While Rob Packham was at the Wynberg police station to report his wife, Gill, missing he did not seem like the typical stressed spouse hoping to find his loved one, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.
Lieutenant Colonel Christiaan Labuschagne, who was called as a State witness in Packham’s murder trial, was a relief commander at the police station when the school administrator went missing on February 22, 2018.
Around 17:30 that day, he was at the station when he heard someone wanted to report a missing person, he told Judge Elize Steyn.
He went to the counter and eventually found Packham, who he said looked “relaxed” and was busy on his phone. He took him to a cubicle so they could talk privately.
Packham told him that the schoolmaster had phoned him just after 09:00 to say that his wife had not reported for work. He shared that he was patrolling the routes between their home and the school to see if he could find her.
Labuschagne said Packham told him he had last seen his wife around 07:00.
Fight the previous night
He told Packham that he lived in an area of Constantia that fell under the Diep River police station and it would be better to open a case there.
Besides taking along his wife’s identity number and a photo, he advised Packham to tell officials there that they should inform detectives to come on board so the search could start immediately.
Labuschagne asked Packham if he knew whether his wife was having an affair.
“He immediately said no.”
He then asked if the married couple had an argument or fight. He said Packham was silent for a while.
“Then he said yes, they had a fight the previous night but by the time she left for work, it was all resolved.”
He told prosecutor Susan Galloway that Packham sounded very calm and collected.
Advocate Craig Webster, SC, for Packham, questioned this assessment, considering the police officer had never met his client before and did not know his mannerisms.
Labuschagne replied he had been working with people for 27 years and could read body language pretty well.
“If my wife was missing, I would be agitated and would want to be helped immediately.”
Instead, he said, Packham sat quietly, looked collected and had “fluid” hand movements while busy with his phone.
Webster said other witnesses had noticed that his client was very stressed that day.
Labuschagne replied that when he got to reception, Packham was so inconspicuous that he could not determine who wanted to report a missing person and had to get a colleague to point him out.
Packham has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife and a charge of obstruction of justice.
He was arrested in 2018, the same day his wife’s body was identified by means of forensic DNA comparison.
Her charred remains were found in the boot of her burnt-out car at the Diep River train station after the fire was extinguished on February 22, 2018.
Blunt force trauma
Dr Louise Friedling, a forensic anthropology specialist, told the court on Monday that Gill suffered three blows to the skull.
She said it would have taken considerable force to cause the fractures she observed, given that the affected areas were the hardest bones in the body.
Webster asked if it was possible that the fractures could have been caused while Gill was behind the wheel of her car and an assailant struck blows from the outside.
“From a specific side and height, yes,” she replied.
Packham’s sister, Judith Markwell, told the court she had unsuccessfully tried to get hold of the married couple that morning.
She said she got a call from Packham around 10:00 that day and he sounded confused. He explained that he was looking for Gill.
Webster told Markwell that the couple had been making good progress in counselling.
“They were, they were back together and they were happy,” agreed Markwell, adding that Gill had indicated things were going well over the phone a few days earlier.
He asked how Packham seemed when she saw him.
She replied that he was emotional, “very distraught”, and didn’t know where else to look for his wife. He had also cried.
Tyre tracks mystery
The mystery of two different types of tyres came under the spotlight during the testimony of Captain Danie van der Westhuizen, a supervisor within the provincial crime scene investigations team, who was also a fingerprint, shoe print and tyre track analyst.
He told the court he was tasked with comparing two different types of tyres with what was found on the crime scene to form a conclusion.
On August 3 last year, he had the opportunity to examine the tyres on Packham’s white Audi Q5 at the Diep River police station.
“The pattern was totally different,” he said, referring to the comparison with photos of a tyre track impression at the crime scene.
He then compared the crime scene tyre impression with photos of the vehicle taken shortly after the murder, and found that the Audi’s tyres at that stage could possibly have made the impression.
Van der Westhuizen said the zig-zag pattern was the same but he could not find any unique marks on the crime scene print to be absolutely sure.
The trial continues on Tuesday.