Chapter 8 (BLOOD ORANGE)
It was a week of sheer frustration. They were getting nowhere fast. The hair analyses was a waste of time and money. Doc didn’t have much hope for any DNA. And even if they were lucky enough to find DNA they still haven’t had anyone to match it too. Deric felt sort of deflated when he walked into the office after one of those “follow-up reports” with Sheffield. There was absolutely nothing to follow-up on. He would never let Latisha know, but it wasn’t so much about finding the killer of Chuba Jackson or, for that matter, Conrad Camphor, it was about the dying woman’s last words. Who the hell was he supposed to safe and when did the thirty days – if he heard her words correctly - start? Was it the day she died? Well then, the poor, “useless” sap had quite a few days less than thirty. Maybe he was dead already. He hoped it was the words of a delusional, dying woman, but he just knew there had to be something about it. This Brenda Blignaut was far too ill to asked for him specifically and then jerk him around. He’s sure she wanted something from him, or even wanted to tell him more, but the secret died with her.
‘Deric, come take a look at this,’ Jim said. He was positioned over the left shoulder of Tim Monty and staring at the monitor.
‘Did you find something?’ he asked as he bent down over the other shoulder.
‘Looks like it.’ Monty said as he moved his fingers nimbly over the mouse. His curly blonde hair was a bit longer than usual and it accentuated his rugged, surfing-boy good looks. He’s certainly not your average nerd, as many a criminal – and other opponents – found out to their detriment. Girls swooned over him, but it seemed as if Misha had him tamed. Although, he’s giving nothing away.
‘Cappie, this is the first cold case that fits the “Ice-cream flavour” murders.’
Monty and Jim smiled smugly.
Deric said amused, “The “ice-cream flavour murders”?’ but he had to agree, it was a good description. He started to read the screen.
March 2002: Johan Beetge (18), Maria Scheepers (18) and Sarah Nyema (19) walked to a local restaurant where they all worked. A truck struck them from behind. Beetge and Nyema died on impact at the scene. Maria Scheepers died two days later in hospital. Her version was - at least that’s how it was intrepid at the time, because she was capable of very few words, never mind an interview - that they were hit on purpose. She used to word “swerve” a few times in her delirium. Police reports confirmed that the bodies were found on the side of the road and, according to the tracks and brake-marks, it looked like the truck did go off the tarmac and back. The driver Kabelo Rogoba (40) was arrested on reckless driving and manslaughter charges. His version was that as he was coming over the top of the hill they were crossing the road. It was obviously not true as the forensics already had proven. He was charged, but released on bail. He was due in court two months later. Rogoba was a no-show. The officer in charge, Sergeant Luvo Rakau, was informed that Rogoba managed to make his way back to Zimbabwe – his country of origins. His South African wife was left with his four children and no income. The case went on the back-burner. The company, whose truck was involved, paid a meagre compensation (they settled out of court) which was divided between the three – very poor - families.
Three years later in 2005, at a taxi-rank quibble and subsequent shooting, Kabelo Rogoba was captured - among others - on TV camera by a news crew who was covering the taxi violence for the evening news. He was one of the front runners in breaking windscreens, stone-throwing and setting fire to vehicles. Rogoba was recognised and pointed out by those in the know. Not only for the disturbance at the taxi-rank, but as the truck driver who’s reckless driving killed three young people at the side of the road.
Before Rogoba could be arrested again, he once more vanished like a ghost in thin air. His family swore that they haven’t seen him since his first disappearance.
Once more the case grinded to a halt.
On the 3rd of September, 2005, Inspector Rakau (promoted) was informed that his suspect, Kabelo Rogoba, was in the morgue at Pretoria West. He was found in a taxi – which he was the driver off - close to Atteridgeville. He had shotgun wounds through both knees and elbows, and a 9mm-shot in the back of the head - Execution-style.
‘Those knee-wounds look like badly blooming Strelitzias.’ Deric said as her stared at the crime-scene pictures.
‘The elbows don’t look much better either.’ Jim observed.
