Thomas Mollet is a short, solid man with cropped hair and a face set in the defensive expression of a soul who has become accustomed to being “vilified” and attacked. And one certainly can’t blame him for being nervous at this point. Mollett, a self-confessed amateur forensics investigator who lives in the small Swartland town of Piketberg, is today facing an audience of some of the country’s most illustrious and eminent forensics experts including Professor Lorna Martin, head of forensic medicine and toxicology at UCT, Dr David Klatzow, forensic scientist, author and go-to-guy for the media as well as forensics legend, Emeritus Professor Deon Knobel.
Klatzow, in a chapter in his biography, Steeped in Blood – The Life And Times Of A Forensic Scientist (Zebra Press) describes the Lotz case as “one of the worst police investigations ever to take place in South Africa, leaving her killer roaming free”. (Klatzow later said the same thing about the Brett Kebble murder investigation, but we digress). At the time of the murder Klatzow had been employed by the chief suspect, Inge’s boyfriend, Fred Van der Vyver’s family to investigate on behalf on the defence team.
This lunchtime, however, Klatzow is seated in the front row of the auditorium wearing a German army parka holding a tape recorder aloft right under Mollett’s nose. Everyone who knows the irascible Klatzow can’t wait for question time later when we anticipate that he will tear into Mollett and metaphorical blood will splatter.
Others in the auditorium at the Wolfson Pavilion at UCT’s Division of Forensic Medicine are few uniformed police officers (seated at the back), forensic scientists and students, filmmaker and producer, Matthew Brown, and a few other interested parties in the field.
The department has invited Mollett, says Professor Martin, in order to demonstrate just how much the devil in the detail can derail or make a case and that this instance, with all the contested evidence, served as an excellent example.
Mollett, who announced that he would be signing copies of his book, Bloody Lies (Penguin), in the foyer afterwards describes himself as “a freelancer in the publishing industry”. His older brother Calvin, a civil engineer, lives in Canada and for the past two years the brothers have spent every spare moment poring over, dissecting and testing the evidence in the Inge Lotz murder trial. They even went as far as setting up their own blood splatter tests in Thomas’ flat in Piketberg, ordering from Canada an ornamental, almost identical hammer to the one found in Fred Van der Vyver’s car some time after the murder and performing “similar hitting exercises on a pig”.
“Look, it’s not like it was an obsession because we still lead normal lives but every spare minute that we get we try and spend on it [the case]. I have not watched a rugby game in three years,” Mollett told the amused audience.
He offered that it was difficult to explain to people “who are not creative” why he and Calvin felt compelled to so rigorously pursue the case but that the impulse “comes from a deeper place”.
“You know some people pick up on the rhinos as their cause. Well, our cause is Inge Lotz,” said Mollett.
Thomas said that he had always been interested in the case and had been prompted to explore it in more depth after reading Antony Altbeker’s book Fruit of A Poisoned Tree. A True Story of Murder and the Miscarriage of Justice (Jonathan Ball 2010) and feeling “there was something about the story that bothered me and I could not put my finger on it”.
“Then I started fiddling around on the Internet and I came across Pat Wertheim’s (a fingerprint expert) report. I certainly wasn’t a fingerprint expert then, and I am certainly not one now, but I could sense something was very wrong.”
Six months later, Thomas said he decided to involve his brother Calvin “to help me with the science behind it because it is always very important for me to look at the science.”
Just to recap: Inge Lotz, the talented 22-year-old only child of radiologist Professor Jan Lotz and his wife Juanita, a physiotherapist, had enrolled as a master’s statistical mathematics student at the University of Stellenbosch in 2005. At the time she was in a relationship with a fellow 22-year-old student, Fred Van der Vyver, the youngest son of wealthy Eastern Cape cattle farmers, Louis and Carien van der Vyver. Both Inge and Fred were devout Christians.
Then, on the evening of 16 March 2005, Inge was found brutally murdered in her flat in Stellenbosch. Three months later Fred was arrested after an ornamental hammer – which could have been the murder weapon – as well as other incriminating evidence (a letter) was discovered. Nine months later after one of the most sensational court cases, Van der Vyver was acquitted. Van der Vyver’s defence attorney was Dup de Bruyn, who is currently representing Reeva Steenkamp’s family.
Mollett began his afternoon talk to the forensic experts by passing the replica hammer around for the audience to grip and feel and weigh. The court ultimately found that the equivalent tool found in Van der Vyver’s car later was not the murder weapon, but Thomas is not convinced, and there are many who agree with him.
Until now the talk had been very detached, scientific, unemotional. We were, after all, in a building that probably housed cadavers somewhere close and most of us in the audience had had professional experience with crime and violence.
