The Desert Blues

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The Desert Blues

In 2001, two unlikely friends created a music festival in Mali that drew the likes of Bono and Robert Plant. Then radical Islam tore them apart.

By Joshua Hammer

The Atavist Magazine, No. 48


Joshua Hammer is a former Newsweek bureau chief and correspondent at large in Africa and the Middle East. He is a contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside, and his writing also appears in The New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker, the AtlanticThe New York Times MagazineNational Geographic, and many other publications. His fourth book, The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, will be published by Simon & Schuster in early 2016.

This project was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


Editors: Katia Bachko and Joel Lovell
Producer: Megan Detrie
Designer: Gray Beltran
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Kyla Jones
Images: Alice Mutasa, Nadia Nid El-Mourad (including cover photo), Jonathan Brandstein, Corbis, Associated Press
Video: Joe Conte/Ola TV
Music: Samba Touré, “Fondora”; Noura Mint Seymali, “Tikifite”; Super Onze, “Adar Neeba”; Lo’Jo, “De Timbuktu à Essakane”; Terakaft, “Alghalem”; Khaira Arby, “La Liberte”



Published in May 2015. Design updated in 2021.

Author’s Note — November 20, 2015

The terrorist attack at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, wasn’t supposed to happen. Just a little more than two years ago French forces crushed a ragtag army of a thousand jihadis who had seized control of most of the African country. Opération Serval initially seemed a smashing success: French soldiers killed hundreds of extremists, dispersed the rest deep into the desert, and restored a sense of fragile normality to a region where, for one grim year, music was banned and adulterers were stoned to death.

Since early this year, however, Mali’s home-grown insurgency—which some say inspired the Islamic State—has come back to life. Militants have chased African peacekeepers out of the desert and carried out a series of murderous attacks across the country. On Friday—precisely one week after IS terrorists murdered 129 people on the streets of Paris—Mali’s jihadists carried out their most daring operation yet, storming the gates of the luxury hotel, seizing dozens of hostages and murdering at least 27 people, as of this writing. The hotel was a regular destination for Air France flight crews on the Paris-Bamako route, and some theorized that the act had been carried out in solidarity with IS. Whatever the case, France now appears to be waging war on at least two fronts. And Mali, its former colony, is spiraling again into instability and violence.

I have reported in Mali for more than 20 years, drawn to its vibrant music scene. In 2014, I traveled to the region to understand how the country’s musicians became a target of the Islamist rebels. What I discovered was the story of a friendship between two men who have lived the conflict in the most intimate way imaginable.

—Joshua Hammer

One

When Mohamed Aly Ansar studied international law at the University of Bamako, in the capital of Mali, he spent his days thinking about how to bring development to his impoverished nation. But at night he had a much different dream, one that came to him over and over: He saw himself standing in the middle of the desert near a stage, watching as a helicopter descended. The chopper was carrying the Swedish pop group ABBA, and Ansar was there to receive them.

Thirty years later, on January 12, 2012, a version of that dream came true. Ansar stood on the tarmac at the airport just outside Timbuktu, searching the dark sky for the lights of a private jet. Ansar was the founder of a three-day concert series called the Festival in the Desert, sometimes referred to as the African Woodstock, and on this cool night, he was waiting for Bono to arrive.

Around 8 p.m., the plane carrying the U2 front man alighted on the small runway, and Ansar climbed aboard to greet his guest. He found Bono relaxing on a sofa with his wife and a few friends. The group was excited about the festival, and Bono, dressed as always in black, asked Ansar, whom everyone called Manny, whether he thought Timbuktu was safe.

The situation was fine, Ansar replied. And everything was fine, but he knew more than he was saying, and he didn’t want to scare his guests.

For years, Mali had been among the most stable countries in western Africa, a democratic, laid-back, tourist-friendly oasis. It also had one of the world’s most vibrant music scenes. The Festival in the Desert had flourished since its inception in 2001, and some of the most famous musicians in the world—Robert Plant, Damon Albarn, and other Western stars—had come to play with popular Malian musicians. But things had grown darker in recent months. The Tuareg, a group of nomadic Berbers who periodically rose up against the government in the remote northeast corner of the country, were restive again. Radical Islam, introduced to North Africa in the 1990s, was rapidly gaining converts. And the Arab Spring, which began as a moment of hope in late 2010, had created ethnic and religious chaos that threatened to destabilize the entire region.

Even as Ansar reassured Bono—and it was true that at that moment the city of Timbuktu was enjoying a period of temporary calm—a large group of jihadist fighters were encamped in the desert. Armed with weapons stolen from the armories of the recently murdered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddhafi, the jihadists had announced their plans to attack the government’s weak army. Six weeks earlier, three Europeans had been kidnapped and a fourth killed at a hotel in Timbuktu. Ansar didn’t mention his fear that his famous guest might be abducted.

Bono and his entourage boarded a guarded convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and drove to the festival grounds outside Timbuktu—a wide, sandy tract bordered by white domed tents. Troops patrolled the dunes outside the festival grounds, scanning the horizon for suspicious movement. As the crowd of 7,000 braced against the cold night air, Ansar escorted Bono to a VIP box. After an hour, Bono retired to a French-owned luxury guesthouse, where he was guarded by a dozen troops. The next day, he took a hike alone past the military perimeter and into the dunes while Ansar waited anxiously in a tent on the festival grounds.

That evening, Tinariwen (pronounced tee-na-ree-wayn), the festival’s headliner, took the stage. The band was composed of former Tuareg rebels who had achieved international fame with their haunting music, known as the desert blues. The group had formed in exile in Libya during the 1980s, and their music was deeply rooted in the Tuareg’s turbulent history: Like protest singers in the United States during the Vietnam War era, the musicians gave voice to an angry, alienated generation. They sang not about peace but about war, a fight for the dream of an independent Tuareg nation, which they called Azawad—“land of pasture.”

The crowd exploded when Bono got up to join the band, dancing and improvising with the singers and guitarists. A few hours later, he boarded his jet and flew to Bamako, in the south, far from the jihadists’ stronghold.

A year later, I sat with Ansar in the garden of a riverside guesthouse in Bamako. He described the palpable relief he felt once his celebrity charge had departed. The festival had been an artistic success, he said, and had even made some money, but there was no time to celebrate. In the weeks before the event, newspapers had predicted that the Islamist rebels would attack and Western embassies had warned that northern Mali was highly dangerous. Ansar knew too well that those fears were well founded. After all, Iyad Ag Ghali, the man who commanded the fighters, had been one of Ansar’s closest friends—and had even inspired the festival that he and his rebels now saw as an affront to their vision for an Islamic state in Mali.

The story of their friendship, sealed by music before it was severed by ideology, is in many ways the story of Mali itself, and of the fractures between radical and moderate Islam that have emerged across the globe. But for Manny Ansar and Iyad Ag Ghali, their estrangement revealed more fundamental questions—about belief and betrayal, and about how well we really know those closest to us.

On January 14, roadies dismantled the stage and fans began the long journey home from Timbuktu. Meanwhile, somewhere in the desert, Ansar’s old friend was rallying hundreds of jihadist fighters. Once everyone departed, Ansar wondered if he had just closed his last festival and whether Ghali would deliver on his threat to destroy everything they had built together.

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Audience members at the Festival in the Desert. Photo: Alice Mutasa

Two

Manny Ansar and Iyad Ag Ghali met for the first time in January 1991, at the villa of a prominent Tuareg politician in Bamako named Baye Ag Mohamed. Four months earlier, Ghali and 45 rebels armed only with knives and hand grenades had ambushed a small army camp in northeast Mali. In close combat, rebels killed nearly 100 people and captured armored vehicles, mortars, and rocket launchers. The attack, the most brutal in a series of them, forced the army to retreat, and Mali’s military dictator Moussa Traoré began negotiations with the rebels.

Government officials and rebel commanders met in Tamanrasset, a large town in the southern Algerian desert. The enemies reached a ceasefire agreement, and the regime brought a delegation of five rebel commanders to Bamako for a round of ceremonial events. Mohamed invited Ghali to stay with him and arranged a meeting with Ansar. 

The roots of the hatred between the Tuareg and the Malian government date to the end of the 19th century, when the French colonial army forcibly occupied the Tuareg’s traditional homeland in the central Sahara. French administrators joined the arid north with the Niger River valley and the southern savanna, both dominated by black Africans, creating an awkward colonial construct they called French Sudan, later known as Mali. It would never be an easy peace, in part because the light-skinned Tuareg traditionally believed that blacks were inferior and kept many as slaves. (Descendants of those black slaves, known as bellah, speak Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg, but tend not to identify as Tuareg because of the racial divide.) In the 1950s, the colonial administration considered joining the north with the Saharan regions of other French colonies to create a separate Tuareg state, but the idea was abandoned because the territory wasn’t viable without access to the Niger, Mali’s lifeblood.

In 1991, Ansar was working as an administrator for a Norwegian development organization in Bamako. He was also the leader of an association of young Tuareg students and professionals from the Timbuktu region that raised money from European donors to build wells and primary schools in the northern desert.

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In college, Manny Ansar made recordings of traditional Malian musicians. In 2001, he founded the Festival in the Desert to celebrate their music. Photo: Jonathan Brandstein

Ansar and his fellow urban Tuareg didn’t support the rebellion, but they were in awe of the insurgents’ military prowess. “Everyone wanted to see these people who, when they started to fight, put Moussa Traoré in the position of begging,” he recalled. “They were like Rambo. There was something mystical about them.” Some worried that he was committing treason, but Mohamed assured Ansar that the rebels wanted to make peace. 

Ushered into Mohamed’s salon, Ansar laid eyes on the guerrillas for the first time. The men’s hair was long and tousled, their faces sunburned. Though they had done their best to attire themselves properly, with vests, trousers, and button-down shirts, it was clear that they had just emerged from the desert. Tall, slender, and bare headed, with expressive eyes, a wild black mane, and a walrus mustache, Ghali stood out. Ansar regarded him with a mix of admiration and trepidation.

Ansar invited Ghali and his four fellow commanders to a reception at a popular Bamako restaurant. He didn’t know what to expect, but he decided to break the ice with music and had crafted a mix tape of songs by some of Mali’s biggest stars, including Ali Farka Touré, a masterful guitarist and vocalist from the north, and Salif Keita, an albino troubadour from southern Mali. Four of the Tuareg commanders chatted up the female guests and danced, but Ghali sat silent in his chair. “He was closed off, shy, naturally fearful,” Ansar remembered, speculating that he had had little interaction with women before this, or that he had suffered some trauma that made him suspicious and guarded around strangers.  

When the meal was over, Ansar and Ghali retreated to a private room. Ansar told Ghali that because his father was a decorated Tuareg officer in the Malian army, he grew up on military bases and saluted the flag every morning. 

