Catching a killer is one thing; getting them convicted is a different ball game – read an excerpt from The Profiler Diaries 2 by Gérard Labuschagne
More about the book!
Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from The Profiler Diaries 2: From Crime Scene to Courtroom – more riveting cases from the files of former police psychologist and bestselling author Gérard Labuschagne.
In this second instalment of The Profiler Diaries, former South African Police Service (SAPS) head profiler Dr Gérard Labuschagne, successor to the legendary Micki Pistorius, recalls more of the 110 murder series and countless other bizarre crimes he analysed during his career. An expert on serial murder and rape cases, Labuschagne saw it all in his fourteen and a half years in the SAPS.
Often stymied by a lack of resources, office politics and legal incompetence, Labuschagne and his team were nevertheless determined to obtain justice for the victims whose cases they were tasked with investigating. Tracking down a prolific serial stalker, linking the murders of two young women in Knysna, assessing a suspect threatening to assassinate Barack Obama and apprehending a serial murderer of sex workers are just a few of the intriguing – and often terrifying – cases he covers in his second book, The Profiler Diaries 2.
As Labuschagne says, catching a killer is one thing; getting them convicted in a court of law is an entirely different ball game. This book shows how it is done in fascinating detail.
Read the excerpt:
On 13 November, Heinie van Rooyen gave a brief statement to the SAPS. He said that Victoria Stadler had dropped him off in Hornlee, opposite the library, at about 02h15 on Thursday 10 November; she then drove off in the direction of the N2. He wasn’t sure in which direction she’d turned when she reached the N2. After she drove off, he sent Gabriel an SMS to let him know that Victoria had dropped him off.
On Monday 14 November, Isaac Swarts came across the burnt-out wreck of the Golf, which had been left abandoned at the scene after the first-responder policemen had done nothing about it. Swarts was unemployed and had been looking for scrap. Noticing that the aluminium rims were still on the vehicle, he decided to remove them. That same day, he sold them to a scrap-metal dealer in Hornlee for R109.00.
The following morning, Swarts heard on the radio that a young woman was missing, and that she had been driving a Volkswagen Golf; he decided to go to the police to report the vehicle. Detective Inspector Johann Burmeister went out to the scene and established that the vehicle belonged to Victoria Stadler via the car’s engine number.
On the same day, Inspector Christopher van der Westhuizen from the Oudtshoorn Dog Unit was called out to conduct a search for Victoria’s body. He arrived at 12h50 with his dog Dommy and started the search at 13h00. The search didn’t last long – he was done by 13h10. Victoria’s body was found approximately 100 metres from the car, where it had been pushed underneath some bushes and other thick foliage. She was naked except for a bra, which was open in front, and part of a white shirt covering her right arm. The shirt had been partly burnt.
A murder docket was opened and assigned to Detective Inspector Riaan Meyer of Knysna SAPS Detectives. The district surgeon, Dr Serfaas ‘Fasie’ de Kock, attended the scene, and Victoria’s hands and feet were enclosed in envelopes to protect any DNA under her nails. Maggot samples were also collected for forensic analysis. Because of the missing person’s report, Heinie was already a person of interest, as the last known person to have had contact with her. The fire-investigation unit was also contacted, and they came the following day.
Like Jessica, Victoria was partially naked, dressed only in a bra and part of her shirt, and thus her death, too, would be classified as a sexual murder. It was clear that the body had been near the burning car, but had subsequently been moved. I tried to imagine the order of events. A car doesn’t spontaneously burst into flames. The most logical motive for the fire was the destruction of evidence. But a car on fire risks attracting attention; we know that the fire was noticed by Grootboom, so normally you wouldn’t want to hang around once you’ve started the fire. And why not leave Victoria’s body inside the car? It would have been almost completely burnt if it had been left there. Also, why was her body not moved to the bushes before the car was set on fire? Did the murderer want to be able to go back to visit the body, as we sometimes find with serial murderers?
