Pietermaritzburg’s Emmaline Pillay knows that her sister Venessa Arlene Pillay, who went missing in July, is no longer alive but will continue searching for her remains until the end of November for their peace of mind.
But their search could have been over last week if Venessa’s estranged husband, 44-year-old Ravi Chetty, had not killed himself in police custody after he was charged with her kidnapping and murder.
It is believed that Chetty had made a confession to police on Thursday and was due to do a pointing out of her body on Friday – but ended his life by apparently hanging himself with strips of material he obtained from a mattress in his cell at the Mountain Rise Police Station on Thursday night.
Now, all that police and Venessa’s family are left with is information from cellphone data to suggest where the remains could be. With an unsuccessful search on Sunday, bad weather has prevented the search party from continuing this week.
Police suspect Pillay’s body may be concealed in the greater Albert Falls area.
“What is known is that cellular data indicates he had visited the Albert Falls areas several times shortly after his common-law wife went missing. It is a vast area with difficult terrain and anywhere along the riverbanks would involve exposure to crocodiles that have infested the area. It is going to be a tough job for the police but it has to be done once they have clearer location data,” said the police source, who is a former detective.
Chetty had initially been charged with defeating the ends of justice and perjury linked to the case of his missing wife but, based on information presented by the investigating officer Captain Eshone Manickum, the state added charges of kidnapping and murder against him.
Emmaline has little hope that they will find her sister’s remains but is going through the motions of searching for the body but only until the end of November.
“I think we have to be realistic and start our journey of healing. It’s been three months now and there’s very little that we are going to find. So we must just accept it as it. If we do not find anything by the end of November, we will have a memorial service for her and begin to pick up the pieces of our lives.
My mother is devastated as this is her second child that has passed away; my eldest sister committed suicide in 1995.
So this has really taken a toll on our family,” said Emmaline. Having last seen her sister on July 21, Emmaline said she instinctively knew something was wrong when she did not receive her usual daily Whatsapp message two days later.
“I saw her on July 21, sitting in her husband’s car. She waved at me and I waved back. I found it strange that she was in the car with him as they were living apart and she was terrified to go to his house to drop of their daughter’s clothes. I didn’t think much of it but when I didn’t hear from her two days later, I immediately raised the alarm,” said Emmaline.
Describing her sister’s marriage as tumultuous, with them being estranged since May as Venessa had obtained an interdict against Chetty, Emmaline said the couple had met as neighbourhood sweethearts.
The couple’s three children, 7 year-old Hiryana, Evelyn, 5, and Himesha, 2, who have been living with Chetty’s family since Venessa’s disappearance, were removed by social workers on Friday and are in a place of safety until further notice. Emmaline said she would make every effort to obtain custody of the children.
“They are a part of my sister. It breaks our heart to know they are in a place of safety. Venessa would have wanted us to care for them,” said Emmaline.