Johannesburg - The Gert van Rooyen case might be cold, but a recent re-examination of the case has revealed the possibility exists that there is still enough evidence out there to solve this decades-old crime.
In 2010, then Hawks detective Marcel van der Watt became involved in the Gert Van Rooyen case after being approached by three sources who claimed there were gross irregularities in the original investigation.
His investigation led him to Pretoria where he visited 17 addresses allegedly linked to the case.
“To me it was quite clear that there were numerous lines of enquiry that could still be explored.”
Van der Watt and his commanding officer later flew to Pretoria from Port Elizabeth to meet with the then head of the Hawks, General Anwar Dramat.
“I strongly recommended that we re-open the Van Rooyen investigation. I had a list of 121 individuals compiled by the sources who could still add value to the investigation. I informed General Dramat that the people are growing old, and that time and opportunities to do something about the case are rapidly dissipating” said Van der Watt.
He added that two formal letters drafted by a family member with specific questions and addressed directly to General Dramat and General Bheki Cele remained unanswered to this day.
But what Van der Watt did learn from the case was that there were allegations from sources of a cover-up in the investigation.
“There were allegations from former police and current police members that there were irregularities in the investigation and there were one or two ex- brothel owners who echoed the same thing. That there were politicians who visited the brothels and were involved with children. They claimed there to be an acquaintance between Gert van Rooyen and these politicians.”
Van der Watt, who is a well-known human trafficking specialist at Unisa, believes that valuable insights and answers could be gleaned after all these years.
“It would mean putting together a team and investing the time and money, but it could be worth it,” he said.
“I believe a subsequent investigation was initiated after I left the SAPS, but do not know what the status or outcome of this investigation was.”
He maintains that “by following a systematic process and analysis of whatever information and sources are still available, the government and the police may very well be presented with an opportunity to put speculation to rest. The families and South Africa are owed an answer. It has been three decades and they are still waiting.”
But while there is the possibility of solving the case, new evidence provided by people who knew Van Rooyen as a teenager point to another spot where he might have disposed of the remains of some of his victims.
Beneath a Pretoria shopping mall just off Bloed Street lies the remains of a deep well that was once the playground haunt of South Africa’s most notorious child abductor.
A teenage Van Rooyen once lived in the shadow of the Pretoria CBD, in a small house on Bloed street.
This was in the 1950s and Van Rooyen, who would 30 years later be linked to the disappearance of six schoolgirls, had even then a reputation of someone to be feared.
The young Van Rooyen, according to the brothers who knew him, was also bombastic and elusive.
Little is known about Van Rooyen’s childhood, but Leon Vermaakt believes Bloed Street and its surrounds might hold clues that could help police understand the paedophile, and finding the site of an old well might hold an even darker secret.
This year is the 30th anniversary of Van Rooyen and his girlfriend Joey Haarhoff’s deaths and with this has come renewed calls for the cold case to be solved and the remains of the girls to be found.
In the 1950s Bloed Street was far different to what it is today. Rows of lower-middle-income houses lined the street a stone’s throw from the heart of the capital city. It was a rough neighbourhood, where violence was commonplace and even murders spilled on to the streets.
Leon Vermaakt was born on Van der Poel Street in 1945 and said as a boy he knew of the Van Rooyens, who lived a block away.
“I used to walk to school, past the Van Rooyen house. Their door was always closed,” recalls Vermaakt.
“With Gert, one day you would see him, then you wouldn’t. He didn’t play with us.” The Vermaakt brothers were forbidden by their parents from playing with the Van Rooyens. They found out why.
But the Vermaakt brothers were friends with Van Rooyen’s brother, Johnny.
“He told us that there were eight people living in that house.”
Back then, not far from Bloed Street was an open piece of ground where the children used to play. Close by was a well.
“The well was quite deep, I used to throw stones in there. Eventually they put metal sheets over and put rocks on it to hold them in place, so children wouldn’t fall in there,” says Vermaakt.
He recalls seeing Van Rooyen at the well.
It is believed that the well was still there in the 1980s.
Vermaakt’s brother, Ferdi, points out that a psychic once told the police that the missing girls had been dumped in a pit that was two kilometres west of his Capital Park home. This site, he said, was two kilometres south of Capital Park.
Leon didn’t have much to do with the older Van Rooyen, but there was an incident that showed perhaps a glimmer of the violence the future criminal would become famous for.
One Saturday, Vermaakt was playing close to the banks of the Apies River when he was hit in the forehead with a bolt, fired from a catapult. He still has the scar today.
“When I looked up I saw Van Rooyen and two other boys. I couldn’t see who had the catapult, so I don’t know who fired it.”
The Vermaakts left the neighbourhood soon afterwards and lost contact with the Van Rooyens.
Since then Bloed Street has changed. The houses are gone.
Where the well once stood is now the site of the Bloed Street Mall and Vermaakt wonders if maybe ground- penetrating radar might be able to find the site, and ascertain if there is anything in there.
Gert van Rooyen also left Bloed Street. In 1979 he abducted two girls aged 10 and 13 and sexually assaulted them. He later released them and was arrested and sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
In the late 1980s he is believed to have abducted six girls. The seventh girl was able to escape and, when police caught up with him, he shot his partner Haarhoff before turning the gun on himself.
Vermaakt said he did see Van Rooyen after he left Bloed Street. “He was in Capital Park in a bakkie with Haarhoff. I didn’t greet him.”