ONE of the five suspects linked to a Jansenville farm murder at the weekend broke into the same farmhouse just three months ago and spent only a few days in jail before being released as part of President Jacob Zuma’s special remission of sentence.
And even more worrying, four of the five suspects are children, aged between 12 and 17.
The four minors were arrested after a dramatic shootout and car chase on the N2 along the Garden Route yesterday. The fifth suspect, a 22-year-old, managed to escape.
While police have confirmed that the 22-year-old benefited from the remission of sentence, they were still investigating whether the other suspects had any previous convictions or were arrested prior to the farm attack.
Southern Cape police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said the four were arrested on Monday night after they crashed the vehicle they were in during a shootout with law enforcement officials along the N2 in the Plettenberg Bay area.
They were still driving the Isuzu bakkie allegedly stolen from the farm after Jansenville stock farmer Owen Charles, 70, was brutally murdered and his wife, Janet, who turns 70 tomorrow, beaten unconscious.
"The vehicle had no licence plates which aroused the traffic officer’s suspicions. The officer immediately gave chase, trying to pull the vehicle from the road,” Pojie said.
"The occupants then started shooting at the traffic officer who called for reinforcements from the Knysna police and other traffic officers in the area.”
The driver of the stolen vehicle lost control near the George Rex junction as they entered Knysna.
"The vehicle overturned and careered down the steep embankment and landed in a ditch,” Pojie said. "Five of the occupants inside the vehicle, including a 22-year-old girl and four young boys, were arrested.
"The girl and two of the boys sustained serious injuries and were admitted to hospital,” he said.
It is believed the girl, who was not involved in the farm attack, is the 22-year-old suspect’s girlfriend.
The three will remain under police guard in hospital until they are discharged.
Items stolen from the farmhouse, including firearms and ammunition, were found in the bakkie.
It is alleged that the missing suspect and his younger brother were involved in a robbery at the same farmhouse about three months ago.
"The juvenile was sent on a rehabilitation programme by the courts after being arrested for the burglary and has never set foot in jail. The older brother, who is still on the run, spent only a few days behind bars before being released,” a Jansenville detective said.
A Hawks official, who did not want to be named, confirmed that the siblings had been arrested for breaking into the same house earlier this year.
"The elder brother was recently released on the remission process after being convicted of breaking into the house,” he said.
Jansenville police station spokesman Rino Kilian confirmed that two people believed to have been involved in a previous burglary were prime suspects in the weekend’s farm attack.
The attackers forced their way into the Charles’s farmhouse, Armadale, about 17km from Jansenville, shortly after 7pm on Sunday. Owen was stabbed to death and Janet beaten unconscious. She regained consciousness shortly after the attack and is recovering in St George’s Hospital in Port Elizabeth.
The robbers made off with firearms, jewellery and other valuables. They escaped in the Charles’s Isuzu bakkie.
Police around the province joined the search, with roadblocks set up.
"[Details of] the stolen bakkie had been circulated on the police system and every officer in the province and around the country was on the lookout for it,” a Port Elizabeth organised crime officer said.
"Detectives had been working around the clock trying to track down the robbers when it emerged they were possibly heading towards the Western Cape.”
It is believed the gang stayed in Plettenberg Bay on Sunday night and were headed for Cape Town when they were arrested.
Two of the suspects are due to appear in the Knysna Magistrate’s Court tomorrow.