#CourtneyPieters: Timeline of a child murder

Published Nov 6, 2018


Cape Town - As the man accused of murdering three-year-old Courtney Pieters waits to hear his fate in the Western Cape High Court we relook at the timeline of her disappearance and murder and the events leading up to the trial of Mortimer Saunders.

May 4, 2017

Courtney Pieters goes missing from her family home in Salberau, Elsies River. 

May 5 - 12

Her disappearance sparks a massive search with volunteers from other Cape Flats communities joining police to help find the little girl.

During the 9 days that Courtney is missing a number of vigils are held to pray for her safe return.

May 13

Her body is found dumped in Epping Industria. 

Video footage taken from CCTV cameras in the area shows a man whom police identified as a close friend of the murdered child's family dumping her body on a rubbish heap.

May 14

Mortimer Saunders, the man who rented a room in her family's home is arrested for her murder after police receive an anonymous tip-off. He is wearing the same clothes as the suspect seen dumping the body on the CCTV footage.

August 21

Courtney Pieters is buried. Hundreds of people from all over Cape Town come out to support the family and pay their last respects to the little girl.

August 25

Saunders makes his first appearance in the Goodwood Magistrate's Court sporting several bruises on his face, and what appeared to be a bite mark in his neck. His case is postponed to be transferred to the High Court.

May 14, 2018

Saunders goes on trial for rape and murder exactly a year to the day after he was arrested. Courtney's tombstone is unveiled on the same day.

May 28

Mortimer Saunders admits to murdering Courtney Pieters. He says he fed her ant poison to make her ill and choked her when she started making a noise.

June 8

Forensic analyst Luthando Tiya testifies that he had matched semen from Saunders to samples collected from Courtney's body.

June 12

The official cause of Courtney's death is revealed in court as asphyxia through smothering or strangulation, "and/or" poisoning. According to pathologist Professor Johan Dempers the toddler sustained external blunt-force injuries to her face, torso and limbs, and there were signs of pressure to her neck as well as injuries to her genitals. 

August 30

Saunders’ lawyer shocks the court by denying that his client confessed to murdering the three-year-old.

September 5

Judge Pearl Mantame closes the case after defence counsel Mornay Calitz refused to let his client testify.

During his trial, Saunders admitted that he poisoned the child because he had "ill feelings" toward her mother Juanita Pieters. According to him he never intended to kill Courtney. He denies raping the little girl.


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