‘Dead’ woman seen in KZN

2010-04-19 00:00

A HAZYVIEW woman suspected of faking her own death in a staged motor vehicle accident on the Long Tom Pass last May could be in hiding on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

This the latest lead pursued by the police and a private investigator, Chris Ehlers, who are looking into the purported death of Petronella Francom.

Her VW Caravelle and a charred body were found near Lydenburg in Mpumalanga on May 22 last year. Francom’s undamaged identity document lay nearby.

Police later established the corpse was that of a black man, but his identity is still unknown.

Of Francom herself there is no sign to date — alive or dead.

Five people, including Francom’s husband, Clint, were last week arrested in connection with charges that include a R16 million life insu­rance fraud, theft, perjury and desecration of a human corpse linked to the alleged fake crash and Francom’s supposed death.

Ehlers told The Witness yesterday that there is information Francom was seen on the south coast, specifically in the St-Michael’s on Sea area “in the last 90 days”. He believes she may be living there under the protection of an oldfriend.

Ehlers believes Francom and her husband are “still a couple” and that they planned the scam together.

Clint Francom was found to have a false passport issued in the name Sergio de Bastos and his wife under the name Petronella Clarke.

Francom’s daughter, Nella Coetser, told The Witness in a telephone interview that it is extremely hurtful not knowing if her mother is alive or dead.

“I have not heard from her since the accident … We were very, very close. She was my everything,” she said.

Coetser said she leaves the investigations up to the police and to Ehlers because there are “so many rumours”.

She is estranged from Clint Francom, her step­father, of Kruger Park Lodge, Hazyview, who is among the five suspects who appeared in court in Nelspruit last week.

They were all released on bail of between R500 and R1 000.

Coetser said the bail amounts are “ridiculous”. She was told the state prosecutor, who ought to have dealt with the accuseds’ first appearance, was not available and a junior took over on the day the suspects appeared for the first time.

One of the accused, Ronel du Toit (Francom’s former personal assis­tant), reportedly attempted to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills after being questioned by police a week before her arrest.

The other accused are insurance broker Andre Botes and Sabie police warrant officer Whitey Nel and his wife, Susaan, who manages a mortuary.

Nel faces a charge of defeating the ends of justice for allegedly having issued a certificate confirming the identity of the body at the accident scene as that of Francom.

He and his wife also face charges of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition allegedly found at their home.

It is alleged by the state that Du Toit was involved in moving money between bank accounts in the Francoms’ business, Positive Attraction, which was allegedly managed as a pyramid scheme.

The scheme allegedly attracted about R6,7 million from investors who lost their money when Francom “died”.

Francom’s life was allegedly insured for R10 million under an Old Mutual policy, and there were additional smaller policies making up a total of R16 million.

Ehlers has urged anyone with information about Francom to phone him at 083 799 1139.

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