The towel marks

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Please make sure to first read the Hammer page

On the bathroom floor a bloodied towel lay discarded.



Above: The chemically treated towel

When marks are investigated it is important to note that you first look for class characteristics – product (or class) features. In this case it would be to see if a similar type hammer was possibly used. Then one looks at individual characteristics. Here you look for micro features, such as for a specific scratch or dent on the object that is recorded in the mark – linking that specific object to the specific mark. Leaving a signature, so to speak.

After lengthy investigation we found that although we cannot match the suspect hammer with the marks on the towel on an individual level, we can with great confidence conclude that not only was a similar TYPE hammer wiped with this towel, but an exactly similar (‘identical’) PRODUCT. A hammer with exactly the same dimensions and curves as the suspect hammer. It can very possibly be the same hammer, but we cannot say this conclusively. We can also not say who used the hammer to inflict the wounds. What was clear during the investigation in 2005, and even now, is that this type of ornamental hammer was, and is, extremely scarce in South Africa. The similar type ornamental hammer (‘bottle-opener hammer’) we used was especially imported from the US. It is a rather novel type item with many design and manufacturing variations, making identical products of this type hammer very scarce in South Africa.

IMPORTANT: When looking at the images below, one must remember that a towel is not a flat and fixed object but can fold around objects and is also flexible. One must think three dimensionally and not in 2D. It must also be considered that the towel is made from a rough material, so images will not always be extremely clear, and in some cases photos were low resolution. It is also important to note that it is not an exact science. Wiping down an object is a robust and unpredictable action. In some cases you wipe one area twice, other times, maybe only once. You may re-grip the object and move the object around in the towel. White areas in a mark may be areas previously cleaned or a fold, or both. Blood on the murder weapon would have been semi-congealed – so it may take a few wipes to clean an area. Therefore you may get two or three separate impressions of the same part of the object.

Please note that overlays are 1:1 on-scale.


Above: This is an undeniable and clear impression which correlates 100% with the tail of the suspect hammer. The fact that the longer dark mark is not lined up with where the shaft is expected in relation to the tail, does not refute anything. One must simply remember that a towel can fold – it is not a flat and stiff object, and significant movement of the towel and hammer can be expected during a cleaning action. What is of importance is that we have a clear impression that fits the very uniquely tapered shape of the hammer’s tail perfectly. Then we have a linear impression in an area that the shaft can be expected relative to the tail, and this mark also correlates with the shape and width of the hammer’s shaft. It seems that it fits between the head and up to where the rubber grip starts. (On the image below we see an example where the shaft lines up with the head very well.)


Above: Here the hammer was wiped on the inner back curve. The side of the hammer may be on a white area but that side was already cleaned (or may simply not have touched the hammer, as the wiping was done underneath the tail end of the hammer). Here the shaft of the hammer lines up to the tail perfectly. Also note the impression of the tail’s opener ring.


Above: This shows how well the opener’s ring fits on the impression. To the right the shaft is clearly visible, with the inner tail side’s curve to the top. This ring impression is not isolated, it is in an “expected” position relative to the tail. Again, we must just remember that a towel can fold and this should not be considered in inflexible and flat 2D terms.


Above: This clearly shows the impression of the top end of the hammer. On the left the opener’s ring and to the right the head, and between them the top side. One must remember that the distance around the top-end is slightly longer as the 2D crow-fly distance between the tail and head’s ends, though it corresponds very will with the length from side to side. Some rolling and sliding must also be accounted for. To the top is a butterfly impression of the head (a double touch).


Above: Last but not least, we have two impressions clearly corresponding with the nature and shape of the opener side. To the right in the circled area is what appears to be an impression made by the hammer’s head. (Because of the lack of a scaling ruler, it was not possible to get ‘official’ 1:1 scale on this photo but certain known markers have been used to attain approximate scaling, and if the overlay fits on one mark it also fits on the other. Due to the distance the photo was taken from and the quality of the photo, it was also not practical to get real-size scale.)

The question comes up: Why was this not presented during the trials and where does this now ‘suddenly’ come from. Please note, these photos were taken on 4 and 5 May 2005 (which can be proved), and since then they have always been in existence, the problem is that the police simply did not investigate and explore the towel properly. They simply missed them, it seems. Perhaps they weren’t sufficiently skilled, or perhaps they didn’t have the time to produce this type of graphical overlays and animation. Just as they and the prosecution missed that Fred’s account of the night of the 16th cannot be true.

There is huge uncertainty about the current whereabouts of the towel and speculation has it that since the trial it has gone missing. It supposedly disappeared from Judge Deon van Zyl’s chambers. Would it be far-fetched to assume it was stolen by someone that knew its secrets and wanted to keep them hidden?

It is a great pity that such a vital piece of evidence, one that held so may clues, was mishandled in such a dismal way.

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