Police Ministry to pay for laundry-bin deaths

Three of the triple-accused, against whom charges were eventually dropped, are due to receive damages from the police. Picture: EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA/Pexels

Three of the triple-accused, against whom charges were eventually dropped, are due to receive damages from the police. Picture: EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA/Pexels

Published Feb 5, 2024


In the aftermath of the 2006 brutal killings of three dry-cleaning employees, whose bodies were found stuffed in laundry baskets, three of the triple-accused, against whom charges were eventually dropped, are due to receive damages from the police.

The owner of the Vereeniging dry-cleaning business, Charl Colyn, his daughter, Isabel, his son-in-law, Jacques Smit, and a family friend, Ruan Swanepoel, were initially arrested in connection with the murders.

Other suspects were later nabbed, but all of them walked out of court free after the prosecution decided to withdraw the charges against them.

They turned to the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, where they each claimed damages from the Minister of Police for unlawful arrest and detention.

Some of the accused had meanwhile passed away, and one cannot be traced.

While the police conceded their unlawful arrest and detention, the remaining former accused presented their case to the court regarding their suffering following their arrests and detention.

This was so that the court could determine how much damages each of them should receive. The court awarded R500 000 in damages each to Colyn and Swanepoel, while Isabel Colyn is due to receive R600 000.

Their ordeal started the day that three women were found murdered in linen bins at a dry-cleaning store.

Jocelyn Lesito, Constance Moeletsi and Victoria Ndweni had been strangled, had plastic shoved into their mouths and were then stuffed into linen bins at the Protea Dry Cleaners, Colyn's business, where they had been working the night shift.

The next morning, employees arrived at the store to find the women had vanished. The police were called but found nothing.

A few hours later, an employee decided to see why a green linen bin was heavier than usual. He opened it, and he saw a piece of plastic under a pile of dirty linen. "I yanked on the plastic and suddenly there was a head with wide-open eyes staring back at me. I couldn't get over the smell," he later said.

The bodies of the other women were found in two other green bins at the family-owned dry-cleaning store. Their hands had been tied behind their backs.

Colyn and his co-accused have, since their arrest, denied any involvement in the murders. They also did not buckle under pressure from the police to confess to the killings.

Their court appearances, before charges were withdrawn, were marked by protests, and at the time, the murders made headlines across the country.

All three of the claimants told the court that their harrowing ordeal had left them with deep emotional scars.

Charl Colyn said during their numerous court appearances, until charges were eventually withdrawn in April 2006, trade union members organised large crowds to attend the court proceedings. The crowd was stirred up to intimidate him and threatened to kill him and burn down his businesses.

He said he bears no knowledge of what happened to the three murdered ladies. He stated that he was out of town in the Northern Cape on a business trip when the incident occurred.

Colyn testified that during his detention, he was unable to get treatment for his hypertension; as a result, his health suffered. He described the conditions of the police cells as being overcrowded – there was no bed and no place to sit.

According to him, he was not offered food during the first two days of his detention. During his detention, he had very little interaction with the outside world, including his wife.

He also could not sleep out of fear for his life as some of his cellmates described how they had killed people. He was only released on bail after spending 28 days in custody.

He remarked that he would not wish what happened to him to happen to anybody.

Isabel and Swanepoel’s experience was equally traumatic and humiliating. Isabel described how she was body searched by male officers every time she returned to jail from court.

All three said they were branded murderers, despite the fact that they were innocent. Their pictures appeared in the media, and people still associate them with the killings.

They testified that they did not go for psychological treatment as they felt ashamed to talk about what happened, and they did not want to relive the nightmare.

Counsel for the police argued that the fact that they did not go for treatment showed that they have healed. But the court rejected this and said they explained that they dealt with their trauma as best as they could.

Pretoria News