Phone Records

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Elsdon alleges that Mrs Lotz, Marius Botha and “Mr X” all switched their cell phones off – for the “first time ever” – during the afternoon of the 16th – apparently in order to prevent their movements from showing up in cellphone records. His conclusion is solely based on the phone records not showing any activity for these periods. He also finds the “first time ever” cell phone silence between Fred and Inge on the day of her murder as suspicious.

Let’s first look at the cell phone contact between Fred and Inge. The table below shows all the contact between Inge and Fred between 13:41 on 14 March 2005 and 20:11 on 16 March 2005. (MOSMS – Outgoing SMS, MTSMS – Incoming SMS, MTC – Incoming call and MOC – Outgoing call)

On the 16th there was no cell phone contact between 13:36 and 20:11. According to Elsdon such a long silence between them has never happened before. But if Elsdon bothered to look at the historical pattern of cellphone activity between them, he would have noticed that an almost identical period of silence occurred just 2 days prior on 14 March between 13:41 and 20:32.

14 Mar.13:41:06MOSMS0
14 Mar.20:32:50MTC984
15 Mar.8:21:43MTSMS0
15 Mar.8:21:45MTSMS0
15 Mar.10:02:07MOSMS0
15 Mar.10:07:24MTSMS0
15 Mar.12:51:10MTC135
16 Mar.8:08:38MTSMS0
16 Mar.8:43:14MOSMS0
16 Mar.9:40:33MOSMS0
16 Mar.9:41:20MTSMS0
16 Mar.11:50:59MTSMS0
16 Mar.13:36:40MTSMS0
16 Mar.20:11:51MOSMS0

Source: Fred’s Vodacom Phone Records (Court Exhibit X)

Marius Botha’s phone records show that there was no activity on his phone between 13:26 and 21:04 (7 hrs 38 min).

According to Elsdon:

  • This was a first time ever occurrence;
  • Evidence that he put his phone off to hide his movements;
  • Evidence that he used a spare phone to communicate with other conspirators.

Had Elsdon bothered to study Marius’ historical records, he would have noticed:

  • On Friday 11 March 2005 Marius’ first cell phone activity occurred at 15:41;
  • There was no activity between Sunday, 13 March 2005, 18:07 and Monday, 14 March 2005, 14:58;
  • On Tuesday 15 March 2005 the first cell phone activity occurred at 12:30.

We see here at least three whole mornings and a Sunday evening where the cell phone showed no activity (not even incoming SMS messages or voicemails).

There is only one way to determine from a Vodacom phone record if a phone was switched off at a particular point in time – and that is if the record shows that a voice message was received without providing details of the cell phone tower the call was routed through. (A voicemail received while the phone was on, will be shown on the record with the cell tower details.)  Marius did not receive any voicemails on the 16th.

An indirect and less conclusive way of telling whether the phone was possibly switched off, is if the phone record shows a number of SMS messages received at the same time. When you switch your phone on, the SMS messages that people have sent you while your phone was off, will be delivered one after another to your SMS inbox.

To illustrate – let’s look at this example from Marius’ phone record for the 18th:

18 Mar.13:49:00CF.17 
18 Mar.14:16:00MTSMS0Somerset Mall 1
18 Mar.14:16:00MTSMS0Somerset Mall 1
18 Mar.14:16:00MTSMS0Somerset Mall 1
18 Mar.14:17:00MTSMS0Somerset Mall 1

At 13:49 he received a voicemail when the phone was switched off – as evidenced by the cell phone tower details being blank (last column). It appears that when he possibly switched his phone back on at 14:16, he received at least 4 SMS message that was likely sent to him while his phone was off. One of those SMS messages was one to notify him that he had a voicemail.

On the 16th at 21:04 Marius’ cellphone silence was broken by an outgoing call – and not by one or more incoming SMS messages.

It is not impossible that Marius’ phone was off during this period – perhaps he simply did not receive any voicemails and SMSs messages during this period – and he was studying for an important exam. However, with the phone record information to Elsdon’s disposal, it is impossible to tell if the phone was switched off – AND that if it was off, that it was for the “first time ever”.  As we have demonstrated it was certainly not the first extended period of no-cellphone activity on his phone.

Elsdon admits that there is no phone record for the supposed spare phone that Marius owned. Not only did Elsdon not present any evidence that such a phone existed (e.g a witness account), he admitted that he does not have a phone record – so how can he make a factual statement that Marius used a spare phone on in this day?

Whereas Fred and Marius were Vodacom subscribers, Mrs Lotz and Inge were MTN subscribers. And there appears to be a big difference between Vodacom and MTN phone records. A typical MTN phone record is derived from processed data and does not show incoming SMS messages.

Ms Du PLessis, a Forensic Fraud Data Analyst working for MTN, testified as follows at Fred’s trial (Page 401; Lines  8 to 12):

Incoming SMS’s are managed and delivered directly to the cellular telephone by the originating networks SMSC, therefore no incoming records regarding SMS’s will show.

Ms Du Plessis explained that raw (unprocessed data) contains more information than processes data and that it will show incoming messages.

Inge’s phone record – derived from processed data – does not show any activity after her 13:36 SMS to Fred van der Vyver. Whereas we know that Fred left her three voicemail messages later that evening – and her mother also called her several times. In fact, a detailed review of her phone record between 18 January 2005 and 16 March 2005 reveals that there is no information on calls where a voicemail was left – even though the record shows that Inge dialed “100” several times to retrieve voicemails. Inge’s phone record derived from raw (unprocessed) data, shows all of the activity on the 16th – including incoming SMS messages and voicemail calls.

According to Ms Du Plessis (translated from Afrikaans) (Page 406; Lines 20 to 25):

On page 3 and 4 no SMS messages will appear, but on page 5 and 6 incoming SMS messages do appear. The processed data appears on the screen up until 13:36 only, whereas the raw data go to the end of the day, that is from midnight to midnight the next day.”

Page 3 and 4 of Inge’s phone record contained processed data. This was the information that was first provided to the police after they requested it. Inspector De Villiers noticed that incoming SMS messages did not show – so additional data was obtained – the raw data which made up pages 5 and 6 of Inge’s phone record.

Thus, MTN phone records need to be treated with caution. Most importantly, you have to know whether the phone record was derived from processed or raw data. What appears to be long periods of silence on a “processed“ record may not be the case – because incoming SMS messages are not shown.

On 22 March 2005 Inspector De Villers asked Ms Du Plessis to provide phone records for six numbers (Page 409; Line 6). We can assume that Mrs Lotz’ number was one of the six. It seems likely that the phone record for Mrs Lotz was based on processed data – similar to the Pages 3 and 4 of Inge’s phone record that was first provided to the police.

With the data to his disposal, Elsdon is simply not in a position to make a factual statement that Mrs Lotz switched her phone off that afternoon, and that if it was switched off, that it was for the first time ever.

Whatever the case may be, the question remains, how seriously can a “investigator” be taken that cannot read cellphone records, i.e. cannot distinguish between outgoing and incoming SMSs? It’s basics. And then to proceed on that factually incorrect basis to create a premise from which to accuse people of murder.

Alan Elsdon Exposed

Mr X and the Perfect Murder

The To-Do List

Where Inge was murdered

Mistakes or Lies?

Phone Records

The Photo Stand 

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