Van Rooyen: letter that said 'I'm alive'

By Time of article published Apr 14, 2007

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By Michael Schmidt

Kempton Park primary schoolgirl Anne-Mari Wapenaar was definitely alive five months after child-sex monster Gert van Rooyen and his lover Joey Haarhoff died - and so too possibly was her friend Odette Boucher.

Of the famous "six missing girls", only Anne-Mari and Odette were ever definitely connected to the suspected paedophile ring. And only one slender lead remains for Anne-Mari's and Odette's parents that their daughters might have outlived their kidnappers.

This comes as police unearthing bones near Van Rooyen and Haarhoff's former Umdloti holiday home on the North Coast widened their net this week to include a skeleton found in August 2006 - and proven to be that of a white teenage girl.

But DNA tests will only be able to be used on relatives of four of the six missing girls to ascertain if there is any connection to that skeleton and the bones, including a child's jaw found in March - because missing Fiona Harvey and Joan Horn were adopted.

Eyewitness accounts connected the December 22, 1988 kidnapping of 12-year-old Fiona, of Pietermaritzburg, to the white Ford Bantam bakkie in which Van Rooyen and Haarhoff died.

Anne-Mari and Odette disappeared together on September 22 1989 in Kempton Park while on their way to swim.

While the parents of the other girls gradually gave up hope over the subsequent years, Anne-Mari's and Odette's were cruelly teased with hints that their daughters were still alive:

- On September 28 1989, Linette Boucher received a letter, apparently from Odette, in which the girl wrote that she, "Anna-Marie" and some boys had gone to Durban for the weekend;

- In late 1989, Haarhoff and Van Rooyen were allegedly seen in Springbok, Namaqualand, driving Haarhoff's red VW Jetta, trying to pick up girls;

- On January 11 1990, a traffic policeman at Hilton, KwaZulu Natal, ticketed a "nervous" Van Rooyen (four days before his death) driving in his white Ford Bantam bakkie carrying two girls later positively identified as two of those sought by investigators;

- That same day, a hitchhiker picked up in Springbok by two men driving a red VW Jetta claimed a frightened girl in the back seat passed him a note on which she had written the car's description and registration number; the name and phone number of Frik Roodt, a missing-girls' investigator which had featured on public posters; and the name "Odette Boucher";

- On May 7 1990, South African businessman Johan Blanche claimed to have met three girls answering the descriptions of Odette, Anne-Mari and Fiona in Lusaka, Zambia;

- On March 13 1994, paedophile Christiaan Josua de Wet (23) was arrested over the murders of two other girls. Police at the time believed he'd been seen with Van Rooyen chatting to Anne-Mari at the Kempton Park swimming pool.

But police Captain Ray Boucher, Odette's uncle, said this week all the leads had turned out to be false. Police handwriting experts had determined Odette's Durban letter was a forgery, "although we can't say whether by the kidnappers or by someone being mean".

Boucher said the note passed to the hitchhiker had not passed muster, and Blanche's Lusaka sighting, while apparently honest, was not of the girls.

But one piece of evidence remains intact, having survived the scrutiny of both police and parents.

In June 1990, a customer at the Fabric Library in Midrand found a pencilled note, written in a childish hand, on a slip. It read: "I am Anne-Mari. My friend and I are with our kidnappers at . My friend has tried to phone, but was cut off."

Interviewed by the Sunday Star in April 1993, when news of the letter came to light, former Fabric Library personal assistant Debora Sloane said: "What riveted me was a little girl who came into the Fabric Library shortly before the note was discovered. This girl of about 12 had short black hair and appeared very scared. I can still see her sitting there and wondered at the time why she was looking so scared."

Contacted this week, Kobie Wapenaar told the Saturday Star that "the handwriting was definitely Anne-Mari's - and police handwriting experts confirmed it".

Although Ray Boucher said police investigations at the address given in Anne-Mari's note proved fruitless, it remains the only positive proof that she and Odette were perhaps alive months after the paedophile couple's bodies were cremated.

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