“What made you want to raise arms against the state?” Ansar asked.

Urged on by Ansar’s extroverted nature, Ghali began to talk. For the next several hours, he recounted his tumultuous youth, which followed the contours of Mali’s difficult path. Ghali grew up near Kidal, a dusty administrative outpost of 2,000 people living in wattle-and-daub huts in the shadow of a French colonial fort. 

When Mali achieved independence in 1960, long-smoldering ethnic animosities reemerged. Tuareg, who comprise about 3 percent of Mali’s population of 16.5 million, felt oppressed and ignored by the central government. In 1963, when Ghali was a small boy, Tuareg rebels swept across the desert on camels, seized rifles from government depots, and ambushed government soldiers. The government forces could not defeat the rebels and began to target civilians and their livestock. Thousands of innocents died. Ghali’s father, who served as a guide to the government army, was killed by a Tuareg rebel. And yet, after witnessing the killings of so many of his fellow Tuareg, Ghali, like many of his generation, came to believe that his people’s survival depended on forming their own state. During a devastating drought in the 1970s, government troops stole food donated by international aid agencies and sold it in markets. Many young Tuareg fled into exile, and Ghali left Kidal. “We didn’t believe we had a future here,” he told Ansar.  

He traveled by camel and on foot to Libya and settled in a shantytown outside Tripoli while he looked for work. A photograph of Ghali taken around this time shows a teenager with an Afro and flared jeans poking out beneath an embroidered Arab gown. In Tripoli, in the 1970s, Ghali began to frequent cafés in Tuareg neighborhoods, where a vibrant music scene was preserving the Tuareg culture. Many of the exiles’ songs recalled the rebellion of 1963 and the dream of a separate Tuareg nation. The singers modernized the traditional music of northern Mali, replacing the four-string lute, or teherdent, with acoustic and electric guitars. A typical song declared: 

You should be in the desert 

Where the blood of kin has been spilled

That desert is our country 

And in it is our future.

When Ghali spoke of Tuareg music, Ansar felt the distance between them shrink. As a boy, Ansar had been drawn to Tuareg warriors and their doomed struggle. He had grown up in a desert encampment 75 miles north of Timbuktu, a region of rolling dunes and a few scattered Artesian wells. When he was five years old, a tall bronze man, wearing a purple turban decorated with silver jewelry, arrived at his home. The man wore a traditional white gown, or boubou, from which dangled goatskin bags covered with red and green embroidery, and he carried a teherdent made of wood and leather. He was a griot, an itinerant singer and oral historian who traveled from village to village, telling stories about Tuareg culture and history. The adults laid carpets in the dunes and gathered the family around a bonfire; people from neighboring encampments came to watch the griot’s performance. The griot sang about Ansar’s great-great-grandfather Ngouna, who was the chief of the Kel Antassar clan when the first French soldiers arrived in the Sahara. In the late 1890s, Ngouna led the Tuareg resistance against the French military occupiers; he died in an ambush in the very dunes where the griot performed. 

While he was at university, Ansar had often traveled back to his ancestral home with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, capturing the performances of traditional musicians. He made cassettes of the music and played them for his fellow students back in Bamako. 

While Ansar graduated from college and started working in rural development, Ghali became a mercenary. In 1981, Gaddhafi began recruiting a force to expand Libya’s influence in Africa and the Middle East, and Ghali joined the fight. He spent the next decade in and out of Gaddhafi’s camps, training in Syria and fighting in Lebanon alongside Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, and later in Chad, where Gaddhafi was trying to unseat the country’s president. 

Whenever Ghali returned to Libya, he lived in a Tuareg military camp near Tripoli. There he met Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, a skinny, brooding man with a billowing Afro. Alhabib’s father had been executed for helping the rebels in 1963. After the government destroyed the family’s livestock, he fled to the Algerian city of Oran, on the Mediterranean. In exile, Alhabib fashioned a guitar out of an oilcan and a bicycle cable. He was a musical omnivore, drawing on everything from the protest music of the Maghreb and Egyptian pop to the desert blues of Ali Farka Touré to Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, and Carlos Santana. The music he composed was often nothing more than a couple of chords and a repetitive phrase. It was austere and haunting, with Alhabib’s unpolished voice imparting a ragged authenticity. 

“They murdered the old folk and a child just born,” Alhabib sang in “Sixty-Three,” one of his early songs:

They swooped down to the pastures and wiped out the cattle

’63 has gone, but will return. 

Before long, Ghali began writing romantic ballads and martial songs for Alhabib and his band, including an anthem that would become the national hymn of Azawad:

Like true warriors we are going to trample on the enemy

Yes, in the name of God, we rise up and begin. 

By 1990, the Tuareg rebels in exile had become disillusioned with Gaddhafi, who promised to provide them with arms and vehicles but never delivered. Ghali left Libya with about 100 rebels and returned to Mali. “We are not bandits, but we want to claim our rights as Malian citizens,” they declared in a communiqué. “Today, these rights are trampled upon by the Malian government, which considers us strangers.”

Ghali’s army soon grew to more than 1,000 men. Their years of fighting for Gaddhafi had created a fierce force skilled in close combat. They seized vehicles from an international relief agency in northern Mali and captured weapons from poorly trained Malian soldiers in the north, who were quick to abandon their bases. 

In the evenings, the rebels gathered to hear Alhabib, and other Tuareg musicians who had joined the fight, play music around a fire. Bootleg cassettes of these sessions circulated throughout the north, attracting more young Tuareg to the insurgency. As Alhabib sang: 

Let the blood boil if it is really in your veins

At the break of day, take your arms and take the hilltops

We kill our enemies and become like eagles

We’ll liberate all those who live in the plains.

For months, Ghali’s men hammered the Malian forces, until the government finally conceded in September 1990 and negotiated the ceasefire. In Bamako, Ghali was stunned by what he found—educated Tuareg like Ansar, with decent jobs, and plenty of black Malians who didn’t want to exterminate the Tuareg. “Before I came here I thought Mali was an evil place,” he told Ansar. “I’ve seen a different reality.” 

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Tuareg rebels in the Malian Sahara, November 1990. Photo: Getty Images

Three

Ghali worked to maintain the ceasefire, but the accord began to unravel. Moussa Traoré’s dictatorship collapsed in the face of nationwide protests in March 1991. The interim leader, a former military man named Amadou Toumani Touré, pledged a quick democratic transition and committed himself to a lasting peace in the north. But many fighters in Ghali’s ranks believed that the instability afforded them an opportunity to wrest more concessions from the new government and urged him to resume their fight. European and American diplomats, as well as representatives from Mali’s powerful neighbor Algeria, warned Ghali that the Tuareg faced international isolation if they picked up their guns again.

Caught between powerful forces, Ghali organized a conference in June 1991 and called upon his new acquaintance Ansar to help him urge their fellow Tuareg to keep the peace. Ghali was waiting at the airport in Tamanrasset when Ansar arrived. The rebel chief brought Ansar to his modest house, introduced him to his wife and daughter, and took him out for a meal. “I’m going to lose the peace, Manny,” he said. Ansar reached out to influential young Tuareg from the north, and soon after, Touré organized a special flight to carry 30 Tuareg tribal chiefs and politicians to Tamanrasset. 

For the next ten days, Ansar met Tuareg leaders from across the country in the grand salon of the Tamanrasset governor’s mansion, urging them to stand behind the accord and persuade the fighters to lay down their arms. In the evenings, he and Ghali walked in the lively streets of Tamanrasset, stopping at small cafés to hear live music. 

One afternoon, Ghali drove Ansar to a dry riverbed in the shadow of the Hoggar Mountains, which rise to more than 9,000 feet. A dozen all-terrain vehicles were parked at a camp, and mutton sizzled on a grill. Ansar sat beside Ghali on a carpet in the white sand, and together they watched low clouds on the horizon glow orange, then purple. Alhabib, Ghali’s friend from the camps in Libya, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, a former rebel-musician from a family of Islamic scholars deep in the Malian desert, set up a rudimentary sound system and played the songs they’d written in exile. As their guitars and raw voices echoed across the riverbed, Ansar drifted back 25 years to songs he had heard as a child.

My God, this is Ali Farka Touré singing in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg, Ansar thought. Ghali, too, seemed transported. “All the stress, the rebellion, the attacks were left behind,” Ansar recalled. One of the songs that the group sang was “Toumast,” or “The People,” a call for rebel unity:

A divided people will never reach its goal

It will never cultivate an acacia tree with beautiful leaves

A divided people will lose its way

Each part of it will become an enemy in itself.

Despite Ghali’s efforts the ceasefire collapsed, and Tuareg radicals resumed attacking army posts and camps. In 1992, after the deaths of hundreds more fighters and civilians, Ghali finally persuaded factional leaders to sign a new accord. Funds were set up to support former rebels and compensate victims. Government troops agreed to withdraw from many posts in the north, and hundreds of former rebels joined the Malian armed forces. 

After the new pact was signed, fighters began collecting their weapons. In March 1996, the country’s newly elected president joined Ghali at a ceremonial burning of 3,000 Kalashnikovs in Timbuktu. The weapons were encased in the Flame of Peace monument to commemorate the occasion. Nearby murals painted by local artists depicted Malian soldiers clasping the hands of Tuareg insurgents. For the first time since 1990, Mali was at peace.

The government hailed Ghali as a statesman and a peacemaker and considered various political and military positions for him but ultimately decided that the Lion of the Desert, as many called him, would never be satisfied in a conventional post. “Because he was the biggest fighter, no one was in a position to be the chief of Iyad,” Ansar explained. In the end, Ghali became an unofficial security adviser to the president and a diplomat without portfolio. He worked out of his villa in Bamako and also at the so-called Commissary of the North, located next to the president’s palace, a whitewashed Moorish-style villa perched atop an extinct volcano. He traveled with the president on diplomatic missions to Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, and other countries, and often brought Ansar along. Ghali now wore a Rolex watch, bespoke suits. and finely embroidered boubous, (“He was fascinating to people,” Ansar said, describing the many admirers who showered his friend with gifts), but he didn’t greedily pursue power or wealth. 

Nor did he practice his faith. Ansar prayed five times a day and fasted during Ramadan, but Ghali avoided prayers and never set foot in a mosque. “I was the good Muslim and he was the bad Muslim,” Ansar said. Ghali smoked, was reputed to be a big drinker—though Ansar never saw him touch a drop—and, when they traveled, was often out carousing all night. “People wanted to talk to him in the morning, and he just wanted to sleep,” Ansar recalled. “You could only bother him after 11:30.” 

Ansar frowned on such habits, but Ghali had earned his respect. During the factional fighting that had followed the breakdown of the peace in the early 1990s, Ghali’s men had brutally mistreated a captive, who later died. Ghali was infuriated when he learned of the crime, and he punished his men, he told Ansar. “He was a rebel commander, but he never condoned torture,” Ansar said. “He had a warrior’s code of honor.”

