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The long grass hides the cross from the road. Plastic flowers that have fallen off lay in the black ash covering the sand. It was here that the burnt body of a 16-year-old girl, Micaela Manneson, lay for six weeks before she was discovered by the Eldorado Park community.
In that time her family had searched all over for her, and were told repeatedly that their daughter had run away from them and would be found in a drug house.
Instead, she became the victim of rapist-turned-murderer. And the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime is her brother-in-law.
Now her family wants to know how much work police did on Micaela’s case.
They want to know:
l Why did police treat Micaela’s case as a runaway and not as something more sinister?
l Why the family had to search for her on their own when tips about her whereabouts had been given to the police?
l Why was her body found by the community and not the police?
l Why was the main suspect arrested by the community?
l Why was the main suspect not arrested when there were other charges opened against him?
l Why was the main witness, who has disappeared, not arrested as an accomplice?
Ellen Manneson last saw her daughter on December 6, last year.
Micaela was going to a party with her cousins and Manneson called her at 7.30pm to find out when she was coming home. She told her mom that she would be sleeping at her aunt’s house.
“The next morning I called my sister early. I was worried because we had to go and fetch Micaela’s report from school,” Manneson said. “My sister told me she wasn’t there and she had not come home the night before.”
Manneson was told Micaela’s cousin had dropped her off at a house they had recently moved from. He did not know they had moved. Her brother-in-law, Jonathan Marhala, was there to fetch her.
“I went to the house but three men I didn’t know were there. They said Jonathan wasn’t there and they hadn’t seen Micaela. I was worried because Micaela had never done this before. Everyone knows she isn’t the rough type.”
The next day with still no word, Manneson reported her daughter missing.
It was the start of six weeks of searching.
Then in January a witness came forward. He said he was in the house when Micaela arrived and he heard her screaming. He described where her body lay and community member Shaun Garf and two friends made the gruesome discovery in a piece of veld in Nancefield, an industrial suburb south of Eldorado Park.
Micaela had been burnt with tyres and all that remained were a few bones. Manneson said Garf then searched, found and made a citizen’s arrest of Marhala.
After police had been to the site the family went and found a few bones and Micaela’s silver watch. The time had stopped at four o’clock. A DNA test confirmed the bones as Micaela’s.
Marhala was arrested and has appeared in court. The family has a history with Marhala. As the boyfriend of her older daughter, the family felt threatened when he came home. Manneson said he was violent and he allegedly burnt all their belongings.
Her elder daughter got an interdict against him and they moved house.
Police spokesman Captain Philemon Khorombi said there are four cases pending against Marhala – two of rape, one of business robbery and this case of murder. Marhala was also found guilty of a 2004 charge of damage to property and he served time for this crime, said Khorombi.
Khorombi defended the police, saying they had worked hard on the case and went with the family numerous times to search for Micaela when they received reports that she had been seen.
“Senior officers sat with the mom and helped her because she was so traumatised. We gave her support,” Khorombi said.
The spokesman said police had no control over whether to arrest a witness because the courts made that decision. Khorombi said they have not received any reports that he has disappeared and if they do, they will approach the court for a warrant of arrest to be issued.