Peter R. de Vries, Dutch reporter who 'tirelessly' chased justice

The Hague (AFP) –


Peter R. de Vries, a Dutch journalist who died on Thursday after being shot in broad daylight, was known as a fearless fighter for justice who rose to fame for his reporting on the 1980s kidnapping of beer millionaire Freddy Heineken.

The 64-year-old was shot at least five times on July 6 in a busy Amsterdam street as he left a television studio, and had been fighting for his life in hospital since then.

"He was surrounded by the people who loved him when he died," his family said in a statement to the RTL commercial broadcaster.

De Vries, who grew up in a religious family in Amstelveen just outside the Dutch capital, first made a name as an intrepid crime reporter for De Telegraaf tabloid, writing about Heineken's kidnapping which made headlines around the world.

"He managed to break into the circle of trust of two of the kidnappers, Cor van Hout and Willem Holleeder," the Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad wrote.

In 1987 he wrote "The Kidnapping of Alfred Heineken", which describes the abduction from Van Hout's point of view.

Based on interviews with Van Hout and Holleeder, the book became a best-seller and one of the most prominent on shelves in homes in the Netherlands.

The 2015 movie "Kidnapping Freddy Heineken", starring Anthony Hopkins in the titular role, was based on his book.

In 1994, De Vries tracked down a third kidnapper Frans Meijer in Paraguay, where he was hiding and eventually extradited to the Netherlands in 2002.

- 'National hero' -

The celebrity journalist then moved into television, where he ran his own crime programme called "Peter R. de Vries, Crime Reporter".

His reporting led to the release of two brothers-in-law in 2002 who had been convicted for the brutal rape and murder of an air hostess in the central Dutch town of Putten. Police eventually arrested a new suspect in 2008 who was later sentenced to 15 years in jail.

De Vries shot to international renown in 2008 when he won an Emmy Award for his coverage of the disappearance of US teen Natalee Holloway on the Caribbean island of Aruba.

The reporter had a special penchant for "cold-cases", including the indecent assault and murder of a young boy, Nicky Verstappen, in 1998.

He acted as the spokesman for the Verstappen family when a breakthrough was made in 2018, leading to a suspect being sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema praised the intrepid journalist last week.

"Peter R. de Vries is a national hero to all of us, a rare and brave journalist, tirelessly seeking justice, completely independent, and free-spirited," she told a press conference.

"He stands up for those in need, for the parents of a murdered child, for those who have been wrongly convicted."

- Target -

De Vries also often testified in court, including in a murder case against Heineken kidnapper Holleeder, accused of later murdering Van Hout in 2003, which some say may have put a target on the reporter's back.

During an especially heated sitting, Holleeder called De Vries a "filthy scammer".

And since last year De Vries had been acting as an advisor and confidant of Nabil. B, the main prosecution witness in the case against Ridouan Taghi, described as the Netherlands' most wanted criminal.

Prosecutors have described Taghi's organisation as a well-oiled killing machine.

De Vries himself tweeted in 2019 that he was informed by police and justice officials that he was on a hitlist, drawn up by Taghi.

Security around the case against Taghi is extra-tight after Nabil B's lawyer Derk Wiersum was gunned down in the street outside his house in 2019.