From the beginning of time, there have been murderers and psychopaths – if we delved deeply enough into our family we may find that somewhere along the way one of our ancestors either killed someone for revenge, love or by mistake. We now take a look at some famous and not so famous South African murderers – perhaps you are related to one of them?
DAISY LOUISA DE MELKER was born on 1st July 1886 at Seven Fountains, near Grahamstown. She was the daughter of William Stringfellow Hancorn Smith from Grahamstown and Fanny Augusta Mathilda Bird from Ascension Island.
At the age of ten she went to live with her father, who had settled in Bulawayo, and was educated there and at the Good Hope Seminary in Cape Town.
She completed a nursing course at the Berea Nursing Home, Durban. On 3rd March 1909 she married William Alfred Cowle, aged 35, a municipal plumber of Johannesburg. There were five children borne from that marriage, of whom all but one, named Rhodes, died in infancy. William Cowle enjoyed good health until 11th January 1923, when he took Epsom salts prepared by his wife and developed symptoms which soon proved fatal. The post mortem report attributed his death to chronic nephritis and cerebral haemorrhage. Mrs. Cowle inherited £1 250, a house in Bertrams, Johannesburg, and received 550 pounds from the municipal provident fund.
On the 1st January 1926 she married Robert Sproat, a bachelor, aged 46. He, too, was a municipal plumber and was worth about 4 000 pounds in gold shares, municipal stock and cash in a building society. On 6th November 1927 he fell ill after drinking a glass of beer. The doctor diagnosed arteriosclerosis with cerebral haemorrhage. In terms of Sproat’s will his wife was paid about £5 000.
Before long she married again. Daisy married her third husband on 21st January 1931. Clarence Sydney de Melker was a Springbok rugby footballer of 1906 and also a plumber. Rhodes Cowle joined them. He had long been indulged by his mother; often morose, quarrelsome and ill-behaved, he once assaulted her. On 25th February 1932 she visited a Johannesburg pharmacy, bought white arsenic and signed the poison register ‘D. L. Sproat’. Within a week Rhodes fell ill and three days later he died.
A doctor certified death to be due to cerebral malaria. A suspicious relative went to the police and the bodies of Cowle, Sproat and Rhodes were exhumed. In the first two, tiny particles of strychnine were recovered. Rhodes was found to have died of arsenical poisoning. At first the prosecution could not clinch the case, as no purchase or possession of strychnine or arsenic could be traced to Mrs. De Melker. Then a photograph of her, captioned ‘Daisy de Melker’, appeared in a newspaper. The pharmacist recognised her as the woman to whom he had sold arsenic. He supplied the missing link in the evidence.
Her trial began on 17th October 1932 in the Witwatersrand division of the Supreme Court and lasted for thirty-nine days. She was defended by the brilliant advocate H.H. Morris and was tried by Judge L. Greenberg and two assessors. The judge’s finding was that there was insufficient evidence to prove she had murdered her two husbands, but that there was no doubt she had murdered her son. A petition for mercy on Christmas Eve of 1932 was rejected and she was executed on 30th December the same year.
An unattractive woman of medium height, with bushy hair and cold, penetrating blue eyes, at no time did Daisy de Melker admit her guilt or show any sign of remorse. She accepted the death penalty calmly and courageously.
Report on medicine murders (1951); Hedley Chilvers: Out of the crucible (1929); Napier Devitt: Celebrated South African trials (1941); H. H. Morris: The first forty years (1947); Benjamin Bennett: Up for murder (1934); id.: Freedom or the gallows (1957); Too late for tears (1948); The clues condemn (1949); The evil that men do (1950); Genius for the defence (1959); Murder will speak (1962); The amazing case of the Baron von Schauroth (1966); H. J. May and I. Hamilton: The Foster gang (1966).
DOROTHEA KRAFT (later Van der Merwe), the first woman to be hanged after Union, lived on the farm Treurfontein in the Lichtenburg district in 1914. When Louis Tumpowski, a Polish Jew, aged 55, called at the farm as a pedlar, she was divorced and having trouble with her Bantu labourers. Turnpowski offered to manage the farm and she agreed. His attorneys drew up a lease under which he was to pay an annual rental and have the right eventually to buy the property.
