October 05 2009 at 07:41AM
By Shaun Smillie
It was the sight of a daughter in tears as she described her father's murder and how his body had been burnt that compelled private investigator Daryl Els to act.
The image was on Carte Blanche more than a week ago.
"I just saw how upset the daughter was, and I realised these guys had to be taken down," said Els. It was a story about South Africa's crime statistics focusing on a house robbery near Cullinan in July.
The boyfriend told them the name of a man who sold him the phone for R200
Els, from East London, happened to be in Joburg on a case. He also had a weekend free during which he decided to try to solve the murder of Piet van den Berg. His quest, with the help of a stolen cellphone and fellow PIs, would take him 48 hours to complete.
By Saturday three men had been arrested in Bertrams, one allegedly in possession of items stolen from the Van den Berg residence.
The murder took place in Cullinan, when three men armed with knives and firearms went on to the Van den Berg smallholding. They shot Van den Berg in the chest, then locked his wife, Madeleine, in a cupboard. The men covered Van den Berg's body with newspaper and set it alight. They also set fire to the house, but Madeleine escaped.
Els's investigation began with a phone call to Van den Berg's daughter, Teresa Stander.
"She told me that she didn't have money to hire a PI, but I told her that I was willing to do it free of charge, she just had to sign a mandate," he explained.
Stander was pleased with the outcome
Els contacted the investigating officer, who allowed him to view the docket. Reading the docket, Els got his first breakthrough - he noted that a cellphone had been stolen in the robbery, and that it remained in use, but with a new number.
That was when he decided he needed the help of a woman he calls the magic lady, fellow PI Elschen Bornman. Bornman has a reputation for gleaning information from unsuspecting cellphone users. She worked her magic "and we got an address in Bertrams", said Els.
On Saturday morning, Els, with colleague Frans Molokomme and the investigator in the case tracked down the woman who was using the phone. She told them she had been given the phone by her boyfriend, a security guard.
The boyfriend told them the name of a man who sold him the phone for R200. With her boyfriend facing arrest for possession of stolen goods, the woman on Saturday informed Els she was standing outside the house of the man who had sold them the phone.
Els convinced a Jeppe detective to go with him so they could effect an arrest. They arrested the man in a shack and a second nearby.
One suspect said to the other, "I told you, you should have got rid of that cellphone", Els said.
The two fingered a third man. They said he had been arrested the night before for drinking in public and was in the Jeppe police station's holding cells. The two pointed him out and police took him to his Bertrams home, where they found trousers, a jacket and a bag believed to have belonged to Van den Berg.
The trio are being held on murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and arson charges.
Els says he could not have solved the case without the help of police.
Stander was pleased with the outcome.
"I am just very, very glad. Now we can find out why they did what they did," she said.
This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on October 05, 2009