Until October 8, 2003, Tanya Kelly Flowerday was just another South African murder victim, not even warranting a mention in the newspapers. She had been brutally murdered four months earlier, on June 13, and left on a sidewalk in the Darrenwood area of Randburg, Johannesburg. But on the evening of October 7, an investigative program, called Spits, revealed that she might have been the first known victim of a snuff movie in South Africa.
The next day, the newspapers took notice.
South Africa took notice.
Unfortunately, on that tragic weekend back in June, the South African Police Service had not.
The initial stages of the police investigation into Tanya Flowerday's disappearance were a textbook example of how not to investigate crime. Nothing was done right.
Tanya was 18 years old. Her father, Bob, was training her to become a manager in their take-away delivery business. They were planning to expand and Tanya would run an additional branch. On Friday the 13th of June, 2003, she asked her father to drop her off at Julian's Bistro, a club in Randburg. She knew the members of the band that was playing there.
Bob Flowerday dropped his daughter off, told her to phone him when she wanted to come home, and said goodbye to her for the last time.
Tanya did not call. She also did not send her father an SMS to explain that she was staying over at a friend's.
On Saturday morning, Bob and his wife Delores were worried. It wasn't like Tanya not to let them know where she was. Bob called her cellular phone, but it was switched off. He called her friends, but no one knew where she was. When the time for her afternoon shift at a restaurant came, and they had still heard nothing from Tanya, Bob went to the police.
At the Linden police station, the anxious father was told to wait 24 hours, which he reluctantly did. In fact, there is no minimum time period in South Africa when it comes to missing persons. Police officers are supposed to take the information and start looking for the person immediately.
Bob Flowerday returned the next day. This time he was sent to the Fairland police station, because there were no missing persons forms at Linden. Fairland told him that they wouldn't be able to do anything before he brought them a photo of the missing girl. He returned with an ID photo, but it wasn't good enough. The distraught father was told that they required a full-length photograph. At last Bob lost his cool, and finally succeeded in getting the police officers to take a missing persons report.
Monday, June 16. A national holiday — Youth Day. Tanya had been missing for more than three days.
An investigating officer had been to the Flowerday home, focusing on some kind of drug connection, despite the fact that he could find not a single piece of supporting evidence. On that Monday, Delores Flowerday found her daughter's ID book in their mailbox. Tanya had had it on her on the night that she'd gone missing. The investigating officer didn't show any interest in the ID book, handling it with unprotected hands. "They treated her ID book with total disdain," Bob Flowerday told Debora Patta during an interview for 3rd Degree, "throwing it back on the side table, and left."
Tuesday, June 17. Tanya had been missing for more than four days. Her father phoned the Fairland police station and asked to speak to the investigating officer. No one knew a detective by that name. Bob Flowerday had to lose his temper for a second time in order to get cooperation from the police. With the stress and worry for his daughter's safety, it wasn't difficult.
At length, the station commander phoned him. The "investigating officer" turned out not to be a real police officer, but a police reservist. In addition, the case had ostensibly been transferred to the Linden station, since it fell in their jurisdiction. Bob and Delores went to the Linden station, where nobody knew anything about Tanya's case.
Wednesday, June 18. It took the Flowerdays five days to find someone who really listened to their plight. These two detectives recommended that they go to the morgue and drove them to the Johannesburg Mortuary. Here, at last, they found their daughter. Beaten, broken and abused on a bloody trolley. It was "a terrible sight for a parent to see", Bob told 3rd Degree. Not even the people at the mortuary seemed to care about her.
Tanya had in fact been found the very next day after Bob had dropped her off at Julian's Bistro. On a sidewalk in Durham Street, Darrenwood, she had been left in a sitting position against a wall.
She had lain in the mortuary for five days. Unidentified. Unnamed. Unclaimed.
Unfortunately, the incompetence did not end there. At the mortuary Tanya's clothes were given to her parents. They took it home and her mother finally washed it because "I couldn't bear looking at Tanya's blood on it any longer", she told the Beeld of October 10, 2003. This meant that only her torn panties, collected as part of the sexual assault kit, would be available for forensic analysis. The Flowerdays only realized that they might inadvertently have destroyed valuable evidence when the police contacted them some time later, asking for the clothes.
DeterminedIt would be a gross understatement to say that circumstances were less than ideal at the Linden police station during the period that Tanya Flowerday was murdered. According to the Beeld of October 25, 2003, the thirty-six investigating officers—of whom a number was on sick leave due to stress—had 2,222 dockets to investigate among them, an average of 62 each. They had to share three vehicles, one of which already had 187,500 miles on the odometer.
