Son (36) buried dentist in garden

2010-08-16 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The son of a dentist who admitted to burying his father’s body in his garden in Houghton a few months ago sat in a camping chair calmly drinking Coke as he watched his father’s body being exhumed on Saturday.

But the moment 78-year-old Dr Russel van der Merwe’s body was removed from the 1,5-metre-deep hole in a corner of the neglected garden, his son Wessel (36), broke down in tears. Rudi Lubbe, his lawyer’s office manager, comforted Wessel.

Moments later, Wessel said he is “incredibly sorry for the stupid mistake I made by burying my dad’s body and not telling anyone about it”.

He insists his father died of natural causes early in February.

A CD containing photos that he supposedly took of his father’s body, when he found it in the bedroom, was given to the police voluntarily, according to Lubbe.

Van der Merwe confessed to the burial in a police statement on Friday, before pointing out the exact spot on the property in the luxury suburb, where his father ran a private practice. Beeld had reported earlier that the dentist had been missing for five months.

The police forensic investigation unit exhumed the body — wrapped in blue plastic and tied with tape — within two hours.

Besides charges of concealing a body and fraud, Van der Merwe is also facing a charge of animal abuse after more than 20 neglected, emaciated cats were found, without food or water, in cages in the garage.

Van der Merwe is in Lubbe’s care and is staying with a friend in Pretoria, since the police have forbidden him from going near the Houghton house.

Gauteng police spokesperson Colonel Noxolo Kweza said the “whole house and property is a crime scene”, which is being investigated.

The post-mortem will be performed this morning and the results will determine the exact charges, Kweza confirmed.

Van der Merwe alleges in a statement that a family member swindled his father and made him sign papers while he was infirm.

According to Lubbe, Van der Merwe apparently found his father’s last will and testament, in which he leaves everything to that family member and nothing to him or his father’s estranged wife, Juna, who has been living in England for 12 years.

Van der Merwe said he acted out of “pure panic” when he buried the body. He added that his mother is on her way back to South Africa and a funeral will be arranged once she has arrived.

He apologised to Beeld “for fooling you” with a fake call in which someone identified themselves to a reporter as the missing dentist.

Eric Notlowitz, Dr van der Merwe’s brother-in-law, who reported him missing, said he is “extremely shocked”.

“I did suspect that Wessel was involved. I simply can’t believe it’s real.”

Steve Kaderli, manager of the Larustica restaurant across the road from the house, said Dr van der Merwe tried to borrow money from the restaurant several times before his disappearance, apparently to phone the police because “Wessel is getting out of hand”.

Van der Merwe has denied the allegation.

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