Friday, 18 February 2005

Leigh's final moments

Nalisha Kalideen

February 18 2005 at 09:17AM

At last, if the police are correct, we know how Leigh Matthews died - naked and shot in the back of the head.

And we know when she died - soon after her father had handed over a R50 000 ransom on the night of her kidnapping.

And we know where she died - in the cold, in a lonely stretch of veld far from her home.

This is the scenario presented by the prosecution in their indictment against the man accused of murdering Leigh.

Donovan Moodley is accused of kidnapping, extortion, robbery with aggravating circumstances and murder.

His appearance in the Wynberg magistrate's court in Johannesburg on Thursday was overshadowed by the document which outlined Leigh's final moments.

Moodley's story, if the police are correct, begins on July 6, 2004 - a Tuesday - when he booked himself into the Formula 1 hotel in Bramley Park, Sandton. The budget hotel was the base from which the then 23-year-old man planned to "kidnap and murder for ransom".

Every day, for three days, he drove from the hotel to the Bond University campus in Sandton.

On the third morning, Friday July 9, at about 10am, somehow he came across Leigh. She had been in classes and, according to her mother Sharon, was on her way to meet with her to finalise purchases for her 21st birthday party that Saturday. The theme for the party was "Pirates of the Caribbean".

It is still unknown why Moodley chose Leigh as his victim.

According to the indictment, he pretended to be a student and asked her for a lift.

Described by her father Rob as a "gentle soul" and by her classmates as "an angel", Leigh didn't refuse.

No sooner had she left campus, according to the indictment, when Moodley held her at gunpoint.

He forcibly took the wheel and drove Leigh to an unidentified park in Randburg. It was there that he tied her hands and feet with masking tape and blindfolded her by pulling a balaclava over her head. He then shoved her into the back of her Toyota Tazz and drove back to the university.

Moodley, police claim, had parked his own Tazz at the back of the university earlier that day.

He made Leigh get into the back of his car and took her to the veld somewhere near Walkerville, south of Johannesburg.

No one knows how long Leigh waited, bound, until her mother Sharon called her. Moodley, the indictment says, answered the phone and told Sharon he had kidnapped her daughter.

Sharon's first response was disbelief. She thought it was a joke. But she became hysterical when she realised what had happened.

Rob then called Leigh's cellphone and spoke to Moodley. According to the indictment, Moodley demanded a ransom of R300 000, threatening to kill Leigh if he did not comply.

Rob immediately raised the money and late that evening Moodley called him back.

"It was agreed that Mr Matthews would pay a ransom of R50 000" to secure Leigh's release.

He drove, as instructed by Moodley, down the N1 towards Bloemfontein. He was supposed to meet Moodley at 8pm at a split in the road, but in his anxiety, drove too far.

He drove past the Grasmere toll plaza. Moodley called him and instructed him to turn around and drive back. Rob stopped at a bridge close to an Engen filling station on the road and "had to flash the headlights of his vehicle thrice".

He waited a while, oblivious to the fact that his daughter was nearby, bound and gagged, hidden in the back of a car very similar to her own.

Finally there was a tap on the back window and Moodley instructed Rob to drop the ransom from his car window, which he did.

Moodley took the money and instructed Rob to leave. Moodley then drove Leigh to the veld near Walkerville, not far from where her body was finally found.

He told her to undress completely. When she had done so, according to the indictment, he handed her a blanket and told her to "turn her back to him and to cover herself".

According to the indictment, "he shot her at point-blank range in the back of her head, behind her left ear". Leigh fell to the ground. Police believe Moodley dragged her into some bushes. He fired three more shots, one into her neck and two into her chest - all at point-blank range.

He left her body with the blanket, but took the jeans and jersey that Leigh had been wearing, as well as her underwear.

He also took her handbag and its contents, as well as her 21st birthday ring and cellphone back to the Formula 1 hotel, where he slept for the night.

He booked out the next day and took Leigh's possessions and his clothes and set them alight in the veld near his home in Brakenhurst, Alberton.

A few days later, Moodley returned to the veld to retrieve Leigh's tanzanite ring.

It was that Saturday when the desperate Matthews family called the police for help. They went to the media and made a desperate appeal to the kidnapper to return their "little girl".

"Please, please give her back," Rob pleaded.

The family refused to give up hope and continued their vigil, but their worst nightmare came true when a municipal worker found Leigh's body 13 days after her kidnapping.

Moodley was arrested on suspicion of abducting and murdering Leigh, 87 days after she disappeared on October 4 last year.

Moodley will be tried in the Johannesburg High Court on July 25.

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on February 18, 2005

Source: IOL

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