On 1 September, 1986, Mrs
Sandra Smith (22) and her lover, Yassiem Harris (19), throttled
and stabbed to death Jermaine Abrahams, a sixteen year-old school-girl,
at her Mitchell's Plain home.
Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris
first met in 1983. At the time, Smith, who was married and had two
children, lived with her parents in Mitchell's Plain. Her husband
was a fisherman who was away at sea for long periods of time but
sent money home on a regular basis. Harris lived nearby.
One day in September or October
1983, Harris received a note and some money from Smith. The note
said that she wanted to meet him in a park. At the subsequent meeting
she told him how much she 'admired' him. “She also asked if
I wanted to sleep over because her husband had left with the ship,”
Harris said. “The first night I got into bed with her and
that's how the relationship started.” Yassiem Harris was almost
17-years-old when he met Sandra Smith. He smoked dagga, took mandrax
and had been a juvenile delinquent since the age of 13. He had left
school at fifteen while in Standard 6, in order to get a job to
supplement the family income. His first job was working alongside
his father at a car-sound specialist in Claremont, Cape Town, but
he was dismissed after six months when it was discovered that he
had stolen R 10 000 in cash, and cheques totalling R26,000. He was
convicted and received six cuts with the cane. The hiding, his father
claimed, 'made no impression on him'.
From that point on, Harris'
gradual descent into a life of unemployment and crime became almost
inevitable. He drifted from job to job, became a member of a gang
called the Hard Livings and, not long afterwards, was arrested a
second time for breaking into a school. He got another six cuts
but that also 'did not make any impression on him,' his father said.
Harris secretly slept with Smith
every night at her parents' home, and not long after they met she
started giving him money. “It was, I would say, to attract
my attention,” Harris explained. “Sometimes it was R100,
R50 or R80.” Not surprisingly, he soon gave up any pretence
of looking for work.
After they had been seeing each
other for about six months, their relationship faced its first crisis
when Phillip Smith, Sandra's husband, returned from sea and learnt
of his wife's affair from some neighbours. He responded by getting
help from three of his friends to beat Harris up, but no sooner
had he gone back to sea than Harris and his wife were together again.
Even though the two of them were virtually living as man and wife,
this did not prevent Harris from pursuing other women. Some mornings
he used to loiter outside local high schools before school started,
chatting to the school girls and making dates for the afternoon.
This was how he got to know Jermaine Abrahams and learnt where she
The affair between Harris and
Smith continued for over two-and-a-half years. When Sandra's husband
was ashore, they would stop seeing each other and then resume the
relationship when he left for sea again. In 1985, Smith became pregnant
for a third time and was uncertain whether the father was her husband
The final tragic sequence of
events, whichwere to end with the death of Jermaine Abrahams, to
some extent began in March 1986 when Phillip Smith returned home
to find his wife and Harris together again. Harris fled to avoid
being beaten for a second time, and Sandra followed him - abandoning
her children in the process. As far as Phillip Smith was concerned,
the marriage was over and so was the free supply of money he had
For a time after the break-up
of her marriage, Sandra stayed with friends in Grassy Park then,
with Harris' help, she found lodgings in Mitchell's Plain. But within
a few months all her money had gone and things were becoming desperate.
Smith and Harris dabbled in
video fraud - hiring video machines then selling them - but on the
afternoon of 31 August, they discussed breaking into the Abrahams'
house, tying up Jermaine, and then stealing goods. Harris suggested
this particular house because he claimed to have broken into the
place a year earlier and stolen a large amount of money. He saw
no reason why they shouldn't find valuable property yet again. What
was more, he knew that Mr and Mrs Abrahams usually left for work
before 7 a.m. and that their daughter, Jermaine, left for school
at about 7.40 a.m.
The next morning, they got up
very early and walked to the Abrahams’ house, arriving there
around 7.30a.m. Harris knocked on the door and when Jermaine answered
he asked if he could make a telephone call. According to Smith,
Harris did not introduce her to Jermaine and Jermaine asked him
to go to her bedroom where she could speak to him. At first Smith
sat in the front room - then she became impatient. “I heard
voices. I went to her bedroom because I wanted to see what was going
Yassiem said: “Jermaine,
Sandra and I are going to tie you up and steal things from the house.
Don't tell your parents it was us.” Harris then locked the
front door and put the key in his pocket. They then tied Jermaine
up, but while she was on the bedroom floor lying on her stomach,
someone knocked at the front door. She tried to scream for help
and struggled to get free, but Harris clamped his hand over her
mouth while Smith held her legs. When the knocking stopped, Harris
and Smith put a dishcloth around Jermaines throat to throttle her
'so that she would become faint'. “I didn't want to pull tight
on my side,” Smith said.
According to Smith, Harris then
went into the kitchen and returned wearing orange kitchen gloves
and carrying a knife. Harris claimed the knife was lying on the
dressing table and Smith picked it up and said, “Stab her
“I just grabbed the knife
out of her hand and started stabbing Jermaine continuously in the
neck,” he said. “She was lying on the floor on her stomach
and as I was stabbing her, she wriggled on to her back but I still
went on stabbing.”
After the attack, Jermaine managed
to get free and get to her feet. She took a few steps and fell over.
She got up, staggered into the passage, and collapsed once more.
(The police found a four-fingered print in blood on the door-frame
of Jermaine's bedroom. This print was Jermaine's. A palm print,
which was later identified as belonging to Sandra Smith was found
on the door of the main bedroom. The position of Jermaine's print
was consistent with her having attempted to break loose and grab
the door. The knife, which the police discovered at the scene held
no fingerprints since it was 'one mass of blood'.)
