By Michael E. Miller
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In 1996, the mistress was a stunning, curvy 23-year-old nail technician. Von Houtman was a flashy 51-year-old rake who drove a white Lamborghini and managed Nautilus Fitness Centers in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale. To the young manicurist, whose parents were in debt, the baron represented "a big score."
The violence began eight months after they began dating, she says. It was unrelenting. Behind closed doors, she says, von Houtman punched her, choked her, and forced himself on her on a daily basis. He loved mixing sex with violence.
In 1996, she filed a restraining order against him, claiming he had "beat[en] her with riding crops," raped her the day before Christmas, and "threatened to kill her if she attempted to leave him," according to court records. When she didn't show up in court, the injunction was dropped. "I was too scared," she explains. "I thought he would really kill me if I made the injunction official."
Von Houtman did massive amounts of drugs, she says, from cocaine to Ecstasy to ingestible steroids. After two years clean, she blames the baron for addictions to cocaine and other drugs that destroyed her mind. So does her mother, a tough Swiss immigrant with whom the mistress still lives. "Her mental problems are his fault," the mom says with disgust. "I'd kill him if I wasn't so scared of him myself."
Von Houtman denies the accusations and says the women have no reason to fear him. "Have you met [the mistress]? She's absolutely insane," he scoffs. "I've never used a drug in my life, except for a couple of glasses of wine, and I've never beaten a woman."
Indeed, it might be questionable hearsay if at least two of his ex-wives hadn't made remarkably similar allegations in the public record.
Born in Bournemouth, Britain, as Richard Anthony Houtman, he'd been married and divorced three times in his home country before immigrating to South Florida in 1987 at age 42. Within two years, he had wed Leslie Frances Drucker, who was 13 years his junior. It was an apparently violent 13-week marriage. During their 1989 West Palm Beach divorce, Drucker submitted photos of her bruised face after alleged beatings and testified that von Houtman often bound her and once punched out her front teeth. "The husband is a violent and vicious individual who takes delight in assaulting his wife and threatening her life," declared her lawyer, Martin Haines. "The wife is in fear for her life and safety as [von Houtman] has threatened not only [Drucker] but her family, and has bragged to the wife of numerous killings... he has perpetrated."
Haines dissected the finances of a man who he says had a big-money lifestyle but no discernible income: "Von Houtman... claims to obtain all his money in the form of loans from business associates in Amsterdam and from friends and family members. Regardless of [his] lack of employment, in recent years he purchased with cash funds a waterfront home and lot in Boca Raton, Florida, costing $1.2 million, and a Lamborghini... Houtman has deposited cash money in various bank accounts in South Florida totaling more than $600,000 [in a four-month period]. Some deposits were done by wire transfer from Amsterdam, some were direct deposits of foreign currency brought from Europe by Houtman, and some were made by depositing large numbers of small denominations."
Haines's conclusion: von Houtman "profits from drug trafficking."
Indeed, von Houtman admits he had made his money as a real estate speculator working for a "Dutch businessman" named Klaas Bruinsma. Nicknamed "the Minister," Netherlands-born Bruinsma was Europe's most notorious mob boss in the '80s, orchestrating the import of hundreds of tons of hashish from Pakistan to Europe.
Von Houtman allows that he took loans and invested for Bruinsma in Florida, including using the drug lord's Panamanian mortgage company, Villiers Shipping, to buy the Boca Raton mansion where the baron lived from 1989 to 1991.
Though Bruinsma served three prison stints for drug trafficking and attempted murder, von Houtman insists, "He was a good man, a man of my tastes, and an impeccable dresser. He was a drug lord, but a legal drug lord: Hash and marijuana are perfectly legal in the Netherlands."
In 1991, the trafficker was shot dead in front of the Amsterdam Hilton. The next year, U.S. Customs seized von Houtman's Bruinsma-funded Boca house because it had been purchased with proceeds from drug trafficking. "We are alleging that the narcotics transactions occurred in Europe," Customs counsel Peter Quinter told reporters at the time, "in violation of foreign drug laws."
The baron denies "absolutely" that he ever trafficked hashish with Bruinsma or funneled drug money into his partnerships with Wade. But the confiscation isn't von Houtman's only run-in with the authorities in his adopted country. In 1997, his fifth wife, Cheng, filed a restraining order against him. On September 8 the next year, three Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputies along with Cheng confronted him at the Boca Raton Nautilus. When they attempted to arrest him for violating the order, he did not go gracefully. According to a police report, he shoved the cops and fought back when they tried to cuff him, yelling, "I'll break your arm!" One of the deputies came away with an injured finger.