Triple rape, murder – but no justice

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INLSA

Lydia Michaels, 15, was brave enough to testify despite threats, and shot in the neck and back before the trial. Photo: Supplied

 

Cape Town - A wall of remembrance in Bonteheuwel bearing the name of Lydia Michaels and nine other victims of crime is a reminder of her shocking rape and deliberate murder.

It was a seemingly normal weekday evening in Kalksteenfontein on December 5, 1998, when Lydia, 15, her sister Cheryl, 24, her brother Shaun, 14, and her cousin Lynn, 15, were accosted by a group of men as they walked to the home of Lynn’s mother.

The men tried to grab Lynn, but the children scattered, all running in different directions.

It was only when the others arrived at the home in Rooi Els Avenue that they realised Lydia wasn’t with them.

Recalling the nightmare this week, Lydia’s mother Elizabeth Michaels, 61, said they had thought she must have run to her own home.

Lydia did arrive home some time later, but was distraught. She flopped down on to her bed, telling the family the shocking news – she’d been gang-raped by three men she could name, and whom she knew to be members of the Dixie Boys gang.

The family went to the Bishop Lavis police station immediately to lay a charge. The rape had occurred in a derelict building in the area.

 

Police reacted quickly, arresting the three suspects that same night.

But Lydia’s real nightmare was sadly just beginning – with death threats she received while the three were still behind bars.

 

“They (the suspects) called her from jail to threaten her. Other Dixie Boys saw her in the road and told her to withdraw the case, otherwise she would see what would happen to her,” one of the Lydia’s sisters, Yolande, then 19, recalled.

 

Elizabeth said she had accompanied Lydia to the Bishop Lavis police station to report the threats, “and they said they would see what they could do”.

But the stress was too much for the young teenager and she dropped out of school, “and went outside the house less and less”, her mother said.

 

“She was so scared of walking past the Dixie Boys. She didn’t want to be alone after the rape. We all spoke to her, but she became like a closed book.”

Then, one day, she told her mother she’d had a dream that the gangsters had shot her.

But even then Elizabeth told her: “No, man, don’t worry about things like that.”

 

Two years and three months after the gang rape, the court case was finally placed on the court roll for trial on Thursday, March 22, 2001.

Lydia’s family accompanied her for support. But even though the trial didn’t start on that day, being postponed to November 11 that year, Lydia saw her alleged rapists for the first time since the attack.

“They were staring her down. She started crying from the way one of them looked at her,” said Yolande.

Elizabeth said: “The prosecutor recommended we take Lydia to Rape Crisis because she was so traumatised.

“Lydia told me: ‘I’m going ahead with the court case, Mommy. I’m not just going to leave it’.”

The following day Lydia accompanied her five-year-old niece Shandré to Rosewood crèche – and it was as she was returning that her dream proved prescient.

About 40m from her home, a man believed to be a Dixie Boys gang member, his face covered, shot her in the back and neck.

 

“We heard the shots and my husband said: ‘I wonder who they’re shooting.’

“One of my neighbours ran up to us and said she saw Lydia fall. The neighbour told us: ‘They just shot Muis (Lydia’s nickname)’.

“We ran outside and saw her lying there. She was dead,” Elizabeth said, clearly still struggling to find peace after more than a decade.

“It was so sad. It’s still so sore. We all loved her so much. It’s so long ago that it happened, but we won’t forget.”

 

The three rape suspects, as well as a murder suspect arrested shortly after Lydia’s murder, were all freed because of a lack of evidence.

Next Sunday it will be exactly 13 years since her daughter died, Elizabeth said, yet the men responsible, including the three rapists, remain free.

“She was a beautiful child with good manners. She wanted to do modelling and she would have been good at it. She cut her own hair and enjoyed doing her hair.

“I still have the long mirror she used. I tell the children: ‘Don’t break this mirror. It’s Lydia’s mirror’,” Elizabeth said.

 

Hundreds of mourners attended Lydia’s funeral ,and Rape Crisis co-ordinator Benita Moolman brought the family letters of support from all over the world, including the US and Japan.

Former Bishop Lavis community policing forum head Ghairoonisha Cupido recalled the shocked reaction at the time to how the gang had “managed to quieten her so that she wouldn’t give evidence in court”.

Cupido recalled how community members had gathered with candles at the place where Lydia was murdered to hold a night prayer meeting.

She gave a speech during a march attended by about 400 people in Lydia’s honour in Bonteheuwel.

 

When Elizabeth thinks of her daughter, she said, “I often think the police should have placed her in safe custody until the rapists were found guilty and sent to jail.

“Then she might have still lived. They took her life because they didn’t want to go to jail. And in the end, nobody paid for what they did to her.”

 

henriette.geldenhuys@inl.co.za

Weekend Argus


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