‘I finally have closure,’ says investigating officer in Poppie murder trial

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Poppie van der Merwe (Facebook)
Poppie van der Merwe (Facebook)

The murder of toddler Poppie van der Merwe (3) shook him to his core, but the investigating officer fought to the end for justice – so the child’s mother, who was supposed to protect her but instead horribly betrayed her, could get the maximum sentence.

On Thursday when Judge Bert Bam handed down life sentences to both Louisa Koekemoer (47) and her husband, Kobus (44), in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria it marked the end of a traumatic chapter for Sergeant Gift Matome.

“It was my job to get justice for Poppie, especially where her mother was concerned. I was never worried that she’d get away with it,” Gift told YOU.

Gift (33), who’s with the detective branch in Brits, North West, was appointed investigating officer after Poppie died on a run-down smallholding close to the town on 25 October 2016.

Kobus was arrested on the same day at the hospital in Brits, after nursing staff and the attending doctor became suspicious and called the police.

At that point Louisa wasn’t a suspect but had given a witness statement. She blamed her husband for the little blue-eyed girl’s fate and denied any wrongdoing on her own part.

The first evidence Gift got were pictures of Poppie’s body taken in hospital.

“It was traumatic,” he says, falling silent for a moment. “The first thing I saw were the terrible bruises. There was a particularly bad one on her forehead. At the time my own little girl was 13 months old. I cried.”

Gift says he “became suspicious the minute the mother said she didn’t have any knowledge of Poppie’s injuries”.

“The mother had to care for her child daily. She had to bathe her. She never mentioned any of the injuries in her initial statements. She never reported it.”

Even before the autopsy report became available, Gift knew he had to start at the beginning – in the Northern Cape Town of Orania, where Louisa and Kobus lived before moving to Brits a the month before Poppie died.

There he quickly discovered which way the wind blew. All fingers pointed to Poppie’s mom and stepdad.

Later Gift went back to Louisa, this time armed with the autopsy report and confronting her with the evidence in it. He arrested her on 16 December 2016.

“Even if a child doesn’t tell you [they’d been hurt], you can see if something’s wrong. If they’d for instance been bitten by another child. You just know. Everything [in the case] pointed to serious abuse.”

In court Gift said he didn’t have sympathy with either Louisa or Kobus, who wasn’t Poppie’s biological dad. But Louisa was the child’s mother and had given birth to her.

“She testified that she was afraid [of Kobus]. I didn’t buy it. It looked as if she was crying, but I didn’t believe her tears. Right until the very end she never showed any remorse. I don’t believe she loved her child. She’d failed to protect her child. She’d failed as a mother.”

Gift says it’s the case that’s made the most impact on him in his 12 years as a policeman.

“I asked myself, ‘How many other children like Poppie are being abused?’ We need to look after our children to ensure no other child goes through what Poppie did. It’s our responsibility as a society.”

Gift says he’s often thought about young Poppie over the past two years.

“I think the sentence has brought me closure. Looking at photos of Poppie I could see she was a bubbly little girl. She was always laughing.”

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