Three elderly family members endured a night of terror when they were bludgeoned, bound and locked up in a bathroom by intruders on a Bushy Park smallholding.
Their harrowing two-hour ordeal on Tuesday left Andrew Marais, 77, fighting for his life with a fractured skull at Netcare Greenacres Hospital after he was repeatedly hit over the head with a crowbar.
His wife, Patricia, 78, and her sister, Sheila Palmer, 85, were also attacked and tied up – but managed to keep their wits about them amid their fear.
They raised the alarm after Palmer cut through her sister’s shoelace restraints with a razor, allowing Patricia to escape through an en suite bathroom window and run next door to alert her daughter, Jackie Schmidt.
Three masked men – armed with a gun, a knife and two crowbars – had gained access to the home by popping the laundry door lock at about 11.30pm.
The men, who are still at large, fled with cellphones, jewellery, a laptop, cash, a camera and a Kindle amounting to at least R50 000.
Yesterday, Andrew underwent successful surgery to a collapsed skull in an attempt to reconstruct and elevate the fractured part.
He remains in high care.
Andrew and Patricia produce hydroponic tomatoes on their smallholding which they sell to Port Elizabeth stores and restaurants.
Johannesburg-based Palmer – on a second visit to Port Elizabeth in the space of a year – and her sister were also attacked a year ago while enjoying a stroll along Marine Drive and robbed of their jewellery.
A still traumatised Patricia said yesterday: “The night started with supper at Jackie’s house – we then went home through the inter-leading gate between our plots.
“We were tired as we had just returned home from Cape Town, where we visited my son, so we went to bed.”
Palmer, the first person to be confronted by the intruders, said: “It was about 11.15pm.
“Andrew was walking up and down the en suite bathroom as he suffers from terrible leg cramps at night.
“My light [in the guest bedroom] was still on because I was reading – about five minutes later I switched off the light.
“With that, the door opened and I thought it was Andrew coming in to perhaps fetch something. “I said, ‘Andrew, what do you want?’
“The person then closed the door and, seconds later, came in again with two others.
“The one asked, ‘where are the others?’ Straight after that, one of them fired a gunshot.”
Palmer screamed, thinking that Andrew had been shot, waking Patricia in the adjacent main bedroom.
Patricia said that while rushing to her sister’s aid, she had been confronted by one of the men in her bedroom doorway.
“He immediately pushed me back in the room – shouting at me to get on the floor, ‘don’t move’.
“He said ‘give me your hands’, then he ripped off my wedding ring, watch and gold jewellery,” Patricia said, showing the abrasions and bruises on her wrists.
“They kept asking ‘where is the safe?’
“Then they went for Andrew in the bathroom.
“They put all of us on the floor in front of the bed and tied our hands behind our backs with shoelaces.”
Patricia said moments before his hands were tied, Andrew had tried to hit one of the men with a flashlight.
The man with the crowbar then began hitting Andrew repeatedly over the head with it.
“The guy that was hitting Andrew – it seemed like that was his only job. They were really nasty,” she said. “We just kept praying. “After they hit him, they put us in the bathroom and locked the door and proceeded to ransack the house.
“[Andrew] was losing so much blood, he was very disoriented.
“After they locked us in, they took the key so I peeped through the keyhole. I told Sheila I thought they were gone and that we needed to make a move because Andrew was bleeding to death.
“Sheila managed to wriggle her hands free, but our restraints were so tight she couldn’t get them off.
“So she used Andrew’s shaving razor to slowly saw through the laces.
“And then I climbed through the bathroom window.
“I prayed that they had left and ran to my daughter’s house for help.”
Schmidt’s husband, Andre, said his mother-in-law had been shouting hysterically: “Andrew’s dying, Andrew’s dying”, while banging on their en suite bathroom window.
“We ran back to the house and had to kick the door in because they were still locked inside,” he said.
“We rushed to hospital and the two ladies were treated and discharged while Andrew was admitted for surgery.”
The family Rottweiler, Kara, was found hiding in bushes on the Schmidts’ property later.
Asked how they had managed to remain so cool-headed, Patricia said: “Only through the grace of God – we just kept praying.
“It was Him that gave me the strength to climb through the window, something I last did many years ago.” Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said police were investigating.
Farm Comm neighbourhood watch chairman Willie Bosch said residents were gravely concerned about the increased number of house robberies in their areas.
“We have increased cases of violent house robberies, where owners are assaulted and victims wake from their sleep and are trapped in violent situations.
“The best thing people can do is invest in upgrading their security systems.
“Police can only be called once the incident has occurred.”