By Nalisha Kalideen and Gill Gifford

The search for Leigh was over. Now the hunt for the killer was on.

Any hope for the Matthews was over and their worst nightmare had come true.

"It would be nice to wake up and realise that this was all just a bad dream, but that's never going to happen," Rob Matthews said.

"This has been a tough time for the family and we're now in a place where we don't want to be. We're a very tight family, so this is very hard for us."

The devastated father said he did not know the details of the murder: "I don't even want to go there. I don't know the details, and we're not ready to hear them.

"All we wanted was to bring her home."

Days before the body of Leigh Matthews was found,

police had already zeroed in on Walkerville.

They had scoured the area south of Johannesburg.

Searches were made on foot, on horseback and using vehicles.

And then suddenly things changed.

Police were, almost by default, alerted to a body in the veld. A squatter camp resident had come across the body of a young woman while he was cutting grass in the area.

He had run into a pub and told the owner of his discovery.

The owner, in turn, told his patrons - among whom were police who were having lunch, eyewitnesses said.

A detective called the joint operations centre (known as the JOC) and within minutes police were racing out to the scene.

The Matthews couple stayed away.

There was little doubt that the naked body laid out in the grass was that of Leigh Matthews.

Her long blonde hair streamed out to one side.

There was little evidence of decomposition.

By 3.30pm on July 21, 2004, it was certain that it was Leigh.

Quickly police cordoned off the scene and surrounding area. It would be thoroughly checked for forensic evidence.

Superintendent Chris Wilken, in charge of media liaison, was among the first policemen on the scene. He received his first call from the media just before 4pm.

Word had already leaked out and the calls started flooding in as the news spread.

Journalists wanted confirmation that Leigh's body had been discovered.

Where was it found?

How had she died?

Were police certain that the body was indeed that of Leigh Matthews?

When had she been killed?

Who was behind the kidnapping?

Why had this happened?

Wilken would answer one call, end it and see several missed calls registered.

It was impossible to keep up, and his voicemail service became too full to take messages.

Soon Wilken's phone battery died and he had to put it on a car charger.

The sun set at 5.30pm and it started to get darker.

Generators were trundled out. The scene was lit by spotlights.

Wilken called a press conference at 7pm.

He kept the journalists at bay. He held it on the outskirts of the cordoned off area - far away from the body and frenzied activity of forensic experts.

At 10.30pm the body was taken to the mortuary.

It was freezing cold.

Police decided to stop working.

They would continue again at daybreak.

It was 1am when Wilken took his 250th phone call since 4pm that afternoon.

He arrived home at 1.30am, cold to the bone, his voice completely gone.

Wilken's wife Hanna, who had been waiting up for him, immediately gave him Stopayne and dosed him with cough mixture.

She made him Milo and they went to bed.

The next day the duty cellphone rang at 4am, and by 6.30am Wilken was back at the JOC, hoarsely croaking out responses to never-ending phone calls.

He gave out as much information as he could without jeopardising the investigation.

Leigh had been shot at close range.

Her body had been positively identified by her parents.

No arrests had been made.

Police were still investigating and were confident of a breakthrough.

A statement would be given out as soon as there were any developments.

There was heavy security at the scene.

From a helicopter police investigators could be seen examining a big patch of burnt ash on a side road running parallel to the R82 highway next to Walkerville.

It was believed the killer drove on the gravel road and to the bushes where her body was found.

Eight investigators stood in a circle with a metal detector - bending for a long time as if they had seen something.

The piece of veld where police had cordoned off about 50sqm is separated from the R82 highway by just a few trees.

The Matthews family were devastated.

They were hurting badly.

How did they feel?

What did they think about what had happened?

Rob said his daughter was "a gentle soul".

"She did nothing to deserve this."

Her sister Karen had suffered a great deal.

"She thinks we would prefer it if she had died and Leigh had lived, which is the most heartbreaking thing to hear, but it's what she feels," her mother Sharon said later.

Who did this? And why? These were the two questions on everybody's lips.

Donovan Moodley was planning something. He wanted it to be perfect. He was doing a bit of shopping, was speaking to people and hiring a private yacht for his use.

