Anguish a year on after dad kidnaps son from family
Last Christmas Free State mother Cheinelle Nortje was hopeful she would be unwrapping presents with her three-year-old son Liam this festive season.
But with just over a month left until December 25, hope is fading fast that she will ever set eyes on her precious blue-eyed boy again.
Wednesday will mark one year since his father, Nantes Nortje, ran off with the child, after Cheinelle decided to end their 23-year marriage.
The child had been living with his father in Kestell during the week and travelled nearly 50km to Harrismith to spend weekends with his mother and sisters.
Since Liam's disappearance the unemployed panelbeater - who is in police custody, charged with his son's kidnapping - has refused to divulge the boy's whereabouts to his estranged wife, their two daughters or the police.
While Cheinelle and daughters Wynette, 19, and Rochelle, 15, agonise over whether Liam is alive or dead, Nantes is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
He was denied bail when he appeared in Harrismith magistrate's court in August.
"As soon as the 30 days [psychiatric] evaluation is over, the docket will be sent to the director of public prosecutions for further perusal and instructions," said Free State police spokesperson Warrant Officer Lorraine Earle.
"The suspect does not want to co-operate in telling where the child is."
The family appointed Pretoria private investigator Mike Bolhuis and his team to help police crack the case.
A year ago Nantes asked that Liam spend the weekend with him so he could take the child on a fishing trip. Instead of bringing the child back to his mother, Nantes called to tell her she would never see him or Liam again.
He instructed her to drive to his Kestell home to collect a camera.
There Nortje found a letter and a lock of hair, believed to Liam's.
She opened a case of kidnapping at Harrismith police station. Several months later, in July this year, police arrested Nantes at an informal settlement in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. There was no sign of Liam.
Danie Botha, the lead private investigator in the case, told the Sunday Times the lock of hair had been sent for DNA testing to confirm if it was Liam's.
"We are working closely with police on the matter," he said.
A R50,000 reward is offered for information that could lead investigators to the child.
Wynette this week told of their agonising pain.
"It's horrible and it is getting worse because my mom, sister and I can't make peace with the fact that our beautiful Liam is gone," she said.
"It's close to Christmas as well. Last year at Christmas we were all upset but we vowed that this Christmas Liam would be back home with us.
"Even getting towards the one-year anniversary of Liam's disappearance is unbearable. My mom is highly emotional and finding it extremely difficult to cope.
"We keep wondering every day where he is and if he is still alive. There's no closure. This is the worst torture a family can experience."
Wynette said she had met with her father in prison following his arrest.
"I took him clothes and a Bible and told him to do the right thing.
"I took off work to be at all his court appearances. I thought I would be able to get through to him, but I failed. I haven't been back to see him because he doesn't want to talk to us."
The family's attorney has set up a trust fund for donors to make contributions to fund investigation costs.
Bolhuis said the search for the child was focusing on Ladysmith, Harrismith, Grabouw in the Western Cape and Boksburg, Gauteng. "We are not ruling out the possibility of murder," he said.