Ansar lived on the outskirts of Bamako, in a large house he had built for his family. (His wife gave birth to a daughter in 1995 and a son five years later.) He often hosted parties at which insurgents turned musicians were regular guests. As the evenings wore on, they would climb a spiral staircase to a rooftop known as La Terrasse des Fêtes, the Party Terrace, and listen to music and talk until dawn. On most Sundays, the friends gathered near the Niger River, a few miles outside Bamako, and held informal concerts hosted by Ghali and Ansar. Here, Alhabib and Alhousseyni would play for hours in the shade of a mango tree, typically joined by two female musicians, one playing the traditional imzad violin, the other the tindé drum.

The two former fighters formed the core of a group that had played together since they met in the Libyan rebel camps. Ansar became their manager, booking them into concert halls in Bamako. The rebellion was over, but they still sang songs about insurgency and the mythic Tuareg nation of Azawad. 

In 1999, the band accepted an invitation to play at a festival near Nantes, France. They chose La Groupe Azawad as their name. and Ansar booked flights and secured passports. They flew to Brussels Airport on Sabena Airlines, but when they arrived they were pulled aside for questioning. The police detained the group in a windowless cell after inquiring what the band, clad in traditional Tuareg veils and robes, were doing in Europe and whether they had sufficient funds. (They didn’t.) Seventy-two hours passed before the authorities finally released them. Alhousseyni commemorated the ordeal with a song: 

We thought we would arrive in paradise with Sabena 

Instead we ended up in prison with Sabena.

Despite the complications, the concert was a resounding success. Immediately after returning to Mali, Ansar decided that the name La Groupe Azawad was too politically charged, and he asked them to find an alternative. The musicians started calling themselves Kel Tinariwen, the People of the Desert, which was soon shortened to Tinariwen. 

Four

In January 2000, Ghali invited Ansar to Intejedit, a remote valley of rocks, reddish sand, and unearthly silence in northeastern Mali. Ansar traveled there by Jeep from Bamako, a three-and-a-half-day journey. This could be Mars, he thought as he drove through the scorched, barren land. The valley of Intejedit was fiercely hot. Barren sand dunes lie to the west, while in the east rose the Adrar des Ifoghas massif, a nearly impenetrable range of eroded sandstone and granite boulders surrounding sandy riverbeds.

Amid this striking scenery, Ghali had organized an event he called the Kidal Festival. Hundreds of Tuareg nomads had pitched goatskin tents around a makeshift stage. They slaughtered sheep and settled in for three days of music, camel races, and a camel “beauty pageant”—all arranged by Ghali to drum up tourism and development in the region. At Ghali’s request, Ansar had brought a Malian television crew to film the event for the national network. 

Ansar and Ghali were inseparable. They watched camels thunder down a sandy path, listened to Tinariwen perform, and soothed an angry Tuareg chieftain who felt that his clan had been shortchanged by the peace agreement. The festival culminated with the “dance of the camels,” featuring a group of Tuareg women draped in black who sat in a tight circle beating drums, chanting, and rhythmically clapping their hands. Tuareg riders in turquoise gowns and turbans led their camels, bearing richly embroidered saddles, in a circle around the women. “He was proud of how well the camels had been trained,” Ansar remembered. “He was proud of his culture and happy to have the chance to show it to me.” At the end, Ghali presented his friend with a large white camel—“the most beautiful animal I had ever seen,” Ansar said—as a token of their friendship. It was, Ghali told him, “the number one camel of Kidal.” 

During his days with Ghali at Intejedit, Ansar began to realize the potential of a commercial music festival in the Sahara, one that would attract Western tourists and musicians and promote Tuareg culture. He envisioned a roving concert series that would take place in a different venue each year and include Tuareg clans across the north, all of whom would share in jobs and revenues.

In January 2001, Ansar joined with members of Ghali’s clan, the Ifoghas, to produce the first official Festival in the Desert, also north of Kidal. Through his development group in Bamako, Ansar persuaded the embassies of France, Germany, and the United States, as well as Mali’s Ministry of Culture, to contribute financing for the three-day affair. The chief of Ghali’s clan organized tents, firewood, food, water, and provisions for the crowd; Ghali himself, a power broker in the region, assured Ansar that he would keep the visitors safe.

At the time, political tensions were roiling. Months earlier a recalcitrant Tuareg rebel and close friend of Ghali’s, Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, had turned against the peace pact and launched a small-scale rebellion near Kidal. Malian officials hoped to use the festival to dissuade Tuareg from joining Bahanga’s uprising. Conferences took place during the day, followed by music at night. One evening, to Ansar’s annoyance, the politicians ordered the producer to delay opening the concert because the meetings were dragging on. 

Ghali used the occasion to carry on his own clandestine peacemaking mission in cooperation with the Malian government. While Tinariwen performed on a makeshift stage in the sand, before Western ambassadors, government ministers, and 2,000 Tuareg men in cerulean robes, Ghali huddled on a dune a few hundred yards away with Mali’s prime minister and Bahanga, trying to talk the rebel leader into laying down his arms.  

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Festival entrance, Essakane. Photo: Alice Mutasa

Five

During the winter of 2002, around the time of the second Festival in the Desert, a friend in the Tuareg community told Ansar that a group of Muslim missionaries from Pakistan had arrived in Kidal, Ghali’s hometown, to preach their version of the religion to the Tuareg there. Mali’s Muslims are predominantly Sufist. Theirs is a tolerant, mystical form of Islam whose adherents venerate Muslim saints and chant wazifas, or the names of God. 

The missionaries who arrived, by contrast, belonged to the fundamentalist Tablighi Jamaat sect, which extols a return to the austere lifestyle led by the Prophet. Members of the group that came to Kidal sleep on rough mats and use twigs to brush their teeth. They spend a portion of every year on overseas proselytizing missions.

“The Pakistanis are up there converting all the former Tuareg rebels,” Ansar’s friend told him. “They’re all becoming devout.” Even Ghali, Ansar learned, was going to mosque now on a regular basis and had expressed keen interest in what these strict Muslims had to say. 

A year later, Ghali invited Ansar to visit him at his home. When he entered, he found Ghali seated on the floor, absorbed in a copy of the Koran. Ansar had never seen him reading the Holy Book before. Soon after, Ghali again summoned Ansar to his home and began to lecture him. He thumbed through the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet, and told his friend that life is “like a waiting room in an airport when you are in transit,” a brief interlude before the “real journey” begins. “You had better be prepared,” he admonished. Ghai pressed Ansar to cancel the Festival in the Desert. It was a “materialistic pursuit,” he said, that “won’t speak well for you before God after you are dead.” He handed Ansar a book about the proper way to pray and urged Ansar to read the book and put it into practice. 

Ansar fended him off gently, defending the festival as a source of much needed hope and jobs. “Leave me alone for five more years, and when I turn 50, I’m going to stop everything and follow your advice.”

“No, that’s too late,” Ghali replied. “You don’t know if you’re going to die today.” 

Soon after, Ghali invited Ansar to meet him at a Salafist mosque. Salafism is a radical branch of Islam that worships the Prophet and his original followers, the salaf, or ancestors. Ansar arrived to find Ghali seated on a mattress in a small prayer room, a stubbly beard forming on his cheeks. Delighted that Ansar had come, Ghali suggested that he spend the entire weekend there. Ansar looked at the cramped cubicles, the dirty mattresses, the bearded acolytes, and politely declined.

Ghali had given up his rich diet of lamb and couscous, his bespoke suits and embroidered boubous. He seemed to subsist on nothing but milk and dates, and he dressed in a white djellaba, a long Middle Eastern robe, and short trousers that ended well above his ankles, as favored by fundamentalist Muslims. He removed all photographs and paintings from his house, made his wife wear the veil known as the hijab, and kept her confined to home. And he began giving away his prized possessions, handing his expensive Rolex watch to another former Tuareg rebel. Ghali confided to Ansar that he was saying “twice as many prayers” as those required by Islam, because “of all the things I have done that I regret.”

Ansar was mystified by his friend’s devotion but tried to remain open to it. “He was always smiling,” Ansar said, “like a child.” 

“You must not lose yourself entirely in religion,” Ansar told him. “You were the one who created these problems for the state and for the society, so you have to stay in charge, to maintain the peace.” 

Ghali waved him off. 

When I spoke with Ghali’s old musician friend Alhousseyni of Tinariwen, he told me that Ghali “began to lose his friends, his acquaintances, and he became solitary. He entered a different world.”

In 2003, Ansar moved the festival across the Sahara to Essakane, west of Timbuktu, a remote and otherworldly sea of dunes that served as a traditional gathering place for his clan, the Kel Antassar. The British guitarist Justin Adams arrived to play with Tinariwen, whose first album he had recently helped produce. Adams was joined by Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, who jammed with Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré before an audience that included hundreds of foreign tourists. Thanks to Plant, the festival drew media attention around the world. It also produced some awkward encounters. Vicki Huddleston, who had just arrived in Mali as the new U.S. ambassador, reached Essakane on the festival’s first afternoon. Huddleston made her way to a section reserved for diplomats and briefly inspected her designated tent, marked by an American flag flying out front. When she returned late in the afternoon, she noted with puzzlement that the flag had been removed. 

“Is somebody in there?” Huddleston’s public affairs officer inquired, standing outside the tent.

Out stepped Robert Plant. 

“This is the ambassador’s tent,” the officer said.

“But I am ambassador to the world,” Plant protested, before surrendering the quarters to Huddleston.

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Preparations for the 2003 festival in Essakane, west of Timbuktu. Photo: Nadia Nid El-Mourid

In the spring of 2003, an organization calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, based in Algeria, kidnapped a group of European tourists—most of them German—on a desert highway and led them on a punishing hike south through the Sahara, to the Adrar des Ifoghas massif.

Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Touré, realized that he had a radical Islamic threat inside his borders and reached out to Ghali for help. The leader of the group, a former Algerian paratrooper who called himself El Para, offered to free the hostages in exchange for a ransom from the German government, and Touré asked Ghali to make the deal. 

Surrounded by barren hills, the Tuareg negotiator and the Arab terrorists sat on blankets in a dried-out riverbed and discussed terms. El Para agreed to a five-million-euro ransom, and Ghali delivered the money, flown down from Germany in a government jet, in a batch of suitcases. The hostages were freed immediately, earning Ghali the goodwill of both the Malian government and the jihadists. 

Soon after, Huddleston met with Ghali in Kidal. Huddleston and other American officials worried that the Germans’ five-million-euro payment would enable the Saharan radicals to buy weapons and recruit jihadists. They were also concerned about Ghali and his flirtation with fundamentalism. In 1998, John Walker Lindh, a young American, had traveled with preachers from Ghali’s sect, Tablighi Jamaat, to Pakistan and soon joined the Taliban. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States for the September 11 attacks, regularly attended a Tablighi Jamaat mosque in France. 

