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Thursday, January 17, 2019
Were more girls snatched?
Gert Van Rooyen with Joey Harrhoff.
It is a case that has haunted Don Chandler for 31 years.
The now retired career cop who was the original investigating officer on the Fiona Harvey case still believes that all sides of the investigation were not followed through by police.
Today Weekend Witness can exclusively reveal that he and others also believe there were likely a lot more girls kidnapped, and that black girls were also targeted. Fiona is believed to have been one of at least six girls kidnapped by Pretoria man Gert van Rooyen during a spree in the late eighties.
Fiona was kidnapped in December 1988 in Clarendon while on an errand to buy milk.
She was just 12 years old.
Chandler is now part of a group of family members, community members and former investigators who are pushing for police to renew their investigation into the infamous case.
Chandler was part of the Natal Midlands murder and robbery unit when he was asked to oversee the case.
During his career, he spent time as a uniform officer at the Loop Street Police Station, and later at the Alexandra Road Police Station as a detective.
His career was, however, cut short after a horse-riding accident in 1993 caused him to spend a long period of time in hospital and he was medically boarded the following year.
During his retirement, he has investigated the case in his personal capacity, with permission from police and the Harvey family. “There is a lot of information and clues and leads that weren’t followed up properly,” Chandler told Weekend Witness.
He believes there were more girls kidnapped, saying evidence recovered during investigations at the time indicated that Van Rooyen had kidnapped black schoolgirls as well.
“Why were only the white victims reported on?
“At the time, there was evidence of school uniforms found slashed up, which would have been worn by black girls, if you look at the colour.
“There were suspicions at the time that Van Rooyen’s gardener and domestic worker were helping him kidnap these girls.”
Chandler said he and others have pinned down more accomplices and friends of Van Rooyen’s, but none has been questioned as yet.
He said that theories that the girls may have been trafficked to nearby countries were never taken seriously by investigators.
“There were sightings of some girls in Zambia, and sightings of them travelling up the North Coast [of KwaZulu-Natal].
“There were suspicions in 1989 that girls were taken to Mozambique.
“But in the apartheid days, we had no real contact with neighbouring states, so we couldn’t follow up this information properly. Also, at the time, police had limited access to social services like homes for girls, and there were theories that he would prowl them.”
Chandler said: “New information has come forward and this could really open the door in this investigation.”
He added: “With the electronic age, police can get information in a day that in the late eighties would have taken months, and DNA analysis has improved.”
Chandler believes that his renewed interest in this case has made him a target. “We had a robbery at home in December, and a computer and two cellphones with lots of information about the case, were stolen.” Chandler has not given up on the investigation for three decades because he believes the families need closure. “Not enough has been done to complete this investigation, despite there being a lot of information available.
“The public deserves to know what happened; how would I feel if it happened to my children?”
Fiona’s parents declined to speak to Weekend Witness.
Online petition implores police to open a new investigation
The investigation into child kidnapper Gert van Rooyen has been rejuvenated after concerned members of the public and ex-investigators have come together.
An online petition has been launched imploring Minister of Police Bheki Cele to appoint a new investigating officer for the case, which has been cold for 30 years.
Police believe Van Rooyen, who was helped by his partner Joey Harrhoff, kidnapped and murdered five girls during a spree between 1988 and 1989. Another victim managed to escape.
One of them was local girl Fiona Harvey, who was taken from the leafy suburb of Clarendon on December 22, 1988, while on an errand to buy milk. She was 12 years old at the time.
The girls Van Rooyen kidnapped were all very young schoolgirls.
They were Fiona (12), Tracy-Lee Scott-Crossley (14) of Randburg, Joan Horn (12) of Pretoria, Odette Boucher (11) and Anne-Mari Wapenaar (12) both of Kempton Park, and Yolanda Wessels (13).
Van Rooyen shot dead Haarhoff while fleeing from police before turning the gun on himself in January 1990.
In 2014, Major Mike van Aardt, who investigated the infamous Oscar Pistorius case, was assigned to the case. But still not a single trace of any of the girls has been found.
The petition was launched by Rina Moolman, who lived in the Pretoria suburb of Capital Park, where Van Rooyen lived, at the time of the kidnappings.
Moolman launched the petition under a pseudonym for safety reasons. Her real name is known to Weekend Witness.
“Each time we dig up something about the case, people are intimidated, and there are people who want to scupper it. Some are family members of Van Rooyen’s,” she said.
“This is the kind of stuff we want to tell the police. There is lots of information from different people.”
