From plane crashes to murders: Seven unsolved South African mysteries

24 June 2014 - 12:28 By Pericles Anetos

Here are the seven greatest mysteries in South African history from the Kruger millions to the Helderberg plane crash.

Bubbles Schroeder Murder

The murder of Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder, the ‘good-time-girl’ as she was called  by the papers, was a murder that caused a sensation in South Africa for years and remains unsolved.

The 18-year-old girl was found strangled in a plantation adjoining the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.

On August 15 1949, Schroeder was drinking with friends including David Polliack and Hyman Liebman at Polliack’s mansion in Illovo.

According to the Sunday Times an intoxicated Schroeder asked to be taken home and Liebman agreed to take her.

According to evidence presented in court Schroeder became unruly, she had allegedly wanted to drive but Liebman refused because it was a new car.

Thirty hours later she was found dead. After two months, the police arrested Liebman and Polliack.

When the police could not show the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on what charges Polliack was arrested, he was released.

The states case against Liebman also fell apart after it became clear that there was insufficient evidence against him and he was released.

The Kruger Millions

The Kruger Millions are thought to be gold coins and other valuables that were taken out of Pretoria as the British forces shelled the city during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

It is believed that Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic at the time, took the treasure hoard with him as he fled after the war.

But other historical accounts suggest that Kruger may have given the gold away. There are records that show that large amounts of the gold was paid out to Boer soldiers at the end of the war.

Others believe the treasure is buried somewhere in South Africa and was never taken out the country.

According to the records in 1900, 947,000 Kruger ponde were minted; more than three times the annual number normally required for the administration of the Transvaal, a large quantity of 1898 silver coins were also struck.

Very few of the ponde were ever recovered and not a single 1898 silver coin has ever turned up.

Robert Smit Murder

Dr Robert Smit and his wife Jeanne-Cora were murdered in their Springs home in 1977.

A member of the South African National Party, Smit was shot four times and stabbed once, his wife was also shot and then stabbed 14 times after her death.

According to the Sunday Times, police at the time investigated a billion Rand Swiss bank loan that Smit was arranging for South African businessmen.

While many theories arose at the time concerning the motives behind the murders, no clear evidence was ever found as to why the couple was so brutally killed.

The Machel plane crash

On October 19, 1986, while flying back to Maputo from Zambia, the Mozambican president Samora Machel’s plane crashed into a hillside at Mbuzini, just within the South African border. Machel and 33 others died.  Nine people sitting at the back of the plane survived.

A report which was attributed to the Mozambique civil aviation authorities found that the crash was due to pilot error and outdated equipment.

Accusations were raised at the time by Mozambique that the South African government tampered with the beacon signals to lead the plane off course.

Jacinto Veloso, who worked for a period as Mozambique's National Director of Intelligence Services and Minister of State Security, maintained in his memoirs that Machel death was due to a conspiracy by South Africa and Soviet secret services.

The Helderberg plane crash

Also known as South African Airways Flight 295, the Boeing 747 plane fell into the Indian Ocean near Mauritius on November 28, 1987 en route to Johannesburg.

160 passengers and crew were lost when the Helderberg plunged into the ocean.

There were rumours that the captain was unhappy about some of the cargo that was loaded on to the Boeing 747 before it left Taipei, the rumours were later acknowledged by senior officials of the South African Airways office in Taiwan.

This along with an official blackout on clues and recordings, sparked rumours of time bombs and illegal unstable cargo including fireworks, smoke canisters, acid and even rocket fuel.

The reason behind the crash is unknown to this day.

The aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder was recovered after a two month search in January 1989.

The Margo Commission, which was charged at the time with finding out what happened when the Helderberg crashed, deduced that a fire broke out in the main cargo hold.

It was also reported in the Sunday Times that the original cargo manifesto for the flight went missing.

In a separate Sunday Times article, a former Armscor (an arms procurement agency of the South African Department of Defence) employee leaked that the company used scheduled passenger flights to smuggle dangerous chemicals to South Africa for their ballistic missile program.

An Armscor spokesman, Abba Omar, said the corporation had not used passenger aircraft to carry dangerous materials.

However, he conceded individuals could have done so in their 'personal capacity'.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing into the Helderberg crash found that its findings did not tally with the Margo Commission.

The TRC questioned why the Margo Commission failed to call any witnesses from Armscor to establish whether any military cargo was on board the aircraft.

Armscor has denied that it shipped any explosive chemicals on the Helderberg last flight. 

The s.s. Waratah

On July 28 1909 an Australian passenger liner, the s.s. Waratah, left Durban for Cape Town with 211 passengers aboard. The ship never arrived in Table Bay.

No trace of the ship was ever found. It’s assumed that the ship went down somewhere along the Transkei coast, which is now the Wild Coast.

The 152m steamship sailed between Australia and England.

A report in the Sunday Times in June 1910 spoke of attempts by the s.s. Wakefield to find the missing ship but the search was fruitless.

July 18 1999 Emlyn Brown announced he had found the elusive wreck, but in 2001 it was discovered that the ship that Brown found was cargo ship carrying military hardware which sank in 1942.

Gert van Rooyen and the missing girls.

Gert van Rooyen was linked to the disappearance of five girls between 1988 and 1990. He was accused of molesting and then murdering the young victims.

Van Rooyen committed suicide in 1990 while being pursued by police through Pretoria, without ever revealing the fate of his alleged victims.

According to the Sunday Times, the police linked the girls' disappearances to Van Rooyen and his lover Joey Haarhoof but the remains of his alleged victims were never found.