed because the van could not leave from that location without the press noticing.
The second attempt was on November 28th.
The kidnappers demanded that the driver of the car with the ransom was alone and not followed. The driver was led to a chain of instructions. The kidnappers had buried these in plastic cups earlier. On the way the driver was instructed to transfer with the ransom to another car.
Eventually, at the top of an overpass, the agent had to stop. Through a radio, he was instructed to slide the moneybags down through a drainage channel. The kidnappers stood below the overpass and loaded the ransom into a Mercedes Hanomag and drove away.
Earlier, in the woods near Zeist, they had buried several barrels in the ground. This is where they hid the money.
After an anonymous tip a SWAT team invaded the shed in the harbour area of Amsterdam on November 30th. At first they thought that they were misled but when the police found out that there was more behind the wall, they eventually found the secret door. Heineken and Doderer were finally freed after 3 weeks of captivity. According to the police, three of the five kidnappers were named in the tip. The police never revealed any further information.
Heineken, who was 60 years old, and his chauffeur, Ab Doderer, 57, were wearing pajamas when rescued. They were given clean clothing and taken to Mr. Heineken’s villa in Noordwijk.
When they were rescued by police, who also retrieved some of the money, Heineken announced that he had never been so glad to see 11 policemen all at once.
The police had been watching the general area since Nov. 16, when, they said, they received an anonymous telephone tip suggesting that they pay attention to people operating the auto- wrecking and carpentry businesses.
Suspicions that the two men might be held in the area appeared to be confirmed when one of the suspects ordered two meals to take out at a nearby Chinese restaurant and carried them to the warehouse. The police said they delayed raiding the warehouse out of concern for the men’s safety, then decided to move in the morning after the payment of the ransom had brought no results.
The police said they entered the large warehouse, built like a Quonset hut, at 5:30 A.M. and at first found nothing. Then one of the raiders found evidence of a false wall.
Behind it were two concrete cells, one containing Mr. Heineken and the other Mr. Doderer. The prisoners were handcuffed and tethered to the walls by long chains that allowed them to move about the small cells.
Each had a bed with blankets, bottles of drinking water, a portable chemical toilet, newspapers and books. Their captors bought food for them, the police said, from Chinese and other takeout restaurants.
The warehouse was said to be operated by an auto-wrecking and carpentry concern.
Junked cars were piled high on open lots covering several acres adjoining the warehouse and several others like it in the area. The warehouse is on a waterway to the main ship canal connecting Amsterdam and the North Sea.
A news blackout had been imposed on the case from the start, and the police had little to go on except a demand for ransom contained in a note dropped on the steps of police headquarters at The Hague the night of the kidnapping.
Investigators said that instructions for delivery of the ransom were made by telephone on the fourth day of the abduction, but they could not be carried out because Dutch reporters had staked out the Heineken house and were likely to interfere with efforts to carry out the kidnappers’ instructions.
New contacts were established, and after the kidnappers provided photographic proof that Mr. Heineken and his driver were alive, the ransom, consisting of Dutch, West German, United States and French currencies, was delivered Monday.
A lone driver had carried the ransom package over a 120-mile route that covered most of the small nation before he was given final instructions for the drop-off over a walkie talkie. He was directed to Utrecht, the investigators said, then went to an overpass and put the ransom into a drain that emptied into the road below.
Boellaard and Erkamps were arrested almost immediately but Van Hout and Holleeder fled to Paris, where they stayed for more than three years: first on the run, then in prison, and then – awaiting a change in the extradition treaty – under house arrest, before being imprisoned once again.
Shortly after his release, Van Hout was jailed once again, this time for four years for his role in a drug-smuggling ring. In 2003, a year after being freed a second time, he was killed in an underworld shooting in Amsterdam and had a “mafiastyle” funeral featuring a white hearse pulled by eight Frisian horses leading a procession of 15 white limousines.
Meijer, meanwhile, escaped to South America where he ran a restaurant for years before being tracked down by the indefatigable Dutch crime reporter Peter de Vries.