The Matthews family did not have to grieve alone. Nelson Mandela's office sent condolences.

"We trust the authorities will bring the perpetrators of this inhuman deed to book. They must be punished severely."

So did President Thabo Mbeki: "We are indeed mourning with the Matthews family. We hope the police will leave no stone unturned in their investigation."

Celebrities and ordinary people from all walks of life sympathised too.

The website set up within days of the kidnapping recorded hundreds of messages.

Many expressed their own pain while others had lost children and family members to crime.

The support they received was immense.

And it touched them deeply.

"It didn't matter in what form it (concern) came. It was the gesture - from taxi drivers driving with posters in their cars looking for Leigh, to captains of industry phoning and offering advice.

"It was overwhelming. We were walking through the shopping centres and we had people come up to us and offer sympathy. It's overwhelming, it's amazing," Rob said.

Leigh's family needed space and time to grieve.

They needed to get away from the headlines, to comfort each other.

Be together to remember the young blonde girl who had been such a vital part of their lives.

And who would never again be coming home.

But two days later, in the midst of their grief, they announced they would start a trust fund in Leigh's name.

The Leigh Matthews Trust Fund was intended to support the Johannesburg Serious and Violent Crimes Unit.

Rob, Sharon and Karen asked people wanting to express their sympathy to make donations to the fund instead of sending flowers.

It seemed as if the trail went cold.

Two days after Leigh's body was found police asked the public for help.

They were looking for a sapphire ring Leigh had been wearing when she was kidnapped.

Wilken assured the public: a breakthrough was expected soon.

Six days after Leigh's body was found police said they were confident they would catch the killer.

They refused to say anything more.

Then the stories started.

Some were hurtful to the family.

Others, police said, harmed their investigations.

It started with a mysterious sighting of Leigh.

A woman who worked at a pub in Walkerville told a newspaper that she had seen Leigh at the pub drinking with two Nigerian men 13 days before she was kidnapped, on June 26.

The woman claimed to have been away and unaware of the story until her return to Walkerville.

She then contacted the police, she said.

The woman claimed that Leigh seemed to know the men well.

Perhaps Leigh was not a completely innocent, randomly targeted victim.

On the day Donovan Moodley was getting down on one knee to propose to his high school sweetheart, on August 8 2004, the Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport claimed "Leigh could have lived".

The paper said that if Rob had paid the kidnapper R350 000 (a figure mentioned for the first time), instead of R50 000, Leigh would still be alive.

The paper said that the family had contacted the police immediately after Leigh's kidnapping and not the following day as they had revealed at a press conference.

Wilken called it speculation.

Then he said the information leaks were hampering their investigation.

Things were quiet for a while.

The story was no longer front page headline news.

Despite the R250 000 reward offered by a group of individuals for information leading to the arrest of Leigh's kidnappers there was no arrest.

Papers printed brief stories quoting Wilken saying: "There is nothing new."

Then on August 22, 2004, the Sunday Times said that the kidnappers of Leigh had placed her body on ice for days and then staged the scene of her murder.

Parts of her body had decomposed at different rates, the paper said.

"The places that had not decomposed were consistent with parts of the body that would come into contact with ice in a large container."

The paper also said that bullet casings found by police near Leigh's body were lying so close to each other that investigators believed they had been planted there.

Wilken called it irresponsible reporting and sensational.

He said he did not know if it was the "private investigators or the journalist making up the story".

Now the latest charge sheet confirms that her body was frozen for 11 days.

After Wilken's angry reaction the story disappeared briefly from front pages.

Slowly the high numbers of calls Wilken received started to drop.

He handled another murder.

Although the JOC continued to operate, work started returning to normal for Wilken.

Weeks passed, but investigators continued to work constantly on the case.

Nobody had taken a day off, let alone an entire weekend.

They had tried everything they could think of, used every resource available and had the best technology at their fingertips. They didn't know what else to do. Inspector Gabriel Hall, who had been heading up the investigation, had a massive load of unsolved cases he needed to get back to.

And so on Friday August 20, Johannesburg Area Commissioner Oswald Reddy called everyone together and told them to take a break.

He gave them all the weekend off, instructing them to relax and return to work on Monday, ready to start afresh.

