Maurice de Hond was defeated with his own weapons this year, the company I meet in the Amsterdam hotel Arena concludes with satisfaction. So in the image. The six-part podcast in which the VPRO returned to the controversial Deventer Murder Case in April was listened to 1.3 million times, with De Hond in the role of unscrupulous people’s advocate. The Hond’s own podcasts and videos score minimally. Only Café Weltschmerz still seems fascinated by his claims; The Dog flounders around in a dwindling wading pool.
“Spielberg can make a film about this case,” said Maurice de Hond in 2007. It became a Dutch film, The Condemnation, in which De Hond as the shark in Jaws comes up very late. And only through archive images. Director Sander Burger: „Casting an actor like Maurice de Hond was very difficult, his face is so familiar. It is also legally safer to use only real images. You don’t have to prove he said anything, it’s on tape.”
The Condemnation is a meticulous, dramatic reconstruction of the bizarrely complex and lengthy Deventer Murder Case through the eyes of Bas Haan, a journalistic digger and bulldozer played by Fedja van Huêt. Rooster was ahead at the time Network a pivot in the case that he wrote off in 2009 in the book The Deventer Murder Case. Bas Haan: “That sold ten thousand copies, but 16.99 million Dutch people kept asking themselves: who really did it, the bookkeeper or the handyman? I was done with it.”
‘The bookkeeper’ Ernest Louwes was sentenced in 2004 to twelve years in prison on the basis of DNA evidence for the murder of widow Wittenberg. Nevertheless, from 2005 De Hond managed to convince half of the Netherlands that the handyman was the culprit. After all, Louwes had previously been convicted on the basis of faulty evidence, so the DNA evidence could not be valid either. The Honds campaign reached its low point when the widow’s grave was reopened on the preposterous theory that “the handyman” had hidden the murder weapon there. Journalist Bas Haan: “The fact that MPs then ask questions about this and a judge opens a grave because of the public unrest that has arisen, that sums up this affair.”
Michaël de Jong, a family friend of the widow Wittenberg, who had been in the picture for a very short time as a suspect, was marginalized, terrorized and ruined by De Hond, who committed character assassination and repeated daily on his blog ‘to know 100 percent for sure’ that he was the perpetrator. used to be. When De Hond was found guilty of defamation in November 2007, with a penalty of 5,000 euros for each time he defamed ‘the handyman’, a small army of Dutch celebrities continued the lynching. Including Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, Linda de Mol and Claudia de Breij, who sang to Maurice de Hond at prime time: „You have bitten yourself, you do not give up / And I do not know whether you are wrong or right / But you know, Maurice, I’m glad you’re doing it.” It’s a wry crescendo in The Condemnation, a factual film that nevertheless turns out to be dramatic and suspenseful: clever. It is to De Breij’s credit that she expressed regret for this shameful performance.
Also read: ‘On the barricade against failing government’, the article by Joep Dohmen about the alliance between Maurice de Hond and millionaire Jan de Lange
But De Breijs’s weak judgment is of a different order than the malicious cynicism of De Hond, who posed as Emile Zola during J’Accuse, silenced by a villainous elite. In February 2008, Joep Dohmen revealed in this newspaper that De Hond had his many tons of devouring smear campaign – lawyers, advertisements, websites, private detectives – partly sponsored by multimillionaire Jan de Lange, who had a bone to pick with the judiciary after a divorce. Through the Deventer Murder Case, De Hond had to become the ‘eye-catcher’ of a populist movement: Wij 21 or Newscracy. That fell through: De Lange murdered his second wife in 2010 and committed suicide four years later.
The handyman as a human springboard for political adventurers. Film producer Joram Willink had been thinking about a film about the functioning of the media for a long time when he read a column by Bas Heijne about Bas Haan’s book in 2011. “It had everything in it: trial by media, populism, the fear of public opinion, the opinion circuit.” He approached Bas Haan, who was “pleasantly surprised” that they were not looking for an exciting whodunit. “The real story is how talk shows and social media can create a make-believe reality, a complex of facts based on nothing.”
The problem was the tension arc. Director Sander Burger: “In essence it is about how fake news crushes an individual. But then you have to stay close to the facts, you have little dramatic freedom. In addition, we follow a journalist who is simply doing his job for a long time. There is suspense, regret and advanced insight, but emotionally little is at stake. They quickly asked the Film Fund: where is the drama, can’t Bas Haan have an angry wife at home? The well-known cliché of the possessed policeman who neglects his family. Fortunately, Bas certainly did not want us to involve his home situation.”
Producer Joram Willink: „When we talked to ‘handyman’ Michaël and his wife Meike, we had our drama. But they only appear after 50 minutes, when Maurice de Hond reports. That was quite complicated.” Burger: “First we therefore portray Michael as a menacing, mystical figure; then you are in a whodunit atmosphere. Another tricky bump in this story is the Schiedammer park murder, another first by Bas Haan about the Public Prosecution Service that concealed exculpatory DNA evidence. That had to be added, because such mistakes – also think of Lucia de B. – explain the distrust in justice to which De Hond jumped in.”
As a viewer, you often see Pim Fortuyn or his LPF on the news out of the corner of your eye. Burger: “That’s how you place this story in its time, but with Fortuyn, populism and the current political fragmentation also broke through.” Any political adventurer could now conquer the Binnenhof with a ‘movement’, distrust in the administration was reinforced by revelations about miscarriages of justice. Did Bas Haan inadvertently tinker with a ‘Frankenstein monster’? He obviously has no regrets about exposing judicial failures, says Haan. And his book and film do not cover up his own mistakes: in this way he showcases the self-cleaning power of journalism. Bas Haan, for example, was convinced of Ernest Louwes’ innocence for a long time, although ‘fortunately’ he never said that out loud in the broadcast. Also granted Network De Hond a big stage to slander ‘the handyman’.
A spectacle such as the Deventer Murder Case can repeat itself in this way, director Sander Burger suspects: “It was not journalism that failed, newspapers and television usually conducted pretty good journalism. But that reaches a smaller audience, while infotainment and talk shows are consumed as news. Remember, we didn’t even have Twitter back then.” Bas Haan: “The foundation that De Hond founded then – Judgment Self – he now uses for corona criticism. It still works: the government, the experts and the elite are wrong, but you alone have a simple answer to every question. Who killed the widow, how do you fight corona? And with criticism you fall into the role of victim. The doors of the talk shows are still opening for that.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of September 1, 2021