Volkert van der Graaf

From Academic Kids

Volkert van der Graaf (born July 9, 1969) is the confessed murderer of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.

He was born in Middelburg and, by the time he attended university in Wageningen, he was vegan and an idealistic supporter of animal welfare. In an interview, he said he acted not so much out of love for animals, but out of a rational set of norms. He was employed by the environmental organisation Vereniging Milieu Offensief in Wageningen, which he had co-founded in 1992. His job involved conducting judicial proceedings against violators of environmental regulations. He concentrated particularly on constesting intensive animal holdings and fur farming. He was said to be driven by his work, working more than the four days per week of his contract and was very successful, winning about three out of every four cases. He lived with his girlfriend, Petra Lievense, and their daughter in Harderwijk, where they had moved in 2001, but was said to have appeared over-stressed since the birth of their child on December 6, 2001.


Killing of Fortuyn

On May 6, 2002 Pim Fortuyn was murdered outside a radio studio in Hilversum just after he finished an interview. Van der Graaf was arrested near the scene of the crime after a pursuit by witnesses. Details of the suspect have always been officially reported as "Volkert van der G." in accordance with unwritten Dutch privacy practice. However his full name was readily available on the net and addresses were soon circulating on web sites used by Fortuyn's supporters. With passions running high and angry followers of supporters gathering in several cities, several people related to Van der Graaf went into hiding. His girlfriend and their daughter left their house on the evening of the murder.

The details of the murder emerged later, with the accounts of the investigators and Van der Graaf in good agreement. He planned the attack using information obtained from the Internet. In his car were found printouts of a map of the scene of the crime and schedules of Fortuyn's appearances. At his home was found two boxes of cartridges with 7 missing, the exact number loaded in his gun. The attack has been described as the work of a single person, an amateur shooter who used a relatively simple plan and didn't prepare a good escape route.

Van der Graaf purchased his weapons illegally; a semi-automatic Star Firestar M-43 [1] ( pistol in a café in Ede and 9mm cartridges in The Hague. After the murder of Fortuyn, the gun was linked to a suspect of a robbery of a jeweller in Emmen through DNA material found on the weapon.

On the day of the murder, he attended work in the morning, taking with him a backpack containing the gun, a pair of latex gloves, a baseball cap and a pair of dark glasses. At the end of the morning he said he was taking the afternoon off on account of the beautiful weather. He drove towards Hilversum, knowing that Fortuyn was due to be interviewed in the radio studio of 3FM in the Mediapark. During the trip he stopped several times, among other things to purchase a shaver to remove his stubble, which together with the cap and glasses would disguise his appearance, while the gloves would avoid leaving fingerprints. However the shaver did not work.

He had never visited the Mediapark, relying on a map and a couple of photos to find his way in to the park on foot and to the building where Fortuyn's interview was held. Recognising Fortuyn's Daimler in the carpark, he hid in some nearby bushes, burying the gun which was in a plastic bag in a shallow trough in case he was discovered. He could hear fragments of Fortuyn's interview from a speaker on the outside of the building. He waited there for about two hours.

Fortuyn emerged from the building in the company of several others. Van der Graaf walked in the direction of Fortuyn, passed by him, then turned and opened fire. He said that he aimed for his back to avoid the chance that Fortuyn would duck away, or that a bullet would hit somebody else by mistake. He held the gun in both hands, still with the plastic bag around it, less than 1.5 metres from Fortuyn, hitting him in the back and head five times then firing a sixth shot that missed.

He ran off, but Fortuyn's chauffeur, Hans Smolders, took up the chase. Two employees from a different building of the Mediapark later joined in. During the chase Van der Graaf threatened them by raising the gun in his jacket pocket towards them. They left the grounds of the Mediapark onto a public road, where Van der Graaf pointed the pistol at arms length at Smolders, who during the chase had been reporting the position to the police by mobile phone. Upon reaching a Texaco petrol station, Van der Graaf gave up when police emerging from their car pointed their pistols at him.

