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MARTHINUS ROSSOUW: 1961

The murder of Baron Dieter von Schauroth, who was shot to death on the night of 24 March 1961, by his 'friend' and bodyguard, Marthinus Rossouw, is world-famous. At the subsequent trial, Rossouw was to claim that von Schauroth had begged to be killed. This was the first defence of its kind and would lead to a new classification of murder: murder by request.

Baron Dieter von Schauroth (36), who was of German descent, was from Karasburg in Namibia (formerly South West Africa). About a year before his murder, drought had forced him to sell his flock of 4 000 karakul sheep. He had moved to Cape Town with his young wife, Colleen (19). They had taken a flat in Mill Street, Gardens.

On the morning of Saturday, 25 March 1961, von Schauroth's body was found at the side of the Old Malmesbury Road, about 24 kilometres from Cape Town. At 7.40 a.m. Constable Jacobus Laubscher, who was stationed at Philadelphia Police Station, went to investigate a report that the body of a European male had been found close to the junction of the Old Malmesbury Road. Von Schauroth, who was neatly dressed in green corduroy trousers and brown corduroy jacket and an open-necked, yellow and white checked shirt, was lying on his back. There was no indication that the victim's pockets had been turned out and a number of uncut diamonds were scattered around the corpse. There were also two spent shell casings on the ground: one near the head and one near the feet. Constable Laubscher turned the body over and saw two bullet wounds in the neck just above the collar.

Von Schauroth's body was transported to Salt River mortuary where it was later identified by Defective-Constable Andries Petrus Dipenaar of the transport section. Dipenaar knew von Schauroth, having investigated the theft of his motor car barely a month before.

On the afternoon of his murder, von Schauroth had borrowed his sister's red Volkswagen from her home in Oranjezicht so that he could take his wife to the cinema that night. At 5.30 p.m. he had gone out on ‘business'. He had told his wife to be ready when he returned at about 8 p.m. That was the last time Colleen von Schauroth saw her husband alive.

The police immediately launched an intensive investigation for the car von Schauroth had been driving. It was found abandoned in Milnerton shortly afterwards. There was no blood in the vehicle and the keys were in the ignition.

On Monday, 27 March, three days after the murder, the police arrested Martinus Rossouw, a twenty-three year-old railway fitter, and charged him with the crime. Rossouw, who was known to have been an acquaintance of von Schauroth, lived at Hatfield House Residential Hotel in Hatfield Street, Gardens, with his wife and two small children.

Controversy surrounded the death of von Schouroth from the outset. There were allegations that he had been involved in illicit diamond dealing and, of course, there was the matter of his life insurance...

At a preliminary hearing held at Belleville Magistrates' Court in May 1961, it was revealed the von Schauroth held life insurance to the value of R360 000. Dr Wilhelm Bruchner de Villiers, head of Bruchner de Villiers, insurance brokers, told the court that during the previous year von Schauroth had taken out a number of policies through his firm. He (von Schauroth) had insured his life for R40 000 with each of four companies and R60 000 with a fifth. In addition, on 9 December, 1960, von Schauroth had arranged a further R40 000 in short term life insurance which, he had claimed, was to cover a big business deal he proposed to make in May 1961. All the premiums had been paid in cash.

These revelations concerning von Schauroth's life insurance were to assume great significance during Rossouw's trial.

The trial of Marthinus Rossouw, which was held of Cape Town Criminal Sessions in September 1961, was presided over by Judge-President Mr Justice Beyers. The case attracted intense public interest and hundreds of spectators swarmed into the court each day. The representatives of a number of major insurance companies also attended the proceedings.

In his opening address to the nine-man jury Mr W.E. Cooper, Rossouw's defense counsel, declared that his client would admit to having killed Baron von Schauroth, but that there were extenuating circumstances: the whole scheme for the destruction of Von Schauroth had emanated from von Schauroth himself. The baron, who was both unhappily married and in financial difficulties, desperately wanted to commit suicide but could not do so since this would negate his life insurance policies. Cooper claimed that Rossouw had killed von Schauroth as an act of deep friendship. He had, in other words, committed murder on request.

Rossouw later described how he had known von Schauroth for a number of months and had been present when the baron conducted illicit diamond deals. Von Schauroth had also asked him to dump his car at Rooi Els, letting it run down the kranses (steep-sided gullies) so that it would be damaged beyond repair. He wanted this done so that he could claim this from the insurance company for the loss of his car. Rossouw also maintained that on a number of occasions von Schouroth had offered him RIO 000 ‘to kill someone'.

”I once asked him who he wanted shot,” Rossouw explained, “and he laughed and said possibly his wife, his mother-in-law, Mr Nel (a business associate) or even his child.”

On the night preceding von Schauroth's murder, Rossouw and the baron had gone to the Avalon Hotel for a drink together. According to Rossouw, Von Schouroth had said, “Colleen is in a temper again tonight.”

“He often told me he was very unhappy because of his wife,” Rossouw would add later. “He had found out she was going out with other men. I knew his wife before I got married. I used to go to night clubs and saw her there in the company of men. I came to the conclusion she was not a decent girl.”

