Watch the Sitholes every Thursday at 17h30 on e.tv
The scene was grotesque enough to haunt his dreams, said the man who had seen a woman’s body which looked like it had been chopped up before being put in a cardboard box.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when Lawrence Hlongwane accompanied his friend Mlungisi Ngcobo to Osindisweni hospital mortuary near Verulam last week.
Ngcobo had come to see his girlfriend’s body, which was being kept there after she died at the hospital in the adjoining building.
But while the men were waiting to be attended to at the mortuary, the already sombre setting was about to turn bloody and a lot more shocking.
A police van arrived and a policeman got out and dropped off a brown cardboard box in front of the mortuary’s doors, before leaving.
When blood started seeping out of the box, Hlongwane and Ngcobo went over to investigate.
“I was shocked beyond belief,” Hlongwane said.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life. She was barely recognisable.
“It’s like I can still sense the terrible smell. It followed me home.”
Whose beloved mother, daughter or sister was she? If she was murdered, then why was she killed in such a savage manner? Who were her killers? What did her face look like when she smiled? Where exactly did the police find her? Did her killer/s or the police put her body in the box? What kind of society metes out such extreme brutality to its women, the life givers, the bedrock of our existence?
In a quest to find some answers, I turned to unofficial channels – as official channels are often clogged by bureaucracy, which means information can be hidden, watered down or, at best, delayed.
So I called some police deep throats; then a well-connected old college friend who lives in the Verulam/Ndwedwe area; then Osindisweni’s hospital public relations officer. They all knew nothing of the mysterious body.
I even called Subry Govender, a retired journalist and community activist who still has strong links to Verulam. Neither he nor the others had heard anything about such a murder or the discovery of a body.
So, off I went to Osindisweni.
At the mortuary, a man at the front desk pleaded ignorance about my enquiry as he hadn’t been on duty at the weekend. He called his superior, who checked her records. There was no entry about a dismembered body being admitted on Sunday. Nothing.
“If there was such a body, it would have to be taken to Phoenix mortuary,” she said. “But check with Verulam police.”
My trip to Verulam police station was to prove just as futile. None of the officers – from the front desk all the way to Lieutenant Colonel Rona Bleakley and her detectives – knew anything.
In desperation, I called provincial police spokes-man Colonel Vincent Mdunge, asking him to help me find some answers.
Even gung-ho Verulam crime fighter and security company owner Prem Balram, whom I bumped into on my way out, had no clue. Instead, his lament was about a shoot-out the night before in which two of his guards were badly wounded by criminals.
I called Hlongwane and Ngcobo again to quiz them further on what they’d seen. They were adamant it was no mirage.
“I saw the body with my own eyes,” said Ngcobo. Hlongwane said, “Now that I think about it, I should have taken pictures with my phone. It was just very unexpected.”
The men say that when they left the mortuary, the body was still there.
At Phoenix mortuary, death is such good business that numerous funeral parlour operators have set up shop directly opposite the entrance.
Inside, a woman was at first reluctant to help, but relented after some gentle persuasion.
Taking me into an office, she said: “If you had come in your personal capacity, if you were a relative, I’d be able to help you. But you’re a journalist. I will get fired if I speak to you. Just wait here,” she said.
She returned after a moment. “There is a body that matches that description. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Really?” I asked. “What’s her name? Have any relatives come forward?”
But she was having none of it. As I tried to question her further, she said, “You must go to Verulam and speak to the investigating officer there.”
“See, now you’re being a typical journalist. I told you I can’t speak to you. Go.” She turned and walked away.
Back at the office, I called Mdunge again. No news. I then called provincial commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni, asking her to deploy her husband, Phoenix SAPS commander Lucas Ngobeni, to check for the body at the mortuary. She obliged, and so did he.
A call came from Mdunge: “The station commander at Phoenix has gone himself to check. There is no body. Commissioner Ngobeni herself has even checked with the cluster commander for that area. There is no such body.”
But the woman at the Phoenix mortuary said a body existed that matched the description, I protested.
“We have checked… it doesn’t exist.”
So, where is the mysterious body? Who is she and how did she die? - Tribune