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Missing girl case sparks mob rampage

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By Natasha Prince

Cape Town - Parkwood residents, including knife-wielding children, went on the rampage after a man suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl was granted bail.

But when the crowd couldn’t find 62-year-old Gerald Croudes they turned on another man in his 60s and assaulted him.

Police have confirmed that an attempted murder case is being investigated.

Provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut said that on Monday residents “became riotous” after hearing that Croudes was granted bail after he had been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 12-year-old Jennifer Williams.

Jennifer was last seen on December 20, when she went to her sister’s house in Parkhurst Walk, Parkwood.

When she did not return her mother reported her missing. At the time she had been wearing a black-and-yellow two-piece bathing costume.

On Thursday, a body was found by a passer-by on a field off Plantation Road, behind the old Ottery reformatory.

The body was badly decomposed and the police have yet to confirm the identity.

Jennifer’s disappearance, the decomposed body and the arrest of Croudes, came to a head on Monday when the community took a stand – marching with weapons and placards calling for no bail.

A large crowd of people had initially approached Rachel Williams, gathering on her stairwell, after word had spread that Croudes was granted bail.

On Tuesday, Williams told the Cape Argus she had distanced herself from the action and said she did not know much about attacks and that she was hearing conflicting rumours about what happened.

Photographer Leon Knipe, who was at the scene, said he had to flee when the crowd turned on him and the police.

Knipe said at around 2pm the crowd that had gathered at the Grassy Park police station had begun to march down to Parkwood.

Knipe said he was told by one of the crowd members that he “had to leave” for his own safety.

Knipe witnessed children carrying various kinds of weapons – one resident had a panga while others had wooden sticks and knives.

“They started throwing stones at us – me and the police – we really had to run,” he said.

He said the tension and the anger of the crowd was palpable.

“The crowd wanted blood – somebody was going to get hurt. I just knew something was going to happen, I could feel it,” he said.

Traut confirmed the incident.

“The community became riotous because they were unhappy with his bail granted by the court,” he said.

Traut said in a separate incident, another man, who is 65 years old and who was also considered a suspect, was assaulted.

He said an attempted murder case was being investigated.

“Police had to take action to restore order,” Traut said.

“After negotiations the crowd dispersed peacefully,” he added.

Philip Bam, head of the Grassy Park Community Police Forum who was also at the scene, said he attempted to quell tension as tempers flared.

Bam said the community had marched to Grassy Park Police station and were addressed by the station commander.

“We had split the crowd and some of them went to Grassy Park police station – the crowd was really, really serious when they had heard that he had bail – they were angry, they were there with pangas.”

He said the crowd had agreed with the police that the 62-year-old man needed to be detained again for his own safety.

Another crowd had gathered in Parkwood where they had started throwing stones.

Meanwhile, (Rachel) Williams is waiting to hear from the police about the body found last week. The police said on Tuesday that the body which was discovered “is yet to be identified, and DNA results are awaited.”

Williams had heard that the body police found was so badly decomposed that it was difficult to identify any features. She said the police had refused to let them try to visually identify the body.

“But it’s my child,” Williams said.

On Tuesday, Williams was surrounded both by relatives and Jennifer’s father Michael Petersen, who have been supporting her.

According to Williams, Croudes approached her early on Thursday afternoon. She said Jennifer was familiar with him.

He took my hand and said: “Don’t worry they are going to find her later.”

She said that a few hours later they found a body on the field.

Williams said in the past few days she had heard many different stories of what had happened.

“I’m too afraid to leave my house… it upsets me,” she said.

“We’re also looking for answers… everybody’s asking me questions and I can’t answer them,” she said.

Jennifer’s story to date.

* December 20 – Jennifer goes missing. She was last seen at her sister’s house in Parkhurst Walk, Parkwood.

She had been swimming in a blow-up pool at her sister’s house.

When she did not return, her mother contacted the police.

* Thursday, December 27 – The body of a girl is discovered in a field off Plantation Road, Ottery.

Police have not confirmed the identity of the body, which was so badly decomposed it was difficult to identify it.

* A 62-year-old man, Gerald Croudes, is held for questioning in connection with Jennifer’s disappearance.

* On Monday, December 31, the man is granted bail. His release sets off a crowd of angry residents waving placards and weapons and calling for no bail. Residents, including children, run through the area with various weapons until police step in to disperse the group with rubber bullets and stun grenades. The community retaliated by pelting the police with stones. A 65-year-old man was assaulted.

* On Wednesday,Rachel Williams is expected to hear the outcome of DNA tests and forensics analysis conducted to identify the body found last Thursday.

natasha.prince@inl.co.za

Cape Argus

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