Nun's attackers wanted her dead, court hears

2015-05-12 18:10
Gertrud Tiefenbacher (87) was found murdered at her convent home in Ixopo on Sunday.

Gertrud Tiefenbacher (87) was found murdered at her convent home in Ixopo on Sunday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

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Pietermaritzburg - Two men who raped and murdered an 86-year old nun wanted her dead and by the time they had left her room there was no life left in her, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg heard.

This was the testimony of Dr Yusuf Suleman Bhana, who told the high court on Tuesday that he found a towel wrapped around Sister Gertrud Tiefenbacher's neck when he was called to conduct the post mortem on April 19. Over the towel he found a shoe lace that had been pulled tight, causing severe bruising.

Bhana, who is the Ixopo district surgeon, said the cause of her death was strangulation.

Sbongiseni Phungula, 25, and Mondli Michael Shozi earlier on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges of rape, theft and murder.

Sister Tiefenbacher, who was Austrian born, was found dead on the floor next to her bed in her room at the Sacred Heart Convent in Ixopo on April 19.

Her hands were bound together by the cord of her electric typewriter and a wet towel, believed to have been used to suffocate her, was over her face.

In a statement read to court by his advocate, Zina Anastasiou, neither the accused had mentioned the shoe lace and Phungula had said that when he left the room after raping Tiefenbacher she was still alive and moving.

Asked about this claim by State Prosecutor Sandesh Sankar, Bhana said he did not believe that she was alive when the men left the room.

"There was some effort to make sure that the person [Tiefenbacher] was dead," he replied. "I doubt very much that she would have been alive when they left her."

He confirmed that she had been raped and had numerous other bruises and abrasions to her body, especially around the head.

In their statements that were read to the court, the two men explained that they had known each other by sight, but that the night of April 18 was the first time that had socialised at a tavern in Ixopo.

Phungula said in his statement that he had drunk a bottle of cane spirits and a bottle of brandy before he and Shozi decided to head into the nearby woods.

On their way to the forest, they passed the Sacred Heart Convent and decided to enter the kitchen and steal food.

But as they were walking down a passageway in the convent, Sister Tiefenbacher disturbed them.


Shozi, in his statement, said Tiefenbacher shouted at them before he grabbed her, with one arm around her chest and another around her neck, before dragging her back into her room.

Phungula then tied her up and raped her.

Shozi said he then left the room and went to the kitchen.

It was then in his statement that Phungula also admitted to raping the 86-year-old and seeing her still moving as he left the room to join Shozi in the kitchen.

The two then took a vacuum cleaner, some groceries and it was said that they had also made off with a watch.

Neither of the two men's statement indicated whether the watch was seized in the kitchen or taken from Tiefenbacher.

They had both been charged with robbery, but pleaded to the alternate charge of theft.

Both said in their statements that they had been intoxicated, but that neither had an excuse for their actions.

The public gallery was filled with nuns from the convent on Tuesday.

Proceedings were adjourned to Wednesday to allow Anastasiou to consult with her clients to see whether they wanted to testify in mitigation of sentencing.

Sister Gerald, one of the nuns attending the proceedings, said that the two men's statements had not contained all the details, "but I don't want to talk about it anymore".

She praised the police for their work and the speedy resolution of the case.

Tiefenbacher was a Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood for more than 60 years, and worked at the Little Flower School as a teacher and secretary for 40 of those years until 1992.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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