She said: “We want someone who will work on the case exclusively and is not sitting with hordes of other dockets.”
Some of the girls’ parents have died and most of them are now elderly. Some of their health, marriages and family ties are in tatters because of the trauma they have suffered.
“It’s a nightmare which will never end. It’s with you every day,” said Odette’s mother Linette.
She believes there were people who know something, but are too afraid to speak.
“We have never stopped searching. I always looked for the girls. It is repeatedly a dead end,” she said.
She says the first investigating team years ago was “excellent”. The team was later disbanded and the family members were introduced to other investigators.
“That was the first and last time that we saw them — we were told they were taking over the case.
“In the meanwhile, there are many groups, like on Facebook, which are coming out with lots of information. The mystery must be solved,” she begged.
Kobie Wapenaar, Anne-Marie’s mother, says she is aware of the petition, but does not want to elaborate. Some of the other parents were not available for comment.
The Kempton Express quoted George Boucher, the father of Odette, as saying his family supports the petition.
“Every once in a blue moon, someone comes forward with new information, but it always hits a dead end,” he said to the Kempton Express.
Boucher says the petition is a good idea. “I do not believe that in all these years no one could get to the bottom of the case,” he said.
Boucher says the family wants closure. “I just want to know where my daughter is,” he said. “We were not able to share any of her big moments with her.”
Cele’s spokesperson, Reneilwe Serero, said those who launched the petition have requested a meeting with the minister, and he will thereafter see what the way forward will be.
Parents ‘desperate for closure’
It is a case that has haunted the country for three decades, and the actions of Gert van Rooyen and his partner Joey Haarhoff have torn families apart.
Previous media reports, including those by The Witness, pieced together allegations by Van Rooyen’s son, Flippie, that the girls Van Rooyen kidnapped were part of satanic rituals and their bodies were burnt with acid, or they had been taken to the Middle East.
The Witness reported in 2014 that Flippie alleged that three former National Party (NP) ministers had been involved in a child-smuggling network with his father, which involved selling girls for cash. However, no grounds were found for these claims. Van Rooyen had had brushes with the law, including a conviction for petty theft in 1954, and one for stealing motor spares and clothing in 1960.
In 1979, he abducted two girls aged 10 and 13, and forced them to perform sexual acts, but released them a day later. He was arrested shortly thereafter and convicted on charges of abduction, sexual assault and common assault of the girls. He served three years of his four-year sentence.
Around the time of the kidnapping of local girl Fiona Harvey, witnesses saw Van Rooyen prowling the streets of Pietermaritzburg and Durban and reported to the police that he had been alone in his work bakkie. Van Rooyen had six children and had a construction business with family.
The Witness had reported that Haarhoff, who was much younger than Van Rooyen, had a noticeable personality change when they began dating, according to people who knew her.
The six girls’ parents, says Moolman, have been left hanging in the air. “They haven’t even had a mourning process because they don’t know what has become of their children.
Some of the parents are no longer hoping for a miracle,” she said. “They just want to know.
If they know the children are dead, they can try to find peace. If the girls are alive and happy and don’t want to make contact with their families, some of the parents say they’ll accept that too. They just want to know their children are okay.”
That’s also the sentiment of many who have signed the petition. One person explains her support as: “Justice must be done.
“All witnesses and statements must be correlated to find the golden thread. A full investigations commission must be established. We want answers.”
Since the girls disappeared, police have investigated various allegations.
Some of the information came from Gert van Rooyen’s two sons, Flippie and Gerhard.
In June 1991, just after his father’s suicide, Flippie was given the death penalty for the murder of a Zimbabwean teen. It was later changed to a life sentence.
It was during his time in jail that he alleged that the girls’ bodies were bathed in acid during satanic rituals, that they were taken to the Middle East and even at one time that certain high-ranking National Party government officials were involved in the kidnap and “sale” of the girls.
In the wake of his allegations, Van Rooyen’s home in Capital Park in Pretoria was demolished and large stretches of certain beaches on the KwaZulu-Natal Coast were excavated in search of any sign of the girls.
Flippie was later found guilty of several charges of perjury, after his endless allegations and declarations to the police over where the missing girls could be, proved to be fruitless.
He served his sentence for this at the same time as his life sentence. In the meanwhile, he was released on parole.
In 2007, after new reports emerged that the girls’ bodies were hidden just two kilometres from the Pretoria property, police said that they had not formally closed the dossier on Van Rooyen.