Weaves, watches and cellphones: Enyobeni tavern victims stripped of valuables as they lay dying

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  • Four people have been arrested for allegedly robbing corpses at the Enyobeni tavern on 26 June.
  • The suspects were spotted by investigators on CCTV camera footage while allegedly stripping the dead victims and dying patrons of their weaves and other belongings.
  • Not a single cellphone was found on the deceased.  

Eastern Cape police have arrested four people allegedly caught on CCTV cameras, stealing valuable belongings from the dead and dying patrons at the Enyobeni tavern in Scenery Park, East London. 

Twenty-one teens, 12 girls and nine boys - aged 13 to 17 - tragically lost their lives on 26 June.

A three-week investigation by News24 to ascertain why all the deceased were found by forensic and crime experts without cellphones, has revealed that some of them were robbed while drawing their last breaths.

A group of parents, who opted to remain anonymous, contacted News24 and raised concern about missing properties of their deceased children.  

READ | Methanol found in Enyobeni tavern victims' blood, cops urged to trace their last movements

The police said on Friday that the arrests were a sequel to the investigation which started immediately after the deaths of the 21 teens.

"As part of the ongoing investigation by crime intelligence, SAPS detectives followed up on information which prompted the arrest of suspects believed to have been involved in stealing from the deceased lifeless bodies," said police spokesperson Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana. 

He said three were arrested on Thursday, and a 16-year-old on Friday - all at their homes in Scenery Park.

The 16-year-old had been released into the custody of his parents in terms of the Child Justice Act, which stipulates that an child may not be detained in police cells, Kinana said. 

Last week, Eastern Cape police issued the Enyobeni tavern owner with a summons to appear in court for violating the Liquor Act. 

The four will appear in the East London Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of theft, violation of corpses, and defeating the ends of justice.

READ | Tavern tragedy: We 'jumped off the balcony' to escape after bouncer locked door - survivors

Police, as far back as 4 July, stonewalled questions from News24 relating to why not a single cellphone was found on any of the victims.

"This office is unfortunately unable to confirm the alleged reports. Anyone with information in this regard, is requested to please make contact with the investigating officer for investigation," Kinana said at the time.

Insiders confirmed that police were continuing to view CCTV and cellphone footage of people emptying the pockets of those unconscious or dead.

Khululekile Ncandana, the father of one of the boys who died, told News24 that his son Bhongo's shoes were missing. 

“We asked for the shoes at the mortuary and we were told he was found without them. The police and the tavern also did not have them," he said.  

Weaves, watches and cellphones

Some of the parents told News24 that they had been called by Scenery Park police to identify valuables recovered from the arrested suspects.

These included weaves and watches but many items, including cellphones, were still missing.

Sources close to the investigation said the missing cellphones had hampered the police investigation, with detectives desperately trying to put together the victims' movements in the last 24 hours before they died, to determine whether they could have ingested any poisonous substance.

On Tuesday, the government revealed that it had found methanol in all the bodies, which could possibly have caused the deaths.

READ | 'Help, I am dying': Man who tried to save teens from Enyobeni tavern tragedy haunted by victims' screams

The Eastern Cape health department said the toxicology results had been inconclusive on the cause of death, and that more tests were being done to establish if the methanol was responsible.

The dangerous substance is normally found in cleaning products and is not for meant for human consumption, as it can be deadly.

Backyard brewers sometimes use it to produce illegal alcohol, experts told News24.

It is unclear whether the youngsters ingested the substance at tavern or before going there.

With their cellphones missing, the police are struggling to reconstruct the movements of the victims, to see whether they may have drank at another location or venue prior to the tavern event.

Police insiders claim the investigating team is still searching for more suspects in connection with the thefts.

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