For half an hour, Ghali and the ambassador talked about the state of things in the north and the importance of keeping the Tuareg at peace for the sake of development. Huddleston noted his piercing eyes and full beard, the flowing white robe and intricately folded head scarf typically worn by Tuareg. He looked, she thought, like a classic desert warrior. When she pressed him about possible ties with Islamic terror groups, Ghali assured her that he had no interest in their cause.  

Vieux Farka Touré performs. Video: Joe Conte/Ola TV

Six

As the festival grew, Ansar began to believe that it could help unite all of Mali through music. Although he was growing distant from Ghali, he took solace in the fact that the festival that Ghali had inspired was providing jobs to Tuareg and establishing Timbuktu as an international tourist destination. Western journalists and diplomats were praising Mali as a symbol of hope and freedom on a deeply troubled continent. And stars from around the world were clamoring to appear at Essakane.

Around 2007, Ansar began receiving warnings from Tuareg elders that a new movement of Islamic jihadists in the Sahara, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, viewed the festival as an abomination. The group was made up of some of the same Algerian jihadists whom Ghali had first encountered in 2003, when he negotiated the release of the European tourists being held by El Para. “They are saying that you’re spreading debauchery, that you’ve created some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah in Essakane,” he was told. And yet, AQIM never attacked the festival, and the radicals—who had begun seizing Western tourists and aid workers across northern Africa and holding them for ransom—never attempted a kidnapping in or around Essakane. When I asked Ansar why, he said he couldn’t be sure, but he believed that his longtime friend was quietly protecting it—and him—from violence.  

Outsiders, meanwhile, had little idea of the tension behind the scenes. I visited the Festival in the Desert in 2008, at the height of its popularity, when 8,000 people came to Essakane, a quarter of them Westerners. Tourists in safari jackets filled the sandy streets of Timbuktu. They flooded the markets and packed their rented Land Cruisers with tents, coolers, bottled water, food, first-aid kits, extra fuel, GPS devices, and other supplies for the two-hour journey down a rough track through the desert.

The festival was a grand, unforgettable scene. White canvas tents and traditional nomadic dwellings stitched together from the hides of goats dotted the wind-rippled white dunes. After a day in the heat and a communal meal with a party of young Australians on a months-long trek through Africa, I fell asleep in a tent before midnight. Two hours later, awakening to an infectious guitar phrase, I scaled a 50-foot-high dune overlooking the floodlit stage. I lay back on the cool sand, stared at a sky filled with stars, and let the hypnotic vocals and guitar licks of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen’s lead singer, wash over me.

Tinariwen perform. Video: Joe Conte/Ola TV

In late 2008, Ghali informed Ansar that he had accepted a diplomatic assignment to the Malian consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“I want to be close to the Great Mosque of Mecca, where I can pray every Friday,” Ghali said.

Ansar was appalled. He couldn’t understand why Ghali would leave the country for an inconsequential post, especially at a time when Tuareg insurgents were stirring again and radical Islamists had begun kidnapping Western tourists, aid workers, and diplomats in the north. Ghali had recently negotiated on behalf of the government and freed hundreds of soldiers captured by a Tuareg splinter group around Kidal. “God gave you this intelligence, the power to find solutions,” Ansar argued. “You don’t have the right to leave it all behind.”  

Ghali said that he was tired of the internecine warfare between Tuareg factions, and tired of Malian politics in general. He wanted out, and he was searching for a new direction. A few weeks later, Ghali boarded a plane for Jeddah. But after less than a year he returned to Mali, with newspapers reporting that he had been expelled from Saudi Arabia for allegedly making contacts with radicals.

Ansar shrugged off the news. In fact, he would later admit, he was pleased that Ghali had been forced to leave a dead-end job in Saudi Arabia, auguring a possible return to a domestic political role. Ansar continued to regard Ghali as a “great man,” he said, “who had always been respectful toward me, in spite of my resistance to his offers to lead me along the ‘right path.’” He regarded his piety as a good thing, on balance. “I had nothing against someone who transformed himself into a monk,” he would say years later, “to leave behind all the good things in life in order to nourish his faith.”

“Are you sure you’re not heading down the road of violence?” Ansar asked him upon his return. Ghali shook his head emphatically. “We are pacifists,” he said.

When they met again in February 2010 by chance in a roadside restaurant north of Bamako, Ghali was far less warm. Ansar was driving north to the Festival on the Niger, a five-day concert event set on a barge in the river. This time, Ansar said, Ghali stared at him with contempt, offering an unspoken rebuke to his former friend for continuing his passion for music.

It was the last time the two men would see each other, but it wasn’t long before Ansar realized how fully his friend had immersed himself in his fundamentalist faith and violent Islam.

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Fighters from Ansar Dine in the desert outside Timbuktu. Photo: Associated Press 

Seven

In December 2010, Tunisians rose up against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a repressive figure whose free-spending wife had come to epitomize institutional corruption. The Tunisian revolution inspired Egyptians to demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, who fell weeks later. Soon it was Gaddhafi’s turn. In Benghazi, in eastern Libya, security forces killed many protesters, and rebellion spread. NATO forces, acting on a United Nations Security Council resolution, attacked Gaddhafi’s army. Gaddhafi called on the Tuareg of Mali for help, and several thousand answered his plea. Despite their help, Tripoli fell in late August. In the ensuing chaos, Tuareg looters ripped off the gates of arsenals across Libya and filled their trucks with heavy weapons. Then they headed back across the desert to Mali.

Ghali, meanwhile, was plotting his next move after his disgraceful expulsion from Saudi Arabia. He watched with keen interest as a rebel movement, consisting of secular Tuareg, coalesced in northern Mali. That fall he drove to the camp of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, as the group now called itself, and made a bid to become its commander. But Ghali had few diehard supporters left among the Tuareg rebels, some of whom viewed him with suspicion because of his longtime ties to the government; others were repelled by his fundamentalist leanings. The rebels rejected him.

A short time later, in Kidal, Ghali established his own rebel movement, Ansar Dine—Defenders of the Faith—consisting of Tuareg who embraced fundamentalist Islam. Ghali made an alliance with AQIM, whose confidence he’d won years earlier by arranging the five-million-euro ransom for the German hostages. 

Ghali’s new Islamist coalition soon proposed a partnership with the nonreligious Tuareg rebels who were encamped, with their heavy weapons, in the northern desert. The secular rebels were deeply divided. Some viewed the Al Qaeda fighters as criminals, killers, and international outcasts, and wanted nothing to do with them. The majority, however, saw the alliance in opportunistic terms. By merging their men and their heavy arms with AQIM and Iyad Ag Ghali’s Ansar Dine, they would likely roll over the Malian army and achieve their long-held dream—Azawad.

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Iyad Ag Ghali (second from right) with Tuareg fighters. Photo: Corbis

Four days after the Festival in the Desert, on January 18, Ghali and the Ansar Dine rebels attacked an army camp in a remote village in northeast Mali. They overran the compound, then lined up nearly 100 soldiers and civilians and executed them, either by slitting their throats or shooting them in the head. The French government accused Ghali of Al Qaeda tactics. 

“My God,” Ansar exclaimed when he saw his old friend in combat gear, surrounded by armed jihadist fighters, on Malian TV. “He always swore to me that his Islam would never become violent.” 

The insurgents were growing in number, capturing weaponry and moving freely through the desert. In Bamako, mobs attacked businesses run by Tuareg. The president pleaded for calm. 

“Do not confuse those [Tuareg] who are shooting at military bases with those who are living amongst us, who are our neighbors, our colleagues,” he said on state television, but the message didn’t get through. 

“It’s you who have destroyed the country,” one man shouted at Ansar as he was stopped in traffic in downtown Bamako. 

In Bamako, threats against Tuareg intensified. As the situation worsened, Ansar flew with his family to Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso. A few weeks later, President Touré arrived there on a state visit. In his hotel suite, Touré pleaded with Ansar to return to Bamako, promising that the situation was stable. The Tuareg population in the south felt vulnerable and afraid, he said, and he believed that Ansar’s return would send a positive signal to them. Even now, Ansar realized, Touré failed to understand the enormity of what was happening in his country. His military was collapsing, Mali disintegrating. Ansar’s eyes filled with tears—Touré took his hand, and then the president teared up, too. 

In a show of fidelity to the president, Ansar left his wife and children in Burkina Faso and returned home on the presidential plane. But days later, Touré and his wife fled the palace ahead of a gang of marauding soldiers, taking refuge first in the Senegalese embassy, and later going into exile in Dakar. 

A junior army officer seized control of the government. Across the north, the military quickly collapsed. Soldiers fled south, abandoning an area the size of France—stretching from the Algerian border to Mali’s Inner Niger Delta—to the rebel army. By late March, two-thirds of the country was under rebel control. On April 1, Ghali led a convoy of 100 vehicles flying black jihadist flags into Timbuktu. 

Ghali declared war on the north’s musicians, whom he now believed to be a threat to the Islamic state that he had nearly formed. Members of Tinariwen fled to California. In Niafounké, an oasis town that lent its name to an album by the late desert-blues master Ali Farka Touré, Ghali’s fighters threatened to chop off the fingers of the singer’s protégés. In the summer of 2012, Ansar Dine militants trashed the studio of Khaira Arby, a popular half-Tuareg, half-Arab diva known as the Nightingale of the North, and threatened to cut out her tongue if they captured her, forcing her to flee to Bamako from Timbuktu. A few weeks later, Ansar Dine vandalized the house of Ahmed Ag Kaedi, a Tuareg guitarist from Kidal, taking special care to douse his guitars in gasoline and set them on fire.  

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Khaira Arby. Photo: Alice Mutasa

The militants set up a Sharia court in the former La Maison hotel, where Bono had stayed during the festival three months earlier, and meted out medieval punishments without mercy. They lashed women caught with their faces uncovered, chopped off the hands and feet of suspected thieves, and stoned an unmarried couple to death. 

In December, Ghali and his partners in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb gathered several hundred jihadists for a war conference near Essakane, the former site of the Festival in the Desert. Between prayers and grilled lamb, they set a date of mid-January for the conquest of the remaining third of the country. When Ansar heard about the gathering, he was certain that Ghali had chosen the area to rebuke him for refusing to close down the festival. As Ansar said, “He was telling me, ‘This place is no longer for singing and dancing, no longer for debauchery, no longer for the hippies of the world. This place is now for jihad.’”

In January 2013, jihadists drove hundreds of pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons toward the government front lines, where ill-trained soldiers were charged with preventing the rebels from breaking through to the south. In a savage battle, the jihadists killed dozens and sent the rest fleeing into the bush. Ghali and his men were just eight hours from the capital now, and Ansar suspected that AQIM and Ansar Dine were mobilizing jihadist cells inside Bamako to facilitate their entry.