‘Oh, he was intended to suffer,’ Monty said, pointing to the rest of the report, ‘according to the ME, a Doctor Karla van Wyk, the knee- and elbow shots were done first, at least twenty minutes or so before he was shot in the head. The headshot smashed his brain. It hasn’t been done in the taxi or else there would’ve been blood-spatter everywhere. But instead, the taxi, ala the Jackson-scene, was filled with all kinds of fingerprints and hair samples,’ Monty glanced over his shoulder with a “see-what-I-mean” look before he went back to scrutinise the screen, ‘which would’ve been understandable under the circumstances, as he ran commuters to and fro on a daily basis, but again, there had been a mix of animal-hairs, dog, pig, cat etcetera, and also hair from wigs mixed in with the others.’
‘But not a fingerprint in sight!’ Deric scratched his head, ‘this was very well planned.’
‘And kept forensics busy to no end,’ Jim commentated.
‘With nothing to show for it!’ Deric added.
‘And look at this,’ Monty said enthusiastic, ‘this is what make me certain all this is connected!’
The report went on:
On the windscreen the word “Blood Orange” was written in white. None of the passengers - that could be traced - knew where he was going, or what he was doing there. The two women, who got off last in Maunde Road, gave evidence that Rogoba was alone in the taxi when he drove off. He was found three kilometres down the road, not far from the graveyard.
‘Is Blood Orange a-’ Deric asked.
‘Yes,’ Monty confirmed, ‘got it on my list – Blood Orange flavour. Apparently more of a frozen yogurt, but still, made by an overseas ice-cream company.’
‘Was there a word?’
Monty pointed to the middle of the screen.
On his hand the word “IGNOBLE” was written.
‘And that means?’ Deric asked.
‘Outrageous and vile,’ Monty replied, ‘fitting, isn’t it?’
‘Well, so far, all the words fit…I guess.’ Jim said as he reached for his hanky and gave an earth-shattering sneeze.
‘Bless you!’ Deric said leaning a little away, ‘but Jim, I think you’re still far from a hundred present. You may need a double blessing.’
’Oh well, it has to get better at some point, and “lying down and rest” as the doctor suggests make me feel even worse.’ Jim said with a weak smile.
Monty went on as if never interrupted, ‘At the time all these cases had been done by separate Inspectors, at different police-stations. As in the case of Camphor, this one was attributed to taxi-riots and enemy rivalry. So, they weren’t really connected. One: they were two years apart and secondly, no-one was going to look for a serial killer when the two victims had nothing in common…’
‘Except murdering innocent people!’ Jim said nasally.
‘…and thirdly, the Conrad Camphor’s case was closed.’
‘And the words and the ice-cream flavours were never connected?’ Deric asked.
‘Not Camphor’s, but this one got a little further. Inspector Rakau made a connection, however, as there was a lack of concrete evidence, the case grew cold as well.’ Jim answered.
‘A connection?’ Deric leaned forward.
‘Oh yes, this is definitely connected.’ Monty said, pointing to the last paragraph of the report, ‘he may not have made a connection with ice-cream, but…’
A fingerprint found inside the taxi yielded the name of Gemma Saunders in the database. Bizarrely enough she died six years before Rogoba: Gemma Saunders (21) died on the 9th April 1999 by suicide or, as the police suspected, forced suicide. She was found in the bathtub, fully clothed. Her wrists were slit - or someone slit it for her - around two years after her release from juvenile detention.
‘This certainly wasn’t Doc Hargraves’s work.’ Deric said, thinking back to Grace Woods.
‘Nope!’ Jim seconded, ‘he even tests decapitation victims stomach contents, and a damn good thing he did!’
They read on.
