How 3 pairs of shoes led to murdered Lutzville farmworker's disappearance becoming suspicious

2018-05-24 16:48
Martin Visser in Adam Pieterse’s now desserted house. He is accused of killing the farm worker with a spade. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Martin Visser in Adam Pieterse’s now desserted house. He is accused of killing the farm worker with a spade. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Three pairs of shoes in a room of then-missing farm worker Adam Pieterse's Lutzville house was the first piece of a puzzle which eventually led to his friend piecing together that something may have happened to him.

The 54-year-old woman's intrepid impromptu investigation led to her discovering evidence which forms part of the case against local farmer Martin Visser.

Visser, the owner of Dassieshoek farm, is charged with the murder of Pieterse - known as Mannetjies Dukvreet - who worked on a neighbouring smallholding.

It is alleged that he used a spade to beat Pieterse, who had previously laid an assault charge against him, and that he ordered the farmworker's two friends to bury his body behind the vineyards of his father's nearby farm. The court has previously heard that Pieterse's body was also dragged behind Visser's quad bike.

Leah Cloete, an unassuming woman who has lived in Lutzville her whole life, said she had last seen Pieterse on February 25, 2015. She recalled it was a Wednesday.

"He was drunk. He came around to our house to talk nonsense because he was a joker, and then he went home," she testified in a Western Cape High Court sitting in Vredendal on Wednesday.

Cloete never saw him again.

"The [next day] I became worried about him and I told [my neighbour] John Sikala. I asked him, 'Where is Mannetjie?' We decided to wait until afternoon and see if he turned up."

'I wondered why he was driving there that day'

When, by early evening, Pieterse still hadn't turned up, she went to his house, which is right on the boundary of Dassieshoek.

The bespectacled woman carried a candle with her, as his home had no electricity.

"I opened the door and entered. There was no Mannetjie, nothing," she said.

"I went back to John and asked him how many pairs of shoes Mannetjie has. John said, two pairs of takkies and plakkies [flip-flops]. The shoes were all there - I saw it in the house."

Police photos of Pieterse's house showed a pair of grey takkies, a set of mismatched ones and the flip flops, which raised Cloete's suspicions.

She also noticed that Pieterse's mattress was on the floor. She explained that he removed it from the bed frame at night and put it back when he got up in the morning.

"You sleep lekker on the ground," Cloete explained. "It's cooler… you're further from the roof in summer."

She decided to go and look for him at the neighbouring farm houses, but he wasn't there either.

She recalled that, earlier that day, she had seen Visser riding his scooter behind Pieterse's house.

Cloete said she found this strange, as he never rode that route.

"I wondered why he was driving there that day."

Shallow grave

On the Friday morning, she was collecting wood shavings when she saw drag marks behind Pieterse's house.

"There was a spot of blood and, as I kept walking, I saw more drag marks on the same path until it ended. I called John and Zannies [bystander] and showed them. I asked John what we should do."

READ: Farmworker beaten and dragged behind quad bike, court hears

He told her to contact the police, and she sent her daughter to a neighbour because she doesn't have a phone.

Pieterse's body was found about three weeks later.

His decomposing remains were found in a shallow grave behind the vineyards of Visser's father's nearby farm, De Hoek.

Hendrina Jonkers, during an in loco inspection at the start of the trial, said that, two days before Pieterse's body was dug up, she had seen Visser riding his quad bike on the dirt road running alongside the vineyard.

She told Judge Nathan Erasmus that she had seen Visser park and walk into the bush, while standing about 500m away in the front garden of a farmworker's house.

A short while later, Jonkers said Visser returned to his bike and drove away.

She saw him again the next day, driving the same route and walking to the veld.

'I don't question him'

When she and her sister-in-law went to investigate, they found the earth had been disturbed and flies flying around the patch.

They phoned the police, who dug up Pieterse's remains.

Cloete said, when Pieterse went missing, she had wondered where he was, as he often took walks, but didn't stay away for long.

"Martin said we were looking for Mannetjie for nothing, because Mannetjie is in Prieska [where he is originally from].

"When his people came to collect his body and his clothes on the farm, Martin said we had said Mannetjies was in Prieska."

Cloete lives on Visser's farm. She said that, at one point after Pieterse's body was found, the farmer had wanted to put her out of the house.

He didn't give her a reason, she said.

"I don't question him."

She cleaned Pieterse's now empty home and put her mattress in his home, but never moved in.

"I don't know why [I didn't]," Cloete said.

Visser has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm and four charges of common assault of three other people, including Cloete and her life partner Willem Visser.

'Difficult man, he hits people'

Cloete alleges that, in November 2012, Visser had manhandled her and assaulted her husband on his farm.

She claims that Visser had been riding his motorbike near a neighbouring farm and she had told him to leave because the owner was not there.

Willem had then ostensibly approached Visser to complain about another man who had been bullying him.

She said her husband had touched him on the shoulder while the bike was stationary and that Visser had got off it, forced Willem onto the ground, and put his knee against his stomach while beating him.

Cloete testified that the couple's dog then attacked Martin, biting him on the hand.

"My dog is very rude. He bites those who hit his people."

ALSO READ: Farm worker recounts fear while watching his friend being beaten

She said Visser had thrown the dog against a wall.

Cloete claimed Visser came at her and tried to drag her and throw her down an embankment.

He let her go because her two daughters started screaming.

Cloete said Visser was a "difficult man, he hits people".

She confirmed that Visser had not hit her that day.

During cross-examination by defence attorney Asghar Mia, a feisty Cloete admitted that she did not clearly remember all the details of what had happened.

'One doesn't remember everything'

Mia put it to her that she had been under the influence, which was why she couldn't remember exactly what had transpired, but Cloete said she had not had any alcohol that morning.

She had, however, drank the day before, she said.

Mia said his client claimed that Willem had grabbed him by the arm, which led to him almost falling from his bike. Cloete denied this.

Mia also questioned why the details she revealed in court during cross-examination, such as her telling Visser that the neighbouring farmer had not been home, which led Visser to stop his bike, had not been included in the statement she made to the police the day after the assault or while giving her evidence in chief.

"One doesn't remember everything," she replied.

Willem later withdrew the charge he had laid while Cloete was in hospital for an unrelated reason.

ALSO READ: 'You are going to k*k' - farm worker claims farmer threatened him if he spilled the beans about murder

Cloete claimed Visser had taken Willem to the police station to withdraw the case and that he had done it because he lived in the farmer's house.

The trial continues.

Read more on:    cape town  |  crime

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