24 April 2018

South Africa: No Signs At Spier to Indicate Susan Rohde Committed Suicide - Investigating Officer

No suicide note or sign that Susan Rohde had taken her own life was found near her body in a Spier hotel room in July 2016, an investigating officer told the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

Sergeant Marlon Appollis, who has been a police officer for almost 15 years, was called by the State to testify in the trial of Susan's husband, Jason.

The Rohdes were attending a conference at the Spier wine estate in Stellenbosch at the time. Susan was found hanging from a hook behind the hotel bathroom door.

Although her death was thought to be a suicide, her husband was later charged for her murder and accused of staging her suicide.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Appollis arrived at Spier to investigate an inquest on the day Susan's body was found.

He looked for broken windows and doors outside the hotel room. He also asked whether there had been any trespassers on the premises.

"I couldn't find anything strange," he told prosecutor Louis van Niekerk.

Once the body was removed, he went inside the hotel room and found a note but did not examine it because it was burnt to ash.

He went through a black bag which contained a laptop, other valuables and Rohde's payslips.

"We usually look for suicide notes and as I then went through the bag, I found a note. It appeared to me from the note that Mr Rohde was involved in an extramarital affair," he said.

"From my experience with inquests, people usually write entries in diaries, papers, magazines, or leave a note on their cellphone. I was looking for anything pointing to a suicide. I couldn't find anything."

Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe said these notes would help bolster a suicide finding but their absence would not necessarily mean it was not a suicide.

Appollis agreed with her remark.

He told the court he entered the bathroom to look for a chair, table or anything that a person could stand on.

"I found it strange that there was no instrument found that this person who was alleged to have committed suicide could have stood on."

He said no footprints were found on the edge of the bath and no fingerprints were found on the hand basin or window.

Appollis said he had looked for Rohde to get clarity on what had happened in the room "step-by-step".

He was told that Rohde had gone to the Stellenbosch police station. At the station, a colonel told him Rohde had returned to Spier.

"At that stage a statement was handed over to me and I was told it was written by Mr Rohde himself."

Back at Spier, he could not find Rohde.

"I was given a number of Peter Norton and told he would tell me where Jason was. I called Mr Norton and he told me Mr Jason Rohde was already on a flight on his way to Lanseria."

Norton is Rohde's brother-in-law.

Appollis told Van Niekerk that it was okay at that stage that Rohde had returned to Johannesburg because he was not yet a suspect.

After attending the autopsy a few days later, Appollis was informed that Susan had not hanged herself, but was killed as a result of manual strangulation.

He changed the case to murder and made an appointment to see Rohde.

"I explained Rohde's rights in his attorney's presence and told him I see him as a possible suspect in this murder case."

Van Niekerk turned to the report of Captain Simon Mofokeng, from the mechanical and metallurgical engineering section of the police's forensic science laboratory.

Appollis had asked him to do tests on the left-hand side hook of the bathroom door, which the cord was tied to, to establish whether the hook could withstand the approximate weight of 51kg.

Defence lawyer Graham van der Spuy objected as he said they were not given sufficient notice that this evidence would be led.

The trial was postponed until Thursday to give the defence time to prepare for cross-examination.

Source: News24

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