In the small town of Knysna, there are 3 murders that refuse to die…
Face-down in the dirt of St George’s Anglican Church’s garden, Jessica Wheeler (18) was suffocated to death. Less than a month later, Victoria Stadler (20) was strangled to death in the forest between the suburbs of Hornlee and Noetzie. Peter Mc Helm (48) was killed the same day as Stadler, also strangled, one kilometre away in the same forest.
Alan D Elsdon is an ex-cop turned author who has investigated the cases for 3 years. Regards the first two murders, he’s adamant that, “Undisputed evidence shows a complete cover-up took place by unethical investigating officers in the Wheeler murder, to protect corrupt policemen and drug lords in the town. In the unrelated Stadler murder, evidence proves the same officers conspired, for the sake of convenience, to arrest Heinrich and brand him a ‘serial killer’ for both cases.”
THE KNYSNA MURDERS & MURDERERS
Is Heinrich van Rooyen, ‘Prisoner No. 205338714’, innocent or guilty of the first two murders? Did he, then age 23, kill those young waitresses in Knysna in 2005? Or one? Or none? Was Peter’s murder, for which Aubrey Kamoetie and Byron Moses were convicted, a separate event?
No one sheds tears for Kamoetie and Moses. Their history is spoken about as violent and unredemptive, allegedly members of the notorious Numbers gangs. In their suburb of Hornlee, where Peter and Van Rooyen also lived, they were feared or looked upon with concealed disgust. They’re currently serving long prison sentences. It was Moses who led the police to Peter’s body so no one doubts they murdered him. Did they also kill Victoria? It’s a consideration that the South African Police Service (SAPS) chose to ignore.
Statistics show that seemingly peaceful Knysna is a murderous town. The 36 murders in 2005 were a lot. In 2016, there were again 36. By international measurement, that’s currently 49 murders per 100,000 people. 30km down the same tourist coast, Plettenberg Bay’s rate is 15 per 100,000. Why is Knysna’s murder rate more than 3 times higher?
That two pretty, young white women were allegedly killed by a male, coloured serial killer undoubtedly plays a part in a country that’s held onto the sometimes awkward, white apartheid thought that not all murders are equal, that murders of whites are somehow worse, especially the murders of pretty women.
However, that’s insufficient to explain how the murders of Jessica and Victoria came to be known as “The Knysna Murders”, named above all others. Considering Peter’s death being entangled with theirs, it’s fair that he should be included under that title which exists because of continued public interest.
JESSICA WHEELER, THE 1ST MURDER
Jessica Wheeler’s body was found on the 13th of October 2005 in the grounds of St George’s Anglican Church in Main Street, Knysna.
She was killed via suffocation, whilst her mouth was pushed into the ground. Her appalling death is emphasised by the sand found in her stomach – overpowered, she tried breathing her hardest to survive. She hadn’t been robbed, her jewellery and cellphone left behind. The murderer/s had another motive.
Jessica was friends with Van Rooyen, a popular DJ at Stones nightclub. Although years apart, they’d both attended Knysna High School. Despite having two children with his common-law wife, he was well known as a ‘ladies’ man’. He claimed to have previously been involved in a sexual relationship with Jessica. She was alleged to have a crush on him. That night, they’d have sex again, daringly in a nearby car park. She left Stone’s at about 2am.
She lived in a nearby block of flats. Soon after she arrived home, she was lured outside, to the next door Anglican Church grounds, obviously by someone she knew or trusted. The versions of her then roommate, Mike de Jager, and two women visiting him were conflicting, him saying Jessica received a cellphone call, the women saying that she responded to a knock on the door downstairs.
Within the next hour, she was killed.
It would later be claimed that she was raped. Although that was never proven, the Judge strangely sentenced Van Rooyen to an extra 20 years for unproven sodomy (anal sex).
VICTORIA STADLER, THE 2ND MURDER
Less than a month later, Victoria Stadler was reported missing on 10 November 2005. Her mother claimed that the police never really investigated until her daughter’s body was found 5 days later (since confirmed by Elsdon).
Victoria hung out at the same clubs as Jessica. Considering the small size of Knysna and its limited night life, that’s highly likely rather than a clue.
On the night she went missing, Victoria and her boyfriend, Gabriel du Toit, went to Stones where she allegedly spent a lot of time speaking to DJ Van Rooyen. Du Toit left early. When Victoria left Stones, she sent an SMS to her flatmate, saying she was on her way home – she never got there.
