Durban - Incredible as it might seem, a Durban architect and fitness enthusiast has apprehended no fewer than 20 criminals in the decade he has lived in Glenwood. That averages about two a year, representing more encounters with thugs than most of us hope to log in a lifetime.
Perhaps his record is less surprising when one considers that this is a man whose idea of taking a holiday is trekking on foot across the icy wastes of Alaska, pulling a sled laden with twice his body weight in supplies.
William Vermaak, who now runs a business specialising in state-of-the-art outdoor sports equipment, is adamant that he is not going to bow to housebreakers who attempt to help themselves to his and his neighbours’ belongings.
“I’m proactive because I believe we need to shake criminals out of their comfort zone and show them we will not put up with being preyed upon,” he told the Sunday Tribune.
It helps that Vermaak is super-fit from a daily regime of punishing workouts and competitive cycling – an attribute that has seen him outrun and bring to book more than his share of fleeing miscreants over the years.
His most recent “run in” with thieves occurred last Saturday morning, but had its precursor in two separate incidents eight months ago. Vermaak is convinced he has been targeted by the same criminal network three times. Their hoped-for haul? Top-of-the-range bicycles worth tens of thousands.
Two weeks before Easter, Vermaak was woken at 6.45am when the alarm in his home gym was activated. He dashed outside and immediately noticed one of the windows to the gym had been broken. Chubb Security arrived moments later.
“As [Chubb] were leaving, my wife, Margie, yelled: ‘A man just jumped out of the window.’
“He must have hidden… under the table tennis table.”
Vermaak set off in hot pursuit as the burglar leaped from one property to the next, eventually making his escape.
Exactly two weeks later, and at precisely the same time, Vermaak’s alarm was again activated in the gym. Peering through the window he saw that the two racing bicycles were already off their stands. This time he had his strategy prepared, though. Instead of storming into the room, Vermaak yelled to his wife: “It’s too late, he got away,” and pretended to return indoors. Instead he flung on a pair of shorts and trainers, and shot back outside.
“A man in a black shirt with an afro was flattened against the wall in the access lane and the other, whom I recognised from before, was getting the more expensive of the two bikes out of the window. The thief looked me straight in the eye. ‘Now I’ve got you,’ I thought. He dived through the window to escape, leaving the bike dangling.”
An epic battle ensued, which saw the men wrestling, falling into the pool, fighting their way out and then Vermaak trying to pull the intruder back as he launched himself over the garden gate. The man tore off down the lane, and Vermaak ran in another direction to head him off.
“As I reached the end of the road the police had arrived, but they were taking their time. I shot past them down Moore Road, and one cop ran to catch up. The thief went over the gate of a block of flats just as the cop fired a warning shot, grazing his head.
“‘It’s okay, we’ve got him cornered,’ he said, but I know the area like the back of my hand and I knew this guy wasn’t going to give up. I dashed around the block into Bulwer Road and caught him as he climbed over the back wall.”
The man was imprisoned and scheduled to make his first court appearance, but Vermaak was still not going to be given peace of mind.
“I couldn’t believe it when he was offered eight months in jail or R2 000 bail. The cop explained the system to me: basically these guys buy an address in jail, so the judge will set them free on bail because they’ve got a fixed residence. A woman then comes to court and pretends to be the mother, and swears she’ll keep an eye on her son. As soon as he gets bail, he’s off again.”
Evidently the thief couldn’t raise the bail money, because exactly eight months had elapsed when, on Saturday morning last week, Vermaak’s alarm went off for the third time.
When he reached the gym the two racing bikes had been stolen. Without wasting a second, he ran at full tilt down Moore Road, and then along the boundary of his property.
Vermaak saw one of the men pass the more expensive bike to another over a garden wall. He passed a cluster of metro policemen enjoying breakfast from the Spar, but didn’t have time to fill them in. When the penny dropped, they drove their van around Vermaak’s property without getting out of the vehicle, and then drove off.
“By now I realised one of the guys I was after was the same one from before. He had the scar from the policeman’s bullet on his forehead. A cop car pulled up and I jumped in, then we were off again.”
One of the men was cornered in the loading bays at the Spar, and arrested by security guards. Vermaak and another guard ran the other to ground on the corner of Hunt and Moore roads.
“If the cops had come back the next day and taken fingerprints at the gym, as they said they would, we could have linked this guy to the previous crimes and put him away for a good stretch,” says Vermaak. “They haven’t come all week though, and the heavy rain will have destroyed most, if not all, of the evidence.”
Even after his latest feat, the homegrown hero doesn’t think he’s anyone out of the ordinary.
“I refuse to secure my house until it looks like a prison. I am just doing what a man has to do when the police fail to keep his home and his life secure.”
Vermaak said he had been approached many times to join the Glenwood Community Policing Forum and other ratepayer bodies.
“I say no, because I pay my taxes so I can sleep securely at night. I shouldn’t have to do the work my taxes are already paying others to do on my behalf.”