An investigation is currently under way to determine what happened to jewellery valued at more than
R100 000 that went missing after it was removed from the body of a woman at Salt River mortuary.
The incident is being investigated by both the provincial Department of Health and Woodstock police.
Barbara Carolus, 64, who suffered a heart-attack on Friday August 19, died on her way to hospital and her body was escorted to the state mortuary in Salt River, where all her belongings were booked and tagged. Media reports suggests that family members viewed the body of Ms Carolus on the same day day of her death, but were not handed her valuables. Instead, they were asked to return on Monday August 22 to collect them. When the family returned to collect her belongings, which included a diamond ring, antique pearl earrings and gold bangles, they were informed that the items were missing.
Ms Carolus’ daughter, Shavonne Miller, said her mother had treasured the items. “These were intended to be handed down generations and the sentimental value is priceless. Her granddaughters were to inherit them and especially my mom’s wedding ring which is nearly 50 years old and was intended for her eldest granddaughter. We don’t have her personal items to hold onto and value their meaning as my late mother did,” she said.
Ms Miller confirmed that the family planned to launch a civil case against the mortuary once they had received feedback from the investigation.
“If this could happen to us, it can happen to many others who fall victim to a failed system. The processes need to be rethought and more stringent methods need to be implemented to avoid such instances from ever happening in future. Those that are responsible need to answer and we want closure on this matter with changes brought about within the current department,” she added.
Principal communications officer for Emergency Medical and Forensic Pathology Services at the provincial health department, Robert Daniels, confirmed that an internal investigation had been immediately launched when the incident became known to the facility’s management.
“This included interviewing staff regarding the missing property, with the hope that the property may have been negligently misplaced or numbered incorrectly,” Mr Daniels said.
He added that staff had searched the facility in the hope that the missing items would be found.
The search, however, was fruitless and management was informed. Furthermore, Mr Daniels said, a formal departmental investigation had been implemented.
“The staff involved all work shifts and interviewing them is not always possible and therefore has taken some time. Once it was discovered that we could not find the property and that the possibility was that it could be gone or stolen, the facility manager informed the family that they should make a case at Woodstock SAPS. This was conveyed to the family when they came in to find out if there was any more information on the missing property,” Mr Daniels explained.
He added that the provincial health department was not aware of any other similar incidents having taken place at the Salt River Mortuary in the past. “Management at Salt River have done a preliminary investigation into the missing property and all the necessary information will be given to the SAPS investigating officer,” Mr Daniels said.
Ms Miller, however, doesn’t believe that this is the first such incident at the mortuary, saying: “People have since contacted me saying the exact same thing has happened to them. How is this even possible? “
Woodstock police spokesman Sergeant Hilton Malila, confirmed that they were investigating the incident and had registered a case of theft.. “The complainant alleged that the belongings of the deceased was taken by the mortuary personnel for safe keeping. The items included clothing and jewellery,” Sergeant Malila said. “We are saddened mostly, and, of course, angry at a failed system, as with my mother’s sudden passing, this was not something we wanted to deal with during our period of mourning. No family should have to go through something like this after a loss of a loved one – ever,” Ms Miller said.
Anyone who is able to shed some light on the case, can contact the investigating officer, Sergeant Eugene Swanson, on 021 486 2840.
The family are now looking for a law firm who will take on the civil case pro bono as they are unable to afford the legal costs.