On that same day, 15 November, Gabriel called Heinie from Cape Town to ask if he had heard anything about Victoria. Heinie said he didn’t know anything, but he was going to ask around in his community if anyone knew what had happened to her. Not long thereafter, a friend of Gabriel’s mother called her. She said that Heinie had just called her to say that Victoria’s body had been found.
At more or less the same time, Peter McHelm’s abandoned vehicle was discovered in Delft, Cape Town, having been stripped of parts. It later turned out that Komoetie had returned to Knysna in a taxi. Thanks to Smith’s evidence, the SAPS suspected that Moses and Komoetie were responsible for McHelm’s disappearance, and they were apprehended. On 16 November, Moses led Captain Abraham Visagie to the as yet undiscovered body of McHelm, about two kilometres from the Victoria Stadler scene. McHelm was found on his stomach, hidden in foliage, fully clothed except for his socks and shoes. His hands and feet were tied with shoelaces, and his shoes were found nearby without the laces. Some kind of cloth ligature was used to gag him. Moses and Komoetie were arrested on 17 November.
On Wednesday 16 November, Dr Mariette Hurst conducted Victoria Stadler’s autopsy. It was one day short of a month from when she had conducted the autopsy of Jessica Wheeler. The investigating officer, Inspector Meyer, was in attendance, along with Superintendent Kock from the Biology Unit of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Cape Town. Inspector Bester from the Local Criminal Records Centre (LCRC) in Cape Town was also present to try to obtain fingerprints from the body. Unfortunately, none were found.
The chief post-mortem findings included a fairly advanced stage of decomposition with severe maggot infestation, various scratches on the body, a fractured hyoid bone in the neck (a common sign of manual strangulation), and petechiae (pinpoint haemorrhages; often noted in strangulation cases) over the heart and lungs. The cause of death was ‘features in keeping with strangulation’.
Victoria wore two gold rings on her left ring finger (they were her mother’s wedding rings) and a gold chain around her neck, with a dolphin pendant (a gift from her grandmother). There were patchy burns on the body involving the right lower-chest wall, right upper arm, right shoulder, right breast and right flank region, but no signs of soot in her trachea or bronchi, which indicated that she was not breathing when she was exposed to the fire. Multiple linear scratches on her body indicated that she had been dragged.
Dr Hurst utilised a SAECK, and a rib and molar were taken for DNA comparison. Both the DNA samples and SAECK were handed over to Superintendent Kock. Private investigator Paul van Rensburg identified the body on behalf of the family. A search warrant was also obtained for Heinie van Rooyen’s house in Hornlee …
At 00h00 on Thursday 17 November, Meyer interviewed people in Hornlee and then went to Stones to view the CCTV footage. In the video, Victoria could be seen leaving the club with Heinie van Rooyen. Later that day, at 08h32, armed with a search warrant, Meyer, accompanied by Kock, Xhamane, Hilpert and other police officers, went to Heinie van Rooyen’s home in Hornlee. Upon their arrival, Meyer arrested Van Rooyen for the murder of Victoria Stadler. During the search, Van Rooyen produced the clothes he was wearing on the night of 9/10 November, which consisted of black pants and a red T-shirt with a Royco company logo on it – and which matched the description given by bakery-truck driver Kobus Minnie …
At 16h39, Meyer booked Heinie out of the police cells to interview him, along with Captain Coerecius and two other detectives. This interview lasted just under an hour, after which Van Rooyen was taken back to the cells. It was Coerecius’s statement about this interview that would later be challenged at the trial. During the interview, Van Rooyen said that he had met Victoria at Stones nightclub and that they were just friends. On the night of the incident, they left the club together and sat in her car.
Van Rooyen’s blood was drawn on 18 November. Meyer had also arranged for him to take a polygraph test, but Van Rooyen’s attorney, Daan Dercksen, called to cancel the polygraph, as he was not available to attend it.
