By Kathryn Kimberley
IN a day of high drama and emotion on Friday, September 14, the Port Elizabeth Regional Court was told how neighbours heard Avril Gordon’s muffled cries for days before they encountered a woman so badly beaten and abused that their lives would be changed forever.
This was part of the shocking testimony that was heard on the first day of the trial in which Avril’s husband, Frederick Gordon, 42, stands accused on charges of rape, kidnapping and attempted murder.
A defiant Gordon pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Listening to the evidence, he shook his head, laughed and, with a shaky hand, jotted down points of argument for his Legal Aid Board attorney.
He said he never harmed his wife, she never sustained any injuries and that he never said a bad word about her. He then wanted to know if she was listening to what he was telling the court.
Gordon was arrested in March last year after neighbours in his Forest Hill block of flats reported suspicions of domestic abuse to the police.
It is alleged that Gordon locked Avril up in their tiny apartment between November 2010 and March 2011, during which time he allegedly beat, burnt and raped her with sharp objects. She was not allowed to leave the flat or talk to anyone, the state alleges.
One neighbour, Lusanda Nomketa, a student at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, testified that after returning home from a holiday on March 10 last year, he thought he heard a baby crying in the apartment next door.
The first state witness to be called, Nomketa said the crying continued almost every day for about two weeks but on March 24 he approached the caretaker, Leno Paulonio, at the block of flats.
“I told him [the caretaker] that I had heard a guy telling someone to shut up. He was beating her and she would cry. She would not say a word, it sounded like she was being suffocated,” he told the court.
“The caretaker said he would look into it and that I was not the first person to complain. I then left for rugby.”
But Nomketa said when he returned home later that evening, the block of flats was swarming with police officers.
“The accused was already in the police van. I went upstairs and then I saw her [Avril]. I didn’t even know her name. I asked her why she kept quiet if someone was abusing her. I was next door.”
But Nomketa said Avril was unable to respond due to her extensive injuries and state of shock.
“Her upper lip was swollen and she had scars and bruising.”
Unable to contain his emotions, he then turned to face Gordon in the dock and said: “Never let him free.”
Another neighbour, Cindy Sithole, a police officer at the Gelvendale police station, said she moved next door to the accused at the end of February last year. She said the first time she heard the cries was a month later, on March 22.
“I just ignored it because I didn’t know where it was coming from.”
But the following day, when the crying continued, Sithole said she pressed her ear to Gordon’s front door.
“I could hear chains being dragged on a tile floor. It sounded like the cries were coming from the bathroom.”
She said she knocked on the door, but no one answered.
“I went to the caretaker and asked him what was happening at flat number 23. He said a soldier from the air force was staying there with his wife. He said he would observe.”
The following evening, she was returning home when Paulonio approached her.
“We agreed I would take action.”
She said once the police arrived they spent a long time knocking on Gordon’s front door, trying to convince him to open up. It was only after they threatened to kick down the door that Gordon stuck his head out one of the windows.
“The place was dark. There were no lights on. He [Gordon] said there was no electricity. He said he couldn’t open up because he didn’t have keys.
“When the police demanded to speak with his wife he said she was drunk and sleeping.”
After further warnings, the police kicked in the door. “I was so shocked to see the state of the flat. There was blood all over the walls and passage. There was a smell and there were empty beer cans everywhere. In the bathroom there was blood all over. Clothes lying on floor full of blood.”
She said in the bedroom the mattress was also drenched in blood.
“I saw a white lady covered in blood. Cuts on her nose and ears. She was shaking and crying and traumatised. She was only wearing a black fleece jacket with nothing underneath. I’d never seen her before.”
Paulonio confirmed that he received several complaints during the four- month period.
“Different tenants complained. They said it sounded like a child being hit.
“I said no children lived in that house,” he said.
He said on the morning of March 24 Gordon was booked off work.
“He bought a case of beer and went to my flat. I told him about the complaints but he denied it. He wanted to know if it was Cindy who complained.
“He had a grin on his face and said ‘don’t worry, I will show her tonight’.”
Paulonio said he immediately approached Sithole. After the police had kicked down Gordon’s door, he accompanied them to the bedroom, where they found the battered and bruised Avril.
“It was a scene I never wanted to see. Something I never want to see again,” he said.
“There was blood coming from her face. Her nose was broken. The wounds on her legs were starting to fester, it looked like she had been burnt with a cigarette.
“Her nose was split, you could just see meat.
“She was shaking. I went down on my haunches and introduced myself. I told her not to worry, that her husband would never touch her again.”
Avril will testify when the trial continues on October 25.
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, September 15, 2012.