For several years he and Mrs. Kraft lived as man and wife. Then he informed her that he intended to exercise his option and buy the farm at the agreed figure, which was below the ruling price. She hired a Coloured witch-doctor, Jim Burds, to induce Tumpowski to marry her by antenuptial contract. When Burds’s potions proved ineffective, she enlisted the aid of Hermanus Lambertus Swartz, a distant relative, who had deserted from the army during the war and turned up at Treurfontein.
On the night of 2nd February 1918, at the height of a great storm, Burds arrived on the farm at Mrs. Kraft’s urgent request. He struck Tumpowski on the head with a heavy stick. Swartz then tied a leather thong round the man’s neck and slit his throat. The body was buried in an ash-pit. Tumpowski’s sudden disappearance caused little comment. Mrs. Kraft moved to another district, remarried and became known as Mrs. Van der Merwe.
Tumpowski’s sister in Johannesburg became suspicious when her letters were returned, and went to the police. A prolonged search and widespread excavations on the farm were unsuccessful until, two years later, a violent wind-storm swept Treurfontein and torrential rain caused a deep subsidence in the ash-pit. The police dug into it and found the body. Dorothea van der Merwe and Hermanus Swartz stood trial at Potchefstroom on 13th June 1921 and were sentenced to death. Burds, who had turned king’s evidence, was acquitted.
MARIA HELENE GERTRUIDA CHRISTINA LEE (born Van Niekerk) was four times married, first when she was 16, and three times divorced. One of her husbands, Jan de Klerk Lee, a Pretoria metal-worker whose name she kept, died in 1941, ostensibly of tuberculosis. From 1946 to 1947 Mrs. Lee worked for a firm of jewellers in Cape Town, from whom she stole jewellery worth several thousand pounds. At the time she was living with her latest lover, Alwyn Smith, a discharged soldier, who sponged on her.
When her thefts were discovered and she was dismissed, his use as travelling salesman for stolen jewellery ended. Mrs. Lee, who by now had made another male conquest, began to add ant poison to Smith’s food. He went into a decline and died on 2nd May. The doctor suspected poisoning and refused a death certificate. A post-mortem was held. Police investigations lasted months and Mrs. Lee was arrested in Pretoria on 14th October.
In the Pretoria central prison, where she was lodged before being remanded to Cape Town for trial, she confided to her cell companion that she had given Smith doses of arsenic. This woman told the police. The trial opened in Cape Town on 6th April 1948 and on 10th May Mrs. Lee was sentenced to death. An appeal was dismissed and she was hanged on 17th September 1948.
MARGARET ELIZABETH RHEEDER was avaricious and sex-hungry. A daughter of Clarence and Grace Harker, she was born at Platbos, near Keurbooms River, Knysna on 6th September 1922 and grew up in grinding poverty. At 21 she married a man who soon left her to support herself and two baby daughters.
After some casual love-affairs she divorced her husband and on 6th September 1952 married Benjamin Fredenman Rheeder, aged 39, formerly a farmer. They lived in Port Elizabeth. She disliked her step-children, Rheeder’s daughters by his previous marriage, and this led to frequent quarrels. It was, however, her sex urges that hastened the crisis. Rheeder surprised her with a paramour one night and thrashed her. On 27th April 1957 she bought a bottle of ant-poison. Two days later her husband fell ill at work, and he died on 7th May. A doctor certified that the deceased had suffered acute gastro-enteritis and then heart failure. A police check of poison registers revealed the woman’s purchase of ant-poison containing arsenic.
Exhumation of the body established that Ben Rheeder had died of arsenical poisoning. The trial was held in Port Elizabeth and Margaret Rheeder was sentenced to death and hanged on 6th May 1958.
A number of mass murders have occurred in South Africa during the past half-century. They were mainly due to self-absorbed brooding over fancied slights, insults or wrongs that led to an outbreak of vengeful violence.
STEPHANUS SWART, killer of five policemen, his wife, two neighbours and three Bantu, declared that he could get no justice from the courts. He was a hard, embittered man. In 1927, at the time of his crimes, he was farming at Potter’s Hill near Majuba on the Natal-Transvaal border. His loss of a civil lawsuit determined him to avenge himself on the world. He assaulted a relative and was jailed for 18 months.
After his release he committed a serious sexual offence on a relative, fired a shot at a man while he awaited trial, and heard that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He sent a message to the police that he would shoot anyone who came to fetch him. Ignoring the threat, a police posse set out for Potter’s Hill on the morning of 6 th May 1927 to apprehend Swart. Warned of their approach, Swart crept from his farmhouse unseen, outflanked the police and, taking them in the rear, shot five of them dead. He then set out on horseback for Charlestown, where he killed his wife, who was being sheltered by friends, and other innocent people who crossed his path. Trapped by a search party soon afterwards, he put a bullet through his brain.
