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A payment dispute may have led to the abduction, beating and eventual murder of waitress Tandiwe “Betty” Khethani, the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court heard on Monday.
And, in an affidavit submitted to the court, it is alleged that the daughter of the owner of the popular Rosebank restaurant where she worked may have been involved in plotting and committing the murder. And the police are still searching for other possible suspects in the 13-year-old slaying, including Monique Lamkis, whose father Eric owns the Thai fusion restaurant Cranks.
A letter found at a home in Kenilworth, Joburg, linked the six men and the restaurateur’s daughter to a spree of violent abductions and Khethani’s murder.
According to the letters, which were read aloud in court on Monday, in May 1999, the 37-year-old waitress was kidnapped and shot in the head before being dumped in Walkerville. She survived and was taken to a Vereeniging hospital.
The letters indicate that once the group of men realised they had botched the hit, they forged medical documents to kidnap Khethani again from the hospital, brazenly pushing her out of the hospital in a wheelchair as they pretended to transfer her to another facility.
It was reported that she had died either from the shock of the second kidnapping, or from being suffocated after tape had been placed over her mouth and nose.
Her body was then entombed in concrete at the same home where the confessions were discovered, and later moved to a dumping site in Booysens. However, after the murder, several of the men involved terrorised employees at the restaurant where Khethani worked. They allegedly abducted and beat anyone they thought might have had information on her murder, according to documents.
Khethani’s brother Ronnie said in an affidavit that his sister had revealed in her last conversation with him that she was in a steadily intensifying payment dispute with her employers.
But at Monday’s bail application for five of the six men, the man who the police believe had written the confession letter, Carrington Laughton, denied ever writing the confession or having anything to do with the murder or abduction of the mother-of-three.
Now it will be up to police forensics to determine if other samples of his handwriting match that on the incriminating, signed letter.
Two of the men allegedly involved were given bail on Monday.
Laughton appeared alongside five alleged accomplices in the murder – Conway Brown, Carel and David Ranger, Paul Toff-Nielsen and Dirk Reyneke. While all six were set to apply for bail on Monday morning, Brown withdrew his decision to apply after submitting a written confession.
However, in their own affidavits submitted to the court, Toff-Nielsen and Reyneke said they had been involved only in 2004
– and they had helped to move and hide the victim’s remains.
Toff-Nielsen and Reyneke were granted bail of R20 000 on Monday.
Toff-Nielsen had previously been convicted of possession of dagga.
Reyneke, who was arrested only on June 1, after he was pointed out during an identity parade, had no previous convictions.
Laughton had a previous conviction for perjury in 2003, for which he was given a year’s suspended sentence.
Judgment on the bail applications of the other three men is set down for Tuesday.
In their statements, the Ranger brothers, both police officers at the time, admitted they had driven Khethani from the hospital after they had been asked to by Laughton, but denied involvement or knowledge of the murder or the disposal of the body.
According to their statements, Khethani had not objected to being booked out of the Vereeniging hospital and the men had dropped her off with a relative.
All six men face charges of murder, kidnapping, assault and theft.
Khethani’s family have agonised over her whereabouts for 13 years. But in a surprise development in April, they were finally told by police that bones discovered in Booysens might belong to their long-lost sister.
The family had searched up and down for Khethani, but the trail went cold.
Police investigations had come to a standstill for more than 10 years, until the renovations were carried out and a body was found.