Petition to reopen Van Rooyen killings case
‘Parents want to know where six girls are’
THIRTY years ago, the last of Gert van Rooyen’s six known victims disappeared.
Thirteen-year-old Yolanda Wessels, niece of Van Rooyen’s partner, Joey Haarhoff, was last seen on November 3, 1989, and since then both the police and armchair sleuths have tried to establish what happened to Wessels and the other five girls.
Over the last three decades it has become perhaps South Africa’s most notorious cold case and now, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the case, an unusual initiative has been launched to pressurise the police into finding the girls.
An online petition has called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to appoint a new investigating officer to the case.
“We demand that the parents get answers. Many people have fractured information and it is time that we get an investigating officer who can put these puzzle pieces together and give these ageing parents peace of mind,” the petition says.
It was started on January 2, on the website Petitions24, and by Thursday, 629 people had signed it.
While it hasn’t garnered a lot of support as yet, criminologist Professor Rudolph Zinn of Unisa believes it could have an influence on the case.
“What it should achieve, at least, is for the commissioner to look into the merits of what people are saying, to find out if this investigator is not doing what he is supposed to do, if he is not giving feedback to the families.
“If found to be reasonable, then he can change the investigator. That is fairly normal practice in the police,” Zinn said. The creator of the petition, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she plans to send it to Cele, once there are enough signatures.
She did not say how many needed to be collected before the decision would be made to forward the petition.
Zinn adds that while the SAPS doesn’t have a dedicated cold case investigative units, as in some other countries, the procedure is for older cases to be periodically reviewed.
“A murder case that is not solved remains open forever. These open cases are supposed to be brought forward and this is usually done on a yearly basis, but in practice it is (done in a) three- to five-year period.
“The investigator will then look at the case docket again and follow up new leads,” Zinn said.
Van Rooyen, a builder, was believed to have abducted the girls between August 1, 1988, and November 3, 1989, and was thought to have used Haarhoff to approach the girls.
On January 11, 1990 Haarhoff abducted 16-year-old Joan Booysen and took her to Van Rooyen’s house in Pretoria.
Booysen later escaped and alerted the police, and when Van Rooyen discovered his intended victim had escaped, he shot and killed Haarhoff, before killing himself.
Since then, the search has tried to find where Van Rooyen dumped the bodies of his victims. In June 2017, SAPS forensic investigators excavated a number of sites around Blythedale Beach, north of Durban, where it was suspected that the victims were buried.
Van Rooyen was known to have spent his final holiday in the vicinity.
As the decades pass, the chances of locating the girls grows slimmer, but some believe there is hope that the case can be solved.
A private investigator who has solved cold cases believes old-fashioned detective work could point to where the girls are.
The PI, who prefers to remain anonymous, says, “you have to start from scratch; you would start with getting the dockets (and) getting the statements taken back then”.
“You would build up a timeline and an organogram on each child.”
It is an investigation, he says, that would include a detailed examination of the lives of Van Rooyen and Haarhoff, “that Van Rooyen was a builder – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist as to where to start with the investigation”. “Those girls have got to be somewhere.”
Joey Haarhof and Gert van Rooyen