His pool was flooding. The rain wasn’t letting up. Michael Thomson opened the French doors of his bedroom and walked out onto the wet deck to sort out the problem.
Instead the 39-year-old walked into four armed men who had jumped over his neighbour’s wall.
The first shot hit Michael in the torso.
He fought back, disarming the robber and throwing him to the floor. He threw a second man into the pool. He jumped in after him in an attempt to drown him. The robber, armed with a screwdriver, fought back. He stabbed Michael 14 times.
The other two intruders had entered his home.
While Michael fought the robber in the pool, the first thug got to his feet and fired a shot. The father of three was shot in the back of the head.
They left him there and joined their colleagues inside the Craighall Park house. With guns against the heads of Michael’s nine- and 11-year-old children and his wife Lorna, the group worked their way through the house, looking for valuables and security cameras. All through this, his seven-year-old daughter slept.
They took some valuables, Michael’s gun and his car.
They ordered the family into a room and told them not to move. They threatened that one of them would stay behind, and if the car had a tracking device, they would be killed.
Lorna huddled with her two children until they couldn’t hear a sound.
An eternity of waiting. Then they got up to find her husband, their dad.
They searched the house. They hunted through the dark garden. They scoured the yard.
It was the seven-year-old, who had since woken up, who found her father. Dead in the pool.
This was just the beginning of the Thomson family’s nightmare.
A few days later, they discovered that the family had been hit by men who had become known as the Razor Gang.
The men had committed violent armed robberies across northern Joburg. Their modus operandi: to tie up and torture their victims, to ransack the house and, on some occasions, to rape the women in the house.
Michael’s parents Dianna and Brian Thomson have told this story countless times. And they tell it again, still looking for answers.
Sitting in a Broadacres coffee shop, Dianna has a packed lever-arch file in front of her. It documents their quest to find justice for her youngest son’s death.
Right at the top is a picture of Michael with one of his sons sitting on his shoulders. He smiles broadly. A constant reminder of her loss.
Nearly four years since her son was killed, his alleged killers are not yet in the dock. And the family has been torn apart, with three of her grandchildren now living hundreds of kilometres away. They moved to escape their trauma.
Yet they still have to remember each sequence of September 27.
Michael’s wife cannot move on, waiting for the moment she has to drop her new life in Plettenberg Bay to head back to Joburg to testify as the main witness in the case.
Despite the advice of a private investigator, a retired magistrate, police and prosecutors, and dozens of court appearances, there is still no final judgment on Michael’s alleged killers.
“My question is: Why is it taking so long? Why?” Dianna asks herself every day.
To her and her family, it’s indicative of the incompetence that has plagued the case since the start.
That September of Michael’s death, they formed a trust so that his death would not be in vain.
“We were determined that some good would come from this. We were also horrified that when the police came to the scene, there was such a lack of forensic expertise,” she says.
Among their horrors were how police insisted on getting the fire department to lift Michael’s body out of the pool. Fingerprints being taken only four days later, unused cartridges being found at the house, police officers stepping all over the crime scene. The need for proper forensics was apparent.
The family teamed up with The DNA Project, which works with Parliament to get legislation around the use of DNA to strengthen court cases. It’s the only good thing that has come out of her son’s death, says Dianna.
Progress in the investigation gave the family some relief.
Five months after Michael’s death, when police were called to quell a fight at a home in Alexandra, the parents saw the first breakthrough in their son’s murder case.
One of the men was found in possession of Michael’s gun, and led police to a house where they found several more guns.
The man had been out on bail for robbery at the time of Michael’s death.
“We were very relieved when the arrest happened. We thought, it’s just a couple of weeks before they will be in court and we will get on with it. What a joke.”
By the end of that February, police had assembled 22 cases against the Razor Gang. Prosecutors planned to combine the cases into one big docket.
“I objected to that, saying surely that was crazy.”
But Dianna’s fears were ignored.
There were legal aid postponements, one after the next. Months later, prosecutors broke the cases up again, causing more delays.
The family had not attended any court cases. They have wanted to avoid the men until the end.
“We had a retired magistrate to help us find out what’s happening with the case. He expedited the case and he got it on the roll. We thought we had someone on our side. But just as soon as he arrived, he disappeared and we never heard a word from him since.”
And then the men escaped from prison. “We were angry. But what could we do?”
When police caught the men, there was another glimmer of hope.
About a year ago they heard another Razor Gang victim, Bronwyn Patterson, talking on radio about her problems with the delays in the case.
“We thought we could pool our resources. But that didn’t work.”
Then they were told that Michael’s case was going to the High Court. Another moment of hope flashed for the family.
“But when the case was brought to the High Court, the advocate sent it back to police, saying he didn’t think the evidence was sufficiently prepared,” she says.
Six months ago, two policemen visited the family in Plettenberg Bay to go over their statements.
“That’s when we thought we were getting somewhere.”
But still no news. “We have no court date. We still know nothing.
“We are frustrated, more than anything. It’s also very frustrating for the police, who did a fine job. I’m voicing my disapproval until I’m told there’s no hope,” Dianna says.
“The pain never goes away, I can tell you that. Never. Things have never been the same. I will never forgive them for taking Michael’s life. I will try to make good come of it.” – The Star