How mom’s killers were caught

2008-10-24 00:00

No one knows the exact time of Mary Visagie’s death. At this stage all police know is that the 38-year-old mother of two children was shot and left to die some time in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Visagie had been involved in running several nightclubs and restaurants and was well known in the music scene in both Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Together with her former husband Jamie, she was involved in the Red Door nightclub in Pietermaritzburg and the popular Durban club Burn.

Visagie’s killers apparently forced their way into her Inchanga home through her sliding door, robbed her of several small personal items and her handbag and then shot her once in the stomach with a heavy calibre handgun. Visagie was alone with her two daughters, aged three and five, and had no means of summoning help.

The two young girls remained with their mother until daylight when they ventured outside to seek help from neighbours. When police from Inchanga arrived at the scene, they found evidence that the little girls had done their best to comfort their mother as she lay dying.

It is believed that Visagie told the girls to remain inside until dawn in case the gunmen were still outside.

After intense investigations, Detective Inspector Keith Caswell of the House Robbery Unit managed to identify the area where Visagie’s alleged killers were most likely hiding out — a rural area called Fredville.

GPS readings showed that both suspects live approximately two kilometres from Visagie’s home as the crow flies.

One of the main suspects, Sibusiso Miya, was out on parole at the time the crime was committed. He had been arrested and jailed for housebreaking before and was a well-known criminal in the area. He was also known to have a fondness for heavy calibre handguns.

Although she was due to undergo a major operation on her kidneys on Wednesday morning, a young female investigator — who cannot be named to protect her identity — infiltrated Miya’s criminal network and managed to identify the man most likely to have been the shooter, an accomplice of Miya’s who carried a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum revolver — the type used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies.

As no empty bullet casings were found on the crime scene, police suspected that the gun used to kill Visagie was a revolver, which would not eject empty shells after being discharged.

The investigator arranged to meet the key suspect after hours on Tuesday night, at a location away from innocent bystanders. After gaining the trust of criminals in the area, the woman told the suspect that she wanted to meet up with him for a drink when she visited the area with her grandfather.

Inspector J.C. Zulu from the House Robbery Unit posed as the woman’s grandfather and waited with her. Although the suspect was known to be armed and dangerous, neither of them could wear bullet-proof vests to the meeting as doing so would give the game away.

As arranged, the man showed up at 9.30 pm — but then moved to the shadows and walked away from the meeting place when he saw other people were nearby. The man then phoned the young woman and told her to leave her grandfather and meet him on a dark road beneath their arranged meeting place, where he would be waiting for her.

In near pitch darkness, police were not able to positively identify the man waiting on the road below as their suspect and so let him walk off after he had waited only a few minutes. In case they had the wrong man, police decided to arrest him well out of sight of the meeting place.

Several hundred metres down the road, Caswell and Sergeant Emmitt Reid of Hillcrest police station identified themselves as police, and pounced on the man as he began trying to pull something from his pocket.

A .44 Magnum revolver and a dozen rounds of ammunition were what the suspect was going for. The serial number on the gun had been filed off.

Captain Ronald Pillay, commander of the House Robbery Unit, said: “I am absolutely certain that this man’s intention was to rape and then murder the woman after meeting her. He brought a firearm with him and he could obviously not take her back to his home as his wife was there. Long experience tells me that his intention was to rape the woman then kill her with his handgun — for which he had brought extra ammunition.”

After being interrogated, the suspect admitted his revolver was not licensed — and led police to his home. Here several more stolen items were found — including a camera that the man had taken in a burglary and that still had photographs of the original lawful owners on it.

The man with the Dirty Harry revolver then offered to take police to the man who he claimed supplied him with the stolen property.

The trail led police straight to the rural homestead of Sibusiso Miya. After pounding on Miya’s door for several minutes, a member of the National Intervention Unit (NIU) smashed open a window with his rifle — and was met with a hail of fire from inside.

Miya dived out of his back window and bolted down a steep slope toward his perimeter fence, firing back at police as he ran.

Members of the NIU chased him, engaging Miya in a short and violent firefight. Seconds after firing his first shot, Miya fell, his skull smashed like an eggshell by a single R5 rifle bullet. He was less than two metres from the fence when he fell.

A search of Miya’s home found a ski mask that he may have been wearing at the time of Visagie’s murder. The handgun Miya used to shoot at police, a .45 pistol, also had its serial number rubbed off. Forensic experts will examine the guns to retrieve the serial numbers.

The pistol, made by an obscure South African manufacturer called the First National Firearms Manufacturing Company, is believed to have been stolen and police are hoping that the relative rarity of the gun allows them to trace the original lawful owner.

Pillay told Weekend Witness that Miya had several previous convictions for housebreaking and had been jailed before. He also confirmed that he is not looking for any additional suspects for the Visagie murder.

“Keith did a really good job here. It’s always shocking when children are involved. I am delighted that we got these two swines so quickly. Sadly it won’t bring the victim back, but at least it will prevent them killing again.”

Police still have no idea why the robbery turned so violent.

Reid told Weekend Witness that he suspects the pair may be linked to several robberies and burglaries in the Hillcrest area. “Inchanga borders on Hillcrest and I am absolutely positive these two have been involved in violent crimes in the Hillcrest area.”

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