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U3A Writing: The Strange Affair At The Riverside

…It must have been approximately eleven-forty five when we heard a loud crash in one of the back bedrooms. Karen went to investigate. A few minutes later she was marched into the room by a masked gunman and thrown to the floor while another intruder held a gun against her head. The third accomplice stood in the doorway holding a large pistol. All three wore ski masks and dark clothing….

Cynthia Kasmy tells an astonishing and dramatic story.

The events I am about to unfold occurred over twenty years ago. Every detail of what took place is etched in my memory. Some of the intricate aspects have been clouded by the mists of time, but I can never forget the episode, which I can recount as if it happened yesterday.

Good friends of mine had purchased a garage in Vanderbijlpark. Included with the business was a large tract of land and some property comprising an old farmhouse, a boathouse bordering on the Vaal River and various outbuildings. Many years later these would be sold to build townhouses, but I am getting ahead of myself.

One bright autumn Wednesday morning I set off for the Free State accompanied by two other close friends of Karen’s, Valerie and Bernice. Bernice drove, as she had a new car and wanted to try it out. We bore gifts for the new homeowners and stopped at a bakery near the highway to buy a cake for tea.

We found the garage quite easily and Mike, busy with paperwork in the office, offered to take us up to the homestead. Karen was delighted to see us. She had been cooking up a storm from early in the morning in order to give us an enjoyable lunch. The table was set with tea things, cakes and savouries in anticipation of our arrival. It was around ten-thirty in the morning. After tea, Mike excused himself as he had to get back to his business. The four of us settled down to have a good chat with news of our mutual friends and families in Johannesburg.

It must have been approximately eleven-forty five when we heard a loud crash in one of the back bedrooms. Karen went to investigate. A few minutes later she was marched into the room by a masked gunman and thrown to the floor while another intruder held a gun against her head. The third accomplice stood in the doorway holding a large pistol. All three wore ski masks and dark clothing. Their hands were gloved, and they wore stout boots on their feet, making identification almost impossible. Although none of them said very much we gathered they were quite young. We were told to sit on the couch away from the window where two of them proceeded to tie our hands and feet together, and, in case we screamed, our mouths were sealed with duct tape.

We didn’t know what they wanted. Perhaps Mike left his takings locked up somewhere in the house until he could go to the bank. They were obviously after something specific but they didn’t utter a word. One of the men was left to guard us with a pistol while the other two went to ransack the house.

We were all absolutely petrified. My mouth was dry and my palms sweaty. My heart was beating fast and I thought my life would end there in the farmhouse lounge away from my loved ones. Tears were streaming down Bernice’s face. She had left a two year-old at home with his nanny. Valerie’s face was ashen, while Karen looked stunned. I do not think that I was ever so terrified in my life. I started thinking back on my life thus far. I saw my husband and children as well as family members and friends in front and my eyes filled with tears. We were not in a position to fight back. Our guard made it quite clear that he would kill us if we did not stay still.

The four of us looked at each other in dismay. What was our fate going to be? Would we eventually be freed or would they kill us? Karen did not have any permanent help at the farmhouse, although a woman from the area came on Mondays and Fridays to assist with the cleaning and washing and some of the garage staff helped with the grounds over the week-ends. Karen and Mike’s two sons boarded at King David School Hostel. They were only home at week-ends and holidays.

We heard noises from the other rooms; drawers pulled open and articles thrown around, glassware smashed. After about forty minutes the two intruders came back, evidently they had not found what they were looking for. They whispered among themselves for a while and then untied our hands and feet. We were marched off to the boathouse with guns pointed at us. The boathouse had a concrete floor with a circular mat in the centre. We were ordered to sit down on the mat and our hands and feet were retied. Perhaps they were going to kill us and throw us in the river. I was sweating profusely and it wasn’t just from the heat. I felt as if I was going to collapse. Panic gripped us all.

The three men started throwing things off the shelves and they opened and searched all the drawers in the wall units. Their search grew increasingly frantic; they obviously were looking something of great value. Their ransacking, however, was proving fruitless.

One of the intruders stood over us menacingly. Had our last minute arrived? Suddenly an ultra bright light appeared in that boathouse. In its glow, we could make out what looked like a human form. It was very tall, and obviously not mortal. The burglars were facing us, so at first they did not see the apparition. Without warning, one of the men was lifted off his feet and thrown against the ceiling. He landed on his face screaming with pain. The other two turned around and, one by one, they were flung against the ceiling and the cupboards. It was horrific; just like a science fiction film. After a few minutes the three lay dead on the concrete floor, blood oozing from their wounds. If we were shocked before you can imagine how we felt now. We were all shaking uncontrollably.

As quickly as the light appeared, it vanished, leaving the four of us stunned. It must have been about fifteen minutes later that Valerie managed to untie her herself. After we were released we got back to the farmhouse and called the police. They arrived promptly but did not seem to believe our stories, although the captain in charge acknowledged that none of us could have killed the men while we were tied up and paralyzed with fear. The police never found out how the men had been so brutally slain.

About two weeks after the confrontation Karen phoned and told me that apparently two years before, an elderly couple living in the farmhouse were murdered in the boathouse. Vanderbijlpark gossips said a large parcel of jewellery, the spoils of a robbery, was hidden somewhere on the property. Nobody had ever been caught.

Within a few months Mike, while still retaining the motor business, sold the rest of the property and the family moved to a new home in the suburbs of Vereeniging. I did not visit them until about a year later, accompanied by my husband and children. Valerie, Bernice and I meet occasionally; but not a time goes by when we do not discuss ‘the strange affair at the riverside’.

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