Now he’s on the run

2012-10-19 00:00

THE New Germany man who claimed he was hijacked and alerted his daughter using a text message is now a fugitive on the run.

Police were poised to arrest Leon van Rensburg (52) this week as his concocted tale of hijacking finally caught up with him — but he learnt of their plans and fled his family home, ditching his car in the underground parking at Durban’s International Convention Centre (ICC).

The Witness has established that he was seen entering the carpark just before 4 pm on Wednesday, and walked out a few minutes later, carrying a bag. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, with a cap pulled down low over his head.

Family spokesperson Rob Gard­ner confirmed he later retrieved the vehicle from the parking area. He said the tracking device on the car was activated to establish its location. The Witness ascertained Gardner had fetched the car with Van Rensburg’s older son, Graham (23), at about 11.30 pm. Gardner said he paid Van Rensburg’s parking ticket.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said Van Rensburg was wanted for allegedly making false statements under oath. Westville detectives had found “inconsistencies” in his statement about the “hijacking”. The father of three left behind a note threatening suicide, and his family is said to be distraught by his actions.

Gardner said a cellphone SIM card was inside the car, but no phone was found. “He has a small amount of money on him, but no access to any further funds. We have no idea [where he has gone], but suspect he may have caught a bus as the ICC is close to the bus station.”

Police took a statement from Van Rensburg last Friday, less than 24 hours after he suddenly appeared in Underberg, following his disappearance on Tuesday. But his version of events raised suspicions with officers and coincided with rampant social media speculation about the veracity of his story.

His disappearance initially brought on huge outpourings of concern from the public and, when he was found, the collective relief was shared widely on the Internet. That relief soon turned to scepticism when Van Rensburg was unable to adequately explain his whereabouts during his disappearance.

He told police he was hijacked at gunpoint by two men in a bakkie, who dropped him off in Underberg. His car was found last Wednesday, more than 100 km away in Kokstad. Hours before his disappearance was noted, Van Rensburg had sent his daughter Megan (15) a text message saying: “Help, hijacked”.

Now the family knows that the ordeal was faked — and the revelation is said to have shattered them.

In a statement issued by Gardner, they said Van Rensburg’s actions were out of character.

“It is hard to explain his actions and they do not fit into the pattern of a normally quiet family man. Leon is much loved by his wife and children, and anyone seeing them together would know that he in turn loved all of them dearly.

“So his sudden staging of a hijacking and the trauma it has put, not only the family, but the greater Highway community through, is baffling. His now disappearing with simply a note claiming serious illness and intent to commit suicide has left the family stunned.

“We hope and pray that he will be found safe and can be given the medical attention he so obviously needs at this time.”

The family said news of his impending arrest had hit them hard and they were struggling to come to terms with “what would appear to be [Van Rensburg’s] complete emotional and perhaps mental breakdown”.

Neither police nor the family have offered any motive for his actions.

Armed with an arrest warrant on Wednesday, police contacted Van Rensburg and scheduled a meeting. Naicker said he agreed to meet them because “he said he had more information”.

However, when he failed to arrive, the investigating officer contacted the family yesterday, who only then revealed Van Rensburg had disappeared.

Naicker warned Van Rensburg’s family and friends from harbouring him, “as they will find themselves in conflict with the law”.

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