Johannesburg - In the next few days Liyaqat (Lee) Mentoor’s mother is set to sit face-to-face with the man who killed her son.
It is a meeting Kaylah Mentoor has resisted and dreaded, but the court has ruled that she must attend.
The hope is that killer Onke Hartin Mashinini might finally break his 18 months of silence and confess to where he dumped the 3-year-old’s body.
But so far Kaylah and her family haven’t been told why Mashinini wants to meet, and why now.
“We are quite curious as a family to hear what Onke has to say. Is he going to come out with the truth?” said Estelle Delport, Lee’s aunt.
“For me, there is a 70% chance that he is not going to speak. But we do have that hope that he will say something.”
The meeting is to take place before October 25, when Mashinini will again be in court for sentencing.
A murder conviction without a body is rare in South Africa, but there have been a few, said well-known investigative forensic psychologist Dr Gérard Labuschagne.
The most famous involved the murder of police constable Francis Rasuge. Her ex-boyfriend William Nkuna was found guilty of her murder, but refused to reveal where her body was.
Eight years later, her body was found naked with her hands bound with duct tape in a hole in Nkuna’s garden, in Temba, Gauteng. DNA confirmed it was Rasuge.
Mashinini has already been found guilty on charges of premeditated murder and defeating the ends of justice, as well as an unrelated armed robbery charge.
But Mashinini has refused to reveal where he dumped Lee’s body.
Volunteers, assisted by sniffer dogs, and helicopters, have scoured the ridges and open veld around Roodekrans near Roodepoort.
At first their search was for a missing boy, later they were looking for a body.
Several weeks ago the SAPS K9 unit searched a nature reserve near Roodekrans, close to Mashinini’s home, while chasing new leads.
They found nothing.
Hope of finding Lee, the family now believes, rests on Mashinini coming clean.
But Labuschagne suspects that Mashinini might not feel that it is in his best interest to reveal where Lee is.
“He won’t be able to change his sentence now. They might have said to him, ‘Listen, dude, if you point out where the body is, prosecution will put in a good word for you’,” said Labuschagne.
“But he is hoping that the body never gets found and his appeal is successful for a non-conviction. So why would you want to do that, if he believes he has a chance?”
Finding the body, said Labuschagne, would likely come down to detective work.
“The basics would be to determine his last movements over that period of time. A cellphone would be one way which would give you an indication of where he was, a tracker in the car, that would be helpful. If he jumped onto a highway, you can check to see if there is anything with the e-toll system.”
Failing this, Labuschagne said the standard approach was to search the immediate area, for a kilometre or so from where the child was last seen.
Also important, he added, was to revisit mortuaries.
“We had it in a serial murder case where a child disappeared with a suspect and a year later, when cops went back to look at mortuaries, they discovered that the child’s body had been found within a week of him been killed. No one had linked this body with the missing child,” Labuschagne said.
All through the course of his murder trial, Mashinini has stuck to his story.
On March 16, 2018, on the day of Lee’s disappearance, Mashinini claimed he had walked with the boy to Kaylah’s mother’s house.
He had been babysitting Lee while Kaylah was at work. Outside the house, two people claiming to be a relative of Lee’s bundled him into a car and drove off.
However, Lee’s blood was later found at Mashinini’s house. There were also inconsistencies in his story, such as the colour of the kidnappers’ car, which kept changing.
Witnesses spoke of him being a violent man.
But even as the prosecutor picked holes in Mashinini’s story, he gave little away as he sat in the dock. He also showed no emotion.
This changed when the woman he claimed he loved took to the stand to read a letter to him.
“In the letter, Kaylah said that even though they were poor, they could have made their relationship work, that if he didn’t want Lee, she would have understood and have left,” recalled Delport.
“She spoke about how she is broken and hurt because he took away her son. And she pleaded to him please tell her what he had done to her son.”
Shortly afterwards, Mashinini said he wanted to sit down with Kaylah and his mother.
Delport said a probation officer was facilitating the meeting.
Time is running out for that meeting. In just under a week, Mashinini is scheduled to return to the South Gauteng High Court.
“Will there be another postponement, as Onke pushes for more time?” asked Delport.