Is Knysna’s waitress killer still walking free?

UntitledWHILE police and the justice system are satisfied that former Knysna DJ Heinrich van Rooyen murdered two girls in Knysna 10 years ago, there are those who still believe their killers are still at large.

A decade ago tomorrow, the partially burnt body of Victoria Stadler, 20, was discovered near the Noetzie forest outside the holiday town. She had been strangled.

About a month earlier, the body of Jessica Wheeler, 19, was found in the St George’s Anglican Church grounds on October 13 2005. She had been suffocated and raped.

The killings became known in the press as the “waitress murders”.

East London-based private investigator Christian Botha, who was hired by a Knysna businessman in 2005 to look into Wheeler’s murder, said this week he had never been convinced that Van Rooyen was the killer.

Botha was hired as the businessman believed the crime would have a negative impact on the town’s festive season.

Van Rooyen was arrested, tried, convicted and handed two life sentences for the murders in 2008.

This followed damning evidence linking him to the two girls, including the discovery of his DNA in semen found on both victims.

But Botha said he was one of the last people to see Van Rooyen and Stadler together.

“I was there in Knysna before Stadler was murdered. I questioned Van Rooyen at the nightclub where he worked about Wheeler’s death and Stadler was sitting right there at the bar. I can’t believe that while knowing he was a person of interest in a murder case he would go out and kill another young woman hours later,” he said.

Botha has also come across information which suggested the two murders were not related at all and that others were responsible.

In Wheeler’s case, Botha is convinced a man he believes was known to Wheeler killed her and that his footprint – a Hi-Tech boot – was left behind at the churchyard.

Botha said this footprint had never been lifted by police.

He said he had also come across a petrol attendant who said she had seen Stadler – after dropping Van Rooyen off in Hornlee on the night of her murder – with three other men in her car. “She asked for R50 of fuel and drove off.” Botha says he believes these men killed her.

While Van Rooyen has enjoyed significant support over the years, the girls’ families are “100%” convinced the right man is behind bars.

Both victims’ mothers, Dusty Wheeler and Hannetjie Stadler, said that they had no doubt Van Rooyen had killed their daughters.

They shared how they were still battling to come to grips with the horrific way in which their children had been taken from them.

“It is 10 years, but we have not forgotten our lovely daughter. She never had the chance to live the life she deserved. We still love and miss her terribly,” Dusty Wheeler said.

Stadler’s mother said every time the murders made headlines, she relived the pain of losing her daughter.

On November 10 she shared a poignant message on her Facebook page: “Time has flown. Today, 10 years ago, I started looking for you and I couldn’t find you. The sun set for you before the moon rose. Victoria, I miss you. Rest in peace.”

Van Rooyen has maintained his innocence, both throughout the trial and over the last 10 years in St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth.

There have been several attempts to secure his release. Claims of new evidence surfaced when author Alan D Elsdon was researching the murders for a book he plans to write.

He spent three months going through evidence gathered during the initial investigation and trial.

He claimed to have tracked down a witness from the night Wheeler was murdered who revealed that the killer was someone who had testified against the DJ.

Elsdon did not want to discuss the details of the evidence.

He said he had spent another few days in Knysna looking into the murder last week and had gone to see Van Rooyen last Sunday. He said he planned to continue his efforts “in search of the truth”.

Police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said a decision had been made not to reopen the case.

“The information handed in [by Elsdon] is old and was taken into account during the initial investigation . . . The matter is therefore regarded as concluded,” Pojie said.

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