The Herald (South Africa)
Widow, 85, strangled in security complex
Hunt on for three suspects after early morning attack
AN ELDERLY widow living in one of Port Elizabeth’s most popular retirement villages is believed to have been suffocated in a botched house robbery during the early hours yesterday.
Hazel Huggins, 85, was killed inside her Kruger Gardens cottage in Summerstrand some time between midnight and 7am.
Her body was found on the floor of her unit by an on-site nurse after staff and residents became worried when Huggins did not show up at a meeting point for a planned outing to Bushmans River.
By 8am the usually peaceful Admiralty Way complex, which is known for its tight security, was swarming with police and forensic experts.
The specialist K9 unit was also called in to help gather evidence and locate any tracks. No arrests have been made but three men captured on CCTV camera may have been involved.
Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll confirmed a cloth was found near the victim’s head and that it, along with her clothing, had been sent for forensic testing to determine if semen was present.
“We are, however, awaiting both the forensic and postmortem results to determine the exact cause of death,” he said. “At this stage we cannot confirm rape but this is why we have sent the items for testing. The cloth found near her head is believed to have been used during the attack.
“On examination of her body there were no visible wounds.” Koll said a team of detectives had been assigned to investigate the case and were following up leads.
However, another officer on the scene, who asked not to be named, said traces of what appeared to be semen were found inside her cottage.
“It looks like she was gagged, strangled and suffocated,” the officer added.
Other officers at the scene confirmed that from about midnight they had chased suspected criminals jumping over walls in surrounding streets.
“Footprints were found around the scene and it appears there were two attackers,” one officer said. “The victim’s hands were bound together and a packet was placed over her head, presumably to keep her quiet.”
Shocked senior citizens walked around the complex after receiving a written note from Echo Foundation chief executive Ken Keen stating: “It is with extreme sadness that we have to report Ms Hazel Huggins, of Kruger Gardens, was attacked in her cottage . . . she was tied up, and as a result was found deceased.”
Kruger Gardens has 135 cottages and is owned and managed by the Echo Foundation.
“We are all devastated,” Keen told Weekend Post. “We’ve spent R2.5-million on security over the past three years and these criminals still get in. I
really do not know what else we can do.” Keen said CCTV cameras had captured footage of three men running past the front of the complex just after midnight.
It is suspected the attackers gained entry by scaling the electric fence at the front.
“The fence alarm did activate and our guard and his dog investigated together with Atlas Security, but found nothing.”
Atlas Security operations manager Monty Montgomery confirmed the alarm activation was received, and responded to, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.
Huggins moved to Kruger Gardens about a year ago from The Beaches in Humewood after her husband – a former doctor at Elizabeth Donkin Psychiatric Hospital – died. She had been chairwoman of the apartment block’s body corporate.
Long-time friend Mavis Wagener, who had lived at The Beaches with her, said she tried to call Huggins after hearing about an attack at the retirement village.
“As soon as I heard I called her and the police answered. I am still so shocked,” she said.
“I knew her for 18 years and she was such a lovely and outgoing woman. She was never sick and extremely active.”
Kruger Gardens residents described Huggins as “a nice woman with high spirts and loved by everyone”.
“She lived across from me and I always used to chat to her.
“She was a lovely lady,” a tearful resident, who declined to be named, said.
Another said his dog “went crazy” just after midnight, but that nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said Huggins was found dead on her bedroom floor with her hands tied together. “The cottage had been ransacked, making it difficult to see what had been taken.
“From what we can ascertain the suspects gained entry through the back door which they forced open.”
Labans said police were waiting for Huggins’s daughter to fly in from Johannesburg to help ascertain if anything was missing from the cottage.
The last attack at a retirement home in Port Elizabeth was in December last year, when a woman at Duncan Ferguson Park, about 2km from Kruger Gardens and also managed by the Echo Foundation, was robbed.
The woman, who was not injured, woke up after two men entered her cottage.
They bound her hands, ransacked the cottage and fled with jewellery and cash.