Father of Leigh Matthews on why her killer must stay in jail: ‘He’s told too many lies’

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Leigh Matthews was shot four times by a man she offered a lift to. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Leigh Matthews was shot four times by a man she offered a lift to. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Nearly 17 years have passed since his daughter’s murder but Rob Matthews (70) still has so many unanswered questions.

How many people were involved in her kidnapping? Who was the person making the demanding phone calls to the family? Why did they shoot her even though the ransom money had been paid?

For the family of Leigh Matthews, closure is hard to come by.

Donovan Moodley, the man convicted of their daughter’s murder, has told so many lies they wouldn’t know what to believe anyway, Rob says.

“I’ve seen many of his letters in the press or in his court papers but they are unconvincing,” Rob tells YOU. “The only way we would believe him is if he pointed out who was involved and gives us details like where her body was kept.”

Moodley has spent the past 16 years behind bars after he was handed a life sentence for kidnapping and murdering Leigh in 2004. But now he’s up for parole and his potential release has reopened old wounds for the family.

“Every time he raised an appeal it would open wounds,” Rob says, adding that Moodley made his sixth unsuccessful appeal in 2018.

“With the prospect of a parole hearing, it opens that wound again.”

Donovan Moodley
Donovan Moodley at the South Gauteng High Court in 2012, where his application for a retrial was rejected. (PHOTO: Getty Images/ Gallo Images)

The family are working with Peter van Niekerk of Eversheds-Sutherlands Attorneys to keep him behind bars. Together they’re making representations to the parole board and will later approach the minister of justice and correctional services, Ronald Lamola.

“Why is there a criminal-centric focus as opposed to a victim-centric focus?” Rob asks.

The family’s nightmare began on 9 July 2004 when Rob’s wife, Sharon (66), got a call from Leigh’s phone to say she’d been kidnapped.

Sharon had been waiting outside Bond University in Morningside, Johannesburg, where Leigh was studying for a BCom finance degree, after her daughter failed to come home.

The man’s voice on the other side said he’d phone again with the ransom requirements.

By the time Rob arrived, the kidnapper called to demand R50 000 and gave Rob instructions on where to drop the money.

“He sounded cool, calm and collected and told me he’d done this before,” Rob, a semi-retired chartered accountant, recalls.

“He said the only way I’d see my daughter again was if I followed his exact instructions.”

That night, Rob dropped the money near the Grasmere Toll Plaza south of Johannesburg and someone with a balaclava accepted it. He was instructed to drive to a different location and wait for Leigh.

During that time Sharon had one final telephonic conversation with Leigh.

“Leigh sounded incredibly panicky,” Rob says. “She said we should do as he said because he had a gun.”

Rob and Sharon never heard from anybody again.

“Why is there a criminal-centric focus as opposed to a victim-centric focus?”
Rob Matthews

In his testimony, Moodley says he was unsure of what to do with Leigh after receiving the extortion money. He took her to a deserted field in Walkerville and shot her four times in the back of the head before burning his clothes to hide evidence.

Moodley claims he was driven by a need for money and Leigh was an easy target as he simply approached her in the campus parking lot and asked for a lift.

But Rob doesn’t believe this. He says Leigh was very security conscious and would never allow a stranger in her car. She must’ve known him personally, he says.

Leigh’s body wasn’t discovered until 12 days later and Rob says they want answers as to what happened during that time.

He believes the fact that Moodley hasn’t been forthcoming with information shows he doesn’t have regret for what he’s done.

“I would think with remorse comes full disclosure.”

In 2019, someone from the Victim Offender Dialogue, a process in which the victim of a crime or a victim’s family members meet with the offender, contacted Rob but he declined to meet with Moodley.

“I told them we have nothing to say to him. Donovan has all the answers.”

In April this year, the representative of the Victim Offender Dialogue called again to ask if they could give his cellphone number to the parole board.

“That led me to believe there was a parole coming up.”

Rob says he was shocked but also confused that Correctional Services hadn’t contacted him themselves.

“In 2017 I asked them if we could be part of parole proceedings if ever it came up and they agreed. So I found it strange that they didn’t contact me.”

He contacted Correctional Services and they confirmed that Moodley was entitled to a parole hearing based on his good behaviour.

He doesn’t even want to think of Moodley possibly being released.

“I don’t want to go there,” Rob says quietly. “That would be a gross injustice.”

The family would’ve celebrated Leigh’s 21st birthday the day after she was kidnapped. Rob says his fondest memory of her was how helpful she was.

“She was very conservative, quiet and a homebody. She was a model child.”

He adds that since her death his wife and older daughter have drawn strength from people around the country.

“So many people have been overwhelmingly generous to us with their love and hope,” he says.

“There are so many people who have terrible stories to tell that are similar to ours. Ours is not the worst story but by sharing it, we hope to help somebody else along the way.”     

*Logan Maistry, spokesperson for the Department of Correctional Services, responded to Rob's claim that the family wasn't told of Moodley's possible early parole hearing by saying that the department has always communicated with the family "and relevant role players" and will continue to do so.  

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