WIFE-KILLER

DUNCAN DONALD MOODIE: 1961

Duncan Moodie has the dubious distinction of being the only man in South Africa who has been tried, found guilty and sentenced to death twice for the same murder.

On the morning of Sunday, 21 August 1960, Duncan Moodie, accompanied by his father, went to see his estranged wife, Anita, at her parents' home in Florida Road, Ada May Vale, Klerksdorp. He was hoping to talk his wife out of going through with the divorce for which she had recently filed. They went to speak privately in her bedroom. About twenty-five minutes later, there was a loud scream and a number of shots rang out. Moodie walked out into the hallway leaving his wife dead on the bedroom floor. She had been shot four times: twice in the head and twice in the chest.

”I didn't want to do it,” he said.

Duncan Moodie and Anita Sinclair had been sweethearts at Odendaalsrus High School, and in July 1958, they were engaged. He was twenty-three; she was nineteen. Mr and Mrs Sinclair were against the marriage from the start. Their future son in-law's prospects were less than encouraging: not only did he seem to find it hard to hold down a regular job, but he proved to be a heavy drinker, was often aggressive, and was becoming grossly overweight. It was hard for them to see what their daughter saw in the man, but when they realized that Anita was serious in her intention to marry Duncan, they accepted her decision with good grace. Duncan Moodie and Anita Sinclair were married on 17 January 1959.

Things started to go wrong almost from the beginning. Moodie was subject to violent mood swings. He was lazy, violent and often out of work. But he always found enough money to buy hard liquor. Before long, he was drinking a bottle of brandy a day and began to beat his wife. Within weeks of their marriage, Anita was having to hide her bruises from her parents. When Mrs Sinclair. attempted to intervene, Anita quietened her: Duncan Moodie would tolerate no interference from his in-laws.

“She's my wife,” he would say, “and I'll do to her what I like!” This was to become his maxim. The situation went from bad to worse, and nine months after she was married, Anita returned to her parents. A repentant Moodie stormed after her, begging her forgiveness. There was a tearful scene, after which they made up and for a couple of weeks the situation was better.

By October 1959, Duncan and Anita Moodie were deep in debt. The rent on the flat which they occupied had not been paid and a court order was issued for the repossession of their furniture. They were forced to move out and go to live with Duncan's parents in Stilfontein. In July 1960, they moved to Durban where they hoped to make a fresh start. For a couple of weeks their relationship improved, but then Duncan returned to his old ways with a vengeance. To pay for his liquor, he pawned their few remaining valuables, including Anita's engagement ring. When he demanded her wrist watch, she refused to give it to him; more violence followed. It was shortly after this event that she laid a charge of assault against him with the Durban police, and returned to live with her parents.

The case came to court on Monday, 15 August. Moodie was found guilty of assaulting his wife and was sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for three years. He was warned against molesting or committing any acts of violence against his wife during that period. By now, Anita had filed for divorce.

Moodie desperately sought a reconciliation. He followed Anita back to Kerksdorp, and telephoned her parents' house from his cousin's home. He also wrote a long letter, proclaiming his love and promising to turn over a new leaf if only she would have him back. However, his wife remained adamant: she was going through with the divorce.

On Friday, 19 August, Moodie visited another cousin who lived in Springs. He asked to borrow a gun, which he claimed he needed in order to protect himself while he hitch-hiked across Johannesburg. He was given a pistol and five loose cartridges. He would later maintain that he had wanted the gun in order to commit suicide. That night, he booked into a Johannesburg hotel with the intention of killing himself there. The following day, he went to Johannesburg station, where he went into the men’s toilets resolved to end his life. “However, I was too much of a coward" he said. “I didn't have the guts.” It was this firearm that Moodie used to kill his wife at her parents' home the next day.

At eleven o'clock on the morning of 21 August 1960, the Klerksdorp police were called to the Sinclairs' home. Moodie handed lieutenant P.S. van Zyl the pistol he had used to kill his wife. The magazine and barrel were empty.