CORNELIUS JOHANNES PETRUS VAN HEERDEN, aged 22, a railwayman who lived with his parents on the outskirts of Bethlehem, Orange Free State, in 1931, also had unpleasant legal experiences which had stirred feelings of persecution in him. He held up and killed a commercial traveller, stole his car, and shot down a former member of the Bethlehem town council. He continued to fire indiscriminately at a Bantu whom he met on the road and left a trail of dead and dying until he drove into a ditch and shot himself.
PIETER LUBBE, who farmed near Fauresmith in 1953, was in a morbid, prolonged fit of sulks before he gave way to his murderous impulses. Three months previously he had had a nervous breakdown and had been treated by a psychiatrist. He then fell under the influence of some religious sect and began to blame his family for the hardships ‘thrust upon him by God’. He threatened suicide several times -but not until he had ‘cleansed’ his farm of ‘everything impure’. In the ‘impurities’ he included his wife and children. He shot and killed six members of his family and then turned his gun on himself.
PETRUS LAFRAS LOMBARD, aged 48, a farmer near Morgenzon in the Ermelo district, in 1954 assaulted a Bantu who subsequently died. He regarded the court’s penalty – a £100 fine and a suspended sentence of imprisonment – as an injustice and bitter humiliation. He shot another Bantu who had struck him. Then he went berserk, killed five other Bantu and wounded four more. He was cornered while attempting to get away, and committed suicide.
PIERRE CORNEILLE FACULYS BASSON was a different type of mass murderer. He killed a dozen victims, but not in anger. His crimes were inspired by greed and executed with cunning and deliberation. Born in 1880, he showed cruelty at an early age. Aware of the advantages of insurance, he, when he secured the proceeds of his father’s policy, insured his 17-year-old brother Jasper for £3 500 and paid the first year’s premium. Then, inviting Jasper to go fishing at Gordon’s Bay on 14th February 1903, he murdered him.
The body was never found. The insurance company at first opposed Basson’s claim, but was ordered by the courts to pay the full amount of the policy. Basson believed that there was money to be made by offering loans on easy terms on the security of the cession of an insurance policy on the debtor’s life. Several of Basson’s friends (and debtors) were found dead, shot or drowned, and he was paid their insurance cover. In no case could it be proved that he was responsible for their sudden deaths.
The murder of Wilhelm Schaefer, aged 54, who farmed Highlands on the Cape Flats, finally led to Basson’s undoing. He negotiated with Schaefer for the purchase of Highlands, although he had no money to clinch the deal, and inveigled Schaefer to his home, where he overpowered him with chloroform and strangled him with a cord. The body was stripped and lowered at night into a deep hole. A Bantu woman passing by saw the grisly burial and informed the police. When they arrived at his home, Basson watched the digging party from a hiding-place. He locked himself in his bedroom and committed suicide.
Murder and politics
Two characters in South African criminal history were fortuitously linked with the lives of important political personalities. One was Franz Ludwig Kurtze, alias Karl Brown, also known as Baron von Veltheim; the other was William Robert Clem Foster. Their deeds had repercussions in the political field which neither of them could have foreseen.
VON VELTHEIM, international crook, bigamist and swindler, was, according to himself, invited to South Africa in 1897 by the mining magnate Barney Barnato. He blackmailed Barnato’s nephew, the millionaire Woolf Joel, sending him letters signed ‘Kismet’. He demanded £11 000 and ten per cent of the ‘millions’ the house of Joel would make on the stock exchange for ‘secret information’ supplied in advance. Joel inserted a notice in The Star inviting ‘Kismet’ to negotiate with him.
Von Veltheim turned up saying that he was the go-between for ‘Kismet’. Joel refused to be blackmailed or to participate in any plot and ordered Von Veltheim to leave. On 14th March 1898 Von Veltheim returned to ‘negotiate’ and offered to take a smaller sum in exchange for his silence. Defied again, he whipped out a revolver and shot Joel dead. Von Veltheim was arrested, but insisted that Joel had fired at him first and that he had returned the fire in self-defence.