At the time of the murder, Rossouw was negotiating to buy a motorcar but was short of cash. Von Schauroth offered to give him the R80 he needed to pay the deposit. He also reminded Rossouw that he would give him R10 000 if he would kill 'someone'. Afterwards, the baron gave him a lift home. In the car, outside Rossouw's apartment, von Schauroth gave Rossouw a cheque for R2 300 for 'services rendered'. The cheque, which von Schauroth had previously received from his late brother, was post-dated 3 July, 1962.

”Why did he give you the cheque?” the Judge asked.

”He said he would give me the cheque if I accompanied him as his bodyguard,” Rossouw replied.

The following night, Rossouw met von Schauroth at Cape Town station at 5 p.m. They went first to the Prince of Wales Hotel and then drove out to the Cambridge Hotel in Milnerton. Their final stop for the night was at Killarney, where they had one more drink. They then headed along the Old Malmesbury Road. “While we were driving [the baron] reminded me that I was to shoot someone for him and said: ‘It might be tonight’. He also said there were a few diamonds in his pocket but that they were not very valuable. He sang a German song then became very serious. He said that he was unhappy with his wife and tired of life. Then he laughed, clapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Everything will come right, Marthinus’. Then he leaned over the back of the car and picked up a raincoat. He took out a pistol and put the coat on the floor between us.

“At the Old Malmesbury Road he told me to stop. I stopped the car facing the national road. He then gave me the revolver and two boxes of cartridges. He loaded the revolver with two cartridges, using a handkerchief. He then got out and walked to the spot where the body was found. I thought he was trying to frighten me. He then turned round and said, 'Marthiens, I want you to shoot me. I said, ‘No, it is too dangerous.' He pleaded with me and said there were no witnesses and that it would look like a diamond transaction. He said he could not commit suicide or his wife would not be able to collect the insurance money. He again turned his back on me and said, ‘Please, Marthiens, shoot me.' I replied, 'No, Dieter, I cannot.' He pleaded with me for five or ten minutes. He said he wanted to go to a place where there were no women. He then turned around and we shook hands. He said that his bank manager would give me R10 000. He said, ‘Totsiens (goodbye), Marthiens.' I then shot him. He had told me to shoot him in the back of the neck. He jerked with the first shot then I shot him again. He turned as I shot him. I shot him because I felt sorry for him. He was unhappy with his wife. His wife had a reputation and his mother-in-law...”

Afterwards, Rossouw abandoned von Schauroth's car in Milnerton and caught a bus home. He went to bed, but later rose and went to Sea Point, where he threw the gun and the cartridges into the sea. He finally got back to his flat at about 12.45 a.m.

When the police questioned Rossouw the following day, He denied having seen von Schauroth on the night of his murder. On Monday, he went to collect his new car from Fredman Motors where the police were waiting for him and he was arrested.

During the trial, Mr van den Berg, the Attorney-General, disputed both Rossouw's alleged motive for the killing and his account of the actual murder. He maintained that Rossouw had killed von Schauroth simply for the R2 300 cheque. (At the time of the murder Rossouw was short of money and his rental was a month in arrears.) Rossouw strongly denied these allegations.

”I killed him because he was tired of life,” he said.

”Did you not say to him, ‘You have such a bad wife, why do you want to kill yourself to enrich her?’” the judge asked.

”Well, he was unhappy, but he still loved his wife.”

Mr van den Berg also threw doubt on Rossouw's description of the murder. A forensic expert testified that it was unlikely that Von Schauroth had been killed in exactly the way Rossouw described, since victims who are shot in the back of the neck inevitably fall forward. A further complication was the fact that the two cartridge cases had been found in different places.

”I cannot exclude the possibility,” the expert said, “that after one shot had been fired, the second shot had been fired into the back of the neck as the body lay on the ground.”

By the time Rossouw came to court, he had changed his story twice, and under questioning he proved to be less than reliable. He could not explain, for example, how the diamonds, which were found around von Schauroth's body came to be on the ground. He denied scattering them himself. “It must have been the baron,” he said.

On 27 September 1961, the jury retired to consider its verdict. After less than an hour, they returned a verdict of guilty with no extenuating circumstances.

Marthinus Rossouw was hanged at Pretoria Central Prison on 20 June 1962. He had shared the condemned cell with Duncan Donald Moodie, who was later to hang for the murder of his wife, Anita. When Rossouw was called, the two men embraced, then Rossouw was led away to the gallows singing Nearer my God to Thee.

During his last few hours, Rossouw wrote out last will and testament in which he left the R2 300 which Von Schauroth had paid him to his family. One thousand rand was to go to his widow and R400 each to his two children, Gabriel and Wilheimina.

The insurance companies refused to pay von Schauroth's life insurance - with the exception of R20 000, which was for a policy that had long been in force. They argued that the policies were out of proportion to von Schaurth's needs, that they had been taken out immediately prior to his death, and that the premiums were beyond von Schauroth's means. An out of court settlement was reached between the insurance companies concerned and the von Schauroth family. The family received a one-off payment of R20 000 in exchange for dropping all claims against the companies concerned. The insurance companies did not admit any liability, despite making this payment.

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