Police have started digging for clues at a North Coast beach. Pictures: Sarah James
Durban – Do the sands of Blythedale Beach hold the clues to the disappearance of six young girls allegedly snatched by notorious convicted paedophile Gert van Rooyen and his lover, Joey Haarhofff?

On Wednesday and Thursday the sands were dug up by excavators and detectives using spades, searching for the remains of the girls who disappeared in the 1980s, in one of the country’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

Van Rooyen shot Haarhoff and then turned the gun on himself on January 15, 1990, as police closed in on them after another of their victims managed to escape and alert authorities.

Blythedale Beach was their “nest”, believes KZN South Coast psychic Pam Adams, who was closely involved with the investigation of the girls’ disappearances nearly 30 years ago.

On Friday she recalled earlier investigations. “We visited that cottage at Blythedale Beach three times and I believe that is where it all happened. I do believe they were all taken there. That is the nest.”

The six girls who went missing and have never been heard of again were Tracey-Lee Scott-Crossley, 14, from Randburg who went missing on August 1, 1988; Fiona Harvey, 12, of Pietermaritzburg who disappeared on December 22, 1988; Joan Horn, 12, of Pretoria who went missing on June 7, 1989; and on September 22, 1989, Odette Boucher, 11, and Anne-Marie Wapenaar, 12, both from Kempton Park, disappeared. On November 3, 1989, Yolanda Wessels, 13, went missing. Wessels was Harhoff’s niece.

Fiona Harvey

On Wednesday a police forensics team from Pretoria swooped on the beach. They were closely followed by heavy machinery which started excavating around a stormwater drain on the main Blythedale Beach.

Natasha Boucher, Odette Boucher’s sister, was seen on the beach on Wednesday.

Alet Wright, executive producer for SABC2 television programme Fokus, has been involved in a 15-month investigation after receiving new information on the case. Her documentary will be screened on Sunday at 6pm.

Anne-Marie Wapenaar

“We have to try, even if we don’t find anything,” Wright said on the beach. “There are indications we could be on the right track. Parts of this story are very weird.”

She remained tight-lipped on new evidence relating to the case, but said the excavation was only for two days and she returned to Johannesburg on Friday. She did reveal that they were specifically investigating the disappearance of Boucher, Wapenaar and Horn.

Joan Horn

The K9 Dog Unit arrived at the dig site later on Thursday, but did not turn up anything. Some bones were unearthed but were believed to be animal bones.

On Friday, as crowds flocked to the beaches for Youth Day, people were playing music in the car park, couples sat hugging and children splashed on the water’s edge. The excavation site had been covered over, leaving no trace of the emotion and tension of the previous two days.

Sources have said the new evidence could be from a deathbed confession of a prison inmate, but this could not be confirmed.

Odette Boucher

A massive police manhunt took place after the disappearance of the girls, and rumours and speculation swirled, offering “clues” involving satanic cults, a highly sophisticated paedophile ring and a woman wearing a blonde wig.

On Friday, recalling the interior of the cottage on Blythedale Beach, Adams said: “I picked up vibrations which led me there in the first place. I believe all the girls were locked up there. We found possible evidence, from a pair of shorts belonging to a young girl which had been stuffed into a paint tin, to an ‘A’ written on the wall and one wall had been blocked up.

Tracey-Lee Scott-Crossley

“I also took a photo of a friend on the beach in front of the cottage and when it was developed, there was an image of Odette’s face in the photograph. I also received communication from ‘Landie’ which turned out to be Yolanda Wessels.

“It’s a very sad story, those poor little girls. Information that comes through can include names, places and scenes being given to you, I know I can either act on it or not.

“I have never stopped thinking about the case and it would be wonderful for the families to find closure,” said Adams.

Yolanda Wessels

Adams handed over all her findings to the SAPS Occult Unit at the time of the investigation.

Van Rooyen and Haarhoff spent time at the North Coast holiday spot in the late 1980s. The couple came under the police spotlight in 1990 when 16-year-old Jan Booysen of Pretoria was abducted and taken to Van Rooyen’s home on January 11. She managed to escape.

As police closed in on the couple, Van Rooyen shot Haarhoff before killing himself.

The pair have never been formally convicted in connection with the girls' disappearances. But Van Rooyen’s home in Malherbe Street in Capital Park (Pretoria), dubbed The House of Horrors by the media, was torn apart by police. According to reports from that time, forensic evidence linking the couple to the girls was found at the house, as well as witness statements.

Gert van Rooyen. File photo: Independent Newspapers

Van Rooyen was convicted in 1979 for abducting two girls, aged 10 and 13, and served three years in prison for abduction, sexual assault and common assault.

Assisting the police at the site this week were archaeologists from the provincial heritage resources authority, Amafa KZN. Their deputy director of research compliance and professional services, Annie Radford, said they often worked with police.

“Many archaeologists are trained in human remains and have similar skill sets to police in this regard,” she said, adding that there were many variables to consider at an excavation site.

“Climate, oxygen levels, moisture, whether the remains are in a sealed container or not. We do not only look for human remains, but other objects such as clothing. We work very finely and look at subtle changes in the soil,” said Radford.