In London, New York and Paris the murder was at first thought to have originated in ‘Reformer’ activities, which had been nipped in the bud, and the share-market slumped. Excitement rose to fever pitch on Von Veltheim’s declaration that he had been encouraged to enter the Transvaal from Bechuanaland to plot against the State at the instance of the mining magnates. He was tried, but the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and the judge had to discharge him. Although Von Veltheim may have exaggerated or invented his role of a political catspaw, there is little doubt that his long and sensational trial and plausible story of an anti-Republican plot served to heighten the Government’s mistrust of the Reformers and the magnates and to keep aflame passions that were soon to erupt in the Second Anglo-Boer War.
There were at the time many rumours of a political plot and a conspiracy, even of a design to assassinate President Kruger or members of the Executive Council. Of these rumours C. P. Bresler, Q.C., later wrote in his book Lineage of conflict (1952), after a careful analysis of the evidence: ‘ … one is not surprised that the learned judge directed the jury that the letters’ (written by Von Veltheim to Joel, demanding money with menaces) did not appear to him to have had any political background and that he did not think that there had been a conspiracy…
WILLIAM FOSTER swore vengeance on society when his younger brother was sent to prison on account of a hold-up. Between the time of his vow and its fulfilment, eleven people lost their lives. Foster, born in 1886, was headstrong and undisciplined. After several brushes with the law and a taste of prison, he developed into an embittered juvenile delinquent. He graduated to big crime in 1913 when he organised a hold-up at a jeweller’s shop in Longmarket Street, Cape Town. With his brother and another accomplice he stole £5000 worth of jewellery, but they were caught and sent to prison for 12 years.
Foster insisted that this was a cruel and savage punishment for his brother, a first offender, who had played only a minor part in the affair. After serving nine months, William Foster escaped from prison and joined John Maxim, a Texan cowboy and criminal, and a 19 year-old rascal, Carl Mezar. They formed the ‘Foster gang’ and embarked on a systematic campaign of burglary with violence. They broke into a bank at Boksburg and shot a man dead during their escape. They blew open safes in post offices and, on 13th September 1914, burgled a bottle-store in Doornfontein. They killed two policemen who attempted to arrest them and escaped on a motor-cycle.
Foster and his associates lay low for a while at their base, a house in Regent’s Park, Johannesburg. With Foster were his wife and their baby daughter. When they were traced, Foster shot a detective dead, and the gang escaped in a car with false number-plates. Police found the house crammed with stolen property, false moustaches, tubes of face-paints and hair-dyes. A cordon was drawn round the town and roads leading to Reef towns and the country were patrolled. Cars were stopped and searched.
Anyone who ignored a challenge was to be fired on. Dr. Gerald Grace, on his way to the East Rand to answer an urgent call, did not know of Foster’s latest exploits or hear an order to halt. A volley was fired into his car and he was killed.
In a similar way Gen. J. H. de la Rey was killed while on his way, with Gen. C. F. Beyers, to Potchefstroom. The shooting of Gen. De la Rey caused a furore as it was a time of unrest and, somewhat later, open rebellion, and some people at first inclined to the belief that it was more than an accident. Meanwhile, Foster, Maxim and Mezar had abandoned their car and taken refuge in a cave on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
They were besieged by the police for many hours, but Foster’s wife and child were permitted to join him when he offered to surrender to her and no one else. Other members of the family, allowed to enter the cave to reason with Foster, emerged with the child. Immediately afterwards shots were heard. Foster, his wife, Maxim and Mezar were found dead. Maxim had acted as executioner and then turned the revolver on himself.
The records of murder in South Africa are studded with unusual trials, unexpected verdicts, and bizarre means of death. The rarest type of murder is matricide. The strangest weapons used have included dynamite, poisoned arrows used by Bushmen against police patrols, and blazing pyres on which victims of witchcraft and superstition have perished.
PETRUS STEPHANUS FRANCOIS HAUPTFLEISCH , the matricide, was a soldier of the First World War who lived with his aged mother at Richmond (Cape) in 1924. He bore her a grudge for blacklisting him, cutting off his liquor supplies. Also, she possessed £300. He throttled his mother, placed the body on its side on a built-up hearth, sprinkled it with petrol and ignited the vapour with a match. He intended in this way to suggest an accident after his mother had had a fatal heart attack while cleaning the stove with petrol. Lividity patches on the back of the body, however, proved that Mrs. Hauptfleisch could not have died in the position in which she was found. A post-mortem established beyond doubt that throttling was the cause of death. Hauptfleisch was hanged on 23rd December 1924.
