Within days of her murder, everyone had heard of Bubbles Schroeder.
But why did her death attract such unprecedented public interest?
For one thing, she was young and desirable. She was also what
was euphemistically called a ‘good-time girl’. And,
of course, She was dead. But was there something else? Something
less tangible? Perhaps it was that, to many people, she typified
the new, post-war age: a world of fast cars, fast living and easy
Jacoba 'Bubbles' Schroeder was born in Lichtenburg on 8 June
1931. She was educated at Benoni and Vereeniging. When she was
four years old, her mother had to go out to work, and she was
cared for by a cousin in Vereeniging until she was 13. For the
next four years she lived with her mother in Johannesburg.
Then, in March 1948, she returned to Vereeniging to work for
a coal agency but, unbeknown to her relatives, she moved back
to Johannesburg two months later. Soon after her return to the
city, she moved into the apartment of a fifty-two-year-old bookmaker
named Philip Stein, whom she had met at a dance in Orange Grove.
Although Stein liked having Bubbles around, he soon realized
that his new guest could sometimes be a lot more trouble than
he had bargained for. Bubbles was in the habit of throwing a tantrum
when she couldn't get her own way.
”She was a young woman, a little loose in her morals,”
Stein said. “But she was very sweet-except when she was
drunk. Then she became unmanageable.” Matters finally came
to a head early in June 1949. Bubbles had come home drunk once
too often and Stein asked her to leave. Shortly after this, she
moved to Dorchester Mansions in Rissik Street, where she shared
an apartment with a girlfriend named Mrs Griffin, who was a 'hostess'.
Although Bubbles never held down a regular job in all the time
she was living in Johannesburg, she was never short of money.
Nor was there a dearth of men willing to pay for the pleasure
of her company.
”Bubbles was a glamour girl,” Mrs Griffin
would say. “She'd spend her day at the beauty parlour and
her nights at night clubs. And she could be most chaining. Until
she had a few drinks in her, of course. Then she became obstinate
On Thursday, 11 August 1949, Morris Bilchik visited
Dorchester Mansions. He made a date with Bubbles for the following
Saturday night, and the two duly went out together. At the end of
the evening, they went back to Bilchik's home and spent the night
On the following Monday morning, Bilchik boasted
of his conquest to his friend, David Polliack (21). At lunchtime,
the two men visited Bubbles at her apartment. The plan was that
she would get hold of her girlfriend, Penny, and the four of them
could go out together that night. Unfortunately, Penny was nowhere
to be found. In the end, they decided simply to make up a threesome.
After Bilchik and Polliack had left, Bubbles went to visit Philip
Stein. She spent the afternoon at his apartment, where she had a
few glasses of brandy, and then returned home at 6 p.m. When she
reached Dorchester Mansions, Bilchik and Polliack were already waiting
for her. She apologized for keeping them waiting and invited them
inside while she changed into a green dress and put on some make-up.
Around 7.30 p.m. they set out for Polliack's house, Hlatikulu, in
the plush suburb of Illovo. (Poiliack's mother was in Durban at
the time, so the three of them had the house virtually to themselves.)
Bubbles travelled with David Polliack, while Bilchik
took his own car. They reached the house at about eight o'clock,
just as Polliack's cousin, Hyman Balfour Liebman (20), was leaving
for Houghton to pick up his girlfriend. Polliack and Bilchik invited
Liebman to bring his girlfriend back to the house to join the party,
but Liebman declined. They had already arranged to go to the cinema
for the evening.
After Liebman had driven off, the other three went
into the house. Polliack asked Irene, the cook, to prepare some
food, and at about 9.30 p.m. they sat down to eat a meal of tinned
asparagus soup, followed by chops with chips. For dessert they had
a can of tinned peaches. Afterwards, they went into the living room.
Bubbles drank a few glasses of brandy and snacked from a tin of
At about 11.15 p.m. Bilchik left for home. It seemed
obvious to him that Bubbles and Polliack wanted to be left alone.
After Bilchik had left, Bubbles and Polliack cleared
up in the living-room, then went upstairs to listen to records in
Polliack's bedroom. Not long afterwards, Bilchik phoned. Jealousy,
it seemed, had finally got the better of him. First he spoke to
Bubbles, then he apologized to Polliack for disturbing them. After
about fifteen minutes, he rang off.
Around midnight Hyman Liebman returned from his
cinema date. (Although he lived in the Brits district, he often
stayed at Hlatikulu when Mrs Polliack was away.) Polliack met him
in the hallway and told him that Bubbles was in his room. The trouble
was that she'd had too much to drink and he wanted to get her home
before she passed out.
Liebman went upstairs to see for himself. It was
clear to him, he later said, that Bubbles had been drinking, but
she was far from drunk. She insisted on having another drink. Eventually,
Liebman got her a glass of weak brandy. At about 12.30 a.m., Bubbles
suddenly wanted to go home. Her mother was staying with her, she
said, and expected her back by 1.00 a.m. Eventually, at about 1.30
a.m., the three of them walked out onto the driveway, where the
cars were parked. Polliack wanted to take her home, but she got
into Liebman's car and wouldn't get out. In the end, Liebman offered
to drive her home and, with Bubbles complaining that she wanted
to drive, they set out for Dorchester Mansions. Fifteen to twenty
minutes later, Liebman pulled back into the driveway. This time,
he was alone.
”That girls a lunatic,” he told his
friend. “She wanted to drive and when I wouldn’t let
her she made me stop and got out. I told her to be sensible but
she wouldn't listen.”
Polliack was angry. “You mean you let her
walk? Where did you let her out?” he asked.
“At the Dunkeld bus terminus.” “And
did she say anything?”
