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Saturday, March 9, 2013


Chris Marnewick presents fascinating and compelling read dealing with a murder that took place in 1956. (Review by Keith Millar)

In a country overwhelmed by crime, such as is the case in South Africa, it is hard to believe that there would be much interest in a book about a murder which took place in 1956.

However, in the hands of Chris Marnewick the story about the murder of vivacious teenager, Joy Aken from Pinetown, is both intriguing and shocking, and the book proves to be a compelling read.

The murder of Joy Aken on October 2, 1956, has never been resolved satisfactorily. She disappeared after accepting a lift home from work from the good-looking and charming, married man, Clarence Van Buuren. Eight days later her body was found, naked and disfigured, and concealed in a culvert at Mtwalume on the KZN South Coast.

Van Buuren was arrested for the murder. At his trial he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. As there were no eye witnesses, the prosecution used very strong circumstantial evidence to link him to the crime. He went to the gallows in June 1957 still proclaiming his innocence.

However, there were several intriguing issues which remained unanswered. For example, the Police were unable to find the spot where the murder had been committed. No-one ever offered an authoritative motive for the murder. Was Van Buuren responsible for the sexual disfigurement of the body or could wild animals have caused those injuries?

Also mystifying is the fact that the body was found concealed in the culvert near Mtwalume by Nelson Palmer, a self-proclaimed psychic from Pinetown. Police had been searching the area for days without success.

Chris Marnewick first heard about the case as an eight year-old and the circumstances haunted him for many years. It took him a lifetime to collect all the information which would allow him to finally lay those ghosts to rest.

Journalist Gehri Strauss had befriended Van Buuren and kept substantial records of the events of the time. Significantly, this included several letters Van Buuren had written while on Death Row. When Marnewick came into possession of this collection and then found the Van Buuren trial record and the Joy Aken police docket, he was finally equipped to write the book he had felt compelled to write for so long.

Marnewick is suitably qualified for this task. He has been an advocate by profession for over 40 years and has four law degrees. So his subject knowledge cannot be questioned. He takes apart all the available information and evidence and examines it minutely He then puts it all together again and offers logical answers and new explanations for the many conundrums which are exist. He also discusses in some depth the personality disorders of Clarence Van Buuren and suggests possible reasons for his sometimes bizarre behaviour.

The murder of Joy Aken was a sensational case with the facts reading very much like fiction. On that level, this is a fascinating story. Also admirably handled is the more factual aspects of the book such as the workings of our courts, the police investigations and Marnewick’s own quest to look for more plausible answers to some of the remaining unanswered questions.

Clarence Van Buuren, Knew the words but not the music by Chris Marnewick is a different book with a structure all of its own. It is remarkable and entertaining. It is published by Protea Book House. ISBN number is 978-1-86919-773-5. Retail price is R270.00 – Keith Millar