Top lawyer gunned down on the school run
The killing of a prominent Cape Town lawyer was the latest in a string of tragedies for his family
IN PICTURES he looks blissfully happy, grinning in one as he poses with his lovely wife, laughing on a beach in another with her in his arms.
There are other shots of him with their two young children, the white cottages of Jacobs Bay behind them. They used to own a holiday house in the West Coast seaside town.
It’s hard to fathom the tragedy and grief that lies in wait for the seemingly carefree family.
Pete Mihalik and his wife, Karin, are both dead now, their young son has a bullet wound in his face and their daughter has witnessed an incident of unimaginable trauma.
“It’s tragic, tragic, tragic,” Leon*, a close friend of Pete, says, swiping through his phone to look at picture after picture of happier times.
The well-known advocate was dropping his children off at Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard school in the Cape Town suburb of Green Point at 7.35am on 30 October when he was shot in the head, allegedly by one of two hired hitmen who were reportedly paid R250 000 each to take him out.
A witness says the gunman walked right up to the driver’s window of Pete’s R2,3-million Mercedes-Benz AMG, pressed the barrel against the glass and pulled the trigger twice.
Then he turned around and calmly climbed back into the front passenger seat of a waiting car before it sped off.
One of the bullets reportedly went through Pete’s head and struck his eightyear-old son in the face, lodging in the boy’s jaw. Pete’s 17-year-old daughter, who was unharmed, reportedly shouted, “Call an ambulance! Call an ambulance!” as stunned parents arrived to drop off their children.
Both suspects were arrested within 48 hours of the slaying of an advocate who’d regularly defended gang members in court.
Pete was also representing estate agent boss Jason Rohde, who’s accused of murdering his wife, Susan.
Pete’s killing has sparked fears of more violence between factions in Cape Town’s organised crime underworld.
But to his family, it’s yet another tragedy in a string of heartaches. Death, it seems, follows them like a shadow.
KARIN committed suicide in 2015, hanging herself in a public park near the family’s home in Oranjezicht, Cape Town. She was 46. “It was shocking,” Leon says, staring at another picture of the couple. “Pete was angry . . . He started drinking heavily.”
Karin, who’d been a stay-at-home mom, had suffered from severe depression and had been in the care of a psychiatrist.
“Pete was a broken man . . . He was shattered,” Leon says. “He immediately sold the house in Jacobs Bay.”
Suicide is something that touched Pete’s life as a child too. He was only 10 years old when his mother, Hantie, committed suicide at the age of 38 by drinking rat poison. Pete and his elder sister, Wapsie ( Johanna Cornelia), were left behind with their father, Janos.
When Wapsie turned 38, she too committed suicide – by jumping off a building.
Pete never really spoke about the suicides of his mother, sister and wife, Leon says.
He never spoke much about his stepmom or half-sisters either.
After Karin died he’d rallied round his kids. “Pete was an incredible dad,” Leon says. “He’d take leave for three months to take his kids overseas. He spent so much time with them. And he raised them himself, with the help of the kids’ godfather and an au pair.”
Leon acknowledges Pete had a drinking problem and says Karin was “the one to keep him on the straight and narrow”.
“After she died things got out of hand for a while, but he always had a strong support network in his friends. “Then he met Tasmin Montgomery.” The relationship with Tasmin, the exwife of former Springbok rugby player Percy Montgomery, was Pete’s first serious relationship after Karin’s death.
“I think Tasmin meant a great deal to Pete and the kids,” Leon says. “And she always helped him whenever he’d relapsed.”
But the two parted ways and when YOU contacted Tasmin after Pete’s murder, she responded, “I haven’t been in a relationship or in contact with Pete Mihalik for the past 18 months.”
Before his death Pete had been sober for some time, Leon says. He was also in a new relationship and seemed happy.
But representing several of the country’s most notorious gang leaders and organised crime members definitely had an impact, Leon adds.
“[As a lawyer] you often see dossiers of people who’ve been beheaded, people who’ve been shot in drive-bys in front of their kids, or the kids were shot too. The underworld has no respect for human life. That must have an impact on one’s life.”
Yet Pete loved his job, Leon stresses. He regularly acted as intermediary between gangs and he had a good relationship with all of them – so good that members of the 28s, 27s, Sexy Boys and Americans showed up at Pete’s home after Karin’s funeral to pay their respects.
“Many of his friends thought it was inappropriate, but he was okay with it. He always said he didn’t take sides.
“But gangs may see things differently. They might see you as siding with a specific group.”
Leon, who’s known Pete since university, remembers a young bloodhound of an advocate who in the late ’90s declared he’d one day be one of Cape Town’s best criminal lawyers.
“Yes, I’d warned him. When his associate Noorudien Hassan was murdered by gang members two years ago, I told him, ‘Pete, you need to keep your distance before they take you out too.’
“But Pete got aggravated and said, ‘I’m a skollie from Bloem. I’m a street fighter.’
“Pete was brave. If he ever was afraid, no one knew about it.”
THE sound of a Zimmer frame coming towards the telephone echoes down the line. Janos Mihalik, Pete’s father and a former advocate, lives in a retirement home in Oranjezicht. He turned 73 four days after his son’s murder and was shocked when he heard his son was dead, he says. But he’s doing well under the circumstances.
He and Hantie were divorced when she committed suicide, he tells us. “After that Pete and I went to South America where I farmed for two years and he attended a Spanish school.
“When we returned I met my second wife [in Bloemfontein where they settled]. We got married and had two daughters. But we’ve also since divorced.”
His ex-wife, who doesn’t want to be named, tells YOU she’d known Pete and Wapsie since they were children, and had been close to Karin.
“But I don’t want to say any more. Janos and I got divorced and he’s not in a good space.”
The bullet was removed from Pete’s son’s jaw and he’s out of danger. He and his sister are now in the care of family friends.
A letter was circulated to parents of Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard – which went into lockdown in the hours following the shooting – informing them of the little boy’s recovery.
“It’s important that everyone knows he’s doing well. All your love and prayers are contributing towards his recovery.” *Not his real name
Pete Mihalik was one of Cape Town’s best criminal lawyers. His clients included gangsters and members of the organised crime underworld.
LEFT and ABOVE: Pete was shot twice in his car by a hitman outside his children’s school. ABOVE RIGHT: The blood-stained bag belonging to Pete’s eight-year-old son. RIGHT: The shooter and his accomplice fled in a silver Polo.
LEFT: Pete and his late wife, Karin, who committed suicide in 2015. RIGHT: Pete was a fantastic father, friends say. After his wife’s death he’d often take extended leave to spend time with his kids.