Dutch crime journalist Peter R. de Vries has died after being shot in Amsterdam on July 6 2021. He was 64 years old.
Renowned for his dedication to unsolved crimes and support to the families of crime victims, he investigated more than 500 murder files and played a pivotal role in solving several cold cases.
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Peter added the R. (short for Rudolf, his second name) to his name to distinguish himself. In a radio interview, he once said that his name was otherwise quite ordinary.
He started his career as a 20-year-old trainee at De Telegraaf, the largest Dutch daily morning newspaper.
He was still a young journalist in 1983 when he followed the kidnapping of Freddy Heineken, the magnate of the famous beer brand.
Heineken was eventually released and several kidnappers were caught and sent to jail, including Cor van Hout and top Dutch criminal Willem Holleeder. De Vries later befriended Van Hout, which saw him criticised.
Van Hout was assassinated in 2003. Holleeder was released but is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of five murders and one count of manslaughter.
De Vries wrote two books about the investigation. One was later adapted into Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, a 2015 film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins.
It was the start of a long and impressive career as a crime journalist. He worked for several newspapers and magazines before getting his own television programme, named after himself, which lasted for 17 years.
De Vries received worldwide attention for his investigative work around the disappearance of US citizen Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005, for which he won an International Emmy Award.
De Vries famously revealed undercover footage in which a Dutch man, Joran van der Sloot, claims he was present when Holloway died and says he discarded her body.
While Van der Sloot became a prime suspect, he was never convicted. Holloway’s body was never found.
Van der Sloot remains in custody today after he was convicted of killing a Peruvian woman, Stephany Flores Ramírez, in Lima in 2010.
Last year, De Vries helped solve a cold case investigation.
In November 2020, more than 20 years after the death of 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen, suspect Jos B. was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison. De Vries was there during the entire trial, supporting Verstappen’s parents.
More recently, de Vries opened a tip-off line to help find Tanja Groen, a student who went missing in 1993.
“For the next of kin, the involvement of Peter R. De Vries in trials was of crucial importance,” said court and legal reporter Saskia Belleman. “It was his determination that made sure cases weren’t forgotten and police and the judiciary decided to take another look.”
A regular talk show guest who did not mince his words, with a certain vanity, the well-dressed journalist dared to challenge the country’s biggest criminals – which did not go down well with everyone.
In 2013, he and his wife pressed charges against Willem Holleeder, one of the Heineken kidnappers, after receiving death threats.
In recent years, he has been assisting the crown witness in the heavily guarded Marengo trial, one of the biggest Dutch crime cases. Seventeen suspects of murders or attempted murders between 2015 and 2019 are on trial.
One of the victims was ex-convict-turned-crime blogger Martin Kok, who was killed in 2016.
The crown witness’s brother was assassinated in 2018, followed by his lawyer, Derk Wiersum, in 2019.
Several lawyers quit the case over to safety concerns.
But de Vries did not want any security.
“If you have police on your left and right, they can still shoot you from the front,” he said in an interview.
Journalist Eddy Van der Ley and others questioned de Vries over his decision, to little avail.
“He used to say, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’,” van der Ley told Al Jazeera. “He knew he was taking a risk, but he was fearless.”
Fellow crime journalist Mick van Wely, writing in De Telegraaf, said before de Vries’ death: “Perhaps the fact that he had defied so many fierce enemies and threats made him feel untouchable.”
On July 6, the Netherlands went into shock when de Vries was shot.
He had just finished recording a show of RTL Boulevard, on which he was a frequent guest. He was on his way to his car, walking past crowds of people enjoying a post-work drink, when he was shot.
According to Van Wely, the way in which the attack was committed shows all the characteristics of a well-prepared assault.
“Peter was fearless,” RTL Boulevard presenter Marieke Elzinga said in a radio interview.
So far, two suspects of the shooting are in custody.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said he will do everything to make sure justice is served.
In a press conference, Rutte said the attack was shocking and incomprehensible.
“An attack on a courageous journalist. And with that an attack on free journalism, that is so essential for our democracy, for our constitutional state and for our society.”
‘He had a big heart’
An avid cyclist and passionate football fan, he held a season ticket for Ajax and founded a sport management agency in 2014 with his son Royce and Ajax-icon Piet Keizer.
He strongly disagreed with right-wing politicians such as Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet and campaigned for refugee rights.
His support recently led to a group of unregistered refugees to be recognised as Dutch citizens after many years.
“I emailed all the Dutch media without a response, but he replied within five minutes,” said Yosef Tekeste-Yemane, one of the refugees, from Ethiopia. “He was indignant, wanted to know more. He put our story on the political agenda.”
“Under a layer of toughness, he had a big heart,” said Van der Ley. “He was a dear man, friend, father and husband.”
De Vries leaves behind his wife, daughter and son.