In the Shadow of the Noose

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital was built in 1956 and is the largest, stand alone tertiary hospital dedicated entirely to child healthcare in Southern Africa. Itis also a teaching hospital for the University of Cape Town.

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital was built in 1956 and is the largest, stand alone tertiary hospital dedicated entirely to child healthcare in Southern Africa. Itis also a teaching hospital for the University of Cape Town.

Lehnberg’s road to infamy began two-and-a-half years earlier in February 1972, when she began her first job as a clerical assistant/receptionist at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town. She started work in the orthopaedic workshop alongside the ‘father figure’ who was later to become her lover, Christiaan van der Linde (47). Van der Linde was the workshop’s chief technician and Lehnberg, a bright, intelligent and attractive sixteen year-old, was drawn to him from the start. “He struck me as something special,” she later admitted. “He impressed me tremendously. ‘Welcome’ he said and my heart beat faster.”

Lehnberg’s upbringing had been both conservative and strict. Her father was puritanical, a man who rarely displayed any affection towards his daughter. It was not surprising, therefore, that she should be so drawn to van der Linde, a person whom she saw as being warm and friendly.

At only 16 she met and fell in love with an older colleague –  47 year old married father of three.

Van der Linde said that he originally had a ‘fatherly relationship’ with Lehnberg, but they grew closer and closer as the months passed. Eventually, he found her impossible to resist. “A determined, intelligent woman in love is difficult to contain,” van der Linde said. In April 1973, barely a year after they first met, the couple began a tempestuous love affair that was ultimately to end in disaster.

Throughout the remainder of 1973, Lehnberg and van der Linde continued to meet in secret at Rondebosch common, Paarden Eiland and ‘places like that’. Then, early in 1974, their intimacy stopped. People were watching them, van der Linde said, and his wife was receiving anonymous telephone calls.

Rondebosch Common has a long history as an open space for public use. This valuable 40 hectare block lies in a built-up area surrounded by established homes, schools and just opposite the Red Cross hospital. Rondebosch Common is very popular among local residents, who can be seen jogging, walking their dogs, exercising and enjoying the open space every day.

Rondebosch Common has a long history as an open space for public use. This valuable 40 hectare block lies in a built-up area surrounded by established homes, schools and just opposite the Red Cross hospital. Rondebosch Common is very popular among local residents, who can be seen jogging, walking their dogs, exercising and enjoying the open space every day.

In July Lehnberg became pregnant, or so she claimed at the time. She became increasingly depressed about the situation, and start drinking more and more of the Valiums that Van der Linde provided for her.

By July 1974, Lehnberg was becoming desperate and started talking about leaving Cape Town. Christiaan van der Linde persuaded her not to, but by September she had finally tired of the situation and decided to bring matters to a head herself by speaking to his wife. She called her and explained that she and Christiaan were very much in love and were seeing each other every night. She wanted to know what Mrs van der Linde intended doing, but Mrs van der Linde put the telephone down on her. A few weeks later, Lehnberg telephoned again. This time she made an appointment to go and see her. They met in Bellville early in October.

Initially, Lehnberg had hoped that she and Mrs van der Linde could come to some sort of arrangement concerning Christiaan, but this meeting was to change all of those ideas. Not only did Mrs van der Linde tell Lehnberg that she would never give her husband a divorce because of the children, she also added, “I don’t mid playing second fiddle,” she said, “as long as you don’t mind doing likewise.”

It was suddenly obvious to Lehnberg that Susanna van der Linde was prepared to do anything to keep her husband. It was equally obvious that she had only one alternative left – murder.

It was around this time that Marthinus Charles Choegoe (33) a miserable, scruffy-looking, unemployed cripple entered the scene. Choegoe, who had lost a leg in a motorcar accident, had come to the Orthopaedic Workshop to have an artificial limb fitted. His disabilities-both physical and social-had destroyed his self-esteem and this made him particularly susceptible to Lehnberg’s approaches. In the end, he would become totally subservient to ‘Miss Lehnberg’.

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