Man held for fiery love murder
Stephanie Saville, The Witness
Pietermaritzburg - A Hilton man has been taken into custody for questioning following the grisly discovery of the burned body of a young woman abandoned on a mattress in a plantation off the Hilton College road.
Police are also investigating whether the man, said to be in his late 30s, may have torched the townhouse he rented at Callanish Gardens in Monzali Drive, Hilton.
The man will probably be charged with the murder of the woman on Monday. Police believe she is a girlfriend who had previously sought police help after he allegedly abused her. She is originally from Greytown.
When The Witness arrived at the scene where the woman’s body lay on Saturday morning, police had cordoned off the scene, 100 metres from the main road.
A woman walking her dogs in the plantation early on Saturday morning chanced upon the scene.
All that remained of the double bed mattress lying in a fork in the dirt road was the bright silver of the metal frame and springs, contrasting with the blackened remains lying on top.
Photos of the charred corpse are too disturbing to print.
The body, slight in stature, lay face up. Initially police thought there was another victim, perhaps a baby, lying next to the victim, but this was not confirmed.
The victim, who has not yet been officially identified, is believed to have been about 22 years old. Forensic investigators using blue gloves were busy at the scene.
A curious resident who had stopped to see what was going on told The Witness that the Mondi forest service roads in the area are often used as a lovers’ lane. “People come off the freeway with prostitutes and we sometimes see them [having sex] or the evidence of it.” An off-road cyclist rode past the police tape to have a look at the macabre sight.
Meanwhile, a kilometre away in Monzali Drive, police officers, forensic officers and detectives were combing through the shell of 13 Callanish Gardens, which was still smouldering in places.
The acrid smell of smoke hung in the air as shocked residents, many of whom had been awake most of the night watching the townhouse burn, gathered to watch the police at work.
Police had earlier linked the tenant to the murder and he was arrested when he returned to the townhouse on Saturday morning. He lay in the back of a closed police van parked outside the townhouse while the police investigation proceeded.
Warrant Officer Jack Haskins of the K9 unit was working the scene with his dog Butch, which is trained to sniff out blood and other body fluids.
A Ford Ranger bakkie branded with Septic Tank Pro logos and phone numbers was parked outside on the neatly manicured lawns. It was later towed away by police. None of the numbers printed on the bakkie was answered when The Witness dialled them.
A resident who asked not to be named said she was awoken at 01:00 by a “wall of flames” that engulfed the townhouse.
“I was watching for sparks, worried my house was going to catch alight, but we had a huge storm just hours before and everything was drenched.”
Neighbours called the police and fire brigade, who arrived on scene within 20 minutes. Another called the suspect, who rents No. 13. “He said he was in Ashburton at the time, and arrived about 30 minutes later.” He left again and was arrested on his return. It is believed that he has an alibi for the night, which police are investigating.
The resident described the suspect as a “neighbour from hell” who has lived there for four years. “His girlfriend had come to my home crying on Good Friday, saying he had beaten her. I tried to help her and we called the police, but she kept going back to him every time they fought. Eventually he came and apologised for her behaviour and told me that she was just a prostitute, and when she kept coming back I eventually chased her away because if she kept going back to him, I could do nothing to help her.” The young woman has not been seen since Friday.
It is also believed that the suspect had previously been in prison on a charge of robbery. He also allegedly has another case pending, which was provisionally withdrawn while police wait for DNA evidence.
Residents at the complex were full of praise for the police, who they said had been exceptionally good.
Police sifting through evidence allegedly found a Bible that smelled of smoke and cameras with film, which they hope to develop.
On Sunday, police were again sifting through the wreckage of the townhouse with special forensics officers from Pretoria.
Speaking to The Witness, the woman who discovered the body in the plantation said she was shocked when she realised the charred remains were human. She had walked down to fetch her Weekend Witness and only paid close attention to the charred ashes when her dogs surrounded it, at first thinking it was a pile of burned logs. “It is such a violent way to kill someone. It was the most awful thing to see,” said the woman, who became tearful while recalling the discovery. She asked not to be named.
In another bizarre twist, the man who was taken in for questioning is believed to have become a father at the weekend. While the murder was playing out, a woman was allegedly giving birth to his child at Grey’s Hospital. A photo of the man in theatre scrubs, smiling tenderly down on the newborn baby in his arms, is posted on his Facebook site. It is believed to have been placed on Friday. He is also registered as a “fan” of God, Angus Buchan, Issey Miyake Fashion, Hansie Cronje and Mafia Wars and Mob Wars games.