KWADUKUZA, SOUTH AFRICA — Gert van Rooyen and his girlfriend, Joey Haarhoff, died 27 years ago, but the killer couple’s chilling grip on South Africa’s psyche continues to make headlines.
On January 15, 1990, the duo’s reign as the nation’s most prolific abductors and sexually sadistic serial killers of young girls ended as police closed in on them. Feeling the heat, Rooyen pumped a fatal .22-caliber slug into Haarhoff’s head, and then turned a .357 Magnum on himself.
While Van Rooyen and Haarhoff’s murder-suicide stopped their ongoing terror spree, it also begat a new sort of nightmare for the loved ones of their victims. Without the killers alive to provide any information, the remains of the children they slaughtered have never been found. As a result, the killers never faced charges in regard to these crimes, either in life or in death.
So just as the initial atrocities horrified the nation, the wound — like the mystery of where those bodies may be — continues to remain open.
Last week, investigators acted on a new lead in hope of locating what might be physically left of Rosa Piel, 9; Odette Boucher, 11; Fiona Harvey, 12; Anne-Marie Wapenaar, 12; Yolande Wessels, 12; Joan Horn, 13; and Tracy-Lee Scott-Crossley, 14.
After a 15-month investigation by the TV news program Fokus discovered that Van Rooyen and Haarhoff vacationed on Blythedale Beach after the murders‚ forensics teams stormed the dunes, unearthing multiple tons of sand above and underground storm water drainpipe.
Workers bore through layers of concrete and brought in corpse-sniffing dogs. So far, though, no new evidence has turned up.
Just how deep South Africa’s trauma runs regarding the case may be indicated by authorities possibly turning to the supernatural for help. Gauteng-based newspaper The Citizen reported that, following a “psychic vision,” self-described spiritualist LaRenta Marx initially tipped off police about the subterranean drainpipe. Additionally, a family who once lived in Blythedale reported seeing a figure of a young girl by their pool who vanished, and their two-year-old son claimed to have met an “imaginary friend” of a young girl there who told him she’d been beaten and assaulted by grown-ups at the beach resort. These claims added to Marx’s psychic vision became part of the investigation by Fokus.
The digging, in every sense, goes on and on.
Born in 1938, Gert van Rooyen spent much of his formative years bumping up against the law. At 16, a car theft sent him to reform school. Two years later, he did a real jail stretch, again for stealing.
Upon getting out, van Rooyen joined his brothers’ successful construction business, got married, and fathered six children.
After decades without incident, 41-year-old Van Rooyen abducted, beat, and sexually assaulted two girls, ages 10 and 13. He got four years, after which his wife formally divorced him.
The proverbial gasoline met the proverbial lit match in 1988, then, when Van Rooyen hooked up with Francina Johanna “Joey” Haarhoff. The couple applied to be foster parents and reportedly called around to orphanages and children’s charities, asking for kids to spend holidays and weekends with them.
Frustrated on that front, Haarhoff took to luring young girls into cars and bringing them home for Van Rooyen to physically and sexually savage before he killed them. The victims ranged in age from 9 to 16, and all disappeared in 1988 and ’89.
Finally, on January 11, 1990, Haarhoff kidnapped 16-year-old Joan Booysen from a church parking lot, initially believing the girl to be years younger due to her petite size.
Once inside what would later be dubbed the couple’s “House of Horrors,” Van Rooyen drugged, handcuffed, and sexually violated Booysen. Afterward, he locked her inside a cupboard.
Booysen luckily managed to free herself and escape to the police. Officers set up surveillance around Van Rooyen’s residence and nabbed him after Booysen provided a positive ID. In addition, his white Ford pickup truck matched the description of a vehicle spotted during another abduction.
Officers swept the home and turned up copious forensic and physical evidence, including the home address of one victim scrawled on a scrap of paper and a set of keys belonging to another. Authorities chased Van Rooyen and Haarhoff to Pretoria. Two shots ended the pursuit.
Three decades later, detectives tirelessly pursue every clue regarding the victims’ whereabouts. It can seem, sometimes, as though authorities have torn up every patch of ground that might possibly contain answers. Regardless, the search goes forward.
So, too, at least in part, did loathsome activity in Van Rooyen’s own family. In 1991, Flippie van Rooyen, Gert’s son, received the death penalty for murdering a 15-year-old Zimbabwean girl. He also claimed his father sold the girls into Middle Eastern sex slavery. Flippie’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Main photo: Joey Haarhoff and Gert Van Rooyen [supplied/fair use]