Henri Seepers on the spot where his house used to be.Statue Jiri Büller

    Henri Seepers’ legs dangle from the window of his burning house in Hedel on the night of November 25, 2020. He has emergency number 112 on the line and the operator urgently advises him to jump into the depth of five meters not to make. “The emergency services are there any moment,” she says. I’m sure it will, Seepers responds, but it won’t work anymore. “I can’t breathe, it’s getting too hot.” He jumps down into the pitch-dark hole.

    A few minutes earlier, Seepers had been startled awake. At around a quarter to three he heard that a window had been smashed in the room below him. Seepers, a bear of a guy, is unafraid and grabbed his big black Maglite flashlight. ‘I’ll knock that one out,’ he thought. But before he got down, he heard something more terrifying: a huge bang and the rapidly expanding sound of a flame wave. ‘Woosh!’

    So what he had been afraid of for a while has happened: the modest home of Henri and his younger brother Jan-Willem has been visited by the drug mafia.

    Henri Seepers (51) is still limping in one leg from the jump, when he serves coffee on a Thursday morning with a canoe and tells his story, outside his temporary housing container. There is a crater on the site of his house. The outline of the house is still outlined on a wall of the adjacent barn, like a scar from an amputated body part.

    The fire at Seepers was part of an extortion campaign that was unprecedented for the Netherlands that ravaged the Bommelerwaard. It started after the discovery in 2019 of no less than 400 kilos of cocaine at fruit trade De Groot in Hedel, a village on the Gelderse side of the Maas, right above Den Bosch. The man suspected of being the mastermind behind the extortion case, Ali G., will stand trial in court in Arnhem on Monday.

    Company De Groot is five minutes away from Seepers’ house, where employees unpacked a shipment of bananas from South America in May 2019. The coke find itself was nothing out of the ordinary; happens more often. However, it is always annoying, because police visits mean delays. But the work can normally continue quite smoothly.

    Henri Seepers: 'What do you intend to do if you throw a nitrate and fire bomb into someone's house?'  Statue Jiri Büller

    Henri Seepers: ‘What do you intend to do if you throw a nitrate and fire bomb into someone’s house?’Statue Jiri Büller

    It turned out differently this time. Due to the large amount of drugs found, a special police unit immediately came to guard De Groot’s site. After the men in black, with heavy weapons and helmets, seized the place, the problems started at De Groot.

    Blackmailers wanted to see 2.5 million euros in cash and/or bitcoins as compensation for the lost drugs. Refusing and going to the police again would be answered with ‘extreme violence’ and the liquidation of random employees, they were told by De Groot.

    Henri Seepers had just left the company for a few months as a warehouse worker. He regretted that after twelve years he had to leave due to disagreements, but he suddenly had his hands free for an old hobby. As a withdrawn boy with few friends in the village, he liked to play LPs from the age of 9. He found comfort in music. The ‘knaken’ pocket money that he now and then received from his grandparents – his father and mother were not well off as gardeners and cleaning women – he saved up to buy singles.

    With soul, funk and old school hip-hop, he started to find his way again from behind his pick-ups. In the slipstream of a friend, Dj Seepman even managed to get a small corner at the Paaspop and Mysteryland festivals in 2019.

    But Seepers couldn’t really keep his mind on the music. Suddenly the craziest things happened in the wide area. A sharp hand grenade was found in Kerkdriel at an apartment complex, arson followed in Tiel and Kerkdriel, where two houses were also fired upon, a fireworks bomb went off at a house in Rosmalen and a car burned out in Breda a little further away. The common denominator: all attacks took place on people from De Groot in Hedel; the fruit company that is in no way suspected by the judiciary of involvement in the drug trade.

    Error of justice

    It did not take much effort for the blackmailers to get close to employees of De Groot. Due to a mistake by the judicial authorities, a list with their address details ends up in the criminal file, so that the suspects also got their hands on the list. Henri’s brother, Jan-Willem Seepers, was still working at De Groot at that time. Henri fears that their address is on the list, but he does not get confirmation from the police.

    The answer will come on Wednesday night, November 25, 2020. The brothers never left the parental home. After mother’s death in 2009, father passed away in 2018, and since then they have taken care of their two Malinois shepherds, horses and pigeons.

    Henri packed his dishwasher that Tuesday evening. The kitchen, like the bathroom, is two months old. The renewal had been allowed earlier, but had to wait until the death of father, who wanted to leave everything the same after the death of mother. When the table for breakfast is set the next morning and the dogs have been let out, Henri also goes to the bedroom after his brother.

    Henri Seepers cannot remember anything about pain immediately after the jump. He pulls glass splinters from his body one after the other. From his head comes one of 5 centimeters. He walks, propelled by adrenaline, to the other side of the house. There he sees that his brother is better off than he is; a party tent has broken its fall. The dogs have already rescued his brother from the ground floor.

    With a broken wrist, a badly bruised ankle, cuts and burns, and dressed in nothing more than underpants and a T-shirt, Henri soon sees the flames shooting out of his bedroom window. The fire brigade has not yet started extinguishing the fire. Good thing I jumped, he thinks, and notices that he’s cold.

    Burn blisters on his lungs

    They put him on oxygen not much later at the UMC Utrecht hospital, because he could suffocate from fire blisters on his lungs. After 48 hours he is fired and finds his life in ruins at home. It is not only the fact that all his possessions have been destroyed that affects him. Especially the realization that someone has done this to him on purpose breaks him.

    A year and a half after the attack, Henri Seepers is still unable to work; he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. All the dealings with the police, insurance companies, contractors and the household in their temporary shelter in the yard is a day job for him. He’s sorry for his late father that he can’t get the yard tidy. All those pallets, tires, pipes and an old toilet bowl: he can’t bring himself to clean it up.

    No one really understands what he’s going through, he says. Yes, maybe his brother, but he works a lot so as not to have to worry about it too much. From all sides they advised Henri to keep his mouth shut, not to always use his right to speak in court, or to speak to the press. In the village they said so, to the police. For your own safety. But he can’t help but: ‘I’m straightforward, I don’t like being underhanded.’

    And so he says: ‘I would like to make them feel: this is what it does to people when you destroy their lives’. The perpetrators, the errand boys of the main suspect appearing today, were sentenced last April to prison terms of up to ten years by a judge who spoke of ‘a terrifying’ campaign with a ‘terrorist character’.

    Talking about it makes Seepers sad again. “I still find it incomprehensible that the judge hasn’t convicted them of attempted murder or manslaughter,” he says, rubbing his moist eyes, which he hides behind the shadow of a black cap and aviator glasses. “What are you going to do if you throw a nitrate and firebomb into someone’s house?”

    Stress and emotions

    Now that most things have been arranged and it is only a matter of time before the contractor has time to build their house, Henri has some space in his head again. But just now the stress and that mishmash of emotions are coming up again. The anger, but also the sadness of losing everything, the fear of never getting it back on track. He would love to be booked again to play records at a festival. “Music still helps me process.”

    Seepers had even worse times than now. When he was still on the waiting list for a psychologist, he found himself in the shed and thought: let me be dead, then I’ll be done with it. But a little voice in his head also said: you can’t do this to your brother. Henri picked up his phone and called the council from the shed. The social worker assigned to him still keeps him going.

    Of course he is afraid that they will come to visit him again. But he doesn’t want to succumb to ‘those pancakes’. He wants them all to know what they did to him. “That they destroyed what my parents worked themselves to death for,” he says. ‘And that against payment of no more than 200 euros.’