On 4 November 1974, Mrs Susanna Magdalena van der Linde, a forty-six year old mother of three, was stabbed to death with a pair of scissors at her home in Gladstone Street, Boston Estate, Bellville. Her murderers were Marlene Lehnberg, (19), and a thirty-three year-old 'hired killer', Marthinus Choegoe.

Lehnberg's road to infamy began two-and-a-half years earlier in February 1972, when she began her first job as a clerical assistant/receptionist at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town. She started work in the orthopaedic workshop alongside the 'father figure' who was later to become her lover, Christiaan van der Linde (47). Van der Linde was the workshop's chief technician and Lehnberg, a bright, intelligent and attractive sixteen year-old, was drawn to him from the start. “He struck me as something special,” she later admitted. “He impressed me tremendously. ‘Welcome' he said and my heart beat faster.”

Lehnberg's upbringing had been both conservative and strict. Her father was puritanical, a man who rarely displayed any affection towards his daughter. It was not surprising, therefore, that she should be so drawn to van der Linde, a person whom she saw as being warm and friendly.

Van der Linde said that he originally had a 'fatherly relationship' with Lehnberg, but they grew closer and closer as the months passed. Eventually, he found her impossible to resist. “A determined, intelligent woman in love is difficult to contain,” van der Linde said. In April 1973, barely a year after they first met, the couple began a tempestuous love affair that was ultimately to end in disaster.

Throughout the remainder of 1973, Lehnberg and van der Linde continued to meet in secret at Rondebosch common, Paarden Eiland and ‘places like that’. Then, early in 1974, their intimacy stopped. People were watching them, van der Linde said, and his wife was receiving anonymous telephone calls.

Despite the fact that van der Linde had declared that he would never leave his wife and family, Lehnberg was convinced that the only obstacle to them having a more permanent relationship was the presence of van der linde's wife, Susanna.

By July 1974, Lehnberg was becoming desperate and started talking about leaving Cape Town. Christiaan van der Linde persuaded her not to, but by September she had finally tired of the situation and decided to bring matters to a head herself by speaking to his wife. She called her and explained that she and Christiaan were very much in love and were seeing each other every night. She wanted to know what Mrs van der Linde intended doing, but Mrs van der Linde put the telephone down on her. A few weeks later, Lehnberg telephoned again. This time she made an appointment to go and see her. They met in Bellville early in October.

Initially, Lehnberg had hoped that she and Mrs van der Linde could come to some sort of arrangement concerning Christiaan, but this meeting was to change all of those ideas. Not only did Mrs van der Linde tell Lehnberg that she would never give her husband a divorce because of the children, she also added, “I don’t mid playing second fiddle,” she said, “as long as you don't mind doing likewise.”
It was suddenly obvious to Lehnberg that Susanna van der Linde was prepared to do anything to keep her husband. It was equally obvious that she had only one alternative left - murder.

It was around this time that Marthinus Charles Choegoe (33) a miserable, scruffy-looking, unemployed cripple entered the scene. Choegoe, who had lost a leg in a motorcar accident, had come to the Orthopaedic Workshop to have an artificial limb fitted. His disabilities-both physical and social-had destroyed his self-esteem and this made him particularly susceptible to Lehnberg's approaches. In the end, he would become totally subservient to 'Miss Lehnberg'.

Lehnberg first contacted Choegoe by letter, which she wrote to him care of Solly's Trading Store, his local shop. In the letter, she asked him to come and see her at the Orthopaedic Workshop and added, “Marthinus, if you are clever you can still earn good money”. When he turned up at the workshop, Lehnberg gave him R1 and asked him to meet her at the Rondebosch town hall at 7 p.m. later that same evening, she gave him a bottle of gin and said that she wanted him to murder a woman for her. “But Miss Marlene,” Choegoe replied, “I can't do a thing like that. It will send me to the gallows.” “Were you ever involved in a court case, Marthinus?” Lehnberg asked. ”Yes, I was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon.” “Good,” she replied, “because that's the sort of person I'm looking for. Someone who can handle a dangerous weapon.”

