Local family speak out about find missing son buried in a pauper’s grave

2019-06-07 14:02
They were frantic when Dean went missing – then his bullet-riddled body was found in a pauper’s grave. (PHOTO: Drum)

They were frantic when Dean went missing – then his bullet-riddled body was found in a pauper’s grave. (PHOTO: Drum)

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They were frantic when Dean went missing – then his bullet-riddled body was found in a pauper’s grave.

His clothes hang neatly in his cupboard and his many sneakers are meticulously lined up, just as he left them. It feels as if Dean Jafta could burst through the door at any moment – but after months of heartache his family have finally accepted he’s never coming back. “When we miss him I just take his takkies and I smell them,” his sister Candice tells us.

“They smell like him.” When Dean (20) vanished without a trace in May 2017, his family remained hopeful he’d return home someday. But unbeknown to them, while they spent 18 months fruitlessly searching for him, Dean was dead and buried in a pauper’s grave at Olifantsvlei Cemetery in Johannesburg.

It was only in November last year that they discovered the awful truth. It turned out that a few days after his disappearance Dean’s lifeless body was found in an open field in the Midrand area, pierced with eight bullet wounds. Police were unable to establish his identity so in August 2017 he was buried. After the burial, investigators remained intent on finding out who was responsible for the mystery man’s murder.

As they reviewed evidence found at the Midrand field they were eventually able to establish a link between the dead “pauper” and Dean. Quizzed by DRUM, they were reluctant to reveal what this evidence was because of an ongoing court case. But once they’d made the connection they were finally able to inform Dean’s family. His father, Denzil, will never forget the day he was summoned to a meeting with the commander of the Tshwane East cluster, General Andre Wiese.

“When they told us Dean had passed on I went berserk,” Denzil tells DRUM at his home in Eersterust, Pretoria. After his meeting with the police he had the grim task of identifying his son from pictures taken at the crime scene. Then, determined to give Dean a dignified funeral, he and his family had to go through the trauma of having his body exhumed.

As Dean’s remains were removed from the soil they saw he hadn’t been buried alone but was sharing a grave with other unidentified corpses. It was all too much to take in. Now almost three months later, Denzil (55) is still traumatised and angry. “I don’t have closure,” he says. “That skeleton I’ve buried, I can’t tell you if that’s Dean. I buried bones; I didn’t bury my son.” D ENZIL’S eyes well up with tears as he watches the video on his daughter’s phone.

In the clip a little boy can be heard chortling. It’s Dean’s son, Caydrian Stalie (1). “He’s just like Dean. When I look at Caydrian, I see Dean,” Denzil says. Just a week after Dean’s disappearance on 19 May 2017, his girlfriend told the Jafta family she was pregnant. Denzil was shocked by the news but over the past 21 months the toddler has been the family’s one source of joy.

Denzil sits between his two daughters, Candice (18) and Michelle (28), wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of Dean on it. “Justice for Dean” read the words emblazoned in bright red above the photo. “He was a humble, loyal and respectful child,” says Denzil, who’s a process engineer for a car manufacturer.

The last time he saw his son was three days before his disappearance. Dean, who lived with Candice and Michelle just a few kilometres away, had come around to his dad’s house to mow the lawn. Dean was studying information technology and often did odd jobs for his dad to earn pocket money. “We were talking and he said to me, ‘Don’t forget my money’. And I said, ‘You’ll get it on Friday’.” On the Friday Denzil received an SMS from Dean, reminding him about the money.

But when he tried calling his son his phone was off. When Dean failed to return home that evening his family were immediately worried. It wasn’t like him not to let them know his whereabouts. Two days later their fears intensified when his car was found near Akasia in Pretoria. Phone records showed he’d been on his way to meet a friend that day.

As the weeks dragged by with no sign of his son, Denzil was determined to solve the mystery. Every day he’d travel through Joburg, taking a stack of “missing” posters with him featuring his son’s picture. “I put his picture up as I was travelling to Hillbrow, Parktown, everywhere. I went to shops in Lenasia, Eldorado Park, and people saw it on Facebook also,” he says.

Denzil says although there were times he felt despondent he couldn’t give up because he was convinced his son was still alive. But on 1 November last year all hope was crushed at the meeting at the Tshwane East police cluster.

There he heard the news that his son’s bullet-riddled body had been found in a field 18 months earlier. With police unable to establish his identity, he’d been given a pauper’s burial. It’s since emerged that certain vital steps may have been omitted. Fingerprint samples were taken from the body but it seems the investigating officer never checked to see if these matched other samples on the police system.

If he had, he would have discovered they matched Dean’s DNA which police had sourced from his toothbrush and comb. And the family would’ve been spared so many months of agonising waiting. Once Denzil finally knew what had happened it fell to him to break the news to his daughters and Dean’s mother, Christa Heraud (52). The couple separated a while back and she now works as a nurse in Saudi Arabia.

Dean’s body was exhumed two weeks later, a day before his family finally buried him. Four men were subsequently arrested in connection with the murder. They appeared in the Pretoria magistrate’s court last month but the case was postponed to 6 March pending further investigation. Denzil says for a while before Dean’s disappearance he’d been concerned about him.

At the beginning of 2017 Dean was arrested after police pulled over a car in which he was travelling with friends who were suspected of criminal activity. But he wasn’t charged. Eersterust community leader Novina Pillay says Dean was a good kid who got involved with the wrong crowd. But she adds this doesn’t make him a criminal.

“We stay in a small community. For Dean to have interacted with these guys is nothing new. Everybody knows everybody. It’s people we grew up with.” Now more than anything, Denzil wants to understand why his child was murdered. He won’t be able to find closure until he has answers. “I won’t give up until I know the truth,” he says.

WHAT THE POLICE SAY

Dean Jafta’s body was found on 25 May 2017 and was buried in August 2017, General Andre Wiese, commander at the Tshwane East cluster, confirmed. “It can take months to bury the body of a pauper.”  He adds that a thorough record is kept of where the body is buried and in which coffin.  “So if the body is identified, we know where to find it.”

He says within two hours of being ex­humed in November, Dean’s body was taken for DNA testing before being released to the Jafta family to be buried. “We know the body is Dean’s but need to prove it as part of the formalities, with the DNA results which will be released in the court case.”

The original investigating officer was neg­ligent in trying to establish the identity of the body, he says, adding that an internal investi­gation is under way. “The police helped the family since day one with everything they needed. Yes, something went wrong initially, but we’re addressing it,” he says.

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