Van Rooyen took a lift with her to Hornlee where he claimed that she had masturbated him in the parking area of the garage. He walked home, later claiming he did so because he considered the area too dangerous for a white woman on her own. Did Van Rooyen kill her or was she hijacked on the way back? Or did she meet up with people that she knew?
Her body was found in the bushes that begins behind Hornlee and grows in the direction of the Noetzie River. Hornlee is the mostly coloured area of Knysna where Van Rooyen, Kamoetie and Moses stayed. It was also near the home of Peter Mc Helm who would be killed next.
Victoria’s VW vehicle had been torched. Her body was found one hundred metres away, into thorny bush. It would be determined that she’d died on the day she went missing. She’d been allegedly raped and asphyxiated. The rape could not be confirmed due to decomposition, probably hastened by the large rain that fell as heat increased towards summer. Her crushed larynx made strangulation likely.
Victoria had only moved into the area earlier that year. She and her friend were soon to move to Mossel Bay. Victoria had quit her job with the intention of finding new work there.
PETER Mc HELM, THE 3RD MURDER
Peter Mc Helm (48) was killed on November 11. He’d be found in the same forest.
Like her, he’d been strangled and hidden under bushes. The difference was that he’d been beaten after his feet had been tied together. A sock in his mouth would have stifled his screams.
Mc Helm had been driving an Avis rental car. When he went missing, it was traced to Cape Town where Kemoetie and Moses had left it before catching a bus back to Knysna. They would be caught, Moses showing the police where Peter’s body was.
Whereas Heinrich would be blamed for the murder of the two women, the career criminals Kemoetie and Moses were convicted for the murder of Peter.
The question that’s always repeated is why was the South African Police Service (SAPS) so convinced they had nothing to do with Victoria’s murder less than one kilometer away, the very next day – both bodies were also found one day apart.
Judge Nathan Erasmus had no doubt of Van Rooyen’s guilt. On the strength of the prosecutor’s eye-witness, Kobus Minnie, and DNA evidence at both crime scenes, he sentenced Van Rooyen to 20 years for indecent assault, life (30 years) for Jessica’s murder, 3 years for defeating the ends of justice, life (30 years) for Victoria’s murder and 5 years for malicious damage to property – the burning of Victoria’s car.
Van Rooyen entered St Alban’s Prison in Port Elizabeth in 2008, only eligible for parole in 2038.
Judge Erasmus wouldn’t allow an appeal. When an appeal was made to the Supreme Court of SA in Bloemfontein, it was not even looked at by any judge. The Constitutional Court upheld the SCA decision.
VAN ROOYEN’S SUPPORTERS
Van Rooyen has always claimed innocence, that emphasised by many who knew him stating that he was framed by the SAPS.
It’s notable that in a crime-ridden country where calls for return of the death penalty are more likely than sympathy for criminals, the community where Van Rooyen comes from has been loud in support of him. Whether in gross denial or unfulfilled fact, the ‘Justice for Heinrich Van Rooyen’ Facebook group has over 2000 subscribers.
Social media carries the danger of devolving serious issues into horrortainment or those whose only contribution is to claim they will pray. But this story is made remarkable by the physical pursuit of justice by private citizens.
Recently, despite fighting health problems and being wheelchair bound, activist Dianne Lang gave her support. She seemed overwhelmed by Van Rooyen, saying that she’d “never met a young man with so much wisdom, pure intentions, good values and a peaceful aura about him.”
Andrew Stone, reporter for The Daily Dispatch, has a keen interest, having published many articles on the subject.
Alan D Elsdon is an ex-cop turned author (see ‘The Tall Assassin’) who has investigated the cases for 3 years. In early 2014 he and Andre Els, also an ex-detective, met with Daryl Shane Els, an ex-Scorpion policeman. Daryl was the first private investigator involved in Jessica’s murder. He was an employee of the Christian Botha detective agency that was hired by an unnamed local businessman. Botha got involved too, culminating in ‘Search for Truth’, his book of true crime stories that included a section on these events.
Elsdon knew exactly what he needed to establish; (1) New Evidence (2) Factual Evidence (3) Show Innocence of Van Rooyen (4) Show in Interest of Justice (5) Must have Prospect of Success.
Between the three ex-cops (Els, Els and Elsdon), they have 65 years police experience and another 50 years private investigation experience. All 3 are convinced that Van Rooyen was a victim of a corrupt SAPS conspiracy. Els and Els have moved on in life but Elsdon so vehemently believes the truth must be exposed that he’s dedicated the past 3 years of his life to finding and proving the truth.