But the sudden sight on the auditorium screen of Inge Lotz’s severely battered body on the white couch of her flat where she was bludgeoned to death on 16 March 2005 still came as shock – well, to this writer at least. One wants to look away, not only because of the horror (there were at least 15 blows to her head and chest and around 20 stab wounds to her neck), but also because of the intimacy of the moment. A young, talented woman who was killed, it is quite clear from the multiple wounds to her head and body, by someone who must have been in a terrible rage. There is something so desperately vulnerable about her lying there covered in her own blood, and now the object of our attention.
Whoever did this to Lotz, we must bear in mind, is still free, and it is this that drives Mollett, as well as those (like Klatzow) who continue to believe Fred van der Vyver was falsely accused and that the real killer is yet to be apprehended.
Altbeker and many others believe that Lotz was murdered, tragically like most other women in South Africa, by someone she knew intimately as she would not, being a conservative person, have worn the “skimpy” attire she was dressed in at the time of the murder if a stranger had been with her. (This of course does not take into account that Lotz could have been surprised by an intruder while watching The Stepford Wives, an ironic choice of film considering Lotz’s promise to Van der Vyver in a letter she had written earlier that day that she had wanted to be a “good wife” to him).
The difference between Lotz and most other murder victims is, of course, that she is white and comes from a wealthy family and that the man accused and acquitted of the murder is also from the same background. Apart from this there are many other layers to the Lotz murder that offer a view or an understanding of other aspects of South African life and death.
And that is why filmmaker and producer Mathew Brown attended Mollett’s talk. Brown, who produced the award-winning Glitter Boys & Ganglands, directed by Lauren Beukes, is interested in what the Lotz case reveals about justice, race, violence and crime in South Africa. His documentary, as yet untitled, is due for release in September.
“Twenty years later I am interested in exploring the justice system. If I ask people what they think would have happened if Fred van der Vyver had been a black man, across the board everyone says he would have ended up in jail,” said Brown.
Brown says that the Lotz case stands out as being one that has caused much disagreement between experts.
“Even experts around the world in various fields disagree with each other on the evidence and we are kind of brought up to believe that evidence and CSI is absolute but it isn’t. In this case these experts are arguing against each other based on the same evidence. And that’s crazy,” said Brown.
He also said the Lotz case, like the Pistorius trial, got wrapped up in the “high profile” label but the point is these cases are exactly that because the victims are pretty, white Afrikaans girls and the suspects white men who are/were their boyfriends.
There is an interesting aspect to what Inge Lotz, who fitted the saintly blonde virgin trope, evoked in the men who surrounded her in life (and in death).
In Fruit of a Poisoned Tree Altbeker writes: “There was evidence, for example, that Inge inspired interest in many of the men with whom she and Fred were friends. Her best friend, Wimpie Boschoff, testified that Marius Botha who was Fred’s flat mate, had been so in love with Inge when they first met that he had, on occasions, written her poems. Wimpie also said that Jean Minnaar, to whose flat Fred had delivered the cupboard on the evening of the murder, had been in love with Inge. Finally he also testified that Jean’s flat mate, Braam Kruger, had dated Inge…”
Inge, it appears has come to represent some sort of feminine ideal, and Brown says that the Mollett brothers are very “protective” of her.
“What I get is that she maybe represents, subconsciously, something more to them. She is more than just someone who has died. They are trying to find out the truth and it is almost as if they are protecting her in death,” said Brown.
The Mollett brothers begin their book with the line “you are now the soloist in the angels’ choir” quoting Boschoff’s eulogy at Lotz’s funeral and there is something about the continuing notion of her as “an angel” or “pure” that snags consideration and is asking for exploration on a deeper psychological level.
The rest of Mollett’s talk to the forensic experts yesterday revolved around the minutiae of measurements of Lotz’s mortal wounds, the angle of camera used by the forensic photographer and the convincing possibility that the hammer was indeed the murder weapon.
The Mollett brothers would like to see the case against Fred van der Vyver reopened “considering new and compelling evidence”. The Western Cape DPP, Advocated Rodney de Kock, has informed the brothers that this is not going to happen while admitting that nine years later there are no new or other suspects.
“We believe, however, that a retrial should be considered and granted,” the brothers conclude their book.
In the end, Dr Klatzow didn’t – surprisingly – take on Mollett. Later the good doctor was seen leaning against a wall chatting with colleagues.
“So, they find out the hammer did cause the wounds. What then? It could have been any hammer in the Western Cape,” he said, to much agreement.
Ultimately the Molletts ask us to consider one thing.
“Imagine Inge Lotz was your daughter”. DM
Photo: Amateur forensic investigator and author Thomas Mollett at his talk about the Inge Lotz trial in Cape Town yesterday. (Picture Marianne Thamm)
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