In Paris, President François Hollande followed the events with alarm. The prospect of a radical terrorist state in the former French colony, of the potential kidnapping and execution of French citizens, prodded him into action. He ordered armed helicopters stationed in nearby Burkina Faso to launch a counterattack. The choppers fired rockets at the militants’ vehicles. French jets from Chad followed, and with support from tanks on the ground, dozens of rebels were killed. 

A convoy of blood-streaked pickup trucks, led by Iyad Ag Ghali, made its way back toward Timbuktu. Ghali had gambled that his lightning strike against the south would overwhelm the government forces, never imagining that a powerful Western army would intervene so quickly. 

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Tuareg on camels at sunset. Photo: Alice Mutasa

Eight

I met Manny Ansar for the first time a few days after the French intervention. He was sitting at a table in the outdoor bar of the guesthouse in Bamako, where I was staying, overlooking the Niger River. The haunting music of Ali Farka Touré was playing softly on the bar’s sound system. 

Ansar was a slender man in his early fifties, with a receding hairline, a narrow face, and a thin mustache. He wore jeans, sandals, and a loose-fitting, open-necked white shirt. Ansar seemed distracted, dazed by the dramatic turn of events, and still bewildered by his friend’s transformation. “I don’t understand what happened to him,” he said, going back and forth between English and French. “I could see that he had become radicalized, but I never thought that he would be capable of senseless violence.” Ansar acknowledged that Ghali might have become hardened to warfare and killing as a boy, but he had believed that the Tuareg leader’s embrace of religion had changed his life for the better. “Never violence,” he repeated. 

Even now, I thought, he seemed to be in a state of denial about Ghali’s crimes. Ansar said he heard that Ghali had been “furious” when his men overran the military camp in northern Mali in January 2012 and, in the war’s most notorious episode, killed nearly 100 people. And he was sure that Ghali had not been behind the most heinous applications of Sharia law. “I never had any proof that Iyad punished anyone who listened to music or that he tortured or executed anyone,” he insisted. “I hope that I never have such proof.” And yet it was hard to believe that Ghali’s men would have disobeyed their powerful commander; plenty of witnesses I talked to later would describe Ghali as being intimately and actively involved in every stage of the war and the brutal occupation of northern Mali. 

The Festival in the Desert had been canceled that year, and Ansar had little idea about its future or his own prospects. Ghali’s fate seemed equally unclear. Days after my first encounter with Ansar, as French forces advanced on Timbuktu, Ghali fled north from Kidal and disappeared. According to conflicting reports, he had either taken temporary refuge in Mauritania or was hiding in a mountainous region of Darfur, in western Sudan. For the moment, he appeared safe from the French special forces who were tracking down jihadists across Mali by air and by road.

When I returned to Mali a year later, sporadic rocket attacks and ambushes of French troops and civilians in the north had forced Ansar to cancel the festival for the second year in a row, but he had found a temporary solution. Ansar had organized a series of “concerts in exile” to keep the music of the north alive, and he invited me to join him at a performance of northern musicians at the Festival on the Niger in Ségou, a southern town that had never been occupied by the jihadists. 

We walked along the riverbank at dusk while waiting for the first night’s performance. On this stretch of the river, in December 1893, French officers and Senegalese infantrymen boarded a gunboat for Timbuktu—only to be massacred a month later by warriors led by Ansar’s great-great-grandfather. Ansar was a direct descendant of perhaps the greatest Tuareg rebel, yet he had been driven all his life by a yearning to knit his country together.  

At 10 p.m., Ahmed Ag Kaedi, the Tuareg musician whose instruments had been burned by Ghali’s men, climbed onto the stage with his band. Clad in boubous and veils, the men sang of the desolate beauty of the Sahara, the joys of companionship, and the loneliness of exile. To the sound of their call-and-response vocals and hypnotically repetitive guitars, ecstatic spectators rushed the small stage, surrounding Kaedi. Ansar danced among them, swept up by the music.

Soon after my visit to the Festival on the Niger, Malian and Algerian journalists reported that Iyad Ag Ghali’s whereabouts were known to security forces in the region. He was said to be hiding in the oasis of Tinzouatine, the no-man’s-land between Algeria and Mali. In exchange for immunity, Ghali had offered to negotiate for the release of Western hostages seized by Al Qaeda. The U.S. State Department had named Ghali a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and rejected any possibility of a deal with him. But the French and Algerian security forces seemed to have little interest in pursuing him. Ghali’s influence among the Tuareg remained considerable, and it was widely believed that no final agreement between the armed nomads and the government could be achieved without his approval. “Iyad has lived many lives,” Ansar told me, predicting that he would eventually resurface as a major political player in Mali. 

As for Ansar, he was forced to cancel the Festival in the Desert for the third consecutive year, and he had little hope that it would come together for 2016. Despite the presence of French and U.N. peacekeepers, the radical Islamists were resurgent. In February 2015, they launched a deadly attack in Kidal. In March, terrorists struck Bamako for the first time, firing on a café popular with expatriates. Five people, including a Frenchman and a Belgian, were killed. No place in Mali seemed safe, and the possibility of reconciliation between the north and the south seemed remote. The musicians of Tinariwen, who had been forced to flee into exile, now traveled throughout the West, still singing about their dream—the nation of Azawad.

The Honeymoon Murder

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The Honeymoon Murder

Young love turns tragic as a brutal carjacking leaves a beautiful newlywed murdered—and her husband the prime suspect.

By Joshua Hammer

The Atavist Magazine, No. 23


Joshua Hammer is a former Newsweek bureau chief and correspondent-at-large in Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of three nonfiction books: Chosen by God, A Season in Bethlehem, and Yokohama Burning. A contributing editor to the Smithsonian and Outside magazines, his writing also appears in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications.


Editor: Charles Homans
Producers: Olivia Koski, Gray Beltran
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Thomas Stackpole
Research and Production: Nicole Pasulka, Rachel Richardson

Published in March 2013. Design updated in 2021.

One

The township of Khayelitsha sits on the southeastern outskirts of Cape Town, in the middle of the Cape Flats, a dust bowl of nearly 200 square miles hemmed in by the Table Mountain range to the west, the Hottentot-Holland range to the east, and the coast of False Bay to the south. It is the fastest-growing township in South Africa and also one of the poorest, made up largely of shanties assembled from discarded materials—cardboard, tar paper, scraps of tin and plywood—and squeezed together amid the sand dunes. Outsiders rarely venture into Khayelitsha at night, which meant that, from the moment at about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 13, 2010 when a 33-year-old government employee named Simbonile Matokazi found the foreigner standing on his doorstep, it was clear that something had gone very wrong.

The man pacing back and forth at the threshold was wearing an expensive-looking dark suit over an open-collared shirt. He was Indian, not black like Matokazi and virtually everyone else in Khayelitsha. He had been stumbling down the sandy road knocking frantically on doors, moving from one shack to the next in the darkness. “Excuse me,” he said. “Is there a nearby police station where I can report a hijack?”

Matokazi, reaching for his phone, asked where the car was. The visibly distraught stranger mumbled that he didn’t know. He was similarly uncertain about its model. By the time the officers from the South African Police Service arrived, however, he had regained enough composure to tell his story.

His name was Shrien Dewani, and he was a 30-year-old businessman from Bristol, England. He and his wife of three weeks, Anni Dewani, had arrived in Cape Town on the previous day for their honeymoon. Earlier that evening, the couple had embarked with a driver on a private tour of the townships east of the city. It was an unusual choice for a pair of well-heeled tourists; Cape Town’s outlying slums might as well have been on another planet from the , the $500-a-night waterfront hotel where the Dewanis had spent the first night of their visit.

At about 10:45 p.m., the Dewanis’ driver had stopped at an intersection in a township about seven miles west of Khayelitsha. Suddenly, two armed men appeared out of the darkness and commandeered the vehicle. A short time later, they forced the driver out. For 45 minutes they drove through the night, Shrien told the police, as he and Anni huddled in terror in the backseat. Finally, the hijackers came to a stop on a sandy road. They threw Shrien out of the car and sped off with his wife.

The police escorted Shrien back to the Cape Grace, and scores of officers began a methodical search of the townships. Early the following morning, the police received a call from a resident of Elitha Park, a neighborhood in Khayelitsha not far from Matokazi’s house. A gray Volkswagen Sharan minivan had been sitting alongside the road all night, she told them, on an asphalt strip bordering a weed-choked field.

It was about eight o’clock in the morning when police converged on the minivan. As wind whipped sand off a nearby sweep of dunes, the officers opened the rear right-side door and peered in. Lying across the backseat was the body of a young woman, soaked in blood. She had been shot once, at point-blank range, in the neck. The bullet, from a nine-millimeter pistol, was lodged in the seat. Her blood had soaked through the upholstery and seeped out the door, pooling on the asphalt.

In the hours after Anni Dewani’s corpse was discovered, police forensic experts descended upon Khayelitsha. The crime scene yielded one particularly valuable piece of evidence: a thumbprint and fingerprint recovered from the left fender of the minivan. The investigators quickly traced them to a 26-year-old unemployed laborer named Xolile Mngeni. Mngeni had been arrested five years earlier on suspicion of killing a man in a bar fight; the charges were dropped, but his fingerprints had remained in the national police database.

The police found Mngeni, a thin man who wore a gold ring in his right ear, in a shack near his grandmother’s small home in Khayelitsha, a few hundred yards from the field where the Volkswagen had been abandoned. Mngeni was lying in bed, with a man and two women, after a night of partying. The police rousted him out of bed, read him his rights, and arrested him. Searching the shack, they found a cell phone wedged between the mattress and bed frame. “Who does this cell phone belong to?” one of the investigators asked, according to a court affidavit.

“It belongs to the taxi driver,” Mngeni replied.

Two

Early in the evening on October 19, 2010, three and a half weeks earlier, 300 guests gathered on the lawn overlooking Powai Lake, a Raj-era reservoir in the hills outside Mumbai. Under a full moon, Anni Dewani’s uncle, brother, and two cousins carried her down the path on a golden sedan chair, poles resting on their shoulders. She had never looked more beautiful, thought Ami Denborg, her older sister.

Anni wore an emerald green bridal sari swathed in gold brocade. Gold and silver bangles adorned her wrists, and a gold and jade necklace hung around her neck. She stepped down from the sedan chair and walked to the mandap, a canopied, carved-teakwood platform garlanded with mango and banana leaves, palm fronds, and coconuts. Shrien was waiting for her there, in his beige wedding suit and turban, behind a curtain held up by two of his male friends.

