Child killer Mortimer Saunders claimed to have searched for Courtney Pieters on the day the three-year-old girl went missing, her relative and former minder testified in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
He is believed to have already killed the toddler by then, giving her ant poison to make her sick, before he choked and beat her, while closing her mouth with a towel.
Marsha Wenn, the niece of Pieters’ father, lived in a wendy house in the backyard of the Pluto Street, Elsies River, where Pieters and her family stayed at the time of her disappearance.
Saunders was a tenant in the main house.
Saunders faces charges of premeditated murder and rape, but denies that the three-year-old’s death was planned or that he had sex with her while she was alive.
However, he in his plea explanation confessed to murder and using his fingers to penetrate her after her death.
During her testimony on Tuesday, Courtney’s mother Juanita – the State’s first witness – said the week before her daughter’s disappearance, she had asked Wenn to look after Courtney.
But, on that day, she did not have money to pay her, and had left her two young children at home when she went to work because she “knew Marsha was there and would keep an eye”.
For four months prior, after Juanita got a job as a cleaner at the Hungry Lion in Parow, this had been the case.
Wenn testified that, on May 4 last year at about 07:30, she had taken her daughter to her grandmother, who had walked the child to school.
‘I asked him where Courtney was’
She then returned to her wendy house and went to sleep alongside her baby son, before returning to the house at about 08:00.
She found Courtney’s brother, Adrian, 6, in the living room.
“I asked him where Courtney was and he said she was watching TV by Uncle Morty,” Wenn testified.
She returned to her home in the backyard because her baby was still sleeping.
After tidying up, she went back to the main house at about 09:00, Wenn said.
She had asked Saunders, in front of his bedroom door, if Courtney was still watching TV.
Wenn said the accused had responded that Courtney had left and that he didn’t know where she had gone.
After cleaning an upstairs bedroom, Wenn testified that a resident came to the house, looking for Courtney to come and play with her child.
Wenn said Courtney was “out”, and the resident said the toddler had not been in the area she had come from.
Saunders had been in his room at the time, she recalled.
Wenn sent Adrian to neighbouring homes to see if Courtney was playing there. The toddler’s brother couldn’t find her.
She and the resident walked to her sister’s house, two roads away, after 10:00 that day.
Wenn’s sister wasn’t in, and she surmised that Courtney had accompanied her somewhere else.
‘We started to panic’
She and her brother had done the washing and she remembered Saunders coming out of his room once or twice.
Her brother cleaned the backyard and went to dump some rubble at a nearby field, using the dirt bin.
Wenn said, while she hung the laundry out to dry, Saunders had come out of his room.
Her infant started to cry and Saunders had picked him up, soothing him and asking why he was so naughty that day.
When she was done with the washing, she took her baby and Saunders returned to his room.
She said she returned to her wendy house to bath and then went to the main house at about 14:00. Saunders’ bedroom door had been bolted from the outside.
Before leaving for the post office, Wenn said she told her brother that if Courtney returned, he should keep her at home.
Adrian had been playing around the house at the time.
Wenn said, upon her return, Saunders had brought her a typed version of her CV, which she had asked him to do for her weeks before.
While at the wendy house, he ostensibly told her that he had gone to the library and had also walked around to look for Courtney, before returning to the main house.
Wenn returned to her sister to see if Courtney was with her. She wasn’t.
“We started to panic,” she testified.
Back at home, Wenn stood outside the house with her neighbours, realising that Courtney was missing.
She said she had asked Saunders to contact Wenn’s mother, as she usually worked overtime that day of the week.
Wenn is expected to resume her testimony when the trial continues on Wednesday.
Before recounting to Judge Pearl Mantame what had happened that day, Wenn said Saunders and Juanita used to argue, shout and swear at each other regularly, although she could not recall what their rows were about.
Saunders was a childhood friend of Fourie.
Wenn said she had a good relationship with the accused.
Juanita had testified that she and Saunders didn’t like each other and that he had caused problems between her and her boyfriend by telling stories about her.
In his plea explanation, Saunders claimed he had used ant poison to poison the child because of “ill feelings” between him and Juanita.
He had also ostensibly been irritated because Courtney had wanted to watch TV in his room and he had wanted to sleep.