Cop killer suspect’s Cape scams

iol pic sa PN Officer Ben Strydom 106 Independent Newspapers Police reservist Anta Oberholster lays flowers at a cross erected in memory of slain police detective Ben Strydom. Pictures: Oupa Mokoena

Cape Town - A suspect under police guard in hospital after a popular Joburg detective was gunned down could be the same man wanted in the Western Cape for several travel fraud cases - some nearly a decade old.

Police detective Ben Strydom was killed when he tried to arrest the man, Hendrick Jacobus Wright.

Police spokeswoman Mirna von Benecke told Beeld newspaper that Wright was under police guard at Steve Biko Academic Hospital after shooting himself.

Gauteng police spokeswoman Augustinah Selepe said Strydom and his partner approached a 64-year-old man wanted for fraud in Montana Park, Pretoria on Thursday morning.

When the man saw the police, he tried to flee, but Strydom caught him. The man allegedly drew a firearm and shot Strydom before running off.

He later turned the gun on himself.

Wright allegedly used several aliases. According to an anonymous source, these included Kobus Wright, the name of the former owner of Shamwari Tours, a company which fraudulently offered luxury train trips to Namibia, Botswana and other African countries.

Wright previously ran several tourism companies which operated under different names including Shamwari Tours, Setimela Rail, Albatros Toere and Zambesi Toere.

Eight years ago, he allegedly offered luxury train trips to Namibia through Shamwari Tours and demanded payment upfront.

Victims included Willie and Iris Stevens of Penlyn Estate who paid R17 000 for their dream trip only to have it cancelled a week before the departure date.

At the time, Wright blamed the cancellation on Spoornet, but it said it was Wright who had cancelled a trip for 130 people.

Shamwari Game Park, which was not affiliated with Wright’s company, said at the time the only knowledge they had of Shamwari Tours was that their reservation department was inundated with calls from people demanding refunds for cancelled trips.

This modus operandi was allegedly repeated several times as Wright disappeared or refused to refund deposits after cancellations.

Several tourism companies and websites posted warnings about Wright, who, according to an ex-employee, left “a trail of outraged customers, unpaid bills, unrefunded clients, unpaid wages and cancelled tours”.

Selepe said Wright was in hospital in a critical but stable condition.

“The man will appear in court as soon as he is well and will face a charge of murder and three of attempted murder,” she said.

His wife has also been arrested and will appear in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of fraud.

Meanwhile, an emotional Madeleine Strydom, 42, said she could not believe her husband of 22 years was gone.

She said she did not want to believe that he had been killed when she received the news of the shooting from her brother-in-law.

“I was just hoping and wishing that we would find him at a hospital, not a mortuary,” she said.

Madeleine said the last time they communicated was over BBM when Ben told her that he had dropped off their son’s application for high school. “It was a normal morning, he made coffee and I helped Dreyden, our son, prepare for school. I did not think something like this would have happened,” she said.

She was very concerned about their son, who was shattered.

“Ben was his hero. He looked up to Ben and idolised him. Dreyden is not taking the sudden loss of his father well,” she said.

Speaking to sister newspaper Pretoria News at the Sinoville Police Station’s crisis centre yesterday where Strydom was stationed, Madeleine said her husband’s team members were crushed. “I spoke to one of them and he was completely devastated.”

Well wishers and colleagues could be seen placing flowers with messages next to a cross at the back of the police station. On the cross was a photograph of Strydom in uniform.

Police spokeswoman Mirna von Benecke said Strydom was a brilliant officer and a good friend.

“He always wanted to lift people’s spirits. Always joking around,” she said.

“He left a huge void in our lives and we will always miss him,” Von Benecke said.

- Saturday Argus


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