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“Could this Unobtrusive-looking Couple be Responsible for Murder?” – An Excerpt from Grave Murder

Grave MurderGrave Murder: The Story Behind the Brutal Welkom Killing by Jana van der Merwe tells the story of the heinous murder of Michael van Eck.

In this excerpt, shared by Zebra Press, the police officers investigating the brutal murder “pull an old trick” to try and lure the deceased’s last caller to a place where the detectives could identify them.

Read about the gamble the detectives made, and the surprising way it panned out:

* * * * *

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the team studied the cellphone statements again. This time, Steyn offered to call the last number displayed on Michael’s phone, as if a different caller, much like a different gambler taking over an unlucky slot machine, could twist fate to their advantage.

‘Let’s hold thumbs,’ said Van Zyl.

‘Here goes,’ Steyn said as she punched in the number. It rang. She could not hide her elation as she mouthed and signalled the good news with a thumb’s up. On the spur of the moment, Steyn decided to pull an old trick she and Van Zyl had learnt from their good friend, the respected private investigator Leon Rossouw, from Bloemfontein. It was a trick that had worked time and again to lure possible suspects to the police.

‘Hello?’ said the sweet-sounding voice of a young girl.

‘Hi, I am so sorry to disturb you. This is Dr Mitchell from Casualty at the Welkom Mediclinic,’ Steyn said, making up an identity.

‘Yes?’ the young woman responded.

‘We have a girl here who has just been in a very bad motor-vehicle accident,’ Steyn said, while putting on her most authentic doctor’s voice.

‘We’re going to have to operate immediately, but before we can go ahead we need someone to identify her. Your number was one of the numbers found on the cellphone brought in with her. Can you help us?’

Steyn could hear her heart beating as silence fell between them.

She waited.

‘I’m at Game, but we can come over shortly,’ the girl said.

‘Great, sorry, I didn’t get your name?’ Steyn asked cautiously.


‘Okay, thank you, Chané. See you soon,’ Steyn said, and put down the phone.

Nel realised that the Game store was just across the road from the hospital and that they were still several kilometres away, where they had been searching the area around the dam. She and her colleagues had all heard it over the speakerphone: the girl had said ‘we’.

They dropped everything and immediately made their way to the hospital. Steyn, Van Zyl and Krügel passed St Helena again as they sped in the direction of the Welkom Mediclinic, fearing that the girl, the last person Michael had contacted on his cellphone, would beat them to it and find out that she had been lied to.

Relief flushed over them when they got to the hospital’s casualties area and could not spot anyone who would match the young voice on the cellphone.

‘Good afternoon, Janet,’ Van Zyl said upon reaching the reception desk, peering at the shiny badge on the hospital official’s uniform. Van Zyl showed the woman his ID card.

‘I’m Detective Eben van Zyl from the SAPS,’ he said. ‘We are conducting an investigation. If anyone inquires about identifying a victim of a motorvehicle accident or asks for “Dr Mitchell”, I would appreciate it if you could direct them straight to me and my colleagues. We will be around.’

Van Zyl, Steyn and Krügel waited at casualty, while Nel went off to stand guard at the main entrance. Nel carefully studied new visitors from top to toe, viewing each as a potential suspect as they walked into the hospital through the sliding doors. It was starting to get late.

Five minutes felt like an eternity.

Twenty minutes after she’d arrived with her team, Nel saw them approaching the main entrance.

Coming through the glass sliding doors was a couple. The petite, dishevelled girl was wearing an oversized red hoody and black sweatpants. She looked like a teenager. Her long black hair was pulled back into a bun, and her black fingernails offset against her fair skin made her look so pale, she seemed almost translucent.

Beside her walked a twentysomething, tallish, average-looking bloke. The couple’s hands were tightly entwined as they strolled into the entrance hall at a slow, steady pace, as if they had all the time in the world. Nel observed that they did not stop at the admissions desk or turn towards the wards, but walked straight to the casualty ward. To Nel, this was a sign that this could be the girl who had answered Michael’s last cellphone call. She turned and followed the couple.

Nel joined up with Steyn and Van Zyl and quietly pointed out the couple to them. The three of them watched intently as the young couple approached the reception desk in the casualty ward. While she was talking to a uniformed hospital official, the girl turned her head and made eye contact with the police officers for the first time.

Could this unobtrusive-looking couple be responsible for Michael van Eck’s murder?

No. Maybe. It can’t be, thought Nel.

But she knew.

* * * * *

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