In the Shadow of the Noose

Newspaper-HeadlineLehnberg first contacted Choegoe by letter, which she wrote to him care of Solly’s Trading Store, his local shop. In the letter, she asked him to come and see her at the Orthopaedic Workshop and added, “Marthinus, if you are clever you can still earn good money”. When he turned up at the workshop, Lehnberg gave him R1 and asked him to meet her at the Rondebosch town hall at 7 p.m. later that same evening, she gave him a bottle of gin and said that she wanted him to murder a woman for her. “But Miss Marlene,” Choegoe replied, “I can’t do a thing like that. It will send me to the gallows.” “Were you ever involved in a court case, Marthinus?” Lehnberg asked. ”Yes, I was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon.” “Good,” she replied, “because that’s the sort of person I’m looking for. Someone who can handle a dangerous weapon.”

After some discussion, Choegoe finally agreed to Lehnberg’s request. A couple of days later, he went to the address in Boston Estate which Lehnberg had given him. “My plan was to warn her (Mrs van der Linde) that her life was in danger,” Choegoe claimed. When he got to Gladstone Street no 66, however, instead of warning Mrs van der Linde of Lehnberg’s plans, he asked her for some change. She said she hadn’t got any and went back inside the house.

A side street view of Van der Linde's home in Boston, Belville
A side street view of Van der Linde’s home in Boston, Belville

A week later, Choegoe and Lehnberg met in Rondebosch once more. This time he admitted that he was too afraid to go through with the murder. Lehnberg said that ‘they would make his leg better at the hospital’ if he did away with Mrs van der Linde. She also gave him a radio. Choegoe went to Beliville once more. On this occasion, he simply walked past the house but made no attempt to enter.

Shortly afterwards Lehnberg sent Choegoe a second letter. Again she urged him to go through with the murder. ‘Use a knife if you have to,’ she wrote but make sure the job is done.’ Then, she got another message to him, asking him to telephone her at work. During the subsequent conversation, Lehnberg insisted that Choegoe go through with the murder. She promised him a car and to have sex with him once the crime had been committed. At the time this would turn out to be the most shocking aspect of the entire case. She was white, and he was coloured and in the seventies in South Africa, everyone had to know their place and their kind.

Meanwhile Van der Linde tried some damage control and assured his wife that there was nothing untoward going on between him and the young Marlene. He arranged another job for Lehnberg at the Vigus Orthopedic Services. Although he and Lehnberg now argues a lot, he still does not want to lose her. She then suffers a miscariage and subsequently resign from her new job.

Marlene refused to change her name after she was released from prison. She believed she was innocent.
Marlene refused to change her name after she was released from prison. She believed she was innocent.

In October 1974, Lehnberg handed in her notice at the hospital and she told Christiaan van der Linde that she was going to leave Cape Town. On 24 October, Lehnberg collected Choegoe from his home in Retreat and took him through to Bellville in her car. He was armed with a hammer, which was to be used to kill Mrs van der Linde. Lehnberg dropped him off in the vicinity of Boston Estate and sped away. Shortly afterwards, Choegoe was spotted by Mrs van der Linde. She was alarmed, because she had seen him in the area on more than one occasion, and telephoned the Bellville Police Station. Choegoe was picked up by the police about two blocks from her house. At the police station he was beaten and warned not to return to the area.

In the face of repeated failure, Lehnberg decided to take matters into her own hands again. A few days after Choegoe’s failed attempt, she approached Rob Newman (24), an engineering student whom she knew and stayed in the same boarding house, and asked to borrow his Llama pistol. When he refused, she asked if he would kill someone for her. Again, he refused. On 28 October, Newman’s pistol was stolen from his room. He reported the theft to the police and suggested Lehnberg as a likely suspect.

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