Investigations and Trial

Initial investigations

For several months Van der Graaf refused to make any statement on the murder, saying that this is the advice of his lawyers. He was represented by Böhler, Koppe and Franken, with Franken leading. In the months following the murder, many conspiracy theories were put forth by supporters of Fortuyn and others. Mat Herben of the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) said that the perpetrator was part of a group of five dangerous people. Fred Teeven of Leefbaar Nederland said that it was practically excluded that Van der Graaf had acted alone. Janssen van Raay of the LPF said that Van der Graaf was hired for the murder, suggesting a link to al-Qaida. He said he expected al-Qaida to free him from prison within a year. However officials investigating the murder dismissed these suggestions, saying no evidence had been found for the involvement of others. Suggestions that Van der Graaf had committed an earlier murder of an environmental official, Van der Werken from Nunspeet (1996), or that he had attended other appearances of Fortuyn, were also not corroborated.

After Van der Graaf's arrest, he was held in strict isolation until June 1. He was refused access to newspapers and television, could not receive visitors or use the telephone. He could only speak to his lawyers, the police and justice officials. He was kept under constant observation by video camera with the light on 24 hours per day. For a couple of months he maintained a hunger strike in protest of these conditions, provoking a controversy about whether he could be force-fed if he was in danger of death. He eventually abandoned the hunger strike after his conditions were improved.

A second search of Van der Graaf's home on June 24 found a chemical mixture, calcium-chlorate and sugar, hidden in 35 condoms in his garage. Nearby were flasks of sulphuric acid. Experts said the substances could be combined to make a fire bomb or explosive material. Van der Graaf later said that he had fabricated it during 1990-1992 to experiment with and had since forgotten about it.

First hearing

The first "pro forma" sitting in his trial started on August 9, which he watched on TV from his cell in the Bijlmerbajes prison. The prosecution outlined its evidence, which included the finding of DNA matching Fortuyn on Van der Graaf's clothes and gun, matching of the bullets used in the attack with the gun, and eye-witnesses who pursued him continuously from the murder scene to the point of arrest. The defence complained about the lack of discretion in reporting by the press and statements by public officials, which would make it difficult to obtain a fair trial. It asked to call on several politicians who had made public comments about the murder as witnesses, including the past and present Prime Ministers Wim Kok and Jan Peter Balkenende, as well as various members of Lijst Pim Fortuyn including Herben and Janssen van Raay.

On the morning of September 3, Van der Graaf's girlfriend was arrested at her workplace in connection with the chemicals found at their former home. Her lawyer and the lawyers of Van der Graaf denounced this as an attempt to pressure Van der Graaf into making a statement. She was released two days later and eventually cleared of any suspicion after Van der Graaf made a statement on her behalf.

Second hearing

During a second "pro forma" sitting on November 4, it was decided that the trial would be delayed while Van der Graaf was sent for seven weeks of psychiatric observation at the Pieter Baan Centrum, starting in the first week of January 2003.

In a press statement of November 23 the Public Ministry announced that Van der Graaf had confessed to the murder. He said that he planned it for some time beforehand and that nobody else was involved in the plans or knew about them. He said he saw Fortuyn as a steadily increasing danger for vulnerable groups in society, namely Muslims. It was thereby a combination of Fortuyn's stigmatising views, the polarising way that he presented them and the great political power that Fortuyn was threatening to obtain. He saw no other possibility for himself than to end the danger by killing Fortuyn.

In response to the confession, Mat Herben said he was still not convinced that Van der Graaf had acted alone. Fortuyn's brother Marten Fortuyn said he was not surprised by the confession but feared that Van der Graaf was setting himself up as "saviour of the fatherland".

The confession has not been made publicly available, but was later reported that Van der Graaf said he was "not proud" of the deed, and if he would consider the decision again he wouldn't do it. He said that he didn't see himself as "the saviour of the Netherlands" or as a martyr.

On January 6, 2003, Van der Graaf was moved to the Pieter Baan Centrum (PBC) to begin the seven week behavioural investigation. However the investigation was delayed because of disagreements between the Ministry of Justice and the management of the PBC over the conditions of his supervision. The Ministry wanted him under video surveillance 24 hours per day and isolated from other patients for his own safety. However according to the PBC the cameras would prevent building up a confidence relationship that would be needed for the multi-disciplinary behavioural investigation and it would be responsible to let him take part in a small group so that the investigation could proceed optimally. On January 20, Van der Graaf said he was suspending his cooperation for the investigation. The Minister of Justice, Piet Hein Donner, resolved the dispute by dropping the demands for video surveillance and isolation.