Vinod Hindocha, Anni’s father, looked on proudly. The son of a prosperous trader who had left India’s Gujarat state as a young man, Vinod had grown up in Uganda, a member of the country’s close-knit Indian community. He was 23 years old in 1972, when President Idi Amin gave Ugandans of South Asian descent 90 days to leave the country, declaring, “We are determined to make the ordinary Ugandan the master of his own destiny, and above all to see that he enjoys the wealth of his country.” The Hindocha family fled and settled in the small town of Mariestad, Sweden. Vinod had thrived there, starting a business and raising two daughters and a son. He had hoped his children would think of themselves as Indian even as they lived their lives far from the subcontinent, as he had, and he insisted that they speak Gujarati around the house. He was thrilled that Anni had decided to be married in Mumbai—that she had decided, as Vinod would later put it, that “her heart was in India.”

Anni was 28, a bright, outgoing, and delicately beautiful young woman. Vinod knew he had spoiled his youngest daughter, but he couldn’t help himself. When she moved to Stockholm after graduating from college, to work in marketing for the mobile-phone maker Ericsson, her father bought her a new Volvo and a one-bedroom apartment in a tony neighborhood of the city. When she ordered thousands of dollars’ worth of hardwood flooring ripped out of the apartment after deciding she didn’t like the color, Vinod paid for it. Anni wanted every aspect of her life to be perfect, and Vinod wanted to help her.

When she began looking for a husband, in her mid-twenties, Anni pursued the project with the same deliberateness and precision that she had brought to bear on her interior decorating. She flew regularly to London, where she stayed at the homes of wealthy relatives—her maternal uncles owned the British pharmacy chain Waremoss—and spent weekends shopping and socializing. She had made up her mind that her husband would be Indian, and London offered better prospects than Stockholm.

One of Anni’s aunts had noticed Shrien Dewani at parties in London and liked his clean-cut good looks, his wealth, and his pedigree. A mutual acquaintance provided the aunt with his phone number, and she arranged an informal run-in between him and Anni at a coffee bar. The pair hit it off, and in September 2009 they went on their first date, to a performance of The Lion King in London’s West End. After another meeting—dinner at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel—Anni called her sister in a state of excitement. “I met a guy,” she told Ami, “and I’m going to meet him again.”

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Their lives were practically mirror images of each other. Shrien Dewani’s family, like Anni’s, was Gujarati, and his mother and her parents had fled Amin’s Uganda for  England. Shrien’s father had arrived there from Kenya—where his own family had immigrated from Gujarat state—to study pharmacology, later opening a pharmacy in Bristol and a nursing home that grew into a chain of health care facilities for the elderly. Shrien graduated from an elite preparatory school in Bristol and studied accounting at the University of Manchester, then spent several months teaching English and mathematics in Accra, Ghana, before moving to London to work for the accounting firm Deloitte. Within a year, however, he had left to help manage the fast-growing family business, PSP Healthcare, with his older brother, Preyen. Before his 30th birthday, Shrien was already a millionaire.

Shrien, like Anni, was gregarious and popular. Some people found him to be a show-off, the kind of affluent young man who seemed a little too enamored with his money. But beneath the flashy facade, his close friends saw a kind and generous person with a good sense of humor. This was what Anni liked most about Shrien, her sister would later recall: the way she could laugh and joke with him, the way he cared for and tried to protect her. A few months into their relationship, Anni was smitten. In February 2010, she gave up her job in Stockholm and moved into an apartment in Luton, north of London.

That spring, Anni’s parents traveled to Bristol to meet Shrien’s parents, who were staying in an apartment they owned in the city. When the Hindochas arrived, a fleet of BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches, all with vanity license plates, were parked out front. It was the first time that Vinod realized the full extent of the Dewani family’s fortune. He was a bit intimidated by the display of wealth, but the Dewanis were warm and enthusiastic, and they quickly put Vinod and his wife, Nilam, at ease, taking them on a long tour of Bristol. The visit sealed Vinod’s approval of the relationship.

Shortly thereafter, Shrien took Anni to an airfield outside Bristol, where a private plane was waiting to fly them to Paris. That night at the restaurant in the Hotel Ritz, a waiter presented her with a silver platter. On it was a $40,000 diamond engagement ring balanced on a red rose.

Vinod promised his daughter a lavish wedding. “Anni, do whatever you want to,” he said. The Hindochas were not wealthy like the Dewanis were, but Vinod had been saving for his daughters’ nuptials since they were born. Ami’s wedding in Mariestad had been a grand affair, but Anni wanted something even bigger, and the Dewanis had agreed to cover a third of the cost.

The morning after the wedding, Anni ran into her sister in the lobby of Mumbai’s Renaissance Hotel. Ami was flying back to Sweden; Shrien and Anni were returning to London for two weeks before embarking on their honeymoon. When Ami asked where the newly married couple were heading, Anni laughed. Shrien had made plans, she told her sister, but he was being vague about the destination. She gave Ami a warm, lingering hug and kissed her two children. “I’ll call you when I get back,” she said.

Three

Shrien and Anni arrived at Cape Town International Airport from Johannesburg on the evening of Friday, November 12. Four days of game watching in Kruger National Park had left them exhilarated but tired, and standing outside the arrival gate with their designer luggage, Shrien looked for a taxi. He caught the attention of a driver with a Volkswagen Sharan minivan.

Zola Tongo was a squat, powerfully built man with a chubby face and an ingratiating manner. A 31-year-old former insurance consultant and building inspector, he had recently taken a full-time job as a limousine driver for a Cape Town tour company. But the demands of supporting his mother—a cleaning woman—and his 14-year-old sister, in addition to his wife and five children, weighed on him. He had started freelancing with the company minivan in his off hours, which was what had brought him to the airport that night.

Cape Town’s airport, which had been expensively remodeled into a sleek and soaring contemporary terminal in anticipation of the previous summer’s World Cup, was about a 20-minute drive on the N2 highway from the Cape Grace hotel. Like the airport, the hotel was an icon of the image that post-apartheid South Africa sought to present to the world: a handsome, five-story brick and stone building with a red-tile mansard roof rising over a private marina. The Cape Grace was the centerpiece of a 1990s urban-redevelopment scheme that had transformed Cape Town’s seedy docks into the slickly commercial Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Under soft track lighting, guests relaxed in leather armchairs beside Zanzibar chests and looked out through French windows upon a quay lined with yawls and sloops. The Spirit of the Cape, a 56-foot luxury motor yacht, was moored alongside the hotel’s dock.

The drive to the hotel, however, was an object lesson in South Africa’s contradictions. Cape Town’s airport sits in the middle of the Cape Flats, on the barren periphery of the city. After South Africa’s Parliament passed the Group Areas Act in 1950, barring nonwhites from living within the municipal limits of Cape Town and other cities, Cape Town’s black and mixed-race populations were forced out of the city’s older, established neighborhoods on the slopes of Table Mountain and into newly formed townships on the scrubland of the Cape Flats. The better-off among them built brick and cinderblock bungalows on the tiny plots they were given. Others packed into densely populated squatter camps of cardboard shacks, lacking electricity, water, or sewers. Over the years, as migrants from even more destitute rural areas converged upon the townships, the Cape Flats’ population came to surpass that of the city proper.

The townships’ poverty outlived the apartheid government that had ordered them into existence. Cape Town’s tourist industry, however, had found a way to make use of them: In a local variation on Rio de Janeiro’s popular favela tours, adventurous travelers, accompanied by local guides, began traveling into Gugulethu, a half-century-old township that was home to about 200,000 people and had once been a center of anti-apartheid resistance. Visitors would tour historic sites and eat at Mzoli’s, a barbecue joint that British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver featured on the cover of his magazine in 2009, declaring it to be “totally sexy.”

After dark, however, the visitors returned to the wealthy districts of Cape Town; Mzoli’s closes at 7 p.m. For all its allure as a tourist destination, Cape Town is still one of the world’s most violent cities, with an unflagging epidemic of murder, rape, carjacking, assault, and home invasion. Gugulethu alone averaged more than 140 murders a year, roughly one every two and a half days. Tongo drove past it without stopping.

Before Tongo took leave of the Dewanis at the hotel, Shrien made plans for the driver to pick them up the following night for dinner. The couple spent most of the next day by the hotel pool. By the time Tongo arrived, at 7:30 p.m., a balmy and clear evening had settled over the waterfront. Shrien and Anni climbed into the backseat of the minivan, and Tongo steered back onto the N2 the way they had come the day before.

Shrien had asked the hotel concierge to make a reservation at 96 Winery Road, one of the Western Cape province’s most acclaimed restaurants, in the Helderberg Valley, a lush sweep of vineyards about 30 miles east of Cape Town, past the airport. On the way to the restaurant, however, Shrien and Anni decided that they weren’t in the mood for a full meal. If the newlyweds were interested in lighter fare, Tongo offered, he knew of a more downscale restaurant that had good Asian food. He pulled off the highway around 9:15 p.m. and onto a two-lane side road that wound through the swampy lowlands toward the coast.

The Surfside Restaurant was located in the resort town of Strand, a 30-minute drive southeast of Cape Town, a faded riviera of high-rise hotels and condominiums with back alleys full of casinos and strip clubs tucked away just off the beach. Nobody would’ve mistaken the dining room where the Dewanis were seated, with its green carpet and tacky tropical fish tank, for 96 Winery Road. But the large windows offered a sweeping view of the sea, and after dining on curry and sushi, the newlyweds strolled along the beach. At about 10:15 p.m., they climbed back into Tongo’s van, and he turned back onto the N2, heading toward Cape Town.

The plan, Shrien would later tell a reporter, had been to retire to the Waterfront district for a drink. “But Anni grew up in Sweden, and she felt as if the area around this hotel was just like at home: so clean and safe, a bit sterile,” Shrien said. She wanted to see “the real Africa.” So at Borcherd’s Quarry Road, just before the airport, Tongo veered onto the exit ramp.

The minivan turned down Klipfontein Road and made a right onto Gugulethu’s deserted main avenue, NY 112. (NY is short for “Native Yards,” an apartheid-era designation for a township which remains in use.) At an intersection beside an apostolic church and a primary school, Tongo halted at a stop sign. Suddenly, Shrien looked up and saw a man hammering on the windshield with a pistol, hard enough that Shrien thought that the glass would break. The next thing he knew, a man had shoved Tongo into the passenger seat and taken the wheel. Another man with a gun piled into the backseat with Shrien and Anni.

The Volkswagen peeled away from the intersection, bouncing along the rough asphalt. At a gas station, as Shrien recalled it, the two men pulled to the curb and forced Tongo out of the minivan. Then they got back onto the N2 and headed away from Cape Town, deeper into the Cape Flats. They sped down the highway for seven minutes, turning off at Khayelitsha. The hijackers drove around for 10 more minutes before the driver stopped the car. “Voetsek, voetsek! Get out, get out!” the two men shouted at Shrien.