”I did not want to do it,” he repeated. “Take me away.” Moodie was remanded in custody awaiting trial.

On 23 November, 1960, he was sent to Sterkfontein Mental Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. In late December, he escaped and made his way to Springs. Less than a day later, he surrendered to the police after contacting his parents, and shortly after that he was returned to Sterkfontein where he remained until the end of January 1 961.

Moodie was brought to trial at Klerksdorp Circuit Court on 10 April 1961. No-one was in any doubt that Moodie had shot his wife. What was in contention, however, was his mental state at the time. The defence argued that the sequence of events preceding the tragedy at Flora Road had caused Moodie to be in such a highly charged emotional state that he had acted automatically. For this reason, he was not responsible for his actions. The prosecution did not dispute the fact that Moodie was a psychopath, but refuted that this, in any way, excused him from the consequences of killing his wife. After ten days of testimony, including a number of medical reports, the nine-man jury retired to the jury room to consider its verdict. Room 26 had three doors, but no windows or ventilation, and it was barely three metres by five metres. There was no table in the room, and not even enough chairs for everyone. One of the doors led out on to a street, another into the office of the Clerk of the Civil Court and the third into a passageway. The fact that the room had three doors was of great concern to the Klerksdorp Deputy-Sheriff, Mr J. H. de Wet, and to prevent the jury being interrupted during their deliberations, Mr de Wet decided to stay in the room with them. He took no part in the jury discussions and did not interfere with the proceedings in any way. The press would later label him the 'tenth man'.

After a recess, which lasted just short of two hours, the jury returned a majority verdict - guilty. Only two of the jurymen believed that there were extenuating circumstances to the murder. Before the judge, Mr Justice Snyman, passed sentence of death on Moodie, he asked him if he had anything to say.

”I only wish to say that I am glad to be able to pay my debt to society,” Moodie replied.

Moodie's attorney only learnt of the presence of the Deputy-Sheriff in the jury room the following day. He believed this to constitute a miscarriage of justice, and on 1 August 1961, approached Mr Justice Snyman and begged leave to appeal to the Appellate Division.

The decision that was finally handed down made no criticism of the Deputy Sheriff, Mr de Wet. Nevertheless, there had been a 'failure of justice'. Shortly afterwards, Duncan Moodie was released from prison.

Within hours of his release, he was rearrested and charged with the same murder. In due course, he was brought before the Judge-President of the Transvaal.

”My lord” he said, “I have already been acquitted on this charge.” The State refuted this claim: the Appellate Division had released Moodie on what in effect was a technicality. They had not found him not guilty. The Judge President disagreed, saying that the State had no right to initiate further proceedings against Moodie. Once more, he was released from custody. The State then took its case to the Appeal Court.

On 30 November 1961, the Appeal Court overthrew the decision of the Appellate Division. It further ruled that, as a principle of law, a person cannot be punished or put in jeopardy twice for the same offence. This is not to say one cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

A third warrant for arrest was issued, but Moodie had already fled. After an intensive police hunt lasting ten days, he was finally apprehended at a hotel in Lobatsi in Botswana (then called Bechuanaland). He had registered in the name of D. Gordon.

Duncan Moodie's second trial for the murder of his wife, Anita, began at the Pretoria Criminal Sessions on 12 February 1961. On this occasion, he elected to be tried by a judge and assessors rather than by jury. Judgment was given on 21 February 1962: Moodie was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death a second time. Although application to appeal was denied, Moodie's father worked tirelessly over the next few months to save his son's life. (By this time the case had attracted a great deal of public sympathy, evident from the fact that a petition for clemency attracted over 25 000 signatures.)

On 28 June 1962, after a four-week stay of execution, Duncan Moodie was hanged. It had taken twenty-two months for justice to run its full course.

Contents

 

 

The Serpent Under

South Africa Weird and Wonderful

 

 

Web Design & Artwork 2009