Third hearing

On January 29, 2003 a third "pro forma" sitting was held in which the dates for the trial were set. Since the subject of the trial was expected to be not so much the question of the guilt of Van der Graaf, but instead the degree of the punishment, the report of the Pieter Baan Centrum was considered highly significant, in case it found that he was of "diminished responsibilities". After the completion of the investigation on March 14, he was returned to his prison cell in the Bijlmerbajes.

The report from the PBC was complete by about March 21. It found that Van der Graaf could be held completely accountable for the killing. The report also stated that Van der Graaf had an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which explains his rigid moral judgements. Menno Oosterhoff, a child psychiatrist from Groningen, publicly suggested that the Pieter Baan Centrum may have overlooked the possibility that Van der Graaf has Asperger's syndrome. Oosterhoff later withdrew his theory. The PBC report stated that nothing could be said about the chance of another similar crime occurring, since the disorder had nothing to do with the murder. Van der Graaf agreed that he was accountable and that he had compulsive urges. The outcome of the investigation ensured that he would receive a prison sentence and not "TBS treatment".

The trial

The trial was held in a high-security court in Amsterdam-Osdorp over three days: March 27, March 31 and April 1. About 15 supporters of Fortuyn demonstrated outside the building, with banners such as "for less than 20 years we will smash the place up", "better fortuynist than socialist" and "the leftist church is criminal". The proceedings were followed by about 80 people, including a woman who disturbed the occasion by screaming at Van der Graaf, accusing him of such things as "making the whole of the Netherlands caput".

Van der Graaf was charged with the premeditated murder of Fortuyn, two counts of possession of illegal weapons, namely the gun and the explosive mixture at his house, and a charge of threatening the life of Fortuyn's chauffeur by pointing his gun at him during the chase following the murder.

The prosecutor asked for life-long imprisonment for the killing, saying that an example must be set for anybody else attempting to frustrate the democratic process through criminal means. The seriousness of the crime was determined by its subject and the consequences, and that to a certain degree it was a "political murder". Van der Graaf had irrevocably damaged the democratic political progress of Fortuyn, and had done it intentionally. For an exceptional crime, he deserved an exceptional punishment.

During the trial, Van der Graaf described again his reasons for killing Fortuyn. He said how he had hoped that the leaders of other political parties would deliver substantial critique on Fortuyn, but that it never happened. Instead, Fortuyn had the talent to channel criticism so that it never touched him. He said again that he had never spoken to anybody else about his plan to act against Fortuyn, and only made a definitive plan to act on the day before the murder. He said that he was wrestling with feelings of regret for the killing, finding the killing of somebody morally reprehensible, but that on May 6 he had felt himself justified, wanting to fight the danger of Fortuyn, not his person. He explained his lack of outward emotion as due to his being somebody who didn't find it easy to talk about feelings. Asked about the danger of accidentally injuring somebody other than Fortuyn in the attack, he said that he was confident that that wouldn't happen. The 3FM DJ Ruud de Wild said in his account of the attack that he barely escaped with his life, received a bullet in the bag that he shielded himself with. To the argument that Fortuyn would have been chosen through democratic means, Van der Graaf said that that was also the case for Hitler. In his final argument he said that he had acted from his conscience, but that didn't justify it, and that it was absolutely not normal to shoot somebody to death.

Van der Graaf also said that he would not have committed the murder, at least not on that evening, if Fortuyn had been accompanied by security guards. This is relevant for accusations that the government should have provided security.

On Tuesday, April 15, 2003, Van der Graaf was convicted and sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment.


The prosecution and the defence both made appeals against this sentence. Prior to the appeal, suggestions in the media that Van der Graaf may be suffering from Asperger's syndrome were rejected by workers at the PBC, who said they had considered and rejected the possibility. The prosecution argued that the court had not taken account of the political nature of the murder, and asked again for life imprisonment. The defence argued that the sentence didn't take account of the harsh conditions under which Van der Graaf had been held, nor the damage that had been done by unsubstantiated allegations that had appeared in the media (such as the connection with Van der Werken), and requested a reduction in sentence to 16 years. The appeals court accepted some of the arguments from both parties and on July 18, 2003 sentenced him again to 18 years imprisonment.

Under Dutch law he must serve at least two thirds of the sentence, which is counted from the time of his arrest, making his earliest possible release in van der Graaf


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