That Monday morning everyone met at the JOC.

The case was discussed and ideas were exchanged.

Eventually they agreed on a course of action.

Superintendent Piet Byleveld - a small, chain-smoking policeman - would be asked to take over. He did so the next day, Tuesday August 24.

At that stage Byleveld was busy preparing for two big murder trials.

He was aware of the Leigh Matthews case, but he had no details of the investigation.

Reddy phoned Byleveld and invited him to a meeting.

Together Reddy and Johannesburg detective head Director Charles Johnson asked Byleveld if he would take over the Leigh Matthews case.

Byleveld agreed.

But instead of taking over the case at the advanced stage it had reached, Byleveld did what he normally does.

He started from scratch, going painstakingly over everything from the very beginning, finding out information first hand for himself.

Reluctant to divulge his train of thought, he began focusing on Bond students rather than organised crime syndicates. Byleveld simply stated that he kicked off at the starting point.

Slowly he built his case, working in his own quiet way and following his gut instincts.

It was the beginning of August when the unemployed 24-year-old took his girlfriend to Durban on holiday.

Yeshika Singh and Donovan Moodley had been dating since their matric year - when they where both 17.

Now seven years later Donovan wanted to take their relationship to the next level. He wanted to commit. To spend the rest of his life with her.

It was going to be a moment that Yeshika would remember for a long time afterwards. He had planned ahead.

The Sunday Times reported that before taking Yeshika to Durban, Donovan had a word with her father, Bobby Singh.

Yeshika, the 24-year-old receptionist at Edgars national headquarters in Crown Mines, still lived with her parents in Lenasia South.

She and her family where very close, she would later tell Talk Radio 702.

Donovan wanted her father's blessing. And he got it.

He went to Sterns, a jewellery store in Eastgate Shopping Mall.

There he bought an engagement ring for R3 000.

It had a gold band, with a magenta-coloured stone in the centre and was surrounded by eight small diamonds.

Then he hired a yacht for his private use.

It was a Sunday afternoon in the coastal town when Donovan took Yeshika cruising.

Together they watched the sun set over the ocean. They had dinner.

And then, Donovan got down on one knee and asked Yeshika to be his wife.

She accepted immediately.

Later, she would say that moment had been a total surprise.

"It was something I had always wanted, a dream come true," Yeshika told the Sunday Times.

Two weeks later, the Moodley and Singh families came together to celebrate the engagement.

Gifts were exchanged. The couple were blessed by a pastor. The families had supper together and took photos.

"We had a good time," Yeshika said.

They began planning their life together. Donovan and Yeshika wanted the theme for the wedding to be red.

And to have roses scattered all over. They started drawing up their guest list.

It had 300 names on it.

"There is no one else for me," Yeshika said.

Later Donovan's sister, Michal Pillay, in an email to The Star would say that Yeshika loved her brother with all her heart.

The Moodleys were gaining another daughter.

But the Matthews family had lost theirs.

Byleveld worked steadily on the case.

He drew up a list of suspects and then started eliminating them, narrowing his focus and eventually identifying one man - 24-year-old Donovan Moodley - as his prime suspect.

Unwilling to make a mistake, Byleveld "did all his homework" before making his move.

And so he watched Moodley, following his movements, collecting solid evidence.

And then on the morning of October 4 he was ready.

At 9am, just after Moodley left his house and headed for a workout at the gym, he was stopped by Byleveld.

He was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Leigh Matthews.

And as news spread late that Monday night that Donovan had been arrested, those who knew him where shocked.

He was a friendly guy - they said.

Students who had seen him occasionally attending classes at the start of 2004 said they always thought he had been responsible person.

He had been funding his own studies, they said.

The day after his arrest Donovan was still in custody.

A day later at a press conference Piet Byleveld called him "a very intelligent, well-spoken, well-mannered person".

The day before, the now closed daily This Day had reported that Donovan had been in love with Leigh and her murder had been a crime of passion.

Byleveld said the motive was money, money and greed.

"He is a very ordinary person who needed money," Byleveld said.

It was the day Sharon Matthews came face to face with her daughter's alleged killer.

October 6, 2004, was the first day Donovan Moodley

appeared in court.

