Cape Town – On Tuesday morning I went to 23 Pluto Street, Salberau, as I have done every day for 13 days to speak to the family of Courtney Pieters, three, who disappeared on 4 May and was found murdered, dumped on an open field in Bofors Circle, Epping Industria, nine days later.
As a rule, I try not to feel anything while interviewing victims or their families. On this story, it has been a nearly impossible task for me.
This little Cape Flats girl’s death has affected me deeply. Maybe it’s because I am a mother, or simply because I have a heart.
I cannot sleep, knowing this girl died and I feel partially responsible because maybe if I had written a better story or asked the right people the right questions, she might have been found alive.
On Tuesday’s visit, as I stepped into the home of this little girl, I froze at the door.
The smell of death hung in the air. The eight people in the lounge – tenants, family and neighbours – were seated or cleaning, and looked at my now familiar face.
There was an overwhelming stench in the dilapidated double-storey maisonette house.
Could this fridge be the place where the suspect kept Courtney, dead or alive, for a number of days under the same roof her parents came back to after searching for their daughter? Picture: Ayanda Ndamane
I couldn’t hide the look of disgust on my face quickly enough, however, and the ladies looked at me apologetically, saying “sorry, ons wiet dit stink”.
A grimy white door to the right of the entrance is shut. It’s HIS room. Mortimer Saunders, 40, the son of a priest, father of a little girl across the road, who played with Courtney almost daily.
A decent man by all accounts, respected and trusted. He is now labelled a murderer by all in the house where he has lived for three or so years.
The smell makes me gag, but I still request permission to see the room suspected to be the place Courtney was kept dead or alive, possibly for days, while her family searched for her.
The room has been cleaned with Jeyes fluid. A mattress is propped up against a wall, the floor is bare cement.
There are black bags, a TV and a dirty old fridge. It is so quiet, when you walk in, you can hear the fridge buzzing.
My eye catches liquid dripping from the bottom of the fridge, red drops – I count one every few seconds – falling into a red puddle.
Blood, not a big deal. This happens every time I forget to buy electricity. I reach, hand wrapped in my jersey, my stomach threatening to come out through my mouth.
The bottom section of the double-door Defy fridge is a freezer. There is nothing inside but a tin of pineapple pieces and pools of blood.
It seemed to be working just fine. The frozen meat was solid in the top section, so where did the blood come from?
That’s when I turned and walked out of the house, unable to stomach the room. Why did nobody search the house? I keep asking myself.
Saunders had hugged and comforted, even cried with Juanita Pieters. He was a pillar to the family and even to me as a concerned stranger when I visited the despairing family.
I had felt if ever anything happened to one of my kids, I would want such a kind person around me. Outside the house, I could still taste death. It clinged to me, cold, like that room.
I was speechless when my editor asked me to “make a video of the smell in that room”, now I cannot get rid of it. A memorial service is planned for Thursday at the Elsies River Hall in Halt Road.
Everyone is invited to pay their respects to Courtney, perhaps gain some peace as well. Me, I hope she gets justice, her parents find peace, and for the scent to leave me.