Man arrested while in jail for burglary, writes Gareth Wilson
A breakthrough in the investigation surrounding the brutal murder of a Port Elizabeth pensioner last month has led to the arrest of a suspect who was taken into custody for an unrelated burglary 48 hours after the fatal attack.
Sandra Haupt, 72, was found bloodied and unconscious in her Nazareth House retirement cottage by her husband, Paul, 75, shortly after he returned home on March 21.
According to police, officers on the scene originally suspected she had fallen, but later realised she had been brutally bludgeoned with a pickaxe handle in an apparent house robbery.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said the 31-year-old suspect had been arrested Friday morning in St Albans prison.
The man, whom police will name only after he is formally charged in court, was awaiting trial in prison on charges of burglary and theft committed two days after Haupt’s murder.
According to police, the suspect had several previous convictions and was “well known” to detectives.
Labans said: “He was arrested two days after the murder for breaking into another house in the same area. At that stage, there was nothing suggesting he was linked to the murder.”
The connection came after forensic experts found the suspect’s fingerprints inside Haupt’s house.
“Shortly after his arrest for the unrelated burglary, forensic experts ran his fingerprints through the system and found they matched those found in Haupt’s house.”
Detectives then realised that their chief suspect was already in custody.
“Detectives followed up leads and found that [Haupt’s] cellphone was sold to a person in Kirkwood who has already been tracked down and interviewed,” Labans said.
Asked about the motive for the murder, Labans said it appeared to have been a bungled house robbery.
At the scene, police originally opened an inquest docket but later changed it to murder when the autopsy confirmed Haupt had been savagely beaten and left for dead.
According to police, Haupt had suffered a stroke three weeks previously, which led them and her husband to believe she had fallen while suffering another stroke.
Nazareth House board member Angelo Dashwood said yesterday that while the arrest was welcomed, they had also beefed up security measures and formed a committee to address any security issues.
“We have had a meeting with the residents and a committee was put in place to work on safety aspects. This is a permanent committee that will remain in place,” he said.
Dashwood said that, after the attack, they had assessed various security aspects.
“We believe that he [killer] entered the premises by posing as a builder and walking in through the front gate.
“At that stage there was building work being done, so it would have been easy for him to slip in.
“We presume this is what happened as it is unlikely he managed to scale the wall,” he said.
“Since then we have introduced additional security measures to make sure this does not reoccur.”
The man is due to be formally charged in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Monday.