Franz Meijer, the Ronnie Biggs of the Dutch underworld escaped to South America was finally extradited to the Netherlands to serve out his 12-year sentence. Meijer was imprisoned first in Paraguay and then, after giving up on attempts to avoid extradition, he was transferred to a Dutch prison in 2003.
Franz Meijer, had topped the country’s most-wanted list since 1983 when he kidnapped Mr Heineken.
Meijer had escaped from custody in Amsterdam in 1985 and resurfaced in Paraguay a decade later, married with three children, the owner of a downmarket restaurant.
The infamous kidnapper’s whereabouts was discovered when Dutch journalist, Peter de Vries, tracked him down and confronted him outside his eaterie.
The villain, who claimed to be a zealous churchgoer, was speechless for a few moments before recovering to say: “It is God’s will that you are here. I have been betrayed, I knew this would happen one day.”
But Meijer, who changed his first name to Francisco to cover his tracks, did not had to endure a hand-to-mouth existence in the meantime. He escaped from Amsterdam with more than £2.5m in ransom money and had allegedly tried to buy his way out of trouble in the past by offering to bribe the head of Interpol in Paraguay.
He is also alleged still to be pulling the strings of many of the Netherlands’ underworld figures and the Dutch police suspect he has had a decisive hand in most of the country’s unsolved crimes in the past 18 years.
Unlike Biggs, Meijer did not go back home of his own accord. He walked straight off a plane into a prison cell where he continued his sentence for his pivotal role in the crime.
Attempts to extradite him had been held up by red tape and not helped by the fact that Meijer has been able to hire top lawyers to fight his corner.
The Paraguayan police first arrested him in 1995 only to have to let him go soon afterwards when a judge ruled that the proper arrest procedures had not been followed.
He was arrested again in January 1998 and has since fought tooth and nail to avoid extradition but has now exhausted every possible avenue of appeal.
A Paraguayan appeal court finally upheld the Dutch extradition order in 2001, and ruled that Meijer should return home to serve his sentence.
Ever since November the date of the kidnap, Heineken insisted on being accompanied by two private bodyguards at all times. Heineken thereafter became something of a recluse. He was often asked whether he planned to write an autobiography detailing the inside story of his life; he would reply that he would consider such a project only when he started to experience unwelcome attention from creditors – his way of saying “never”.
Up until Alfred Freddy Heineken died in 2002, it would seem that at least one of the kidnappers was reluctant to leave the 77-year-old president of the Heineken board of directors in peace. He was occasionally followed and abused by one of the original five, Cor van Hout, who had served his prison sentence.
Various forms of misfortune followed the gang of beernappers in the years to follow. Cor van Hout was murdered in 2003, evidence so far points to his former best friend Holleeder as having ordered the liquidation. Holleeder himself still walks the streets of Amsterdam, despite having the balls to extort The Hells Angels and ordering liquidations left and right. Jan Boellaard set a new record for prison breaking, due to him escaping in 1986 and getting arrested again less than half an hour later. Frans Meijer hid away in Paraguy for years where he married, had kids, and converted to Christianity before serving prison time in The Netherlands, so I guess he got off easy.
Of the money that was demanded in the Heineken Kidnapping, a sum of over eight million guilders has never been recovered. Many suspect that Rob Grifhorst, the so-called ‘fifth kidnapper’ took a large part of it and invested it in brothels in The Netherlands, though he has always denied this. Grifhorst died in 2014, taking another piece of the puzzle to the grave.
Of the £12 million ransom, £2.75 million was never recovered and this may go some way towards explaining the opulence of van Hout’s funeral cortege. But their victim had the last laugh. When Freddy Heineken died at the age of 78 in 2002 he left assets estimated at £2.4billion. Freddy Heineken was survived by his wife Martha Lucille (nee Cummins) and his daughter Charlene, who took over the family stake.
Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, is the only child of the late Freddy Heineken, who brought the premium beer brand to America after Prohibition, she is the sole heir to the Heineken fortune and the controlling shareholder of what is now the world’s third-largest brewer. Charlene grew up in Amsterdam, sheltered by and very close to her father. After Freddy was kidnapped in Amsterdam and held hostage. Charlene spent her life happily below the radar in London, raising five children with her banker husband.