HUIBRECHT JACOB DE LEEUW , town clerk of Dewetsdorp, chose dynamite for his crime. To destroy evidence of his embezzlement of town funds, he blew up the town hall and fatally injured the three members of the finance committee who had been deputed to examine the books. Having previously experimented with the explosive properties of dynamite, he himself had remained near an exit and had escaped serious wounding. His experiments and timely escape were to prove decisive evidence of a murder plan. De Leeuw, hanged on 30th September 1927, was one of the few murderers who did not question the justice of the penalty. In any list of unusual verdicts must be included those on the man who was sentenced to death twice, and those on the man who was discharged twice on the same charge of murder.
ALFRED PERCIVAL VON ZELL, an eccentric megalomaniac, shot his wife in Pretoria on the night of 21st April 1952. The defence failed to show that he had acted on an irresistible impulse or in a state of mind providing extenuation. The jury found him guilty and he was condemned to death. The Appellate Division set aside the sentence and directed the judge to pass another on the basis that the jury had, in fact, found various extenuating circumstances. The judge offered to hear mitigating evidence from Von Zell, but when this offer was rejected he re-imposed the death penalty. Von Zell spent nine months in the condemned cell before he went to the gallows on 13th November 1953.
THOMAS ANDREW KERR was tried for the rape and murder of Edith Pinnock, aged nine, on 8th October 1907. Her beaten and outraged body was found in a cellar beneath the golf club-house at Grahamstown. At the conclusion of the trial the jury were unable to agree on a verdict and were discharged. The attorney general withdrew the indictment, but Kerr was retried at Cape Town, on the same facts, for rape and murder. This time he was found not guilty, acquitted and released from further prosecution.
JACOBA (‘BUBBLES’) SCHROEDER, an attractive ‘good-time girl’, was the victim of an unknown killer. Her body was found on Wednesday morning, 17th August 1949, in a plantation near Johannesburg. She was lying on her back as though she had been carried over someone’s shoulder and then carefully laid out. She was hatless and her shoes, bag and coat were missing.
In her mouth were several bits of hard, clay-like material from a near-by heap of lime. According to the post-mortem she had died of asphyxia. Police questioned the youth at whose home, in an affluent suburb, ‘Bubbles’ had been entertained on the Monday night. They also questioned his 20-year-old cousin, who had driven her part of the way to her flat. The youths were arrested, but there were no clues to link them with the crime and they were discharged after a preparatory examination.
JAMES ARTHUR DE VILLIERS, of Cape Town, answered a call at 9:40 on Friday night, 9th August 1929. When he reached the address given in Salt River he found he had been hoaxed – no one there wanted a taxi. Setting out to return to the rank, he was probably picked up by the man who had lured him to Salt River with the bogus call and awaited the opportunity to hail him. An hour later De Villiers was found shot dead near the Woltemade cemetery. He had been robbed of his takings. His taxi was found abandoned 3 km away on the Esplanade. A spent cartridge case lay under the seat.
At 9:30 the following night a masked man, pointing an automatic, attempted to hold up customers at a hotel in Newlands. When someone lurched toward him he turned, fired a shot that narrowly missed the barman, and darted into the street. In the bar the police picked up a cartridge-case that had almost certainly been ejected from the same weapon that had killed De Villiers. A series of other hold-ups followed, but the bandit, who was most likely the murderer, was never caught.
Like De Villiers, ARTHUR VICTOR KIMBER, taxicab owner of Pietermaritzburg, was shot dead by a fare. His body was discovered at the side of the Maritzburg-Durban road on 22nd September 1931. Connected with the mystery were two eloping lovers – Richard Louis Mallalieu (21), a former public schoolboy from England, where his father had been an M.P., and Gwendoline Mary Tolputt (23), adopted daughter of a doctor practising at Tarkastad.
The couple had reached Pietermaritzburg on an illicit honeymoon and were there when Kimber was shot and robbed. They were short of money and were seen in town at the time of the crime. They were arrested in Cape Town. In Mallalieu’s luggage was an Astra pistol. Two spent cartridge-cases which ballistics experts said had been fired from this pistol had been found at the scene of the crime. Mallalieu was tried at Pietermaritzburg on 8th March 1932. During the trial the defence questioned the identification of Kimber’s passengers on the fatal night and the similarity of the markings on the spent cartridge cases. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Tolputt did not stand trial and she and Mallalieu were deported.
