A red light flickered in every corner of four walls while Martin took out the thin sheets of old negatives. He was unaware that he stopped breathing for a moment as he delicately placed the negatives on the tank. Sweat trickled down his face, and his heartbeat gradually increased. When the timer dings, he carefully unspooled the reel. Martin shuddered in amazement after he held the photograph. But when his eyes traveled across the images on the paper, he felt his soul just left his body.
A Dutch boy named Martijn van Oers had his first camera when he was 12 years old as a birthday present. He instantly fell in love with taking photographs from old buildings or abandoned places. At that time, young Martijn would spend time wandering on eerie places rather than playing with other kids. His odd interest made his parents extremely worried, but it got even worse as he grew older.
When Martin was a teenager, his room was filled with photographs. Some photos were taken by him, and some were bought from the thrift stores. That was why in 2017 when he entered an antique shop, his eyes immediately fell on an old camera.
It was early morning when Martijn was already up because of a plan to revisit thrift stores. He was walking around the town when he stopped in a particular store. It felt like it was luring him inside, so he didn’t hesitate to enter. There were a bunch of photographs that made his heart pounded in excitement, but there was an old camera sitting on the corner that piqued his interest.
Martijn knew right away that it wasn’t just any camera but a rare vintage model of a Zeiss Ikon 520/2. He went over and quickly examined the camera. When Mantjin realized that the camera was still in pristine condition, his eyes widened in disbelief. He took the camera before anyone else could discover its real value and excitedly gave it to his wife. Beyond his knowledge, the camera had something more stored for him.
Since his wife was also a photography enthusiast, she was so ecstatic when she saw the camera that Mantijn took home. He told her that he might try using the camera since it looked like it hadn’t used at all, and Martijn believed that it would still function well. He also took it as a challenge because the gear was an old-school film camera, and he was only trained to use modern digital ones. But he would soon discover that it wasn’t just a mere toy but an item that contained a piece of historical evidence.
Martijn was ready to use his new gear, so he started fiddling with the camera and checking if the buttons were functioning well. When he turned the switch for the film storage to open, there was a roll left inside the apparatus. Curiosity dawned on him, and Martijn’s obsession with eerie photographs made him call his friend, an expert in developing film photographs.
He had a hunch that the roll of the film might be related to a serial killer in the 1920’s. His name was Fritz Haarman, and he took the lives of 27 teens in Germany. It was alleged that he used a camera while committing his crimes, but the device had never been found. Martijn’s thought that it could be the missing camera sent chills down his spine. He was utterly terrified as he imagined the possible images from the roll.
Martijn stared at the film roll on his hands. Was it right to develop the photos first rather than surrendering the item to the authorities? He pondered. But it could also be just old photos from an ordinary person. The possibilities are endless and the only key to answer his stirring questions was to see the photographs with his own set of eyes.
Inspecting the film roll, Martijn noticed the “EXPOSE” words displayed on the side. The first thing that came to his mind that the camera probably used all the films in the roll. He knew that gear was old, but he needed to see the date and time of the roll. So he looked at the brand of the film on the internet, and he was taken aback when he discovered the year it was manufactured.
“1924” Martijn read on the internet. He mentally calculated and figured that the camera might be around 89 years old! There was no way that the images in the roll would survive in decades. But Martijn had to try. If it were meant to answer or not, it would only be found out in one particular way. So he grabbed his phone and dialed a friend named Johan Holleman.
When Johan heard the story over the phone, he was also quite curious. But he told Martijn that chances were too narrow to develop such antique film. Martijn countered and plead him to still try because he doesn’t want a golden opportunity to just slip their hands. And the only way to find out was for them to give it a shot.
On Tuesday morning, Martijn knocked on Johan’s door. He welcomed Martijn then led him to his kitchen. Martijn observed as the whole area was pitch black and asked his friend. Johan explained that because the film was too old, they shouldn’t expose it to even a single light or it would be totally damaged. The process was challenging since Johan couldn’t see anything in total darkness, but there were hazy silhouettes that started to appear from the negatives, which sparked hope for them to kept going until it was finally complete.
Moment of Truth
Martijn transferred the negatives in the shower and carefully dried it using a hairdryer. His heart was pounding in excitement and nervous at the same time. Because he was about to discover the images whether it was from the killer or an average person, but one thing for sure, these photos were already part of history. And there was no turning back once the images imprinted on their minds.
Martijn patiently waited for the negatives to dry. When he noticed that it was ready, Martijn rushed to the projector and placed the film in front of its light so he could clearly see the reflected images. Martijn squinted his eyes and focused on the negatives. A smile grew on his face after he spotted four images from the roll. From his vision, he perceived a woman staring straight into the camera. And she was standing straight on a cement road with mountains at her back. The more Martijn stared at the images, the more his hair began to rise.
Who Was This Woman?
When Martijn studied the rest of the photographs, he noticed that it was the same strange woman doing identical poses in different places. The woman was a stranger to him, but he was certain that every photo of her had stories to tell. Martijn glowed from the inside out. The desire to know more was filling his every sense. So he searched for more hint in the photos, and his eyes sparked after he saw the fourth photo.
The last photograph had a different subject—it was an older man. Martijn immediately knew what was hanging on the man’s shoulder and recognized it as the camera’s case. A solid clue that this man was the photographer and most probably the owner of the Zeiss Ikon 520/2. Unfortunately, there were more questions left to answer.
Reaching Out Virtually
Right at the moment, Martijn’s face lit up. He suddenly had an idea to scan the photographs and post them on social media. This method could reach out to numbers of people, and maybe if luck was on their side, someone could actually identify the woman in the images. When Martijn shared the pictures on his facebook, one of his friends immediately messaged him and shown a light to them.
When a man saw Martijn’s Facebook post, he thought that the place was familiar to him. He confirmed it by searching it from the Google Maps then he sent it to Martijn via private message. When Martijn opened the Google Street View, the location was pinned at Biarritz, France. The photographer took a closer look, and he was convinced instantly. But there was another message that popped on his screen.
Their Real Identity
Another person claimed that she recognized the people in the photographs. The informant’s name was Marion Jurrjens, a Dutch woman, and she was the key person. Marion identified the owner of the camera as Theo Lammers and the woman who was the subject as Elisabeth Lammers-Berveling. She also knew that the couple had visited the Biarritz. But why did Marion know so much?
Marion was the granddaughter of the people from the photographs. She was born in the Netherlands, but she was residing in Canada as of that moment. Martijn wanted to meet and hand her over the pictures of her grandparents. But the travel expense would cost a fortune to him. Yet he can’t back down, now that he’d already gone too far. Then an idea fumed. He took his laptop and created a GoFundMe account. And the next thing he knew, donations surged from different regions of the world.
The Rightful Owner
It became possible for Martijn to travel to Canada. He was able to deliver the photographs to the rightful owner. And Marion was beyond moved. “I love all of the pictures, and I would like to keep them all together as that is how they are meant to be,” She beamed. “My house is already rather full since my grandfather was also a painter. But I hope I can find a spot to put them on the wall so I can remember this whole event.”