And he claims that he’s found it in both Jessica and Victoria’s murders. He is now attempting to get the SAPS to investigate and expose the dark work of their alleged corrupt colleagues who wrongfully and intentionally placed Heinrich behind bars for 30 years.
There’s doubt whether the truth will prevail. It’s simple but regular fact that justice can be influenced into injustice. Murders may demand attention but do not automatically acquire it.
The relationship between the Knysna public and police is sometimes awkward and fearful. The conduct of the police is regularly questioned but rarely answered satisfactorily. Many examples remain afloat such as the motive for the framing of Warrant Officer Johann Burmeister by his colleagues, the R2-billion cocaine bust, the death of the homeless man dubbed American Mike, and the unexplained death of detainee, Tom Meyer.
Conversely, for Van Rooyen’s supporters, the presumption of innocence is an impractical luxury. The majority have yet to embrace the harsh realism that few in the justice system will care to re-look at a double murderer convicted on sexually based, DNA evidence. Despite Van Rooyen being a well known ladies man (as he has oft been referred to) and that he admitted to having sex with Jessica and being masturbated by Victoria, they have to admit that it’s an extraordinary coincidence unless other evidence overwhelms it.
It was a mistake to make ‘The Knysna Murders’ synonymous with the claimed innocence of Van Rooyen. No matter how painful the possible jailing of an innocent man may be, the death of 3 people trumps that.
QUESTIONABLE EVIDENCE, QUESTIONABLE POLICE
For the sake of the victims, the case begged investigation anew so that’s what Alan D Elsdon and Andre Els did. They went back to the beginning, investigating, where possible, as if they were still on the force.
Elsdon says that it’s extremely clear that the Knysna police did not follow procedure. He claims that although the investigating officers Captain Samuel Xhamane and Inspector Johann Burmeister looked extremely busy, there was basically no investigation into Jessica’s death, a fact so bizarre it begets serious query, as much as the fact that no one queried it, especially Western Cape SAPS Director Attie Trollip e.g. why did Trollip tell the media that he was “satisfied with progress made in the case”.
However, when this author queried Burmeister he said that he had no comment because he wasn’t involved in the case. However, a request for the phone records of Jessica shows Burmeister’s name on it. Strangely, it’s stamped 7 weeks after her death, showing that there was, at least, delay in this procedure which would normally have been immediate. Elsdon also insists that Burmeister was one of the officers who interrogated Van Rooyen.
SAPS superintendent Matshidiso Mokhosi, then head of Knysna detectives, said that Jessica and Victoria’s deaths were unconnected whereas Trollip, at one stage, said that all three murders, including Mc Helm’s, were connected. Mike Bolhuis, the private investigator and spokesperson for the Stadler family, agreed with Trollip but added that there was a drug connection to all.
Earlier that year, Trollip had become widely known for his oversight of the Inge Lotz murder case which now also carries a cloud of doubt over the police. Did quick victories for the sake of public image supersede detailed investigation that murder should’ve demanded? Or are there even more disturbing questions in Knysna?
At the Victoria Stadler crime scene, her black pants and panty were found, later said to contain Van Rooyen’s DNA. How it happened was suspicious. Many police and trained dogs failed whereas a single, returning police officer, Inspector Riaan Meyer, incredibly claimed to have discovered it under a bush near where her body had lain. Thereafter, separately, 3 more officers swore they’d found the same crucial exhibits. There was no attempt by the police to resolve these blatant discrepancies.
In Jessica’s murder, the holy grail of investigatory work wasn’t followed. Why, for example, was the SAPS forensic lab permitted to change their earlier test result of a sample from “negative” to “positive” for DNA almost six months later? Was evidence tampered with in between? If so, on behalf of whom?
Elsdon claims that Inspector Johann Burmeister and Sergeant Petrus Kapp searched the room of Moses, confiscating items of clothing. One of the T-shirts at the Forensic Science Laboratory tested positive for blood. It’s relevance is unknown because Trollip never had it tested. He stated that it wasn’t necessary that the “serial killer” a.k.a. Van Rooyen, had already been caught. That could never have been a mistake for so senior a police officer. It was deliberate. Peter’s body had no open wounds. Victoria may have been suffocated but was shown to have puncture wounds in her neck. Maybe Trollip was worried that the blood may be Victoria’s, and thus destroy the concept of Van Rooyen as a serial killer? But whose blood it was will never be known.