The murder of IRENE KANTHACK, a young Witwatersrand University student, near the Zoo Memorial in Johannesburg, shocked the public. But what was never fully explained was the attempt of a woman to cast suspicion on an innocent man, her former sweetheart. At 6:15 pm on 24th November 1927, Miss Kanthack was seen behind the zoo, returning from a walk. Soon afterwards her pet terrier ran into her home, whimpering strangely. Her father called the police and urgent messages were broadcast. Her body was found beneath a clump of leaves and branches.
Clues showed that she had been killed in a nearby bush after fighting fiercely for her life. The chief of the C.I.D. was certain that the murderer was a Bantu, as the body had been left under a tree and covered with branches – the way in which Bantu usually conceal game they hunt and kill.
Some time afterwards a woman told her friends that her sweetheart, ‘Billy’, had confessed to the murder of Irene Kanthack. ‘Billy’, a youth of 21, was arrested, although handwriting experts were convinced that the letters allegedly written by him were forgeries. The woman took poison in a fit of contrition, but recovered and was called to testify at a preparatory examination. Under cross-examination she broke down and the magistrate described her evidence as a fabrication. He discharged ‘Billy’.
Not guilty, but liable for damages
The sequel to one murder verdict remains unique in court records. A young stockbroker’s clerk was charged with shooting a pawnbroker in his shop in Long Street, Cape Town, on 2nd March 1938. The jury found him not guilty and he was acquitted.
Unlike Kerr, he was thus immune from further prosecution; but the victim’s widow sued him in the civil courts for £1 500 damages and a similar sum for her baby son, for depriving them of their bread-winner. On the same facts the judge, who had also presided at the criminal trial, and a second judge found that, on the balance of probabilities, the youth had fired the fatal shots and was, therefore, liable for damages. He disappeared for 20 years, but was eventually traced and compelled to pay. No apparent motive. The trial of Y was one of the causes’ celebres of the 1970′s. It was a case unique in several respects.
A young building tycoon murdered his wife without apparent motive, and he was saved from the gallows by a judge’s finding of extenuating circumstances. In 1958 Y was divorced from his first wife and married a girl of 18 on 26 th February 1963. He was then 34. At Easter, 1970, Mrs. Y and her two small children spent a week with friends at a Cape coastal resort and flew back to Cape Town on Sunday afternoon, 5 th April. Y met them at the airport. He and his wife had a meal alone in the library. About 10.45 p.m. the housekeeper-governess heard a number of dull thuds. Moments later Y ran into her bedroom and called her. The governess saw Mrs. Y’s body sprawled on the library floor. Her skull had been shattered and there were other fearsome wounds, all caused by two heavy library ornaments. Y’s trial lasted four weeks. Announcing a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder, the judge said that the punishment prescribed by law was hanging unless there was evidence of extenuating circumstances. But the law made it clear that the onus of proof of extenuating circumstances, rested, not on the State, but on the accused person. The defence called a psychiatrist to report on his examination of Y. All Y’s actions during the fatal assault, according to the psychiatrist, emanated from a person in a state of lowered responsibility. Agreeing that the death penalty was not appropriate, as he found the crime unpremeditated – this constituted an extenuating factor – the judge sentenced Y to 12 years’ imprisonment. An application for leave to appeal was rejected.
Murder for a reward?
The murder of Baron Dieterich Joachim Gunther von Schauroth, a farmer of Blinkoog, Karasburg, remains unique. Not only were tragedy and mystery etched against a background of illicit diamond deals and a vast fortune in insurance, but fiction has rarely matched the murderer’s story that Von Schauroth promised him a reward of R10 000 to carry out a plot to swindle the insurance companies.Von Schauroth (born in his father’s castle in South West Africa on 30th November 1924) and his brother inherited Blinkoog on the death of their father, a member of an aristocratic family. Dieterich’s share of Blinkoog, which was mortgaged for R20 000, was worth between
R50 000 and R60 000. But a prolonged drought turned a prosperous Karakul breeding farm into a desert. Von Schauroth decided to move to Cape Town and invest the R10 000 to R12 000 that he had saved. He rented an expensive flat for himself, his wife, formerly Miss Colleen Baron and Colleen von Schauroth and his baby son, and led a life of pleasure.