In June of 1993, Gemma Saunders was arrested for the double-murders of her parents – Aaron (42) and Gerda Saunders (40). Gemma was fifteen at the time of the murders. Gemma swore to the fact that, after an altercation with her father about her undesired boyfriend, Hendry Plats, she grabbed the pistol that was on his desk and shot him. She claimed self-defence, as he was – according to her – lunching at her. Her fore-arm had borne a scratch-mark and her skin was under one of his nails. The ME was unconvinced of the force of the scratch at the time and said it could have been done post-mortem. Why the pistol was conveniently on the desk she could also explained away. Aaron Saunders had just returned from the shooting-range (which had been confirmed) and was about to clean the pistol. Her mother, who apparently heard the commotion of the first shots, ran into the study and, as her Defence had put it so skill fully, Gemma was by then in such a state of confusion, shock and fright, she fired at will. Gerda Saunders was wounded critically and died shortly afterwards. Although, not impossible, it was most improbable for such an experienced marksman as Aaron Saunders to leave a loaded pistol out on a desk. None could prove otherwise. The cleaning gear was on the desk, it could have been staged (for it took Emma Saunders and Hendry plats an hour to call 10111) but it could not be dismissed. Five shots were fired. Two into Aaron and Gerda Saunders each. The fifth was a wild one into wall a wall.
Hendry Plats (17) arrived about ten minutes after the murders (he was on his way over at the time, again according to Emma and Plats). The problem was still the hour delay between the shootings and the emergency call. He admitted that he was trying frantically to figure out a plan to help Emma, but in the end they decided the truth would be best. Although the Police had their doubts about Plats’ innocence Emma Saunders took the blame for the murders. Plats was an innocent bystander, according to her. At the wrong place at the wrong time.
‘Innocent bystander my ass!’ Deric exclaimed.
Plats had been charged as he admitted freely he tried to help the girl. He received a suspended sentence of one year for trying to tamper with evidence. Gemma was found guilty of murder and placed in a juvenile facility where she remained until her eighteenth birthday. In that time she showed deep remorse, ala the physiatrist, a doctor Alan Snediker, and was a model student who passed matric with three distinctions. She also reported weekly for sessions with the physiatrist after her parole, up to her 21st birthday. Her parents were well-off, but under law she was not to inherit any of their money. However, in a bizarre twist of fate, she was a rich young woman at 21 seeing that her very rich grandfather established a trust-fund for her at birth. By the time the murders took place he had already died, leaving Emma Saunders a fortune, despite the fact that she couldn’t inherit her parents’ riches. A fact, the police were sure, was known by Hendry Plats.
Hendry Plats (22) was Emma’s first to visitor her on her 21st birthday. He never left and the two got married two days after Gemma received control of her trust-fund. Four months into the marriage Plats came home one day to find – so he claimed - Saunders in the bath with slit wrists. Amongst the evidence was a written note in Gemma’s handwriting (definitely her handwriting according to a graphologist) telling the sad story of how her conscience about her family had chastened her, how she was slowly consumed by guilt and a dark depression and couldn’t go on anymore.
‘But now for the interesting part!’ Monty said excitedly and pointed to a sentence.
On the reverse side of the suicide note the word: “NOUGAT CRUNCH” had been typed in bold letters. It could not be connected to anything back then.
They all stared at the note that was photographed from both sides for posterity.
‘An ice-cream flavour I presume.’ Jim said slowly.
‘Just the ice-cream name, no other word?’ Deric asked after a few moments.
‘No, but here’s where it’s getting weird, read on.’ Monty said as he pointed to the screen.
Deric read on.
Plats was immediately regarded as a suspect, seeing that Saunders had drawn up a will and he was the only beneficiary of her fortune. He was arrested when two of his fingerprints showed up on the suicide note. It didn’t help his case that a previous girlfriend swore she’d an ongoing affair with Plats after his marriage to Saunders. He was arrested. The day his bail was denied he hanged himself in his cell. He used a blanket he had shredded in strips and wrapped around the bars of the small window. On a cigarette packet on the bed the word “BLACKHEART” was written in pen. Nobody knows how it got there. His lawyer said the only time she can remember him having a pen was when he signed his statement. She can’t remember if he wrote anything on a cigarette packet at the time. The arresting officer neither. An investigation by the authorities was conducted but no negligence was found. Plats’ suicide was deemed a sort of confession to Saunders death.
‘My God,’ Jim said with a whistle, ’this has been going on for a long time. This one – or does this count as two? Ice-cream thingies took place in 1999.’
