Sad death of a tortured man

2014-02-24 00:00

BASIL Crouse left a photograph and a Bible passage at his bedside, rather than a suicide note.

The picture was of his friend and police colleague Donovan Munro, who died last year.

Before the senior Hawks detective walked to the back of his old sugar mill farm house near Port Shepstone to end his life, he plugged a charger into his cellphone and perched it at an angle on the picture frame, the way you do to get a better charge.

Crouse had always been a man of habit.

Earlier that same day, he had kept a doctor’s appointment to have two suspicious moles removed from his neck.

Thursday was a hot day in Umtentweni. When he returned from the GP and a session with his psychologist, the detective they called “Big man” changed into shorts and sandals.

He sat, shirtless, on his porch. Two weeks had passed since Crouse — one of KZN’s most senior detectives — had been summarily demoted from the Hawks and ordered to report to a minor police station on the South Coast.

He surprised his wife, Justine Larraman, by saying “no” when she offered to leave cigarettes with him on the porch while she and his three step-children went to the mall.

He and Larraman had slept in different rooms for the past month; Crouse using his step-daughter Kala’s room while she lodged with her mom.

Crouse walked to this room and found that Kala had removed her pink butterfly lamp and replaced it with a straw lampshade, assuming her huge, former rugby player step-dad would prefer the more masculine decoration. But Crouse sent a WhatsApp message at 3.16 pm — his last message — to Larraman, issuing an over-the-top complaint that the butterfly lamp was gone.

He was already broken.

He found the Biblical psalm he had chosen for that moment, highlighted the passage, and used a red ribbon bookmark to make sure others would notice. He had been reading from Psalm 69, which says: “ They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me are mighty”.

A month ago, Crouse confessed to Larraman that he had tried to asphyxiate himself in their car, parked at a truck stop in Port Shepstone.

“But he said the fumes gave him a headache,” she said. “He said he’d also thought about hanging himself, but joked that he might snap the rope.”

This time, he put his reading glasses on Munro’s picture, walked to the old servant’s quarters around back; tied a slip-knot in a thin nylon rope; and strangled himself.

Crouse (47) was facing a trial in April, for the alleged murder of a notorious hitman, Pat Mvubu.

Rightly or wrongly, the detective believed his bosses and colleagues were out to get him, and to get rid of him.

What is known is that Crouse was never suspended after his arrest in late 2012, as is standard when police are charged with violent crimes; that he was required to show up for work every day in Port Shepstone; and that he did no police work since his arrest.

Before that arrest, Crouse had reported on fellow detectives for using police vehicles for fishing trips.

He left no suicide note. Instead, the detective filed a formal, four-page grievance letter to SAPS superiors earlier this month.

In it, Crouse claimed that he had reported misconduct against the same two detectives now investigating him on the murder change — and that the entire trial was part of a frame-up.

He said he was tormented and humiliated daily at work: “I was being treated as a total outcast … I have become the victim of an orchestrated effort to get rid of me … I am experiencing high degrees of emotional trauma in all spheres of my life. Even my personal life is in crisis.”

His provincial commander was reportedly told that Crouse was “aggressive and wants to bliksem people in the office”.

But the father of four painted a picture of stunning spite within the organised crime unit. He said he had prepared a copy of his resignation from the Hawks in October, then changed his mind, and never filed it. But Crouse said a senior officer mischievously filed a copy of the letter, which froze his medical aid and salary.

He said deliveries of medicines to his unit to treat his chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, were blocked — and that colleagues told Pharmacy Direct that “I no longer worked at that unit”.

“This [was] a shameful and spiteful act,” he wrote.

He was never invited to police braais or “spanbous”. Someone forgot to invite him to the unit’s end of year function.

He claimed he was not allowed to use police vehicles, and forbidden from working cases.

In a final humiliation, Crouse — the man who had cracked the KZN ATM bombing gang, and nailed serial killers — found himself walking to work, as colleagues gleefully drove past. “I observed [SAPS] members passing me in state vehicles — their families in those vehicles; never stopping to offer me a lift.”

And Crouse was convinced he knew the reason he has victimised. It had nothing to do with his murder charge. “It was common knowledge that I was suspected of having provided photographs … of members using state vehicles for fishing expeditions.”

Two weeks ago, Crouse went to the Amanzimtoti home of Major-General Johan Booysen, former head of the Hawks in KZN, to discuss his crisis.

Booysen was Crouse’s commander for years. They went to the same church. And they were both facing murder trials.

Like Crouse’s brother, Captain Nico Crouse, Booysen is facing multiple charges of murder and racketeering as part of alleged Cato Manor police hit squad, which he denies.

Yesterday, Booysen said:,“If what Basil alleged is true, it would be a disgrace. He came to me quite distressed, saying he had been marginalised and transferred out of the Hawks without proper procedure. I advised him to take his grievance through the proper channels. The [pastor] at our church also spent an hour with him. I was deeply shocked about his death, I’ve known Basil since 1995. As a detective he was a real bulldog; as a person, he was a man not ashamed to cry.”

Booysen said Crouse was “a whistleblower”.

“I expect that independent investigators will come down and assess what happened here,” he said.

Yesterday, SAPS spokespeople did not respond to the allegations in Crouse’s letter.

Larraman said Crouse had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and had been “withdrawn” recently.

“He felt he’d lost his connection with the kids; he’d stopped having supper with us — then there was that strange message about the lamp,” she said. “He was such a proud man; the humiliation he got every day was like a weapon against him. Basil was an incredibly sensitive and complex man; very generous.”

On Thursday morning, Crouse told his wife of a dream he’d had about an injured woodpecker that suddenly flew off into the trees.

“How prophetic,” she said. “I think he was looking for permission from God do this this tragic thing.”

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