Murdered Mpumalanga butchery owner mystery unfolds

The police and emergency workers look on as the pipe is being opened.

The police and emergency workers look on as the pipe is being opened.

Tests on blood found on the scene at the butchery proved the blood to be that of a human.

Three crime scenes, a missing businessman and an apparent lengthy divorce battle set the scene for a murder mystery that unfolded over the weekend in Evander.

Police believe a body found in a water pipe on the mine property on Sunday is that of 63-year-old Mervin van Heerden, owner of the Karmer Meat Market in the Evander CBD, Mpumalanga, reports Ridge Times.

READ MORE: Charred body found behind Evander mineshaft

According to Sergeant Sibusiso Mbuli, spokesperson for the Evander Police Station, detectives following up on a possible break-in, came across a bloodied scene at the butchery last Thursday night.

The area behind the butchery’s back entrance and the living quarters of a worker who is now regarded as the main suspect were processed that same night and declared a murder scene.

Tests on blood found on the scene proved the blood to be that of a human.

Police discovered Van Heerden’s VW Polo at the Evander dumping site on Friday afternoon with the keys on the driver’s seat.

His cellphone was also off, and he could not be found at his home. Police also discovered blood on the backseat.

Various units, including the Secunda K9 unit, searched the dumpsite in the hope of finding a body.

The intensive search yielded nothing. The police officially declared Van Heerden missing on Saturday, and turned to the media to spread the word.

Karen van Heerden, 47, Van Heerden’s ex-wife, told the newspaper he had a tendency not to tell people of his whereabouts.

She helped with a photo of Van Heerden.

The police, under the leadership of Capt Simon Sakhile Mlotshwa, followed up information and then arrested Karen van Heerden and an employee, Darrello Lutgie Soetmelk, 20, that same day on suspicion of being party to the disappearance and possible murder of Van Heerden.

According to Mbuli, one of the suspects took the police to point out where the remains of Van Heerden was dumped.

The leads led them to a water pipe on mine property behind the old Evander Gold Mine Shaft 5 and Unicor Dam.

Captain Heintjie Alberts from the K9 unit set his dog, Brutus to work and the dog sniffed out the exact spot within minutes.

Brigadier Sifiso Cele, Secunda cluster commander, was hands on with recovering the body.

A blow torch was used to cut through the thick steel pipe in which the body, wrapped in cloth was stuffed and set alight.

The Govan Mbeki municipal fire brigade retrieved the charred remains from the pipe.

At first it appeared that only bones remained, but after several attempts, the police were able to pull out the torso and head. These were burned at places, but some parts could still be recognisable as that of a white man.

A postmortem will confirm if this is indeed the remains of Van Heerden.

Karen Van Heerden and Soetmelk appeared in the Evander Magistrates’ Court on Monday to apply for bail.

Van Heerden is currently facing charges relating to defeating the ends of justice or accessory after the fact.

The state claimed that she knew about the murder but did not inform the police. Soetmelk was arrested for concealing a crime. Both denied their involvement in the murder of what is expected to be Van Heerden.

In the meantime, court officials said the Van Heerdens were divorced after a lengthy divorce settlement battle that allegedly included ownership of the butchery.

Van Heerden have been working in the butchery for several years, even throughout the divorce battle.

They have been warned to appear in court again on September 13.

Cele said on the scene where the body was found that he was tremendously proud of his dedicated team.

Brigadier Sifiso Cele (Secunda cluster commander), Capt Sakhile Mlotshwa (investigating officer) and Dr Simba Chikwava (pathologist) discuss how they must retrieve a body stuffed down this pipe.

“They worked around the clock without sleep to solve the case.”

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