He opened a banking account with R4 000 and handed over R3 800, to be paid into the trust account of insurance brokers as premiums on a number of short-term policies. Von Schauroth was sold insurance and eventually had cover for R400 000. He was well known for his idiosyncrasy of carrying large sums of money on his person. Early in January 1961 he was introduced to Marthinus Rossouw, aged 24, an electronics fitter on the railways, who was temporarily stationed at Bitterfontein, near the State diamond-diggings, and was on the look-out for a buyer of illicit gems.
On one occasion, with Rossouw as a go-between, Von Schauroth bought a parcel of uncut stones from a man known as ‘The Boss’ for R200. Rossouw appeared dissatisfied with the R10 Von Schauroth gave him for an introduction to ‘The Boss’, and was also disappointed with the amount of a loan he obtained from him. Nevertheless, the two were frequently in each other’s company. On Friday night, 25th March 1961, Von Schauroth left his flat with R4 000 in notes. He met Rossouw and they drove to a hotel in Milnerton, near Cape Town.
The following morning Von Schauroth’s body was found beside the road to Malmesbury, about 25 km from Cape Town. He had two bullet wounds in his neck, both fatal. The diamonds he had bought from ‘The Boss’ lay scattered about, giving the impression of a quarrel or scuffle during an illicit diamond transaction.
Rossouw was arrested. He adhered to his story that he had shot Von Schauroth at his request ‘to relieve him of his grief and marital unhappiness’. In contradiction, evidence was produced that Von Schauroth had left his wife a large sum in insurance money and that the couple had been happy together. The jury returned a verdict of murder without extenuating circumstances. Rossouw was sentenced to death and hanged on 20 June 1962. It was subsequently announced that the estate had approached the insurance companies for a settlement and that all legal actions had been withdrawn on payment of R20 000 by one company and the estate’s costs.
Shooting of a judge
Mr. Justice Simon Meyer Kuper, of the Witwatersrand Division of the Supreme Court, was shot at his home in Lower Houghton, Johannesburg. About two months before the crime a young man arrived, uninvited and unexpectedly, at the judge’s home. The caller did not give his name. Mrs. Kuper told him to make his approach through an attorney or an advocate. Someone rang the next evening, and the judge also advised the caller to consult an attorney. On the night of 8 March 1963 Kuper was shot while sitting in front of an open window in his home. The motive for the crime remains obscure and the murderer is still at large.
The torso of a woman was found in a suitcase in the Boksburg Lake on the East Rand on 27th October 1964. There were many stab wounds in her chest. The legs were recovered from the Wemmer Pan, near Johannesburg, on 7th November and the head in the Zoo Lake on 17th December 1964.
The main problem was identification of the remains. Sketches of the head and features were made and published in newspapers throughout the country, but without result. Three young women, daughters of Mrs. Catherine Louise Burch, told the police that their mother, the fourth wife of Ronald William George Arthur Burch, had disappeared shortly before the torso had been found.
The artist’s sketch in the newspapers had aroused their suspicions, but they were unable to state with certainty that the victim was their mother. Burch, too, had vanished. Investigations continued for several years and it seemed as though the mystery would never be solved. Then in November 1968 chance played a part. A letter written by Mrs. Catherine Burch to her daughters four years previously was found and taken to the police. Investigation proved that the letter had been written by the dead woman. Soon afterwards Burch was traced to his mother’s home in a Johannesburg suburb. When detectives entered the house to arrest him, he locked himself in a room, attached live wires to his arms, and electrocuted himself.
The panga man
Phineas Tshitaundzi, known as the ‘panga man’, terrorised Pretoria couples for six years, from 1953 to 1959. In spite of frequent police warnings about the danger of parking in secluded places at night. White men and women were repeatedly surprised and attacked in their cars on the outskirts of the city. The men were robbed and slashed with a panga. Some of the women were outraged and severely beaten.
The ‘panga man’ inflicted bodily injuries indiscriminately. Before he was tracked down and arrested he had been responsible for a score of assaults and had stolen a considerable amount of money and many valuables. The ‘panga man’s immunity to arrest made him careless.
When his victims had no money he took their possessions. He kept some and sold others. Among these was a watch which a Bantu bought from him. This Bantu told others of his ‘bargain’ and eventually the police heard of it. They searched Tshitaundzi’s room at Vlakfontein and found a collection of articles taken from the ‘panga man’s’ victims. The panga was also found. Most of the articles were identified by the victims, and a number of them were also able to identify the man. After his arrest Tshitaundzi confessed. He was sentenced to death and hanged on 14th November 1960.
Source: Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa.
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