Specialist investigators are being flown in from Pretoria after the third murder of a pensioner, in an old age facility – within a month – has heightened fears of a serial killer preying on the city’s elderly.
Tensions are high after yet another murder at the Jacaranda Lodge Retirement Home within a week, bringing the tallies of Pietermaritzburg CBD murders of elderly pensioners to three in less than a month.
Eighty-nine-year-old pensioner, Patricia Elizabeth Tugwell, was found with her throat slit at her apartment in the Jacaranda Lodge, a retirement village in Pietermaritz Street, on Tuesday morning. According to the police report, Tugwell was found by a staff member in a pool of blood.
Police and forensic experts combed the scene while hysterical scenes played out at the village with one resident breaking down in confusion.
PADCA CEO, Trevor Clowes, reiterated his previous sentiments when Maritzburg Sun last week reported that old age homes and SAPS were on high alert following a spate of murders targeting the elderly.
“We are appalled at the senseless violence against the frail, defenceless elders in our community. The safety of all our residents is of paramount importance to us and we are fully aware of the expectations placed on us by the residents and their families when it comes to security,” he said.
“All of our units have the best possible security that we can provide in place. It is a shocking sign of our times when the most vulnerable citizens of this town no longer feel safe in the privacy of their own homes,” said Clowes.
On July 21, an 89-year-old disabled man was also found murdered at the Jacaranda Lodge. He had been stabbed in the head. A pair of scissors was also found at the scene. Electronic goods were stolen.
A week prior, a 92-year-old resident at the Kenwyn Old Age Home, also on Pietermaritz Street, was found dead by a cleaner. It is believed the woman had been strangled to death while a small flat-screen TV and two cell phones were taken.
On Tuesday, despite the scene and mode of attack being identical to the previous murder at the retirement home, Pietermaritzburg Central Police spokesperson Captain Khosi Khonjelwayo said they while police were investigating all angles, they could not confirm if the murders were the work of a serial killer.
“Investigations are underway to confirm any possible theories regarding the murders. At this stage, we are investigating murder and robbery cases,” said Khonjwelayo.
Jacaranda Lodge residents who spoke to Maritzburg Sun admitted fearing for their safety and that they could be possible targets.
An elderly resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he and his wife had moved to the retirement home in search of safer living conditions after being victims of crime nine times in their home in Dunveria, near Orient Heights.
“We have been victims before, and never did I think we’d fall victim to crime again. Nine times … nine times, we were robbed of everything; TV’s, computers, and appliances. This should not happen, the elderly need peace of mind,” said the pensioner.
It is concerning. My wife and I moved here two years ago for peace of mind, now this is happening. We were not prepared for it,” said the pensioner.
While police were still at the scene on Tuesday, a fencing company offloaded fencing material to upgrade security, in particular at the breach in the fence at the back of the property.
A security guard who has worked at the retirement home for four years monitoring the entrances and exits said extra guards had been deployed after the previous murder.
“We have put in twice the effort to keep everyone on the premises safe; it is baffling why this is still happening. Each guard has been strategically placed in and around the home,” he said.
Chairperson of the retirement home, Brian Lodge, said he and members of staff were working tirelessly, going through CCTV footage with SAPS to nab the suspects. Lodge said he could not comment further until the deceased’s next of kin and trust members have been formally notified of the incident.
No arrests have been made for all three murders.