Johannesburg – Margaret Fabris would see her husband’s killer before she fell asleep every night, then 12 years after the murder she saw his face for real staring out of a police line-up.
The identification of the alleged shooter is the breakthrough in a cold case that saw a procession of private investigators (PIs) come and go over a decade.
Now one investigator believes he has cracked the case after examining one of the clues left at the scene – the getaway car.
But the Fabris family and PI Christian Botha are concerned the case has stalled again, six months after the suspected killer was identified in a line-up at the Douglasdale police station.
Zlatko Fabris was shot dead on the night of May 9, 2005, at the Fabrz Hotel in Lonehill, Joburg, which he owned.
That night, according to Fabris, a couple had come to the hotel looking for a room.
“They wanted to be shown the room, went inside and locked the door. We told them they had to pay first. They then said they would have to go to the ATM in Fourways to get the money,” said Fabris.
They returned, accompanied by two men. “One of them said, ‘We are holding this place up, we want guns, jewellery and money’,” said Fabris.
It was then that her husband walked in. She believes he tried to draw a gun that he was carrying and was shot in the head.
The robbers then proceeded to pistol-whip and beat Fabris. She eventually was able to escape and run to neighbours for help.
But when the armed robbers tried to flee the scene, they discovered the gate would not open because they had pulled out all the cabling, believing it was a telephone line. They had to escape on foot, leaving their getaway car, a 1982 Toyota Corolla, behind.
“This event has broken up our family,” said Zlatko Fabris, the slain man’s son. “It was bad police work from the start, a cellphone was even stolen from the scene. All I want is to clear my mother and this balls-up.”
Some family members, said Fabris, have accused her of organising a hit on her husband. “The police investigated me. They looked at my credit cards. I came out clean.”
As the years went by, the family hired PIs. However, they always appeared to hit a brick wall in the investigation.
“My mother always said that she would be able to identify the shooter,” said Zlatko Fabris.
Two years ago Botha began working on the case; his mandate from the family was to identify the man who fired the fatal shot.
“Mrs Fabris told me every night when she went to bed, she would see her husband’s shooter,” he said.
She described the killer to Botha as an arrogant man who looked like EFF leader Julius Malema.
Botha decided to focus on the getaway car. Early in the probe it was discovered that the car had been hijacked near Alberton shortly before the robbery. Police had questioned the car owner and completed a background criminal check on him.
The police ruled him out as a suspect. But when Botha looked into the hijacking he noticed something odd. The hijacking was reported to the police the next day. Also the hijacking, explained Botha, was reported to have taken place on the R59 highway, half-an-hour before Zlatko Fabris was shot dead.
The case docket, said Botha, was missing from the Alberton police station.
Botha then discovered the suspect had been arrested for a business robbery in Joburg in 2013. He is out on bail.
“This was the trigger. I realised that this guy is not squeaky clean. I had to get a description of him.”
Botha tracked down his prime suspect’s former em- ployer. “You know what he tells me, the guy is very arrogant and looks like Julius Malema.”
It took Botha a year to organise an identity parade with the suspect included in the line-up. Fabris identified him as the shooter straight away, but now all has gone quiet. “I thought it was a massive breakthrough when we got him in an ID parade,” said Fabris.
Douglasdale police station spokesperson Sergeant Mpho More said after the ID parade the docket had been passed on to the senior state prosecutor. “It is at the courts now,” she said.
But for the Fabris family, it is more waiting. “This has fragmented our family. It is closure we want more than anything,” she said.