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
”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
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
”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
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
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.