Sharon and Rob had arrived at the Randburg court just after 7.30am. They were early. Moodley would only arrive much later.

Sharon entered the court building holding hands with friends and relatives who had come to support her.

Rob remained in the car.

Police had asked him not to attend because there was a possibility he would be called as a witness.

Sharon waited anxiously in the corridor of the Randburg Regional Court.

She didn't know in which courtroom Moodley would appear and stood hugging her handbag, looking down the long corridors as friends tried to find out.

Sharon looked exhausted.

Her eyes where red.

She was scared, she was elated, she felt sick.

But she had to be there - for Leigh.

"There was never a question that I would not come to court today."

Donovan had arrived.

He covered his head with his leather jacket.

He didn't want photographers to take his picture.

Byleveld had brought his suspect personally.

While legal documentation was being sorted out, Byleveld entered court. He saw Sharon sitting near the front row among a large group of family and friends. He walked up to her. She hugged him. Tears welled in her eyes.

Outside the court house, the media were questioning Rob about Donovan.

"To me it is still an allegation and I don't have any feelings. I want to see the process follow its course."

Later, Byleveld allowed Rob to enter court. Sharon and Rob sat together, waiting for Donovan.

He came in.

His back was slightly hunched, he was unshaven. He kept his eyes downcast.

His legs where shackled. Two orderlies walked on either side of him and saw him into the dock.

Moodley sat slouched in the dock, his body was shaking slightly.

When magistrate Joe Kgomo entered and addressed him, Donovan sat looking slightly dazed.

Byleveld had to prompt him to stand. He did so, clutching the rail in front of him. He breathed heavily and deeply.

Rob and Sharon didn't take their eyes off him.

Donovan may have felt it, but he didn't once turn around.

He was not asked to plead and the case was postponed for 11 days.

The court rose as the magistrate exited. Rob put his left arm around Sharon and pulled her close.

She stood, her arms crossed over her chest, tears welling in her eyes and Donovan was led back down a flight of stairs into the holding cells.

Rob and Sharon followed his every movement.

Donovan seemed impassive.

And then, for a moment, he acknowledged their presence.

He lifted his eyes upwards towards Rob and Sharon.

Sharon shook her head. Rob remained motionless.

The moment Donovan disappeared Sharon burst into tears.

Donovan's family did not come to see him.

The night before they had all gathered at the home of his sister, Michal Pillay, in Brackendowns, Alberton.

They where in a bad state, Donovan's aunt who refused to give her name, had said.

They were traumatised, she said.

But almost a week later Donovan's father, Stephen, gave a press conference.

Speaking at the office of Louis Weinstein, his son's attorney, Stephen gave the interview on the strict condition that he was not photographed.

He was cautious. Shaking. In shock. Almost traumatised.

His family where in the midst of planning Donovan's wedding to his fiancée Yeshika Singh .

They never thought that Donovan would be arrested for murder.

Stephen read from his statement: "We do not believe our son is capable of the deeds of which he has been accused. Our concern is that he is given a fair trial and that justice is served. We love our son deeply."

He announced that he had stepped down from his position as a minister of the Baptist Church in Alberton.

He prayed for strength for his and the Matthews family, and offered them his condolences.

While Stephen was speaking to newspapers about Donovan, Sharon was talking to Cape Talk radio about Leigh.

Sharon had never expected to bury her own daughter and now the family were in trauma counselling.

For those 12 days, when they didn't know where Leigh was the family were besides themselves.

"It was a cold winter and we felt almost guilty and we didn't want to cover up with blankets, because we felt Leigh might be somewhere cold," she said.

Karen, Leigh's elder sister, seemed the most affected.

It broke Sharon and Rob's heart to hear Karen say she thought we have preferred it if she had died instead of Leigh.

Yeshika came to support her fiancé at his second court appearance.

She arrived with an army of friends, her family and church members.

Donovan's sister Michal and her husband were there too. But Donovan's parents where nowhere to be seen.

In court Donovan's supporters filled the first few benches and waited for him to arrive.

The case was postponed and moved to the Wynberg Regional Court for the next appearance.

Donovan was also moved from the Sandton police cells to Johannesburg Prison.

