Susan Rohde appears to have been strangled, court hears

Jason Rohde in court (Jenna Etheridge, News24)
Jason Rohde in court (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Cape Town - Susan Rohde, the wife of businessman Jason Rohde, appears to have been strangled, with signs of smothering and asphyxia, the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court heard on Friday.

Prosecutor Carine Teunissen said according to two State pathologists, it appeared the cord found around her neck was applied after her death.

The businessman was arrested on Tuesday for his wife's death on July 24. Initially thought to be suicide, an inquest docket was opened until the post-mortem indicated foul play might have been involved.

Rohde, the CEO of Geffen International Realty Franchises, commissioned pathological and forensic reports after a murder docket was opened by police.

These suggested that Susan, 47, had committed suicide.

News24 previously reported that Rohde told his lawyer that he and his wife had woken up at the Spier Wine Estate together that Sunday morning. According to him, she had gone into the bathroom and he fell asleep.

Argument at hotel bar

When he awoke later to prepare for a breakfast talk he was to give at Sotheby's annual conference, he was unable to open the bathroom door, he said.

Hotel maintenance assisted, and Susan was found hanging in the bathroom.

According to the pathologists, her time of death was 05:40 that morning.

Reports that the two had had an argument at the hotel's bar the night before, where Susan allegedly publicly told Rohde she knew he was having an affair, were previously dismissed by lawyer Daniel Witz as irrelevant.

Pete Mihalik, for the accused, insisted the State does not have a strong case against Rohde.

"Every day he is in custody he is broken down more and more."

Pleading not guilty

Magistrate Greg Jacobs ruled that Rohde remain in custody while police investigate further, as requested by State.

Rohde, during his first court appearance on Thursday, said in a statement he intended pleading not guilty, and had co-operated with police from the start. 

The father of three, who was born in the UK, was a South African citizen and his passports for both these countries had expired.

He also had an Australian passport from a brief period of emigration, which was valid until 2017.

He said his wife had an insurance policy which specifically disqualified suicide as grounds for a claim.

He listed his income and expenses as a house in Bryanston worth R9.4m, which he and Susan were planning to sell because their oldest daughter would be matriculating soon, and a holiday home in Plettenberg Bay worth R2.2m. He owed R1m on his BMW and R450 000 on Susan's Mercedes-Benz.

Couple's counselling

He earned R110 000 a month as CEO, and another R45 000 for the property company he started, and received dividends of around R180 000 a year. He had a 22% share in a property trust worth around R20m.

He married Susan in 1993 and they have 16-year-old twin daughters and an 18-year-old daughter.

The couple had been going for counselling together and Susan had mentioned a few times that she was feeling suicidal, he said.

Teunissen said outstanding evidence includes DNA analysis from the scene, cellphone and laptop data, information on Rohde's offshore assets as well as corroboration of information that she was suicidal. 

The matter was postponed until Tuesday.

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