Lieberman nodded. “Yes,” she said,
“which way to town?”
“I told her to follow the bus wires along
Oxford Road. The last thing she said to me was, "You will be
surprised to read about my corpse in the morning papers."
”Don't you realize what can happen to the
girl?” shouted Polliack.
”Yes, of course I do,” his friend snapped,
“but at this time of night I didn't think she'd come to any
Lieberman was tired and fed up. “I'm going
to bed,” he added, and went into the house.
Polliack was worried about Bubbles. Although it
was nearly 2.00 a.m., he set off in his own car to try to find her.
About an hour later, he returned home. Bubbles Schroeder had vanished.
The two young men assumed that Bubbles had managed
to get a lift with a passing motorist. Neither of them dreamt anything
was wrong until Morris Bilchik phoned Polliack at work the next
day. That morning, Bilchik had called at Dorchester Mansions to
see Bubbles, but had learnt from her mother that she hadn't returned
home from her night out. Soon after he had heard this news, Polliack
went to see Mrs Schroeder himself. Later Bilchik, Polliack and Mrs
Schroeder drove down to Rosebank Police Station to report that Bubbles
was missing. Polliack also telephoned the general hospital to see
if she had been admitted there.
Bubbles Schroeder's body was discovered, thirty
hours after her death, at Birdhaven plantation by Samuel Ngibisa
Mobela. The plantation was less than a kilometre from the spot where
Liebman claimed to have dropped her off. She was lying on her back
among burnt-out grass about 30 metres from the road. Her face was
turned to the right, and her left leg was laid over her right. Her
left arm was pressed against the side of her body, while her right
was flung out at an angle of about 75 degrees. She was hatless,
shoeless, and her coat was missing. Although there were scratch
marks and some bruising on her neck, there were no footprints around
the body, nor any signs of violent struggle.
The first thing that struck Dr J. Friedman, the
Johhannesburg District Surgeon when he arrived on the scene of the
crime was the position of the body. From the way Bubbles was lying,
it appeared that she had been placed carefully on the ground, which
suggested that she had been murdered nearby and then carried (probably
over the shoulder) into the plantation. This assumption was substantiated
by the fact that, although both of the victim's shoes were missing,
there was neither grass nor soil on the soles of her feet. She certainly
had not walked to the spot where her body was discovered.
The bodice of the green dress she wore was slightly
ripped and one button was missing. The lower right leg of her stocking
was also snagged in a number of places. Her panties were torn on
the right side, but her black petticoat and black brassiere were
The post-mortem revealed that she had not been
sexually assaulted. In her mouth were some pieces of a hard, clay-like
material. Although some of the bits lay deep in her throat, there
were no particles in her lungs, proving that the clay had been forced
into her mouth after death. Dr Friedman examined the contents of
Bubbles' stomach. The extent of digestion of the various foods particles
he found was to entirely substantiate Polliack and Bilchik's subsequent
account of events on the night of her death. A highly significant
fact that emerged during the post-mortem was that Miss Schroeder
was suffering from a condition of the thymus gland which would have
caused her to fall unconscious very quickly from only slight pressure
around the neck. The bruising on her neck indicated that she had
been strangled from behind, probably by a scarf or something similar,
and had scratched herself in an effort to tear the ligature from
Dr Friedman concluded that cause of death was asphyxia
and inhibition due to the pressure on her throat and the impaction
of a hard clay-like substance (similar to that in a heap of builder's
lime a couple of metres away) in her hypopharynx. He estimated the
time of death as around two o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, 16
The police launched a large-scale search in the
area around Birdhaven Plantation, but without success. However,
on 13 October, almost two months after the murder, Hyman Liebman
and David Polliack were arrested 'in connection with the murder
of Bubbles Schroeder'. They appeared in court the following day
and were remanded in custody. Later, they were granted bail of £5
000 and £500 respectively. Their trial began a few days later
at the Johannesburg Magistrates' Court.
The evidence, which the police presented to the
court was almost entirely circumstantial. The prosecution based
its case upon the fact that Liebman and Polliack had been with Miss
Schroeder late on the night of her death. There was no direct evidence
to suggest that either of the two men were connected in any way
to her murder, however, and eventually they were acquitted.
So who did kill Bubbles Schroeder? The police contended
that Liebman had strangled her in his car using a scarf. This was
after he had driven her to Birdhaven Plantation and attempted to
have sex with her. When she fell unconscious, he had carried her
body away from the road. But there was not a shred of evidence -
apart from the fact that Liebman did give her a lift in his car
- to support this claim.
A second theory was that Bubbles was robbed and
killed by a passing African. This hypothesis is supported by the
fact that her mouth was stuffed with lime. (Among certain African
peoples it is customary to place something in the mouth of a victim
who has suffered a violent death, to prevent him or her from speaking
ill of the killer in the after world.) But this theory has a number
of obvious weaknesses. For example, if the motive for the crime
was robbery, why was Bubbles killed? And why was the body so neatly
A third, and possibly the most plausible answer
was advanced by the late Benjamin Bennett, who was crime writer
for The Argus at the time. Bennett suggested that Bubbles probably
tried to hitch a lift home and was picked up by a passing motorist.
(If there had been two men in the car, the passenger would have
moved into the back so that Bubbles could have the front seat.)
She was assaulted - the man in the back was in a perfect position
to put a scarf around her neck to restrain her - and she was 'accidentally'
asphyxiated. Afterwards, her body was carried into the nearby plantation
and dumped. Lime was put into her mouth simply to confuse the police
into thinking the crime had been perpetrated by an African. All
this is mere conjecture, however, and we are still left with the
question of who killed Bubbles Schroeder? It seems unlikely that
the truth will ever be known.