Johannesburg - The unreliability of a key witness in the case of Northcliff siblings who were brutally tortured and murdered has led to charges being dropped against the suspects.
Kenneth Schroeder and Paul Mundel, friends of Gary Smith, 44, and Karen Buchanan, were arrested in January last year after a five-year investigation into the 2008 incident.
They were charged with rape, being accomplices to rape, kidnapping, robbery with aggravated circumstances, murder, and the unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Their arrests came after Schroeder’s ex-girlfriend spoke to the police about what allegedly happened on that fateful day in March.
She said she had been present when Smith and Buchanan were killed. She became the main witness and was put under witness protection for more than a year.
Schroeder and Mundel, who were both on R15 000 bail, were supposed to go on trial on Monday.
However, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Phindi Louw said charges against them had been withdrawn.
“After in-depth consultation with the main witness, it became apparent that she had become unreliable in her evidence against the accused.
“As a result, there was a severe impact on the prospects of a successful prosecution. Hence further investigations became necessary in order for us to make an informed, final decision,” Louw said.
The news came as a blow to Smith’s former wife * Lynette, who could not stop crying.
Lynette had not been aware the case would no longer proceed until The Star contacted her, and was inconsolable.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe it. How could this happen just before the matter was heard? I am totally devastated for me, my children and father-in-law.
“My son has been badly affected by the murders. He is not the same anymore.
“He is working in America for a year and I was hoping that I would call him and tell him how the case went, and now this.
“This is devastating,” Lynette said.
Smith and Buchanan were bound, gagged, beaten and had their teeth pulled out.
Darts were thrown at Smith and he was also shot in the mouth. Buchanan was stripped, raped and shot in the back of the head.
Their four dogs had apparently tried to protect them, but two were killed and the other two kicked.
Last year, Mundel’s legal representative had characterised Schroeder’s former partner as a scorned lover who was out for revenge.
The NPA does not know whether it will continue with the prosecution, saying there were other witnesses whose versions harmed the prospects of a successful prosecution.
* Not her real name