By Gareth Wilson
A PAINSTAKING, two-year police investigation into the murder of Walmer Country Club manager Gerrie Hoekstra during a botched hijacking in December 2010 culminated this week in the arrest of a woman believed to be the mastermind behind the killing.
The country club’s bookkeeper, Karen van der Merwe, 40, was taken into custody on Thursday, October 8, in connection with the incident in which Hoekstra, 61, was shot dead while transporting the club’s takings, about R33 000, to the bank.
Hoekstra was shot through the driver’s side window of his Opel Astra at the 9th Avenue and Heugh Road intersection. Attempting to flee, he sped down Heugh Road before losing consciousness, veering into oncoming traffic and crashing into a tree opposite 8th Avenue.
Medics on the scene originally thought Hoekstra had suffered a heart attack but later noticed a bullet wound to his upper body.
Van der Merwe – who according to colleagues maintained a low profile at the club and was rarely spotted outside her office – was arrested at the country club after detectives were given the green light from the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DDPP) to arrest and charge her.
She is the fourth person to be arrested for the murder. Police believe she was a key role player who allegedly hired the other three to carry out the plot.
Police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said Van der Merwe appeared in court on Thursday and was granted R5 000 bail.
“We are confident this case will be transferred to the High Court where the accused will face charges of incitement to commit murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and murder,” she said. “This was an organised attack and, together with senior state advocates, the Walmer detectives have built a strong a case against all the accused.”
She said the investigation had taken a long time because police had to collect necessary evidence to substantiate the claims made against Van der Merwe.
At the time of the murder, police suspected the killing was linked to a bungled hijacking. As the investigation unfolded, detectives discovered that only moments before the botched robbery a Speedy Cabs taxi driver, Abduragmaad Hendriks, 41, reported that he been hijacked in Victoria Drive – only a few kilometres away from the robbery.
After inconsistencies during interrogation, detectives arrested Hendriks. Days later two more suspects were charged. They were Sherwin Leander, 29, who is believed to have pulled the trigger, and Charne Brown, 32, who at the time worked in the radio control room of Extreme Cabs and Tours in Newton Park.
Leander faces an additional charge of illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
In an affidavit, Brown – who handed herself over to police – claims that Van der Merwe phoned her and asked her to find people to rob Hoekstra. She consulted with Hendriks, who then allegedly recruited Leander to carry out the robbery.
Hendriks, whose taxi was used as a getaway vehicle, allegedly dropped Leander at the scene and after the shooting attempted to exonerate himself by claiming to have been hijacked.
After their arrest, Brown was granted bail while Leander and Hendriks remained in custody.
DDPP Hannelie Bakker said evidence suggested that Van der Merwe was involved with both the planning and execution of the robbery, which turned into a murder.
“We are very confident based on the evidence obtained during the investigation. The minimum sentence for this type of crime is life unless they can prove there are compelling circumstances.”
Van der Merwe’s attorney, Alwyn Griebenow, said his client would not talk about the case.
“I can say that she is totally devastated. Just before they transfer the case to the High Court they arrest her,” he said. “She maintains her innocence and cannot wait for this to go to court so she can prove it.”
Van der Merwe is scheduled to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, October 14, where the matter will be set for trial in the High Court.
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, November 10, 2012.