After some discussion, Choegoe finally agreed to Lehnberg's request. A couple of days later, he went to the address in Boston Estate which Lehnberg had given him. “My plan was to warn her (Mrs van der Linde) that her life was in danger,” Choegoe claimed. When he got to Gladstone Street, however, instead of warning Mrs van der Linde of Lehnberg's plans, he asked her for some change. She said she hadn't got any and went back inside the house.

A week later, Choegoe and Lehnberg met in Rondebosch once more. This time he admitted that he was too afraid to go through with the murder. Lehnberg said that ‘they would make his leg better at the hospital’ if he did away with Mrs van der Linde. She also gave him a radio. Choegoe went to Beliville once more. On this occasion, he simply walked past the house but made no attempt to enter.

Shortly afterwards Lehnberg sent Choegoe a second letter. Again she urged him to go through with the murder. 'Use a knife if you have to,' she wrote but make sure the job is done.' Then, she got another message to him, asking him to telephone her at work. During the subsequent conversation, Lehnberg insisted that Choegoe go through with the murder. She promised him a car and to have sex with him once the crime had been committed.

In October 1974, Lehnberg handed in her notice at the hospital and she told Christiaan van der Linde that she was going to leave Cape Town. On 24 October, Lehnberg collected Choegoe from his home in Retreat and took him through to Bellville in her car. He was armed with a hammer, which was to be used to kill Mrs van der Linde. Lehnberg dropped him off in the vicinity of Boston Estate and sped away. Shortly afterwards, Choegoe was spotted by Mrs van der Linde. She was alarmed, because she had seen him in the area on more than one occasion, and telephoned the Bellville Police Station. Choegoe was picked up by the police about two blocks from her house. At the police station he was beaten and warned not to return to the area.

In the face of repeated failure, Lehnberg decided to take matters into her own hands again. A few days after Choegoe's failed attempt, she approached Rob Newman (24), an engineering student whom she knew, and asked to borrow his Llama pistol. When he refused, she asked if he would kill someone for her. Again, he refused. On 28 October, Newman's pistol was stolen from his room. He reported the theft to the police and suggested Lehnberg as a likely suspect.

Around 8.30 a.m. on the morning of Monday 4 November 1974, Lehnberg arrived at Choegoe's home. She said that her car was packed and she was on her way to Johannesburg, but before she left she needed Choegoe to come with her to van der Linde's house. He claimed in a statement that it wasn't until she handed him the Llama pistol on the way to Bellville that he realized that she wasn't just going to say goodbye.

They arrived outside the house just after 9 a.m. Mrs van der Linde was alone inside. From this point on, Choegoe's account and Lehnberg's account of what followed, differ. Lehnberg claimed that she got out of the car, rang the doorbell and returned to the car while Choegoe entered the house alone and committed the murder. Choegoe, however, maintained that they acted in concert throughout. (Choegoe's account was supported by a neighbour of the Van der Linde's, Mrs Marais. On the morning in question, Mrs Marais had walked past Lehnberg's white Ford Anglia twice in the space of ten or twelve minutes while it was parked opposite the van der Linde house. On both occasions the car was empty.)

Choegoe said that after Lehnberg rang the bell, they went into the house together. When Mrs van der Linde saw them both, she became extremely frightened and threatened to telephone the police. She attempted to get away, but was tripped by Lehnberg, fell and hit her head on the door. While Mrs van der Linde was on the floor, Lehnberg struck her on the jaw with the pistol butt. On Lehnberg's instructions, Choegoe began to throttle the semi-conscious Mrs van der Linde. Lehnberg then gave him a pair of scissors she had taken from the sideboard. “I remember stabbing her three times,” Choegoe said. (The pathologist noted seven stab wounds, six of which hod penetrated the chest.)

After the murder, Lehnberg squirted green dye over Choegoe using a Weapon gas pistol belonging to Mrs van der Linde. (Mrs van der Linde kept the gas pistol, which was designed to deter intruders, behind a picture in the living room.) After warning Choegoe that she would deny any involvement in the murder if he went to the police, Lehnberg took him home. She set off for Johannesburg, collecting two speeding tickets at Beaufort West on the journey.

