Mys­tery of the girl who van­ished 45 years ago:

Friends still won­der what hap­pened to stu­dent in Knysna

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Yolande Stander

MOST mem­o­ries fade with time but 45 years have not di­min­ished the image etched into the minds of those who crossed paths with the strik­ing 20-year-old drama stu­dent who mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared in the Knysna for­est in the late 1960s.

To those who knew Ros­alind Ballingall, the pic­ture of the beau­ti­ful, red-headed “hip­pie chick” in the univer­sity cafe­te­ria or the tall, slen­der stranger walk­ing along the N2 re­mains as clear as it did so many years ago.

On Au­gust 11 1969 Ballingall – then a sec­ond-year drama stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) – dis­ap­peared with­out a trace near Fisan­thoek, Kn­syna.

Fel­low stu­dents and ac­quain­tances said she had vis­ited the Gar­den Route with two friends for a long week­end to spend time at a lo­cal hip­pie spot and drug hang­out, the Sugar House. The story goes that one day she went for a walk in the for­est, car­ry­ing a Bi­ble, be­fore van­ish­ing. She was only re­ported miss­ing more than 24 hours later and search ef­forts be­came nearly im­pos­si­ble af­ter heavy rains washed away any tracks that could have helped to trace her.

The case made front-page head­lines across the coun­try – not only be­cause she was the daugh­ter of a min­ing mag­nate, but also be­cause of the mys­te­ri­ous snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing the young woman and her dis­ap­pear­ance.

It was said that she had been part of a cult called the Cos­mic But­ter­fly and that she had at­tended a drug party in the for­est be­fore she went miss­ing.

This led to sev­eral the­o­ries over the years, in­clud­ing that she lost her way in the dense Knysna for­est af­ter a drug binge or that she was ac­ci­den­tally killed dur­ing a drug orgy. Oth­ers have even gone as far as claim­ing that her dis­ap­pear­ance was linked to an alien ab­duc­tion or witch­craft, while some be­lieve she got caught up in a lethal love tri­an­gle or was at­tacked by an­i­mals.

These the­o­ries were fu­elled even fur­ther with re­ports of her later be­ing spot­ted in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try and abroad.

Apart from a search party comb­ing through the area where she had been seen be­fore van­ish­ing, clair­voy­ants were also called in to solve the mys­tery and the case was re-in­ves­ti­gated sev­eral times over the years.

To this day, how­ever, no one is any closer to find­ing out what hap­pened to her. Those close to her at the time, or who had first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of that long week­end have ei­ther since died or moved abroad.

But one friend of the miss­ing stu­dent, Robert Greig, still has a yearn­ing for an­swers.

“When I was 13, grow­ing up in Jo­han­nes­burg, I was at a pri­vate board­ing school in KwaZu­luNatal and we used to party with girls from Roedean School dur­ing the hol­i­days. That was when I met Ros. She was tall and ex­u­ber­ant and we formed a re­la­tion­ship. She wrote to me at school for about a year; we drifted apart . . . she was charis­matic and great fun,” Greig said.

In the late 1990s at the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val in Gra­ham­stown, how­ever, Greig was shocked to find out that she had dis­ap­peared. “I watched a doc­u­men­tary film made by a UCT grad­u­ate about her dis­ap­pear­ance, and found my­self in tears.”

To find clo­sure and keep her mem­ory alive at the same time, he wrote a novel based on her af­ter re­dis­cov­er­ing the let­ters they had ex­changed.

“What I wrote was a fic­tional imag­in­ing of what hap­pened, though bol­stered by in­ter­views with com­mon friends some from Roedean. I linked her dis­ap­pear­ance to stu­dent ac­tivism at UCT in the late ’60s – the Mafeje sit-in – and the drug/hip­pie cul­ture of the time.”

He said two things emerged from in­ter­views for the book. “One was that no one knew what had hap­pened, so this was a breed­ing ground for con­spir­acy the­o­ries. I sup­pose my novel was part of that. The other was the ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of pub­lic in­ter­est, peo­ple mass­ing to help search for a trace of her in the for­est. It was al­most as if some col­lec­tive mourn­ing was in­volved, some sense of col­lec­tive loss . . .”

He said it was very dif­fi­cult to for­get some­one if there was no ex­pla­na­tion for their dis­ap­pear­ance.

An ex­pat, who did not want to be named, is also still find­ing it dif­fi­cult to for­get.

On the day Ballingall dis­ap­peared, the woman and her boyfriend at the time were trav­el­ling along the N2 be­tween Port El­iz­a­beth and Knysna when they spot­ted two peo­ple – a tall red-headed woman and a slen­der blond man – walk­ing along the N2. “Maybe two or three days later the story of Ros­alind go­ing miss­ing was in all the pa­pers. From the de­scrip­tion given of her, I am cer­tain she was the girl we saw on the road. My boyfriend agreed and we both agreed that we should give a state­ment to the po­lice.”

But the fol­low­ing day news­pa­per re­ports sug­gested Ros had been spot­ted in Ge­orge. “We de­cided that there was there­fore no point in mak­ing the state­ment.”

A few days later, how­ever, the woman re­ceived a let­ter from Ballingall’s fam­ily in­quir­ing about the sight­ing. At the same time news­pa­per re­ports dis­cred­ited the Ge­orge sight­ing. “Af­ter that I don’t re­call see­ing any fur­ther cov­er­age in the news­pa­pers. I shrugged and got on with my life. But, of course, I re­main con­vinced that it was Ros­alind we saw that af­ter­noon and that she was with an equally strik­ing blond man.”

No one ever fol­lowed up on her re­port. “I find it very hard to be­lieve that the Ballingalls would spend their for­tune con­sult­ing psy­chics and so forth, with­out fol­low­ing gen­uine leads that they them­selves had un­cov­ered. It just doesn’t fly.”

The woman, who now lives in the UK, said this made her be­lieve that Ballingall’s dis­ap­pear­ance was some form of “cover up” and that she could have been in­volved in anti-govern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

The sight­ing of Ballingall on the N2 sparked the in­ter­est of Gar­den Route lo­cal Paul Scheep­ers, who also crossed paths with Ballingall at UCT. “We shared the same cafe­te­ria and I re­call see­ing this tall, good-look­ing chick with long hippy dresses down to the ground.” All the ques­tions sur­round­ing her dis­ap­pear­ance urged him to find an­swers, in­clud­ing con­vinc­ing lo­cal rangers to search the edge of the for­est along the N2. He has also been in con­tact with oth­ers who knew her .

“When the doc­u­men­tary was made, none of those who were there would say a word about what hap­pened . . . If we can find her body, it will put her soul at rest,” he said.

WAIT­ING IN VAIN: Ros­alind Ballingall’s mother, with her daugh­ter’s dog, pic­tured here af­ter Ros­alind’s dis­ap­pear­ance in 1969, waited con­stantly by her phone, hop­ing to hear news of her daugh­ter

MYS­TE­RI­OUS DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE: Ros­alind Ballingall, a 20-year-old univer­sity stu­dent, went miss­ing in the Knysna for­est 45 years ago this month. No trace of her has ever been found

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.