Yeshika seemed almost tearful when his transfer was announced.

It was not the first time Yeshika had seen Donovan since his arrest.

She had been allowed to visit him in the Sandton police holding cells.

When asked about her visit she said: "No comment."

That was the only phrase used that day by Donovan's friends.

They were all wearing blue ribbons that day.

The colour itself had no significance. It was just Donovan's favourite.

For all Donovan's subsequent court appearance the blue ribbons would be a constant.

For all of Donovan's subsequent court appearances Rob and Sharon would only attend once more.

In their stead Leigh's best friend, Giselle Clemson, and other friends and family would be there to cherish her memory.

Once, on October 22, Donovan broke down.

It was the day he changed attorneys and enlisted the services of Jonathan Minnie.

This time Donovan got into the dock with a book by David Livingstone called Heroes of the Faith.

His case was postponed for six weeks for a possible bail application.

He left the dock, and was to later appear at the back of the court building, as he was escorted away.

A throng of media surrounded him, asking him questions, taking pictures.

Piet Byleveld rushed Donovan into his private car.

At first it seemed as if he was bowing his head in prayer. But then he lifted his glasses off his face, to wipe away tears.

For Yeshika the trauma was to continue outside the court.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit, the body that ensures that criminals do not enjoy the proceeds of their illicit activity, focused on Moodley.

The AFU succeeded in getting a High Court order to seize assets to the value of R53 500 from Moodley.

And so, early on Thursday November 11, officials met with Moodley at Johannesburg Prison and served him with notice of their intention to seize his BMW 3-series, Toyota Tazz, Ducati motorbike and trailer and the engagement ring he had bought for Yeshika.

He appeared cocky as he perused the document and danced in time to a tune playing on a nearby radio.

Soon after the AFU took the items they had earmarked.

Another team went out to Edgardale where they met with Yeshika.

Journalists had to wait in the lobby while AFU investigators and the curator told Yeshika that they wanted her ring.

The young woman cried as she handed over the sparkling piece she had worn so proudly.

Then in December, for the first time, Donovan decided to wear a blue ribbon.

But on this day, Leigh's friends and family were wearing ribbons too.

These ones where white. And they did have significance.

The white ribbons commemorated the 16 Days of Activism against the abuse of women and children which was being observed around the country that week.

When Donovan appeared in court on this day Yeshika put her arm around his waist, pulled him close and brushed her lips against his cheek.

She no longer had the engagement ring.

In its stead she wore a silver band.

The case was postponed to February for a bail application.

Rob and Sharon were in court for only the second time.

Rob said he wanted to be there "just to really speak to my daughter".

They were early. They had to wait outside the court.

Yeshika, Michal and other friends and family of Donovan arrived later and stood apart from the Matthews.

They ignored them as they walked past the Matthews parents and collected around the locked court gates.

When Donovan's aunt was asked if she came to see Donovan she denied knowing him.

Later she made her way into court to see him.

The rest of the group refused to speak to the media.

But at 8.30am when the gates were about to open Sharon walked up to them and stood, waiting for security to let her through.

The motherly Sharon, dressed in white, stood poised, collected and determined to stand near the gates despite the fact that Donovan's supporters stared openly at her.

But she wasn't allowed.

Donovan's supporters, including Yeshika pushed Sharon out of the way as soon as the gates opened, and rushed to the courtroom to occupy the front rows.

Later, in an angry email to The Star, Donovan's sister, Michal Pillay, accused the paper of bias after we reported on the scene.

She then said they had rushed into court because they had not been allowed physical contact with Donovan and just wanted "to be close to him or even sneak a hug".

She said her heart went out to the Matthews family but "we are fighting for our own".

But this was the day that the state submitted their summary of sustainable facts as a court document.

Finally, we found out what had happened to Leigh.

It was sometime around 8.30pm when Donovan picked up the ransom from Rob.

It was R50 000 in a brown envelope. Rob drove away.

And Donovan walked back to his car.

The charge sheet said Donovan then drove Leigh to a secluded spot in the area of Walkerville, and planned her death.

  • Additional reporting: Jonathan Ancer, Angelique Serrao, Baldwin Ndaba, Lee Rondganger and Caiphus Kgosana