Cold Case Confession: Unravelling The Betty Ketani Murder by Alex Eliseev

For me, it’s impossible to think of Betty Ketani’s 1999 murder and the subsequent cover-ups, confessions and court case without two other associations:

  • Alex Eliseev, the Eyewitness News journalist who broke the story, launched the website and relentlessly investigated the ins and outs that became this book
  • My old haunt, Cranks in Rosebank, where we ate Thai lunches and Vietnamese dinners supervised by owner Eric and his horde of fornicating Barbie dolls

Just in case you’re entirely unaware of the Betty Ketani story – if, as Daily Maverick’s Marelise van der Merwe puts it, you’ve “been living under a rock and missed four years of headlines” – here’s some of the (spoiler-free) background for you:

On 31 March 2012 a family in Kenilworth, Johannesburg, ripped up an old carpet during home renovations and discovered, by chance, a 13-year-old letter that opened with the words: “If you are reading this, then I am dead.”

It spoke of Betty Ketani; a woman who, it later turned out, had left her children with family in Queenstown to make money in Johannesburg. She became the chef at one of Johannesburg’s most iconic restaurants, Cranks. Then, she vanished.

The letter detailed a kidnapping, torture and murder spree, plus the scene of Betty Ketani’s 1999 death, and was given to private investigators by the family. Their investigation, alongside the police, eventually led to the murder trial that has only just concluded, with Carrington Laughton sentenced to 30 years in jail for murder, and Carl and David Ranger, accomplices, sentenced to four years each.

But these are just the basics. And the details, all of them true, are so unbelievable as to feel, at least at first, heavily fictionalised. Which is why I’m thankful for Alex Eliseev’s skillful touch, his masterful prose and his nuanced-yet-authentic style.

For any fan of true crime writing, Cold Case is up there with Karyn Maughan’s Love Is War: The Modimolle Monster and the Mandy Weiner/Barry Bateman collaboration, Behind The Door: The Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story.

It’s also up there with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the 1966 non-fiction novel that details the murders of four members of a rural Kansas family and that is, for me, another title penned by a writer with more than a passing interest in the outcome.

Eliseev’s hope is that the story gives us more insight into the workings of our justice system. For me it does, but at the same time it also unveils the secret and sordid world that exists behind the ragged curtain we South Africans pull over our lives. And it shows that, sometimes, eventually, bad people get what’s coming to them.

*This post originally appeared on Women24.