The couple begged the hijackers not to separate them. “But they were so cold,” Shrien later recalled in a newspaper interview. “They put a gun in my ear and pulled back the trigger—it really was the stuff of movies.” Shrien held on to Anni. “Look, if you’re not going to hurt her,” he told the hijackers, “let us go.” Instead, they forced Shrien out of the vehicle and sped off into the night, Anni alone with the gunman in the backseat.


At about 11 p.m. on Saturday night, the phone rang at the Hindocha house in Sweden. Vinod answered; it was Prakash Dewani, Shrien’s father, calling from Bristol. He had just talked to Shrien. “Anni’s been kidnapped,” he said.

Vinod tried to stay calm. “Don’t worry,” he told Prakash. “We will sort out something. We’ll go to South Africa and pay them what they want, and we will get her free.”

A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was Shrien, calling from the Cape Grace. “Dad,” he said, his voice breaking, “I could not take care of your daughter.”

Vinod began to panic. “Don’t say those words,” he begged his son-in-law. “Why are you saying you could not?”

“Dad,” he repeated, “I could not take care of her.”

“You take it easy,” Vinod said. “I am on my way down there.”

The next morning, Vinod caught the first flight from Gothenburg. As soon as he stepped off the plane in Amsterdam, he switched on his mobile phone, but he was so distracted that he couldn’t remember the security code to unlock it. He ran through the terminal, found a public telephone, and called home. Nilam picked up. Vinod heard sobbing in the background. He sank to the floor.

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Vinod Hindocha, Anni Dewani’s father, speaks to reporters outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on October 12, 2012. (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Four

I first met Vinod Hindocha on a gray and freezing afternoon in December at the Stadt Hotel, which his brother Ashok owns, in downtown Mariestad. He is 64 years old, with thinning black hair, an angular face, and large ears. When I met him, two years after his daughter’s death, he still appeared haggard and listless. He led me to his Mercedes, and we drove through the quiet streets of the town. Sleet battered the windshield—a foretaste of winter, when temperatures in Mariestad drop to 20 below. We skirted Lake Vänern, the third-largest lake in Europe, where Anni’s ashes had been scattered a year earlier.

When Vinod fled Uganda with his parents and three siblings in 1972, he told me, the family left behind everything they owned, arriving in Europe with just 55 British pounds to their name. Their first stop was a refugee camp in Austria, where they lived for months in a tent, until Sweden offered to take them in. Vinod found work near Mariestad as an electrical maintenance engineer in a chemical factory. He met Nilam, also a refugee from Uganda, on a visit to London, and they married four years later.

Shortly before the couple’s third child was born, in 1988, Vinod cofounded his own engineering firm. Soon it was thriving, with a dozen employees and contracts to manufacture electronic components for oil-exploration projects in the North Sea, Venezuela, and Russia. He bought a three-story house with a garden, a Jacuzzi and sauna in the basement, and a separate wing for tenants. Mariestad, with its 15,000-odd inhabitants, 18th-century cathedral, and quaint harbor, was the very image of stability. It was a place where Vinod could shield his children from the deprivations and dislocations that he had known.

The Hindochas’ house is tidy, with high ceilings and utilitarian Scandinavian furniture, the walls covered with framed photographs of Anni. Vinod took me upstairs to Anni’s bedroom, on the second floor, a small space with beige-yellow walls, full-length mirrors, and hardwood floors that he and Anni—particular even as a teenager—had installed themselves. Above the single bed was a large portrait of Anni in her wedding dress, a wedding gift from a friend. “Anni never got to see it,” Vinod told me. Underneath the portrait was an oil painting of a single rose. It had been given to Vinod by a stranger, a man who sold art from a stall at the Cape Town airport. “He hands me this painting, wrapped,” Vinod recalled, “and he says, ‘This is from me to Anni. Keep it in her room.’”

Nilam was puttering around the kitchen, making herself scarce. Vinod had told me earlier that she was recovering from stomach cancer and remained too shaken by the murder to speak about it. “Anni’s destiny was that her life lasted just 28 years,” Vinod said, settling on the living room sofa. “Everybody has to die. But the way she went is not acceptable, it is not right. Nobody should go through what we are going through.”

On that Sunday morning in November 2010, Vinod met Prakash Dewani at the gate in the Amsterdam airport for the flight to Cape Town. The two men embraced; Shrien’s father had also just learned of Anni’s death, and he was weeping. A flight attendant gently escorted Vinod onto the plane and brought him a glass of water. He passed the 11-hour flight to South Africa in a daze, crying and leaning on Prakash for support.

Over the year that he had known them, Vinod’s relationship with the Dewani family had acquired an easy familiarity. When Anni first told her father about Shrien in the fall of 2009—“He is sending me flowers at work every day,” she told him—Vinod reached across the Gujarati diaspora network to look into the young man’s background. An aunt in Nairobi vouched for the Dewanis; they were a good family, she said. Like the Hindochas, the Dewanis were Lohanas, members of the Indian merchant caste. When Shrien first visited the Hindochas, in November 2009, Vinod and Nilam were struck by how handsome he was, and they were moved when he knelt down and touched their feet in a gesture of humility and respect.

Still, Anni was concerned that her parents would find fault with one aspect of Shrien: She was not his first fiancée. Three years earlier, when Shrien was 26, he had proposed to Rani Kansagra, the daughter of the multimillionaire founder of the Indian budget airline SpiceJet. The couple announced their engagement with an extravagant party in London. Months later, however, Shrien abruptly called things off. A close friend of his attributed it, vaguely, to “petty family squabbles.” Wanting to clear the air, Anni had urged her father to have Shrien explain what had happened.

Vinod and Shrien drove to Lake Vanërn and walked along a rocky beach in the cold. “Dad, you can ask me anything about my personal life you want,” Shrien told him, already addressing him as his father-in-law. Vinod chose not to bring up the touchy subject. Anni and Shrien seemed to be getting along fine, and he had no desire to stir things up by prying into his prospective son-in-law’s past. “Look, Shrien,” he said. “I don’t want to know about your background. I just want to know, do you love my Anni? I am happy with that. All I want is for you two to be happy.”

Shrien told him that, indeed, he loved Anni very much. “I’ll take care of her,” he said. When the two men returned to the house, Anni asked her father how it had gone. “Go ahead,” Vinod replied. “He is a good boy.”


Diplomats from the Swedish and British Embassies, along with the police, met Vinod and Prakash at the airport and brought them to the Cape Grace. It was after midnight before Vinod saw Shrien. He hugged his son-in-law tightly, but Shrien seemed distant. “Everything will be fine,” Vinod told him, though he knew it wouldn’t; he was so shattered himself that he was barely aware of his surroundings. The two men said little to each other.

The next day, Vinod told Shrien that he was going to the morgue to view his daughter’s body. “Dad, you cannot see her today,” Vinod said Shrien told him. “She is all drained out. We have to pump liquid into her body to get her freshened up.” The comment struck Vinod as oddly cold-hearted, but he put it out of his mind. By now, Shrien and his father were mostly keeping to themselves. Shrien was busy all the time on his laptop, making funeral arrangements and communicating with his friends in Bristol and London.

On Tuesday morning, Vinod at last made plans to go to the morgue and asked Shrien to join him. “I can’t come,” his son-in-law replied, according to Vinod. Vinod assumed that Shrien wanted to grieve alone in the hotel. Later, he told me, he learned that Shrien had in fact gone to get a haircut and buy a new suit. At the time, however, Vinod was unable to think of much beyond his own heartache. He went to the morgue that morning without Shrien, escorted by the police, to identity his daughter.

The following day, Vinod, Prakash, and Shrien flew to Bristol with Anni’s body to prepare for the funeral. And back in Cape Town, police officers knocked on a door in Khayelitsha, in search of their first suspect.

Five

The most elite police force in South Africa is the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, a special squad created in 2009 by the African National Congress–led government. The Hawks were responsible for investigating corruption, organized crime, and other high-profile cases. A murder in the Cape Flats, which sees more than 1,000 of them each year, would not ordinarily have been in their brief. But Western Cape province relies on tourism for nearly a tenth of its economy, and the authorities weren’t about to let the murder of a wealthy foreign visitor go uninvestigated.

The plainclothes police who went looking for Xolile Mngeni, the man whose fingerprints had been lifted from Zola Tongo’s minivan, on November 16 were led by Captain Paul Hendrikse, a 25-year veteran of the force. An Afrikaner with the archetypal trim build and close-cropped, thinning hair of a middle-aged cop, Hendrikse had been involved in a number of headline-grabbing cases in recent years and was regarded as one of Cape Town’s foremost investigators. Vinod Hindocha, who has met with him regularly over the past two years, describes him as “a very sharp, very confident guy.”

According to Hendrikse’s account in an affidavit he later provided to a West Cape court—he has never spoken to the media about the case—the detective had wondered from the beginning if the incident might be something more than an ordinary carjacking gone wrong. Why, for instance, had the Dewanis ridden from the airport with Tongo rather than the Cape Grace hotel car service? And why on earth would they have ventured into one of Cape Town’s most dangerous townships after dark? Surely even the most naive tourists knew better.

Mngeni confessed his involvement in the killing almost immediately. He told the police that he had had an accomplice, a man he called Mawewe. The officers drove him around to a half-dozen shacks in the township to find the man. When the search came up empty, they brought Mngeni to the Hawks’ headquarters in the northern suburb of Bellville. A lieutenant colonel took Mngeni into his office and interrogated him for several hours while other detectives continued the search for Mawewe.

They found him two days later. His name was actually Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, and he was Mngeni’s neighbor, a baby-faced 26-year-old with a shaved scalp and a slight physique. After his arrest, Qwabe, too, quickly admitted to his role in the murder and offered further details about the crime. Then, on November 20, as 1,500 guests were gathering in a London concert hall for Anni’s memorial service, the police issued a warrant for a third suspect. It was the Dewanis’ driver, Zola Robert Tongo.


On November 22, Tongo was escorted into the Wynberg Magistrates’ Court, a brutish five-story brick building in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. His face was hidden by a white sheet draped over his body, down to his tennis-shoe-clad feet. The prosecutor, Rodney de Kock, announced that Tongo was likely to enter a plea bargain and receive a lenient sentence in exchange for information in the case.

Shortly after Anni’s murder, Shrien Dewani had told a reporter in Cape Town that at first he had suspected that Tongo was involved in the crime. “But he spent all of Sunday helping the police and was able to answer all the police’s questions,” he said. “By the end of it, I quite liked him.” Now back in London, Shrien told the Evening Standard that he felt “betrayed.”