Harris then carried Jermaine
into her parents bedroom. She told them where her mother's jewellery
was hidden and begged for water. “Yassiem, I don't want to
die now,” she said.
While Harris stood over Jermaine,
Smith looked under the wardrobe, which Jermaine indicated. After
Smith had found the valuables, she handed them to Harris and then
began a systematic search of the cupboards. She saw that the duvet
had been pulled over Jermaine's head and it was then she realized
Harris had slit Jermaine's throat.
After Jermaine was dead, they
collected the items they wanted to steal, and with Harris wearing
a pair of tracksuit pants to cover the blood on his trousers they
made their escape. Two weeks later, while Smith was being questioned
by the police regarding a video machine that she and Harris had
hired and sold, she suddenly confessed to the killing of Jermaine
Abrahams. “I wouldn't have been able to live with it,”
she said. Then she wept and under cross-examination admitted, “He
pulled the scarf tight across her mouth and then cut her throat.”
On 15 September, Sandra Smith
was charged with the murder of Jermaine Abrahams. Five days later,
Yassiem Harris was arrested and charged similarly.
Smith and Harris appeared at
a preliminary hearing at the Mitchell's Plain Magistrates' Court
on 23 September. They pleaded guilty to murder, alternatively culpable
homicide, and to stealing R2 000 worth of jewellery.
In a statement made to the court,
Smith said: “Mr Harris and I went to the Abrahams' house,
knocked on the door and the girl answered. We tied her up and tried
to throttle her with dish cloths from the kitchen. But she would
not die. He started to stab her, but still she wouldn't die. She
kept on pleading with us to let her live. She said she didn't want
to die. We then took her to her mother's bedroom - she said there
was valuable jewellery there. She showed us where it was and we
took it out. Then she started to get weaker. We put her on the bed.
She was getting cold and asked us for water. We didn't give it to
her. She started to bleed more and died. He slit her throat.”
“Did you want her to die?” the Magistrate asked. “Not
really. Mr Harris started to feel sorry for her afterwards but she
would have been able to identify us.”
As she was leaving the court
handcuffed to Harris, Smith had tears streaming down her face. When
she saw her mother in the crowd she shouted, “Mummy they didn't
give me bail ... Mummy, get me out of here...”
A month later, Smith and Harris
were sent to Valkenberg Hospitalfor 30 days' psychiatric evaluation.
Although Harris was said to have an 'anti-social personality disorder',
both he and Smith were judged fit to stand trial.
The trial of Sandra Smith and
Yassiem Harris began at the Cape Town Supreme Court on 1 December
1986. Both were accused of murdering and robbing Jermaine Abrahams.
During the trial, both Smith and Harris attempted to shift the onus
of blame on to the other. Smith maintained that Harris had done
the actual killing and Harris claimed to have been dominated by
Smith. Neither denied being party to the murder. However, when the
exact nature of their relationship was examined, it was found that
neither Harris nor Smith dominated the other. In other words, they
were both equally responsible for their actions. During the trial,
some love letters, which the accused had written to each other were
read out in court - a fact which seemed to embarrass Mrs Smith more
than the accusation of murder laid against her. In one letter in
particular, she had referred to their sexually-satisfying relationship
and said: 'I will never sleep with another man, not even with my
own husband because during five years he could not please me. That
is why I felt so sad this morning when you said you were pleased
no one was waiting for you. What about me? Where do I really stand
with you? I love you and I don't want to lose you. Yassiem, please
tell me I must wait for you. I want you to believe that we will
be together because I do. The way our sex has been, I don't believe
I will ever again get a man who can please me so. That is why I
am going to wait till you come out.'
Harris said in a letter: 'I
want to tell you to forget me because I don't no [sic] if it will
be the same when I come out one day. I love you very much Sandra
you no it, but I don't no what's qoinq to happen in such a long
On 11 December 1986, both Smith
and Harris were convicted of murder and robbery with aggravating
circumstances. During his two-hour summing-up the Judge-President,
Mr Justice Munnik, described Harris, who had tried to put the blame
on Smith by saying he had acted on her instructions, as 'an appalling
witness'. It was clear, the Judge maintained, that Harris had wielded
the knife throughout and his parrot like repetition of 'I don't
know' when repeatedly asked why he killed the girl was merely a
ploy. It was equally obvious that Harris had killed the girl to
prevent her identifying them. Furthermore, his claim to have been
dominated by Smith was refuted by the psychiatrist. Smith was demanding
but not dominant, and there was no evidence to indicate that she
pressurized Harris into committing any crimes that he would not
normally commit. Indeed, the judge concluded, both Smith and Harris
helped each other throughout and were equally responsible for what
On 22 December, Smith and Harris
were sentenced to hang because they had jointly planned and ruthlessly
executed the murder of Jermaine Abrahams. (Harris was also sentenced
to 10 years in prison for robbery with aggravating circumstances.
Smith was sentenced to 7 years.) When the death sentence was handed
down, Smith became hysterical and had to be taken struggling and
wailing to the cells.
Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris
were executed on 2 July, 1989, at the Pretoria Central Prison.
Following the publication of
this book I had cause to speak to the investigating officer in this
case on an unrelated matter. The officer in question maintained
that Harris had told him that Sandra Smith had done the actual killing
because she was jealous of the victim because she thought Harris
was attracted to her. Despite this, Harris had confessed to the
killing because of his love for Smith. Whether or not this was the
actual case, we will never know, although I was under the impression
that the investigating officer believed Harris.