Cops have Banana, seek Monkey

2008-05-03 00:00

POLICE in Durban are scouring the lairs of armed robbers trying to reunite “Monkey” with his “Banana”.

Monkey and Banana are senior members of an especially violent gang of house robbers who for years have terrorised the city.

Like many armed robbers, Monkey and Banana prefer to use nicknames, making it difficult for police to identify them and track them down.

According to Detective Captain Ronald Pillay of the Durban Organised Crime Unit, many cash-in-transit robbers have turned their skills to robbing houses, breaking in when they know people are home and terrorising their victims at gunpoint or knifepoint into handing over safe keys and bank account details.

This week, the Netherlands Consulate in Westville was burgled, the home of a captain in the Organised Crime Unit was robbed by three teenage thugs who terrorised his domestic worker with knives, and a captain, also of the Organised Crime Unit, shot an armed robber dead when he targeted her home.

Many robberies are over so quickly that the victims have no time to react. On Thursday morning, three youths smashed the window of a New Germany home with a braai- stand that had been left outside. They stormed into the home, grabbed knives from the kitchen and launched a frenzied attack on two brothers.

The home had burglar guards on every window that opened and a burglar alarm linked to an armed response company. The brothers also kept a young rottweiler. They survived the ordeal, but were robbed of clothes, a laptop and other personal effects.

But the war is not all one-sided. On Wednesday night, detectives from the Organised Crime Unit rounded up an entire gang of six house robbers while they were partying in a crowded tavern.

The gang were all wanted for the armed robbery of a Hillcrest home in which they terrorised a father and his young daughter with knives.

Detective Inspector Keith Caswell said he is “positive” the gang will be tied to several other house robberies. It is suspected that the gang might also help police in their inquiries into several murders.

One of the gang works as a gardener — and police say it is suspected that he acted as the intelligence chief, helping to identify wealthy homes that could be easily targeted.

Caswell and detectives from the Organised Crime Unit were led to the gang by an awaiting trial suspect in a house robbery.

Criminals often use nicknames when dealing with their accomplices, making it difficult for investigators to track them down. Fortunately there is little honour among thieves.

Police say that almost as soon as some suspects are arrested, they volunteer to help police nail their accomplices — and members of rival gangs.

Last week, members of the Provincial Crime Prevention Unit and the Dog Unit discovered an abandoned car parked in a suburban road. The car had been hijacked from a Durban North family who were robbed in their home.

Police used a satellite tracking device to follow the the car from the time it was stolen. They established that before it was abandoned, the car stood for some time outside a home in Chesterville.

Crime Prevention Unit policemen and Inspector Pedro Rodriguez of the Durban South Dog Unit acted on a hunch. Searching around the houses near where the car was parked, they found a man sitting in a shack with a plasma television and several other items that perfectly matched the description of property stolen from the Durban North home.

A further search uncovered a firearm with its serial number filed off and many other items that police believe to be stolen.

The suspect was taken to the Organised Crime Unit for questioning, where he admitted to being a member of a home robbery gang. The leader of the gang, who uses the nickname Banana, was arrested some time ago on numerous counts of armed robbery and attempted murder.

The man immediately offered to lead police to the homes of his accomplices — the leader of whom is known as Monkey.

Detectives from the Organised Crime Unit will oppose bail when the six house robbers appear in court on Monday.

They also continue to investigate a Metro policeman who was arrested this week while attempting to break into a block of flats in Musgrave Road.

The policeman was on sick leave. He was found to have hired a car shortly before trying to commit the burglary.

Caswell said that many robbers do this in order to have a getaway car that cannot easily be traced back to them.

The Metro policeman was employed as a security officer at Durban City Hall.

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