On 18 November, while in my office at the IPU, I received a call from Detective Inspector Burmeister from the Knysna SAPS to inform me of the murders of two young women that had occurred approximately one month apart. The media were already speculating that a serial murderer was active in the area. Burmeister requested the assistance of the IPU …
I decided that Jannie and I should go to Knysna to assist with the case. We arranged to drive down the following week for a full briefing. Jannie is an extremely experienced investigating officer. Before joining the IPU, he had been a detective branch commander at two different stations and subsequently worked at the old SAPS Special Investigations Unit, and later at Serious and Violent Crimes Head Office. By the time we got involved with the Knysna murders, Jannie had worked on numerous serial-murder investigations and had been with IPU full-time for almost a year.
On Saturday 19 November at 05h30, Captain Visagie released Van Rooyen due to a lack of evidence. Later that day, at about 13h20, Sergeant Herman Steyl from the Dog Unit was assisting in searching the area where Victoria’s body had been found. He found a pair of black pants, inside of which was some pink underwear. A bangle was also found nearby, which Gabriel later identified as belonging to Victoria. I have no idea why the area wasn’t properly searched when Victoria’s body was first discovered. The pants, underwear and bangle would later prove to be crucial evidence …
On 20 November, Byron Moses was interviewed by detectives in respect of the Stadler murder. Two days later, Jannie and I drove down to Knysna and met with the investigating officers. They briefed us in full on the three cases, as they felt there might be some connection between them because of the location of the two later crimes and the time that they occurred.
Jannie and I then went through the dockets and conducted our own inspection to see what still needed to be done. When we get involved in an investigation, our first point of action is to review the existing case file. It isn’t sufficient to just get a briefing or a summary from a detective, as they might omit aspects that they think are irrelevant, but which might turn out to be extremely important. Also, a person packages the information for you in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that fits their current view of the case, which might be faulty. It never hurts to have an extra pair of eyes looking at your case; people think differently and have different approaches, which might just provide a different angle on the case and open up different lines of inquiry. Also, sometimes an investigation is just poorly done.
Either way, we wanted to review each case and formulate our own opinion. As I have said before, I tend not to pay too much attention to the initial information that comes through; I prefer to make up my own mind. Jannie and I spent two days going over the details.
On 24 November, we accompanied Burmeister to the scenes of all three incidents. I have always found it essential to visit crime scenes – not to try to pick up ‘vibes’, but to get a better understanding of how a crime unfolded and how secluded a scene was. You always get a better feel for the crime at the scene than you get from looking at two-dimensional photographs …
On that same day, we went to the homes of Victoria Stadler, Jessica Wheeler, Heinie van Rooyen, Byron Moses and Aubrey Komoetie, and to Stones and Zanzibar to plot the locations on GPS. We also met with District Surgeons De Kock and Joubert, who’d attended the crime scenes. Later in the day, we had a briefing with Director Trollip. In addition, we received the crime-scene photos of Victoria Stadler’s case and the autopsy report on Jessica Wheeler.
The following day, 25 November, we got the photos of the McHelm scene, along with the docket. We drove through to George to get Victoria Stadler’s autopsy report and to make a copy of her docket – the photocopier at the Knysna SAPS wasn’t working – and consulted with Dr Hurst about the autopsies she’d performed on Victoria and Jessica. She told us that the anal tears were consistent with anal penetration in Jessica’s case, and that Victoria was dead before the car was set alight. This was evidenced by the lack of smoke inhalation and the absence of blister formation. Jannie and I returned to Knysna and obtained copies of the crime-scene videos of all three cases.
On 8 December, Detective Inspector Meyer rearrested Heinie van Rooyen after a warrant of arrest was issued by a magistrate … He then appeared in the Knysna Magistrates’ Court two days later, and the matter was remanded to 22 December for bail.
On that day, a formal bail application began, with Dercksen representing the accused, and evidence was led. Van Rooyen submitted an affidavit, and private investigator Daryl Els also testified. The application was then remanded to 16 January 2006. On that day, the defence withdrew its application for bail, likely due to the fact that DNA results had come back with a positive match, linking Van Rooyen to the victims.