In May 2016 Thomas Mollett and Antony Altbeker debated this case at the Franschhoek Literary festival.
We are going to run through some of Mr Altbeker’s claims and defences here and on other pages that will follow.
Mr Altbeker spent much of the valuable time trying to convince the audience that our argument regarding the marks on the towel is illegitimate and that we had no way of determining scale on this photo. He generally disputed the legitimacy of these marks that we identified and pointed out.
But let’s start at the beginning of his argument.
Mr Altbeker showed the audience this photo with sort of the attitude of “this is how the towel was found, but we see nothing here”.
He also showed the chemically treated towel with an attitude of “if it is was treated you cannot trust it because things appear that were not there”. Well Mr Altbeker this is what happens with fingerprints too, they dust the object to bring latent prints out.
So because the towel has been treated Mr Altbeker does not trust the towel.
He then showed everybody how the towel was “mishandled” by the police on the scene. To prove it he showed us these photos.
He said: “We know it was on the night because we know what the bathroom looked like after the fingerprinting.” He said the towel “was kicked across the floor”. Well, we don’t know where he got the story about the “kicking across the floor” and exactly when these photos were taken and how the towel was handled but it is not going to explain how VARIOUS marks came onto it that can be reconciled with parts of Fred’s hammer. So if you “kick the towel” all sorts of marks jump onto it, it seems.
He continued: “So what does all that mean for the legitimacy of this …”
And then he said: “There is no way of knowing the provenance or timing of these marks”.
So when were they made, do you think, Mr Altbeker? Just appeared out of the blue when they “kicked the towel across the floor”? Or did the evil police add them later to “frame” Fred? Curious that they never used it then in their evil attempt to frame Fred. By the way this photo was taken 5 May 2005.
But for most of the time Mr Altbeker wanted to show that we had no way of determining scale of the marks and that they were distorted. Like he misjudged the head wound photo, somehow to him this photo was taken at such an angle that nothing on the image counts.
In order to make his point, this is what he did.
Mr Altbeker: “The problem is called perspective distortion … and to get a sense of how distorted something can be consider a cricket pitch:”
One suppose there is not much fault to find with his effort to explain to us what “perspective distortion” is. Just not quite sure what the relevance here is.
But before we go on, just a note to Mr Altbeker. Yes, this distortion you show here is true. Of course. But you know what, it does not matter how you view these images, you still recognise the basic shape. You can view a triangle from 50 sides, you will still know it is a triangle. Same with a square. Same with the shape of a bottle opener. You will recognise the approximate shape. In your example, you can still recognise the “e” in Investec, it doesn’t matter from what angle you look at.
We are living in a three dimensional world, hence your mind is trained to account for perception angles. Although a road ahead of you “looks” like it is going narrower, you know it stays the same width. Doesn’t matter from where you view the cricket pitch, you know it’s real shape.
It is a waste of good time, but let’s test this.
Below is a shape taken from various angles. Please tell us where one shape is so distorted that you cannot reconcile it with the others.
So you can argue photo angles and “perception distortion” all you want, if you deny that the indicated mark on the towel is reconcilable with the shape of a bottle opener, you are simply dishonest with yourself. The towel was not photographed at any significant photo angle and this mark is just about perpendicular to the camera and on the mid-line of the photo.
Now let’s look at the size.
Would you agree that this photo was taken perpendicular?
Using the 6 cm rulers on the towel, we moved one just like it is on the photo, to the evidence number.
As we will see on another example later as well, the number 3 is about 25 mm. We have no desire to try and determine it to the nanometre. It gives us a sense of scale already.
Comparing it with the number 3 on the white towel, we can see that the number 3 on the green towel was not taken at any different angle and we can see clearly the photo of the white towel was not taken at any significant angle. Again, we do not claim it to be a precise exercise but by using the 25 mm of the number 3, we can reasonably determine that an impression of the bottle opener side (which we know is 38 mm) would fit into the 50 mm area shown here. The bottle opener would not be too big or too small. Accounting for the pile and smudging, and margin of error, it is within margin.
All the above explanations are not even really necessary. If we look at the photo to the top left, the included ruler is 6 cm. The photo was taken pretty much perpendicular. Look at the position of the mark of interest (blue arrows)- with the cut-out hole as reference, and by using the ruler as scale, it is clear that the mark (the part that we can see) is in the region of 3 cm – which would make it reconcilable with the size of about 2/3rds of the shape of the bottle opener of the implicated hammer.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, Mr Altbeker said nothing about these marks on the towel. Clearly taken perpendicular – with a ruler as scale.
Here a scaled photo of the implicated hammer is compared with the marks. Now the ruler in both were brought to the same size. The shaft is clearly reconcilable wit the linear mark (pink blocks are exactly the same size), and so too is the size of the fin-shaped mark (the yellow lines are equal in length).
After isolating the linear mark, and bringing both rulers to the same size, here we can see how perfectly reconcilable the linear mark is to the shaft.
It is clear that the fin-shaped mark is reconcilable with the tail part of the hammer’s head. In addition, considering the position of the shaft vs the head – the linear mark is on the expected side and position to the head. It may not run perpendicular into the head but a towel can crease and fold.
Mr Altbeker seems to believe that there is only one specific way to wipe an instrument with a towel – and that such marks could not have been made considering cleaning of the (or a) hammer. Apart form the fact that there are many possible scenarios, we don’t really care about this argument, Fact is, there are marks on the towel that, on geometrical basis, are reconcilable with the hammer. The same hammer that reacted to Luminol, albeit inconclusive. Even given false positives, there was no reason for a relatively unused hammer that lay for months under the seat of a bakkie, to react to Luminol at all. We know of course, that cleaning agents can also cause reactions. But why would there be cleaning agents on a new/unused hammer?