Burglars star in home movies

10 November 2002

By Shanthini Naidoo

R.V. thought he had seen it all when his computer-linked video camera snapped burglars cleaning out his home - until it happened again a week later.

R.V. had to watch images of burglars rifling through his belongings and even trying on his clothes - the first time in black and white and the second time in colour.

The camera, which is linked to his personal computer, was set up to keep an eye on his Welgemoed home while he and his wife were at work. The burglars were unaware that every move was being recorded. "It gives you a feeling of having a little bit more control - it's not a faceless crime element anymore - you know what the people look like," R.V. said. The images have now been handed to the police to help them in their search for the suspects.

The first time, burglars stole a hi-fi system, video machine, CDs, jewellery and clothing. The next time, another group removed what was left - the microwave, bedding and even food out of the fridge - and the computer was found in the passage wrapped in a sheet.

R.V. believes the burglars left the computer behind because they were disturbed, but not before the camera managed to get one suspect on disk.

The investigating officer, Inspector Kobie Skinner of the Bellville police, said the images of the burglars had enabled the police to identify one of the suspects from the second burglary. "We are considering the person in the photo to be our suspect in the second case. At this stage, we do have names for him and we are looking for him, as are other police departments," she said.

This week, R.V.'s wife, A.V., said that she and her husband were constantly on the lookout for the thieves, although there was little hope of getting their belongings back. "It's very traumatic - not just the loss of material things, but you go into your house in the middle of the day and you've got this anxiety attack coming on because you don't know what to expect," she said.

The V.'s are despondent after both incidents, saying there is little left to steal from their home. "A person should believe it won't happen again, but it's difficult to go back to normal," said A.V.

The couple's three young daughters have also been badly affected by the burglaries and are receiving professional counselling. "I have problems sleeping at night. Every sound you hear makes you jump and the kids are so scared they don't want to go to the toilet during the day because [the thieves] broke in on that side [of the house]," said A.V.

She said she was particularly upset at the loss of personal items, such as home videos. "I am such a sentimental person and when you see that these things are not there, anger builds up. You just want to ask these people, why those things that are close to your heart?" said A.V.

The family will soon be moving house and R.V. says he is going to upgrade the system so that he can watch a live feed from the webcam at work.

* Initials used to protect identity.