The Netherlands: One for the Hare

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A kidnaped beer baron is freed

The police were just about to give up their search of the lonely Amsterdam warehouse. Then, by chance, one of them spotted a lock on the corrugated-tin wall at the back of the building. The opening led to a false wall, complete with a secret door. As they burst through the hardboard front, members of the 70-man police unit suddenly came upon two soundproof and unheated concrete cells. Inside each one a man, clad only in filthy pajamas, lay shivering on a mattress and manacled to the walls. Three weeks after Beer Tycoon Alfred (Freddie) Heineken, 60, and his chauffeur, Ab Doderer, 57, were spirited into a van by five masked men, one of the largest manhunts in Dutch history had stumbled upon a happy ending.

From the beginning, the case had twisted and turned like the raciest of thrillers. On the evening of the abduction, the criminals left a message on the doorstep of a police station in The Hague giving the Heineken family three days to rustle up a total of about $10 million worth of U.S., French, West German and Dutch currencies. The kidnapers used the code word "eagle" for themselves and "hare" for the policeman who would bring them the booty. Three days later the Amsterdam police placed an ad in a national newspaper declaring their readiness to pay the ransom ("The pasture is green for the hare") and demanding further contact. In reply the kidnapers phoned in a taped message announcing that directions would be left in plastic cups scattered through towns surrounding the inland sea of Ijsselmeer.

After that initial overture fell through because the police lacked proof that the captives were still alive, the cat-and-mouse game grew even more elaborate. One anonymous letter leaked the names of three likely suspects, which led the police to keep watch over a carpenters' yard in a bleak Amsterdam industrial park. While pursuing that lead the authorities agreed to turn over the ransom. They stuffed an estimated $10 million into postal bags and placed the cash inside a van. Then a lone driver, communicating with the kidnapers over a walkie-talkie, followed their directions through a 120-mile journey that zigzagged across the country. Finally, the eagle told the hare to drop the money bags from an overpass down to a waiting car.

Meanwhile, after spotting a suspect bringing two takeout Chinese dinners to the desolate carpenters' yard, the police became virtually positive that the captives were being held there. That feeling was buttressed as the police followed one man from the hideout to Utrecht, where they saw him place another note inside a plastic cup. The cops were reluctant, however, to endanger the victims' lives by storming the building. When the missing men had failed to appear two days after the ransom's delivery, the authorities finally resolved to seize the suspects and raid the unguarded warehouse.

Still following their anonymous tip, the police made a first arrest even before they began the warehouse rescue operation. Then they launched a three-city sweep in which they quickly recovered some of the ransom money and arrested 25 suspects and subsequently detained eleven, most of them members of a single family.

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