Bones: Son's story key to riddle?

A sworn statement, written off by police at the time, could take on a whole new meaning with the recent discovery of bones locked in a sandy grave at Umdloti.

It states that not two, but three and possibly four schoolgirls, kidnapped by paedophile Gert van Rooyen 19 years ago, may be buried under the sand dunes at Umdloti.

A fourth girl was murdered because Van Rooyen "didn't trust her" and buried with the other three at Umdloti.

As I followed the case at the time, going back through the files I found a document that was never published, as there were no facts to corroborate what was then simply hearsay.

The sworn statement was given to police and a copy of it sent to the Tribune by a parent of one of the missing children. It was by a fellow inmate of Gert's son Flippie at Weskoppies Hospital, a Pretoria mental hospital, in September 1991.

It describes in "disturbing" detail revelations made by Flippie about his supposed involvement in the disposal of three children's bodies at Umdloti.

Dismissed at the time by police as a "pack of lies", the statement gives an account of Van Rooyen's travels to Umdloti to "bury" children.

The document relates how Flippie accompanied his father to Umdloti on two occasions. He describes that while he remained at a local hotel, his father went to bury the three bodies "onder die duine" (under the dunes).

'Serum test'

The author of the document, Johannes Petrus van der Merwe of Schoeman Street, Pretoria, said that he became acquainted with Flippie at Weskoppies where he (Flippie) had been referred by the court for mental observation following the murder of a black teenager in Messina.

In the document, Van der Merwe states that Flippie was in the room next to his. "We spent many hours together," he wrote, "And got to know each other very well."

He said that Flippie came to trust him and told him everything about his case. He also said that Van Rooyen's son was apprehensive of being subjected to a so-called "serum test", fearing that he would reveal information relating to his involvement in the disappearance of five young girls at the hands of his late father.

The document reads, "Flippie van Rooyen gave me to understand that he was involved in the killing and disappearance of five young white girls and should he take the test, he could be charged with the murder and disappearance of these girls".

Among the things that Flippie allegedly told Van der Merwe was that he had been "concerned with his father in the burial of the five girls".

Van der Merwe said Flippie "strongly denied that he had anything to do with the killing, but he did know they had been killed by his father and by his Aunt Joey (Haarhoff)".

According to the document, Flippie said that his father had told him of the fourth killing and how this body, too, was buried with the other three in the same place.

It is believed that the police dismissed this document because of the apparent contradictions and the vagueness of the actual location, which made it impossible to launch a meaningful search.

A criminologist who examined the Weskoppies document for the Tribune at the time said that it was likely to be a truthful retelling by Van der Merwe of what had been divulged to him by Flippie van Rooyen.

Among other factors, he based this on the inclusion of "seemingly obscure details" which, in his opinion, would not be there if the person was being untruthful.

While the police dismissed the account, the Tribune visited the last location linked to Gert van Rooyen and conducted its own search. Those involved in this ad hoc search were Jeanette Bennett, now of the Sunday Times, Independent Newspapers photographer Sherelee Clark and myself. We went equipped with spades and shovels.

The Umdloti house, which still stands, was dark and dingy. It appeared that children had been there at some time because there was child-like graffiti on the outside walls.

We also found an A surrounded by a circle in a cupboard. We wondered if the A could possibly have been the initial of one of the children. But flights of fancy and conspiracy are likely to abound in these circumstances. We dug for a day, but found nothing.

What we didn't realise at the time - which was then two years after the last disappearance - was that a tarred road, now gouged away by the storms and high tides, had been constructed in the interim. It is where the bones were discovered, which is now the subject of speculation that this is the burial site of some of the missing schoolgirls.