Michelle Ohlsson speaks about her missing son, Matthew Ohlsson's case. Matthew was nine when he disappeared in 1997. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Michelle Ohlsson speaks about her missing son, Matthew Ohlsson's case. Matthew was nine when he disappeared in 1997. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

I could have saved Matthew Ohlsson, reveals witness

By Genevieve Serra Time of article published May 2, 2021

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Cape Town - A woman who was a child at the time of the disappearance of nine-year-old Matthew Ohlsson believes she has information that may be the key to solving the 24-year mystery.

His mother, Michelle, spoke about the hope the information gave her for the first time this week but is frustrated that not much is being done because of lockdown and the police’s workload.

The 33-year-old woman, who was 10 at the time of Matthew’s disappearance, has given the Mitchells Plain police a statement about seeing him on March 24, 1997, the day he went missing.

Weekend Argus has also seen a copy of the statement, which is certified by the South African Police services.

Matthew Ohlsson, 9, went missing on March 24, 1997, from outside his home in Delheim Close, Westridge, Mitchells Plain. He was dressed in a vest, shorts and was barefoot.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, was a pupil at Rocklands Primary School at the time of the disappearance.

Matthew, who was one of four siblings, was the second eldest and attended Westville Primary in Mitchells Plain.

Matthew disappeared while he fetched the dirt bin from outside his home in Westridge on that fateful March morning.

Michelle Ohlsson and her husband, Michael, have since founded the organisation, Concerned Parents of Missing Children, which has helped find countless other missing children.

The woman, who spoke to Weekend Argus, said she had been living with “guilt” for two to three years after she realised that a little boy who she had seen crying in a window at a neighbour's home was Matthew.

For years, the woman believed the boy was the son of that neighbour, who had lived in a separate entrance.

The woman’s memory was jogged by what she described as “a vision, between two to three years ago, and saw the photograph of Matthew and the little boy’s face”.

“I felt overwhelmed when I realised, 20 years later, that the boy I had seen standing at a neighbour’s window, crying, was Matthew.

“I sought help from a psychologist and others about what I could do because I felt that I was to blame, that I could have saved Matthew.

“I was advised to give the police a statement which I did and to meet the Ohlssons.”

She said she remembers the day like it was yesterday, and described the man who was last seen with who she believed was Matthew as an eccentric who sold books.

On that fateful day she was absent from school and remembers racing out of her home to see her friends when the school bell rang. The woman’s family lived opposite to Rocklands Primary School at the time.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember hearing the school bell ringing, it was break time. I was about 10 at the time. I wanted to see my friends, who would sit at the (school) fence. As I peered towards the back wall, I saw this little boy standing at the window in the neighbour’s backyard dwelling.

“He was crying and had his hand against the window. As a child, I thought he lived there, with the white man, (was his) son and I didn’t think to tell my mother because it didn't seem strange to me.”

That man later abandoned the property leaving his belongings behind.

“I was friends with the children of the owner of the property,” she said. “I remember the owner of the house removing the man’s stuff while playing with my friends.

“Children’s clothing, women’s clothes, books, magazines, VHS (videos) and magazines with pornography was found."

But as the years passed, the woman said she kept having this nagging suspicion every time she saw Matthew’s face in the media.

“I didn't know the Ohlssons, I would see this boy Matthew’s face in the media and I would tell myself he looks so familiar.”

Then something jogged the woman’s memory, which she described as a vision and knew she had to help: “I had some type of vision or premonition, I don’t know what to call it. I saw Matthew’s face in front of me and the boy in the window and realised it was the same boy,” she added.

“I began feeling guilty and sought to meet Mrs Ohlsson. I knew I didn’t have proof and I knew police would question my memory as I was a child.

“The police did visit the area after I made a statement to confirm with family and residents that I had lived there.”

Ohlsson said the woman’s statement and her willingness to go to the police had rekindled hope of receiving answers after all these years.

But she has been left frustrated because while the police had questioned the man who is now in his 70s or 80s, nothing more has come of it. She was grateful to the woman who came forward with new evidence.

“She came to see me about a year-and-a-half ago and said she had something to tell me, when I heard what she had to say, I asked her if she was prepared to give this evidence to police and she did,” explained Michelle.

“Police only took her statement in August last year. My husband tracked down (information about) this man, we know his name and where he lives, at a (old age) home.

“The police said they questioned him in the presence of a social worker. He admitted living at this house but claimed he knew nothing about Matthew.

“Why did he have children’s clothing if he didn't have children? We are very frustrated because the police have this statement and excuses are being made that it was a lockdown.”

A police officer close to the investigation said he took a statement from the woman but could not comment further.

Former police officer, Charles Julies who was part of the Missing Person’s Squad at Mitchell’s Plain Police Station and still assists in cases privately, said the system of how to investigate such cases had changed.

“The problem came in when FCS (Family Violence and Sexual Offences unit) joined, we had to wait for them and then it would already be 48 hours later. Crucial time was lost and we hugely relied on police reservists and today that is not the case.”

Police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk said they would look into the query whether a new statement had been handed over.

He said latest information on cold cases like Ohlsson’s would often be filed into the dockets. “Be advised that there is no designated member/team that deals with the cold cases.

“A member will be tasked if any new developments come to light.

“The files are filed pending new information that may be received regarding any of the cases as mentioned.”

Weekend Argus

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