By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police investigating the shooting of model and lawyer Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend, South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, had to open another investigation into themselves — over the theft of a valuable watch when only police were present, hours after she died.
The embarrassing revelation that police apparently stole a watch valued at $5,000 to $10,000 came with South African newspapers complaining of police ineptitude.
Former police colonel Schoombie van Rensburg said he was “furious” when he realized the watch had disappeared. But he admitted that earlier, when he first saw the display box with eight watches in Pistorius’ main bedroom, he felt some trepidation because the watches were clearly expensive.
He said the watches were “tempting to anybody.”
One watch was taken by Pistorius’ sister, who was escorted by police to the room to get clothing for her brother, because he had no shirt on. But a second watch disappeared when only the police forensic team and photographer were at the death scene.
Van Rensburg said he ordered a body search of every member of police personnel, as well as their bags. The entire house was searched as well.
“We even searched the vehicles of every expert at the scene,” he said. Nothing was ever found and the case remains unsolved.
The admission that police stole evidence appears to offer defense lawyer Barry Roux an opportunity to cast doubt on the integrity of the scene where the shooting took place.
But that wasn’t the only testimony damaging to the police.
Van Rensburg told the court Friday that he was speaking on his cellphone that night in the bathroom where Pistorius fired the shots, when a police ballistics expert picked up Pistorius’ cocked gun, and removed the magazine — without wearing police gloves.
“I stopped talking and said, ‘What are you doing’ He said sorry and put the magazine back into the firearm,” Van Rensburg said. “Immediately, I was very angry,” he said.
The firearm incident does indicate sloppy police work, but it doesn’t appear to affect the competing versions of events contested by the prosecution and defense. Both sides agree that it was Pistorius who used the pistol to shoot Steenkamp dead.
A police photograph of Oscar Pistorius taken by police shortly after the killing showed him shirtless, with his shorts and prosthetic legs drenched in blood from the waist down.
The muscled athlete, standing with arms slackly by his side. stared at the camera, looking dazed. The photograph was taken in his garage.
Van Rensburg said he realized there was a prima facie case against Pistorius and he warned the athlete he was a suspect.