Convent in shock after murder of ‘motherly figure with young heart’

2015-04-22 00:00

“HER rosary was wrapped around her wrists and she was clutching onto the cross when we found her.”

This is how fellow sisters from an ­Ixopo convent found one of their elderly and most beloved members, Gertrud Tiefenbacher (87).

The octogenarian was found ­murdered in her room during the early hours of Sunday morning.

Now, police are on the hunt for the suspects involved in the murder, appealing to the Ixopo community for information regarding their whereabouts.

Tiefenbacher was found dead on the floor next to her bed in her room at the Sacred Heart Home in Ixopo, with the cord of her electronic typewriter binding her hands together and a wet towel, believed to have been used to suffocate her, over her face.

Police believe that Tiefenbacher was also raped by her killer, but a source close to the investigation said they are awaiting forensic reports before this can be confirmed.

Known to those close to her as Stefani, Tiefenbacher was described by her convent sisters as a motherly figure with a young heart. Born in Austria in 1928, Tiefenbacher lived with a foster family on a small farm before she came to South Africa in 1952.

“She was a people’s person and held the impoverished and the young children in the community close to her heart,” said Sister Gerald Frye.

“It was very shocking to us. How can people come right into the heart of the convent and do this in God’s home?”

Tiefenbacher was a Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood for more than 60 years, and worked at the Little Flower School as a teacher and secretary for 40 of those years until 1992.

According to other sisters, she enjoyed spending her days typing letters to past students, sisters and relatives on her typewriter.

Frye said she was asleep when she heard the anxious voices of fellow sisters calling Tiefenbacher’s name outside the door of her bedroom just before 3 am on Sunday morning.

The nuns, who had noticed that Tiefenbacher’s door was ajar, were nervously whispering “Sister Stefani, Sister Stefani?” said Frye. They entered when they failed to receive any answer, and discovered her body.

“We all stood along the stairway and prayed for her as the police took away her body,” said Frye.

Frye believes the killers cut a hole in the outer fence of the Roman Catholic Church premises that house the convent and entered through a side door that one of the sisters forgot to lock.

The suspects ransacked the pantry, taking fruit, alcohol and other groceries.

They also made off with Tiefenbacher’s money — about €2 000 (R26 000).

Sister Christopher Kneringer said they were all sitting together playing cards with Tiefenbacher the night before her murder.

“She was a stout lady who loved her meals. She was very generous. She was ever ready to do something for someone else,” one of the sisters said.

Frye said that even though the sisters are mourning her death, they have come to peace with it after one, who was very close to Tiefenbacher, dreamt of her on Monday.

Sister Regina said that in her dream Tiefenbacher came through the door of the convent and gave her a big hug, saying that she did not get a chance to say goodbye.

Tiefenbacher is survived by a younger sister and brother in Austria, who have been notified of her death.

Frye said she had been inundated with calls from Austrian media and from Tiefenbacher’s distraught former students.

“This shows that people can take our human life but never our eternal life that God has prepared for us.

“She is in a better place now,” Frye said.

Anyone with information about the murder should contact officer Thembelihle Hlangu at 076 828 9582, Warrant Officer Zindela Madondo at 076 919 0372; or Crime Stop at 086 001 0111.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

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