Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marleen Konings: The Missing Dutch Girl

Last Known Movements

Police Commissioner Mzwandile Petros
Police Commissioner Mzwandile

On January 9, Western Cape Police Commissioner Mzwandile Petros assigned Capt. Piet Viljoen as head investigating officer. He wanted the search for Marleen stepped up a couple of notches. An accomplished detective, Capt. Viljoen had successfully headed numerous high-profile investigations, including that of German fraudster Jürgen Harksen.

Personnel at a youth hostel in Mossel Bay revealed that both Marleen—having taken Eva Schaefers to the airport—and Rob Cowley had been alone on Christmas. As a result they ate together and began talking. Marleen was described as friendly and vivacious. "She would talk to anyone," one man said, according to the Cape Argus of January 19, 2004. Cowley told them that he was from Botswana—a neighboring country to the north—where he was a pilot. He had, however, been in a serious aircraft accident, leaving him in a coma for several years. After he awoke, he went to the UK, where an article in a newspaper led to a book contract.

One employee described Cowley as "nice" and "genuine", according to the Cape Argus of January 19, 2004, while another one saw him as "too friendly", according to Die Burger of January 14, 2004. He was in his mid-40s and spoke English with a heavy Afrikaans accent. Cowley and Marleen slept in separate rooms and did not appear to have been physically involved. They left together on December 26.

Eva Schaefers had last spoken with her friend on December 24 on the phone. On December 28 she received an SMS from Marleen, saying that she had left Mossel Bay with a fellow traveler, but that she thought the two of them had contracted food poisoning. The very next day a Dr. Smith called her from Marleen's cellular phone. He said Marleen had been admitted to the Medi-Clinic in Robertson—a town 42 miles northwest from Swellendam along the R60—with food poisoning. When Eva asked to speak to her, Dr Smith said that she was sedated and unable to speak. Eva was unable to reach Marleen afterwards.

Police also learned that Marleen had stayed at a Swellendam guesthouse, along with Cowley, from December 26 to 29. Swellendam is 50 miles from Riversdale on the N2 en route to Cape Town. Cowley came in alone to book the room at Lulu's Place, and told the owner, Lulu Rohlandt that they had been traveling from Mossel Bay. Along the way they had helped a stranded motorist, who then promised them free lodging at his guesthouse in Barrydale, 27 miles northeast of Swellendam via some smaller roads and a winding mountain pass.

Later that evening Cowley sat outside smoking with Lulu's husband. Cowley spoke about his former job as a Botswana Air pilot, his accident and how he had needed reconstructive surgery to repair his face. He said he could now only work as a co-pilot, but also gave computer instruction to bank employees.

Cowley and Marleen slept in one room. The next morning he paid and told them that Marleen had been sick throughout the night, vomiting. Lulu phoned a doctor, but he couldn't see her. The two left, but returned towards the evening. The Rohlandts were surprised since Cowley had said they'd be staying in Barrydale.

Marleen seemed better, but the next morning, December 28, Cowley was sick. Marleen paid the bill, and said that she should actually leave for Cape Town to meet some friends, but she didn't want to leave Cowley while he was ill. The Rohlandts were leaving for a short holiday themselves, but decided to let the two stay for free. On the 29th, Cowley phoned them at their holiday spot, thanking them. But when the Rohlandts arrived at their guesthouse on Tuesday, January 3, the keys weren't in the mailbox as promised. There was just a note, containing the following message according to Die Burger of December 3, 2004: "The trust in us and that you went out of your way to help us will never be forgotten. We will surely remain in contact. We wish you a peaceful and magical new year and may all your dreams come true. From two grateful friends, Rob and Marleen. Ps: Watch the local newspapers." The Rohlandts thought that Cowley would publish some kind of thank you. Although Cowley left a phone number, they were unable to reach him to retrieve the keys.


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