‘You really think he was hanged by someone? No! Really! The guard and the arresting officer saw him alive last – they couldn’t have…’
All three thought it through in silence before Monty went on.
‘Your Brenda Blignaut was a theatre sister. She stopped working around the time that her daughter was born. That would be 1959. She started again in 1977 until 1980 – that was the year her daughter was murdered. Her husband, a Dr Joshua Blignaut, died a year earlier, in 1979. She never went back to work after that. According to what I’ve dug up on her finances, she never needed to, for not only did her husband left her, and at the time, her daughter, well-off, but Brenda Blignaut was the only child of a very rich businessman – some or other German industrialist. He immigrated, in 1937 to South West Africa – now Namibia – and later to Cape Town.’ Monty looked at Jim and Deric respectively, ’Now, we’re definitely certain there’s a connection between Brenda Blignaut and the murders by her own admittance, but she must’ve had help, a lot of help, if all this is anything to go by.’ Monty said with a tone of admiration, but looked quickly back at the screen when he saw Deric’s warning stare.
’She’s not my Brenda Blignaut, but yes, she had to have a lot of contacts and it seemed the medical field was definitely one of the main areas. Her husband and she both came from such a background. Who knows, maybe labs, maybe even a ME?’ Deric said pensively, ‘and she could’ve had help from others as well.’
‘Like…’ Jim wanted to know.
‘Bereaved family – take the case of Conrad Camphor. Anyone of Jasmine Bruines or Jan Bresler, the old man he killed with the bat,’ Deric scratched the backside of his head, ‘I mean, I’ve absolutely no sympathy with the likes of either Camphor, Jackson, Rogoba or even this Plats and Saunders.’ He nearly sounded like Latisha, ‘I mean, they’ve literally got away with murder, or nearly did. How difficult do you think it would’ve been for a friend or family-member to put their grievances into action?’
’I have a feeling that we’re going to accoutre more of these’ Deric swung his hands in the direction of the computer, ’I had a long and hard mulling over of the whole conversation with this woman, and my thoughts are that Brenda Blignaut wouldn’t have let me in on this bizarre murder-scheme, or whatever the hell, the “ICE-CREAM–FLAVOUR MURDERS” – to use your term, Monty - if there wasn’t still something, somewhere, to be finished. I think she was maybe one member of this…this murder-club, or something like that. But there’s maybe something not done yet, if you get my drift. She didn’t seem the kind to brag about her crimes. She died before it - whatever it is - could be finished, that’s what she wanted to tell me something about thirty days and somebody’s life in danger. Maybe - I don’t know – you think she wants me to finish it for her? But that’s just too bizarre for words.’ Deric said mesmerised, ‘why on earth would she think I would carry out a murder, or whatever she wants from me, on her behalf? Especially after what she’d told me and what we’ve uncovered up to now.’
‘So, what you’re basically telling us is that you think there’s going to be more murders, or, at least, one more, and we won’t be able to stop it because we have no idea who it’s gonna be, or where, or when. All we know is something is going to happen within thirty days’ time.’ Jim said.
‘That’s what I’m thinking, yes, and we-’
‘Wouldn’t have had any idea about all of this,’ Monty fingered the computer-screen, ‘if she didn’t let us, or you, in on it. She definitely wants something from you, but I don’t think its murder. Even in her dying moments she wants this particular person to die or suffer but, she wants us to know about it, or him, or her. Why?’
’She wanted to inform you in person Deric, maybe so that we would know who killed her daughter. That it’s going to happen. Maybe she wants us to know that it was her doing when we connected all of this. And that they had planned it all – whoever they may be.’ Jim stroked his red nose a few times.
’So, we’ll only know who it is if and when a body, presumably accompanied by an ice-cream flavour and a fitting word, surfaced somewhere.’ Deric replied.
’Wonder what that flavour is going to be.’ Jim said laconic.
“Porcupine pie, porcupine pie, vanilla soup another scoop please…” Neil Diamond sang away in Deric’s head.