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Author: Chip Michie
Christian Botha is one of the foremost private detectives in South Africa, often solving cases the police have given up on. This book chronicles some of the high-profile cases he has solved in recent years. In collaboration with Chip Michie, a seasoned journalist, he takes the reader step by step through each gripping chapter, from the body buried in the back garden of a Johannesburg suburban home to the bogus doctor who sold medicine to unsuspecting patients in rural Transkei. Botha’s talents lie not only in solving murders – he also traces missing persons, and two fascinating cases are recounted in this book. Gripping, informative and highly entertaining, The Shallow Grave and Other True Crime Stories relates how Botha goes about investigating these cases in his own inimitable, painstaking and dedicated way.
Chip Michie is a seasoned journalist who started her career with the Star in Johannesburg, and then went on to write for the Daily News and Woman’s Own in London. She has also worked as features editor for Sun and Era magazines.
A light wind rippled over the Bloemhof Dam in the North West Province. It sent ice cold waves splashing against fisherman Andries Kruger's boat, Liefling, as he baited his rod and tossed the line over the side. This was just one of four lines he intended using all through the night. Dries, as friends and family knew him, watched the baited hook for a moment as it sank out of sight in the brown waters of the dam. He'd spent quite a few days 'feeding' this spot, and he knew that his black PVC bag with its specially flavoured pellets made to his own secret formula must have drawn the big carp by now. He hoped that tonight would be ideal to catch thirty- to seventy-pounders.
Dries often went angling on Bloemhof Dam. Over the years he had mapped the dam in his mind. He lived in the nearby town of Bloemhof, where he worked as a mechanic at Goddard's Garage. He'd been with Goddard's for more than thirty-nine years. His fortieth anniversary for long service was coming up soon. He'd risen through the ranks from a raw apprentice when he was only sixteen to service manager when he was forty, but he still liked to wield the spanners and wrenches and feel the grease under his nails from time to time. He was a down-to-earth, practical man with a talent for engineering and inventing. He liked working with his hands. Over the years he had built quite a few old cars from scrap and given them fancy fibreglass bodies to make them look like the 'cars of the stars'. There was the pink Cadillac of The Pink Panther, the yellow Rolls Royce and a couple of rebuilt Volkswagen Beetles. They were fun cars and they kept him busy - when he wasn't fishing.
A tall, lean and leathery man with piercing blue eyes and greying straw-blond hair, Dries had a strong body for a fifty-five-year-old, with well-defined muscles, particularly in his arms and legs. He could have passed for a much younger man, were it not for the deep lines etched in his face from years of outdoors living. Dries didn't believe in hats. 'They're for sissies,' he liked to say. Yet his face seldom showed signs of sunburn, even after a long day in blistering sunshine. His skin seemed able to weather the harshest rays.
Dries knew the dam like the back of his hand. He'd started coming here to fish with his father before he'd even started school. His dad had taught him most of what he knew about fishing, and between the two of them, they'd learnt by experience which section of the dam yielded up the biggest carp at any given time of the year. His sister Jolene mostly stayed at home with their mother, as she hated fishing. The rocking boat made her seasick. Dries and Jolene remained close, especially now, after his divorce, but she still hated fishing.
Winter is ideal for a big catch. Carp like to take the bait when the weather is freezing and the chilly waters don't sustain much other food. The colder it is, the better the bites. In winter, carp prefer the cleaner spots deep under the water - around the pylons, the base of the dam wall and round any old tree trunks left under the surface.
In summer, the fish laze in the weed - except for spawning time, round about November, when they do a graceful and surprising mating dance on the surface. They resemble glittering polished giants as their silver and gold scales catch the sunlight, making the tumultuous surface shimmer.
Dries longed to catch a stunner - a really big one, which would take the record for the biggest carp ever caught. That was his dream. This year he was determined to take The Champion. Dries had been at the dam for ten days of his fourteen-day holiday. He liked to spend his annual leave in the Bloemhof Nature Reserve on the banks of the Vaal River. This wasn't the first time he'd pitched his small tent, rolled out his sleeping bag and camped at the edge of the 25 000 hectares of water. He enjoyed the lazy days of angling, and some-times also for a few hours at night, when the moon was full. Night-time was perfect for fishing, everyone knew that. Soon the moon would be in its last quarter. That was when he would reel in The Champion.
When he wasn't fishing, Dries observed the occasional large antelopes, mostly impala, kudu and waterbuck, which came down to the water to drink, and the dozens of perky little birds that hopped around outside the tent. Mostly, though, he fished, spending his days on the water. He pottered around on the Liefling, and now and then secretly fed a special spot that he was priming for the biggest catch of his life - between the two pillars of a bridge spanning the water. This site was ideal. The Champion would come here when the time was right, no doubt about it. He mixed the bait and rolled the stiff mielie pap into tight little balls, leaving them to dry and harden in the sun. Later, he would put the mix into a plastic bag and drop it over the side of the Liefling when he passed his specially selected place.
Although he fed the fish, Dries was so focused on angling that he seldom remembered that he, too, should eat. Food wasn't one of his priorities. Often, he went for days without eating. He wasn't a drinking man either, and seldom touched a drop. He preferred coffee and Coca-Cola. He was healthy and fit. What more could a man ask for - except the biggest carp ever caught on a hand-held fishing rod in the country? His line. His Champion. Dries watched the water and the waning of the full moon. He felt icicles creep into the wind, and eventually he decided that conditions were perfect. The water would be dark and, when the moon finally made her wan appearance a few hours before dawn, it would be the perfect time to catch The Champion.
'Tonight is the night. Tonight I catch you, Mr Big,' he said to the fish in the dam as he stocked Liefling with everything he thought he would need: rods, tackle, bait, holding nets, a scale to weigh his catch. For warmth he pulled on a faded cotton tracksuit over his shorts and rolled a new bottle of Old Brown Sherry up in a blanket. This he stored under the pillow on the bunk in the cabin to stop it from rolling around. He'd bought it especially for this marathon all-night fishing session.
On the water, the temperature could dip to below freezing at night. With the wind-chill factor bouncing the breeze off the surface, it could go way below that, sometimes down to -10. The sherry would help to keep the cold at bay. Eventually everything was ready, and Dries pushed off from the slipway before the pale winter sun dropped below the horizon. He turned Lieflings bow towards his secret spot that he felt sure would bag him The Champion. Perhaps his fish would be even bigger than the sixty-three-pound beauty Martin Louw had caught in the Buffelspoort Dam. The picture had appeared on the front cover of The Bank Angler/Die Oewerhengelaar magazine. It showed Martin holding the fish in his arms, and it was so massive, some people doubted it was real. Dries could almost see himself and The Champion, weighing in at well over seventy pounds and almost too big for him to hold by himself, on the cover of the fishing magazine.
At his chosen spot, Dries knew that the dam was clear of weed, with a fine gravel bottom. The two bridge pylons allowed the fish to graze in peace. It was their preferred site, and Dries knew they liked these conditions, especially in winter. This was the right spot to catch his Champion. He had no doubt about it. Dries trailed his fingers in the water for a few minutes to test the temperature. Man, it was cold, only a few degrees above freezing. This Friday, 9 July 2004, was going to be his night.
Little did Dries know that it was also going to be his last. […]