From the beginning, there were rumours of the drug trade being involved in the 3 deaths. That seemed confirmed when, in court, Constable Walter Daniell revealed that Jessica Wheeler had been his informant. What wasn’t answered was how she’d become one, what the motivation was for this small 18-year-old undertaking that scary task, and if it was because of her relationship with Van Rooyen or the people he knew.
There’s distinct possibility that Van Rooyen was framed but to paint him as an angel would be a mistake by any investigator. If Van Rooyen is innocent, is it possible that he was fingered because he knew who was involved in the first murder? Was he a witness to the killing of Jessica? If the former, why would he be too scared to talk, especially after 9 years in prison? Or was he never there?
A further link to the police is that it was reported that Van Rooyen had previously been charged with drug dealing. If he was, it’s not surprising for a nightclub DJ to be selling recreational drugs. What’s disturbing is that both charges were withdrawn after the files went missing.That’s highly suggestive of corrupt police involvement and a relationship between Van Rooyen and the police that has yet to be revealed.
Then there was the state witness, Kobus Minnie, whom Elsdon considers to have been unreliable and to have committed perjury. Minnie was a bread delivery, truck driver from George who claimed, despite the dark hour and his moving vehicle, that he’d seen Van Rooyen talking to a white girl outside the church grounds between 2am and 3am on the morning of her murder. A bald-headed white man was walking towards them.
Minnie testified to this after he was shown photos of Van Rooyen by the police. As any policeman knows, that’s highly irregular and suggestive. Proper procedure would have been an identity parade of at least 8 photos of different people. Minnie wasn’t asked to identify the bald-headed man but he’d later be identified as Corrie Dickson, friend of Constable Daniell.
A background check by Els and Elsdon had Minnie’s ex-colleagues telling them that Minnie was a compulsive liar with a criminal record. Whether Van Rooyen was there or not, there should have been reasonable doubt.
Christian Botha, the first private investigator on the scene, became a witness for Van Rooyen, testifying that Jaco Kiewiets, a car guard, had seen with 2 white men that morning, identifying one as Constable Daniels and the other as bald. Kiewets was incredibly nervous in court but passed a polygraph test.
Botha also testified that a petrol pump attendant had seen Victoria with 3 men in a car.
Why did Judge Nathan Erasmus ignore these witnesses in lieu of Minnie?
WITNESS TO THE MURDER
Why, within days of investigating, did Els and Elsdon succeed where the police hadn’t – THEY FOUND AN EYE-WITNESS TO THE MURDER OF JESSICA WHEELER? At least, that’s what Elsdon claims. Their witness, who testified on paper and on video to an independent lawyer, claims that the real murderer is in fact one of the people who testified against Van Rooyen.
There were many kinds of witnesses, including police, but Elsdon isn’t publicly revealing who because he’s hoping that the police will respond to his evidence. But how can there be fair investigation when it seems to be in the best interests of the SAPS for Heinrich Van Rooyen to stay guilty?
In 2015, Elsdon tried to re-open the case through Warrant Officer Etienne Pretorius of the Hawks Anti-Corruption Unit. Elsdon said that he was astounded by Pretorious who wouldn’t watch the video nor meet the new eye witness. Instead, Pretorious told that there was nothing new to consider when in fact there was everything new to consider.
Elsdon never gave up. In 2017, he met with two senior Hawks members in the Western Cape. He was hoping for their intervention but on February 21 they stated that Pretorious had studied the docket and submitted his findings via General Jeremy Vearey to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions who formally closed the matter.
What was submitted? Everything? Why were the SAPS uninterested in a murder witness and why was Elsdon never contacted?
“The SAPS have been presented with water-tight proof of the corruption that took place in the 2005 murders that resulted in Heinie [Van Rooyen] being wrongfully convicted and sentenced. Their response will show if they truly want to stamp out the rot and corruption within their ranks, and see true justice prevail.”
Elsdon awaits response from Advocate Rodney De Kock, the Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions. He will also submit to him more evidence he’s discovered since meeting Pretorius. If no action thereafter, Elsdon will have no choice but to appeal to the Minister of Justice.
NB: The Knysna SAPS, Southern Cape SAPS and Western Cape SAPS failed to respond in advance to this article. I’ve no confirmation that a Facebook message was received by a parent of Jessica. The spokesperson for the Stadlers is currently out of country. Sadly, Mc Helm’s life remains mostly unknown. Hopefully this article will spark information – Mike Hampton.