Choegoe kept both of the pistols that were used at the scene of the crime. They were later seized by the police. When Choegoe was asked why he hadn't thrown the pistols away, he replied: “It is very dangerous to just throw pistols away.”

Susanna van der Linde's body was discovered at about 1 p.m. Christiaan van der Linde attempted to telephone his wife a number of times that morning and eventually became concerned when there was no reply. He spoke to his daughter Zelda, who worked at Tygerberg Hospital, and asked her to go home during her lunch break to see if there was anything wrong. When Miss van der Linde arrived home, the house was locked up, but through a window she caught a glimpse of her mother, who was lying on the floor in the living room and summoned the police.

The police immediately began an intensive murder investigation. Their chief suspect was 'a crippled Coloured man' who had been seen in the district on at least two occasions prior to the' murder. (In fact, it was because of Choegoe that Mrs van der Linde insisted that her husband buy her a dye pistol.) At first no one considered that Lehnberg was involved, or that she could have hired an assassin.

For the next week, police efforts to establish Choegoe's identity and whereabouts proved fruitless. Then, on 13 November, the breakthrough occurred. At around 7.30 a.m. on the morning of 13 November, Lieutenant Roland Fourie of the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad went to see Lehnberg who was staying at her uncle's house in Bryanston, and asked her to accompany him to Brixton Police Station where he wished to ask her some questions. Lehnberg admitted on the way to the police station that Christiaan van der Linde was her lover and that she had been expecting the police to contact her in connection with the death of his wife ever since she had learnt of the murder of Susanna van der Linde from her mother.

When asked if she had an association with 'a Coloured man named Marthinus' she denied the allegation. Lieutenant Fourie also asked her if she had once requested a Mr Robert Newman to give her his pistol so that she could ‘get rid of her' (Mrs van der Linde). Lehnberg admitted that she had, but that the request had been made in fun. Although Lieutenant Fourie had no specific evidence to tie Lehnberg to the murder, it did strike him that she seemed unnaturally nervous at times during the interview.

While Lieutenant Fourie was on the telephone to Cape Town, another detective, Major van Aswegen, began asking Lehnberg questions. Suddenly, she blurted out, “I took the guy there. I waited for him. He came back and I took him home.”

Lehnberg was arrested and formally charged with the murder of Mrs van der Linde. Later that day, she made a full statement in which she admitted that she had asked Marthinus [Choegoe], a leg patient at the Red Cross Hospital, if he would 'do away' with Mrs van der Linde. In the statement she claimed that she had waited in the car while her accomplice had committed the crime. Choegoe was arrested the same day.

The trial of Marlene Lehnberg and Marthinus Charles Choegoe began at the Cape Town Supreme Court on 5 March 1975. The trial drew hundreds of spectators who fought for seats in the packed courtroom. After a hearing which lasted seven days and during which the State called more than 30 witnesses, the Judge, Mr Justice Diemont, and his two assessors, Mr A.J. van Niekerk and Mr F. van Zyl Smith, deliberated overnight after which they returned verdicts of guilty for both accused. The court found no extenuating circumstances and Lehnberg and Choegoe were sentenced to death. “I have presided over many cases but have never heard evidence as strange and bizarre as this one,” Mr Justice Diemont admitted.

Two months later, the case was re-opened on appeal. In July 1975, the death sentences were set aside. Lehnberg was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and Choegoe to 15 years.
Choegoe, however, was released in June 1986 and became an evangelical preacher, while Lehnberg was paroled in December of the same year.
The third member of the tragic triangle, Christiaan van der Linde, died a lonely man in 1983. After the trial, he moved to Krugersdorp so that he could visit his wife's grave on her family's farm in the Magaliesberg almost every day. “My dear wife is dead,” he once told a reporter. “I sincerely wish to God that I had never set eyes on Marlene Lehnberg.”




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