The notorious case of the abduction and disappearance of a number of girls in 1988 and 1989, at the hands of paedophile Gert Van Rooyen and his partner Joey Haarhoff, has come into the spotlight again.

The fate of six of the victims – who were linked by witnesses or forensic evidence to Van Rooyen – has never been explained. A further victim was kidnapped, but escaped and assisted the police in identifying Van Rooyen. Suspicions exist that he may have been responsible for other attempted kidnappings. Van Rooyen and Haarhoff committed suicide before they could be questioned.

Investigations continue into the matter, and the possibility has recently been mooted that the girls may have been trafficked out of the country through Durban harbour.

According to former detective Don Chandler – who handled the original investigation, and has returned to examining it in his retirement – Van Rooyen travelled from Pretoria to Durban for work. There is some evidence that he was frequently at Durban harbour.

Chandler says that it is possible that the girls were shipped to Mauritius.

Speaking to The Witness, he said: ‘Van Rooyen used to travel with a 2.5 ton van and would carry fire doors from Pinetown to Pretoria. Now we are trying to track down people who can help us link Van Rooyen’s movements so we can create a timeline of him being in Pretoria or Durban and the girls going missing. We know, for example, after every girl [in Pretoria] was kidnapped, Van Rooyen would travel to Durban.’

The disappearance of the children was a major shock to South Africa at the time, occupying much media attention, even as the country underwent a seemingly intractable political crisis. Theories about their fate are aired from time to time – sometimes involving psychic interventions or controversial technology – and numerous searches have been undertaken in an attempt to find evidence. To date, these have failed to yield anything substantive.

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