The Netherlands’ most notorious gangster: Willem Holleeder

Willem Holleeder is a convicted Amsterdam gangster, whose rap sheet runs from a high-profile kidnapping, extortion, and at least 25 murders.

Holleeder, nicknamed De Neus for his gigantic nose, was born in 1958 in the Amsterdam neighbourhood of Jordaan. 

Yet from his humble beginnings, he quickly became a crime boss — and ended up with a string of criminal charges that have left him imprisoned for life after being incriminated by his own sisters. 

So who was this Al Capone of Dutch crime scene?

Tweet translation: That man’s look. Brrr. How much money and manpower has the justice system already lost to this man? The appeal case of Willem Holeeder in Vandros.

The start of a criminal career

Willem began his career in crime in the 70s, by forming a gang composed of his friends Jan Boellaard, Frans Meijer and Cor van Hout

The gang was part of vigilante groups that attacked squatters on the behalf of homeowners and developers.

Willem’s gang even committed a spectacular speedboat-assisted armed robbery of a money order office in Amsterdam — but were never formally caught and charged. 

However, his most notorious crime — and one of the most famous in Dutch history — was the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken, the CEO of Heineken and one of the richest men in the Netherlands. 🍻

Kidnapping of a beer boss

On November 9, 1983, Heineken was leaving his office in Amsterdam just before 7 PM. 

As he met with his driver, Ab Doderer, the two were suddenly ambushed by four armed men: Holleeder, Van Hout, Meijer, and Boellaard. 

The kidnappers abducted Heineken and his driver, taking them to a holding location in a business park in the Amsterdam harbour. 

photo-of-freddy-Heineken_and_Ab_Doderer
Freddy Heineken and his driver, Ab Doderer in 1983. Image: Rob C. Croes/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

The criminals had planned the kidnapping almost two years in advance, building a false wall in a long, galvanised steel working shed to hold their prisoners. 

The kidnappers demanded a ransom of 35 million Dutch guilders (around €15.8 million today) for the release of the two men.

They contacted police through advertisements in the newspaper, cassette tapes, and even through pseudonyms. Meanwhile, Heineken and Doderer were kept chained to a wall in the shed.

Two weeks after the kidnapping, Heineken’s family met their demands and handed over the ransom, against the advice of the police. It was the highest ransom ever paid for a kidnapping victim at the time. 💰

But guess what? It turns out, you can’t actually trust criminals. 😅 The kidnappers grabbed their ransom, then ran away — without releasing Heineken and his driver from the secret shed. 

However, thanks to an anonymous tip, a police agent was able to come and rescue the men on November 30. 

On the run

Holleeder and Van Hout hit the road, fleeing to Paris. Just three months later they were arrested by French police. They fought extradition to the Netherlands for almost three years, before being returned in October 1986. 

black-and-white-photo-of-cor-van-hout-and-willem-holleeder-in-courtroom
Willem Holleeder and Cor van Hout in the Palace of Justice, Amsterdam. Image: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1983, Holleeder was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for the kidnapping. Yet when he emerged, he was far from reformed. 

READ MORE | 7 notorious Dutch criminals that will leave you shaking in your clogs

The crime boss’s dramatic return

All that money that Holleeder had snagged as part of Heineken’s ransom? Well, several million guilders were never found. It’s believed that Holleeder and Cor van Hout, who was now Holleeder’s brother in law, used these funds for their new extortion empire. 

He got into business with real estate mogul Willem Endstra, but when Van Hout was killed in 2003 their relationship deteriorated.

This is where it gets cold-blooded. Endstra reportedly secretly testified against Holleeder to the police, linking him with around 25 murders — including Van Hout’s. 

But in yet another killing, Endstra was shot dead in broad daylight near his office in 2004. Holleeder and his then partner-in-crime are believed to have ordered the hit. The two were also linked to another deadly shooting, of John Mieremet in Thailand in 2005. 

Holleeder ended up back in a courtroom in 2006 linked with the deaths. At the trial, lawyer Bram Zeegers testified that Holleeder had extorted millions of euros from Endstra. However, just one week after the testimony, a drug overdose left Zeegers dead. 

During the trial, another body was added to the count: linking Holleeder to the alleged involvement in the murder of a Yugoslavian drug dealer. 

After being found guilty of extortion (yep, just extortion), Holleeder was sentenced to nine years in prison, of which he served six. 

From criminal to celeb

Despite protests from politicians who didn’t want Holleeder to become glorified, upon his release, Holleeder jumped headfirst into the media. 

First, he appeared on College Tour, a tv show that uses an audience of a few hundred people to interview high-profile guests. 

Then, Holleeder collaborated with Dutch rapper, Lange Frans, to release a record titled Willem is terug (“Willem is back”). 

Finally, Holleeder began to publish a weekly column for the Dutch general interest magazine Nieuwe Revu. 

For the princely sum of €2,000 per column, the crime boss wrote about his daily life, experiences, and things he found interesting. Luckily, Holleeder never saw the money — the justice department confiscated it immediately. 

Betrayed by his sisters

As Holleeder rose after his stint in prison, police kept a close eye on him — thank goodness. He became suspected of the extortion of Theo Huisman, the ex-president of Hells Angels Holland’s Amsterdam chapter. 

In May 2013, a huge police sting with 450 police and army personnel was successful in nabbing Holleeder, but a trial against him was unsuccessful.

Two years later, Holleeder was again sitting in jail. Here, he was visited by his sister, Astrid, who was fearful that Holleeder would have her killed. 

To help bring him down, she collaborated with the police by secretly recording his confession on a visit. Holleeder’s other sister, Sonja, who was married to Van Hout, also gave evidence against her brother. 

Astrid’s fears were well-founded. Holleeder later had even more charges laid against him for allegedly ordering hits on Astrid, Sonja, and Peter R. de Vries, a well-known crime journalist and a witness against Holleeder in his trial. 

Holleeder had allegedly solicited the killings from two members of a Curaçao gang, one of whom informed authorities about the plot. However, the gang member later recanted his confession, potentially under pressure from Holleeder. 

Life in prison

At the ripe old age of 61, Willem Holleeder, Amsterdam gangster, was ordered in 2019 to serve life in prison. His official rap sheet included: 

  • The fatal shooting of Sam Klepper in 2000
  • The murder of Cor van Hout, his friend, brother-in-law, and ex-accomplice in 2003
  • The death of Willem Endstra in 2004
  • The shooting and death of Kees Houtman, a drug dealer, in 2004
  • The death of Thomas van der Bijl, a family friend, in 2006
Tweet translation: “Holleeder behind bars costs society more than 89,000 euros per year”

Holleeder was also found guilty of ordering a 2002 attempted murder, and the manslaughter of Rober ter Haak who died of bullet wounds in the same attack that killed Cor van Hout. 

Today, Holleeder remains behind bars.


Got a thought about Willem Holleeder? Leave it in the comments below!

This article was co-written by Nicole Ogden and Samantha Dixon

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Sam isn’t great at being Dutch. Originally hailing from Australia, she came to study in the Netherlands without knowing where the country was on a map. She once accidentally ordered the entire ice-cream menu at Smullers. She still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike. But, she remains fascinated by the tiny land of tall people.

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