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The day I was accused of armed robbery

It was many years ago now that one of the most bizarre and upsetting experiences of my life took place, so bizarre, in fact, that with the passage of time it is hard to imagine how it could have happened at all. It began with a phone call from a police investigator, “requesting” me to come in for an interview regarding a charge of armed robbery in which I was apparently implicated. Naturally, merely to receive such a call was annoying enough; that someone’s stupid mistake was at the bottom of it all was something I took as a given.

It was just as well that the police official I met with was courteous and friendly, because it all too soon became apparent that this was not just a case of mistaken identity. The testimony of the alleged victim asserted that a bearded man, one of the kind who “went to church”, had robbed her at knifepoint in Cavendish Road, Yeoville, while an accomplice sat in his car and drove off with him afterwards. All my vehicle details — number plate, make, colour — were correctly identified. That was how the police were able to trace me, of course. I had indeed been in that vicinity on the day in question, filling up at the nearby petrol station.

Even then, I could only assume that there had been some kind of gruesome mistake. That I was in reality the target of a deliberate frame-up only occurred to me afterwards. The officer then tried to ring up the complainant to come in and see if she could positively identify me as being the felon, but received no reply.

Exactly when was I supposed to have robbed this poor lady? Here she had slipped up, giving the date and time as Friday at around 6pm. It seems she didn’t know that this was invariably a time when I would have been in my “church” for the Sabbath evening service. That was what I was able, with considerable relief, to assert in my own formal statement, adding that my fellow congregants would be able to testify to my presence.

The next few days were tense ones. In reality, the best the congregants I spoke to could say was that they could not remember my not being present that evening. I lived in dread of an unwelcome knock on the door and the scary, humiliating prospect of being formally charged with a shameful crime.

As it turned out, that was the last I heard of the matter. The police never got back to me, so presumably they decided that there were insufficient grounds for proceeding. Perhaps the complainant herself withdrew the charge when learning of the contents of my statement.

What was it all about, then? Someone suggested the woman had indeed been robbed of items that were not hers, was afraid what the owner (her husband/boyfriend?) would do and concocted a case against someone else just to cover herself. That I considered a bit far-fetched. The likeliest explanation was that I was being set up as a blackmailing target. Had the case gone ahead, I could have expected the “victim” to contact me and advise that for a certain consideration she was prepared to change her story.

The episode was revealing of how vulnerable people are. No matter how law-abiding you might be, there is always the possibility of ruin at the hands of those cold-bloodedly prepared to lie about you. Since then I have wondered whether others have experienced anything similar, and if so, whether they opted to pay off the blackmailer to avoid the lose-lose possibility of having to appear in court.


  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.