Despite this, Inspector Christelle Steinhöbel, the only female detective at Linden, asked whether she could investigate Tanya's case. Although no progress had been made thus far, she was determined that the case could be solved. She took over the docket on July 7, 2003.
Insp. Steinhöbel turned to cellular phone records. She discovered three important clues. Tanya had phoned someone from Julian's Bistro on the night of her disappearance. Early the next morning, at 1:20 a.m., she had sent an SMS to a friend, implying that she had still been alive and presumably unharmed at that time. But later that afternoon, at around 2:00 p.m., her SIM-card had been exchanged for another one.
With the help of an informant, Insp. Steinhöbel developed a suspect. His name was Ronald Edward Grimsley, aged 25, who worked at a film company where he was involved in making advertisements. He had had some run-ins with the police before. In addition, Tanya had been seen leaving Julian's Bistro with him on the night of her murder. An employee and friend of Tanya's said she had never seen Grimsley before. He arrived, met up with Tanya, and they left together less than ten minutes later. Bob Flowerday knew him as well. His daughter had introduced Grimsley to him a few days before she was killed.
Ronnie Grimsley was arrested on July 18, initially on an arrest warrant related to fraud. During questioning, he tearfully revealed information about Tanya's murder. He took detectives to the murder scene near a house in Fontainebleau, northwest of Darrenwood where he had dumped the body, and also confessed before a magistrate.
While he was in the holding cells at Linden police station, Grimsley cut himself with a blade and hanged himself with a sheet. He was discovered and taken to a hospital, where he was declared brain dead. For several weeks Grimsley lay in a coma. But death was not to be his yet, and he awoke after almost two months.
Grimsley had left a would-be suicide note. The Cape Times of September 2, 2004, reprinted a large portion thereof:
Please mom forgive me I won't lie anymore not to you's or to myself for what happened on the 13 June 2003 cannot be changed.
You's are maybe asking yourselfs the question "why" I've done what I've done [the suicide attempt]. There is only one thing I can think of and that's to make the pain I'm causing our family to end. A lot of questions will go unanswered but know that with all my heart I'm sorry for it all.
That young lady had her whole life ahead of her but it was ended before her time. And her parents don't have much else to live for. She was the only child and what has happened is unforgivable at least in my eyes.
To Mr and Mrs Flowerday all I can stay [sic] is Lord have mercy on my soul. You's have been robbed of all your joy and happiness. I cannot even begin to understand the pain and sorrow that has been forced onto your lifes.
According to the Beeld of the same date, Grimsley also wrote:
I'm really sorry about what happened. Please try to forgive me. I want you to know that I've used drugs for the past nine years. The only way to support my addiction is through stealing, lying and scheming—and this is where I've ended up.
"New Information"Grimsley contacted Insp. Steinhöbel, saying that he had new information that he wanted to share with her. He wanted to tell the truth about what happened to Tanya Flowerday.
As a long-term drug addict, who had undergone rehabilitation on five occasions without success, he had built up an amount of debt with his dealers. Since he didn't have the money to repay them, he had made a deal with them.
On the night of June 13, Tanya, whom he had met only days previously, had phoned him to pick her up at Julian's Bistro. He did and they left after a short while. He then took her to a house in Fontainebleau, where they met up with two Nigerians. Grimsley had sex with Tanya on camera and then the other two men took over. They raped her, beat her, murdered her and recorded the whole thing.
They made a snuff movie, Grimsley told Insp. Steinhöbel. He gave them Tanya and, in return, they cleared his debt.
Afterwards, they had used Grimsley's car to dump Tanya's body on the pavement in Darrenwood.
At least some of the evidence supported Grimsley's claim. It was a substantiated fact that he was a drug addict, and drug addiction is a powerful motivator to do that, which might seem unthinkable.
Tanya's injuries were also unusually severe. She had scratches on her face, neck and back. In fact, the forensic pathologist found that she had abrasions and contusions over most of her body, and she had been beaten in her face and on her arms, legs and buttocks with a blunt object. There were injuries to her head and her eyelids were swollen. Contrary to the portrayal in popular crime shows, Drs Vincent and Dominick DiMaio, in their book Forensic Pathology, state that the majority of rape victims do not exhibit genital injuries or any clear signs of rape. In Tanya Flowerday's case, however, the genital trauma was pronounced and it was clear from the tearing that she had been sodomized as well. Finally, she had been strangled.
It was quite obvious that Tanya's final moments, however long those were, had been brutal and violent. Some did not believe it possible that one person alone could have damaged her to that extent.
Obviously, if Grimsley's claims were true, the best evidence would be the recording itself.