Let's go back to the time when bandits such as the infamous Bokkenrijders terrorized this region.
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In May 1752, the heavy door of Nederweert jail slammed shut. The notorious gold thief Jan Antoon Corts found himself locked in a tiny, dark cell. Jan Antoon, also known as Kleinen Thoin (Little Tony), was chained to the wall in wrought iron manacles. He scraped his name and the year of his arrest into the wall while he awaited sentencing. At his trial, Jan Antoon’s final words were, ‘per bestiept de pen en fikste in de fonken’ which means: ‘Get the iron tongs and stick them in the fire.’ Not long afterwards, on 29 August 1752, this was indeed the way his life ended. He was tortured on a breaking wheel, horribly disfigured and then burned at the stake.
During the renovation of the old town hall in 1921, they discovered the ancient death row cell where until this very day you can still see ‘Johannes Antonius Corts’ and ‘1752’ carved into the plaster. However, the cell itself is no longer accessible.
Jan Antoon left his mark in other ways, too. Records of his interrogation are stored at the Algemeen Rijksarchief (National Archive) in the Hague. One striking detail of these interrogations is that they helped to decipher the bandits’ secret language. Members of the gang used to use all kinds of secret words, taken from Gypsy and Jewish languages, enabling them to communicate in a tongue outsiders couldn’t understand. They used words like sossem (= horse), knol (= watch) and grommen (= children). Memories of the bandit lived on for many generations. In the old days, parents in Nederweert would warn their children: ‘Jan Antoon zal uch krieëge’! (‘Jan Antoon will get you!’).