But Vinod Hindocha wondered. From the beginning, his elderly mother had insisted that Shrien’s story didn’t quite add up. Vinod had angrily rebuked her. “Don’t say those words,” he said. Ami Denborg, too, had stuck up for Shrien. She had always liked an

Little things, however, had started to eat at Vinod. Shrien had hosted a pizza party the night before the funeral, which Vinod found disturbingly inappropriate. He had quarreled with Ami over who would dress Anni’s body for the funeral and then blocked her from speaking at the memorial service. Then his family had hired Max Clifford—a well-known London press agent who had once worked for Marvin Gaye and Marlon Brando but in recent decades had mostly represented celebrities’ jilted paramours, disgraced politicians, and other tabloid regulars—to handle the press. Shrien’s brother Preyen demanded that the Hindochas sign an agreement not to comment to the media about the case without consulting Clifford first. Vinod refused.

By this point, a week and a half after Anni’s death, Shrien had recounted the events to several newspapers, and Vinod had noticed inconsistencies between the stories. In his first interview after the attack, Shrien had told a reporter for the Daily Mail that it was Anni’s idea to visit the township. But in an interview with the Sun the following week, he said that it had been Tongo’s idea to take the side trip, to “see some African dancing,” and that the Dewanis had been skeptical about the plan. At first, Shrien had said he was thrown out the vehicle’s rear door while the car was moving. But in the Sun interview he said, “They couldn’t get me out because the child locks were activated, so they ended up dragging me struggling and screaming out of the window.” The Daily Mail had quoted “unnamed sources” saying that the police were puzzling over how, if either of these things had happened, Shrien had had no visible injuries after the attack.

“I have spoken with my son-in-law,” Vinod told a reporter for the Daily Mail, “and there are far more questions than answers.” He was also frustrated with the South African police, whom he felt were not keeping him adequately informed about the case. Finally, he decided to fly back to Cape Town himself, in time for Tongo’s next court appearance.

On the morning of December 7, Tongo was led into the Western Cape High Court, a century-old colonnaded building in the Cape Town city center. Vinod took his place in the upstairs galley of the oak-paneled chamber, clutching a picture of his daughter. There were dozens of other spectators there, as well as a clutch of news photographers who jostled for position along the rail behind the front-row bench, where the defendant would be seated.

At 9 a.m., police led Tongo from his basement holding cell into the chamber. The driver pulled his pale blue shirt over his face to shield himself from the photographers, then slumped onto the bench. De Kock, the prosecutor, had warned Vinod ahead of time that he should be prepared for “the worst.” Now de Kock stood up in front of the magistrate, Judge John Hlophe, with Tongo’s signed confession in his hand. The spectators in the gallery leaned forward in their seats. “The alleged hijacking was in fact not a hijacking, but part of a plan of subterfuge,” de Kock said. Shrien Dewani and Tongo had worked together to hide the truth, he went on. “The deceased was murdered at the instance of her husband.”

Six

Even by the standards of South Africa’s murder capital, it was, as de Kock described it, a remarkable crime. According to Tongo’s confession, shortly after the driver had taken the Dewanis from the airport to the Cape Grace hotel, Shrien Dewani had taken him aside and confided that he wanted “a client of his taken off the scene,” according to the confession. “After some discussion,” Tongo recounted, “I understood that he wanted someone, a woman, killed.” Shrien was willing to pay the killers 15,000 rand, about $2,200, to plan and carry out the murder. Tongo would get an additional 5,000 rand as a finder’s fee.

The murder plot would take barely 24 hours from conception to execution. Tongo said that he first reached out to a middleman, a hotel receptionist named Monde Mbolombo. Mbolombo led Tongo to Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, a small-time drug dealer and occasional house-party DJ he knew in Khayelitsha. At noon on Saturday, Tongo met with Shrien again at the hotel, and the two men sketched the outlines of the crime. “The hijacking would be simulated,” Tongo recalled. “The agreement was that after the ‘hijacking’ of the vehicle, both Shrien Dewani and I would be ejected from the vehicle unharmed, after which the deceased would be murdered.”

According to the confession, on Saturday afternoon Tongo met with Qwabe and the accomplice he had found, a neighborhood hoodlum named Xolile Mngeni. As the men drove through Khayelitsha in Tongo’s car, they discussed the particulars of the killing: how they would carry it out and how the payment would be delivered. Tongo promised to leave 15,000 rand in the “cubbyhole”—apparently referring to a pocket behind the front passenger seat—of the Volkswagen in advance of the ambush. Then, that evening, he would drive the Dewanis to the intersection of NY 112 and NY 108 in Gugulethu, where Qwabe and Mngeni would be waiting.

During dinner at the Surfside Restaurant, Tongo alleged, Shrien took him aside again and “wanted to know if I had arranged for the guys. I confirmed … that everything had been arranged.” Then Anni and Shrien got into the Volkswagen, and they set out on the road back to Cape Town. During that trip, Tongo said, he sent a text message to Shrien reminding him not to forget about the money. Shrien texted him back, he said, assuring him that the cash was “in an envelope in a pouch behind the front seat.”

When they arrived at the intersection in Gugulethu, “Mngeni positioned himself in the front of the vehicle, and Qwabe was at my door pointing a firearm at me,” Tongo stated. He was told to unlock the doors. Qwabe climbed into the driver’s seat, while Mngeni got in the back. The Dewanis were ordered to lie down on the backseat, and Qwabe pulled away from the curb. “Shrien Dewani and I continued to pretend that we were being ‘hijacked’ by Mngeni and Qwabe,” the confession went on. “I knew that Mngeni and Qwabe would not harm Shrien Dewani and that he would be dropped off at some further point. I also knew that the deceased would be kidnapped, robbed, and murdered … after Shrien Dewani had been ejected from the vehicle in accordance with the plan.”

Police would later extract a confession from Qwabe that corroborated and expanded upon Tongo’s recollection of the crime. Qwabe recounted that Mbolombo had called him on Friday evening, after the Dewanis arrived at the hotel, and told him that a “job” needed to be done. Later, “Tongo told me that he will bring a couple into the township and that the husband wanted the wife killed,” he alleged. “The husband wanted the job done the same Saturday.” Waiting at the appointed intersection in Gugulethu, Qwabe said, he put on a pair of yellow rubber kitchen gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

The most significant point on which his account differed from Tongo’s was the identity of the shooter. In Qwabe’s version of events, it was Mngeni, not Qwabe, who brandished the gun, a Norinco 7.62 pistol. “Watti”—his nickname for Mngeni—“pointed it at Zola and ordered him out of the vehicle. Zola got … into the back with the passengers. I got behind the wheel and Watti got in on the passenger side.” Before they threw him out of the car, Tongo “whispered that the money is in a small packet behind the front passenger seat.”

Qwabe continued driving to Khayelitsha, where “we ordered the husband to get out of the vehicle.” A little farther down the road, according to Qwabe’s account, Mngeni—still seated in the front passenger seat—fired a single shot at Anni. According to the autopsy report, the bullet grazed her thumb, severed two major veins in her neck, perforated her spinal cord, then exited her back; she would have bled to death in seconds. Behind the wheel, Qwabe was “scared and nervous,” he said. He got out and felt around for the casing in the backseat. As he and Mngeni fled the scene, he threw it down a storm drain. Police later recovered the cartridge from the drain and found the gun in the shack of a Khayelitsha resident to whom Qwabe had given it for safekeeping.

Two days before his court appearance, Tongo and his attorney had struck a deal with the provincial government: Tongo would plead guilty to murder, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping, and agree to testify against all other participants in the murder. In exchange, he would receive a sentence of 18 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 12. (The typical sentence for such a crime in South Africa is life imprisonment without parole).

As de Kock read the details of the murder plot, murmurs of surprise and shock reverberated through the gallery. About six hours later, a magistrate in Britain issued a warrant ordering Shrien Dewani taken into custody on suspicion of conspiring to murder his wife.

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Shrien Dewani leaves Southmead Police Station in Bristol, England, on December 12, 2010. (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Seven

Shrien Dewani surrendered at the Southmead police station in Bristol at 10:38 p.m. on December 7, 2010. The next morning, at the High Court in Westminster, he appeared dazed and exhausted, glassy-eyed, as he stood at the bar beside his attorney. After two days in prison, he was released on £250,000 bond (about $380,000). He surrendered his passport, had an electronic bracelet attached to his ankle, and retreated to his family home in the Bristol suburb of Westbury-on-Trym.

Back in Mariestad, the Hindocha family was divided on the question of Shrien’s guilt. Ami Denborg spoke sympathetically of Shrien in interviews with the press, but Vinod had come around to his mother’s insistent conviction of Shrien’s involvement. His sense of betrayal had deepened during his most recent trip to Cape Town. After Tongo’s confession, officers from the Hawks took him and his brother Ashok for a drive through the townships, following the route taken by Anni and her killers. The three investigators had pointed out the sandy side street where Shrien had been ejected from the minivan. From there, Vinod counted the seconds until they reached the spot where the hijacker had fired the shot that killed his daughter. Anni, he realized, had spent three minutes alone, desperate, begging for her life.

While Shrien holed up at the Dewani estate, the evidence substantiating the claims against him kept piling up in Cape Town. The South African police said they had recovered phone records indicating that text messages had indeed passed between Zola Tongo and Shrien while they were on the highway. The police recovered closed-circuit television footage from the Cape Grace lobby, taken three days after the murder, that showed Shrien handing Tongo a white plastic package said by police to contain 1,000 rand—partial payment, they claimed, for Tongo’s role in setting up the murder.

Perhaps the most incriminating element in the case against Shrien was the assertion by South African police that Anni had not been raped. Though the forensic report had not been released to the public, both Paul Hendrikse and South African Police Commissioner Bheki Cele had stated that there was no evidence that any sexual assault had occurred, and the Hawks had stated the same thing to Vinod when they took him to the site of Anni’s murder in December. What reason, then, would the gunmen have had to separate the couple, other than premeditated murder?

The only thing missing, it seemed, was a motive. There had been no insurance policy, no will, nothing to suggest that Shrien had been interested in financial gain. Almost everybody who knew the couple talked about their deep affection for each other; no one had seen signs of discontent on his part.

Then, in December, a man named Leopold Leisser showed up at Scotland Yard. Leisser was a male escort from Munich, known professionally as the German Master; his website featured a photo of himself, unshaven and wearing leather gear and a police cap, biting down on a huge cigar, asking, “Are you ready for total domination?” He had seen Shrien’s photograph in the newspapers, he told the police, and recognized him as a former client. Within days, Leisser had reportedly sold an interview to London’s Sun tabloid in which he claimed that he’d had three paid sessions of “kinky sex” with Shrien in the months before his wedding.

Shrien denied knowing Leisser and threatened to sue him and the Sun for defamation. And it was true that a leather daddy who had emerged out of nowhere to extract a payday from a tabloid made for a less than credible figure. A few weeks later, however, a 53-year-old political aide in Parliament paid a visit to British investigators working on the case and told them that he, too, had had several sexual encounters with Shrien. The rendezvous point, the aide said, was a gay fetish club in London called the Hoist. He had come forward, he said, because he was outraged by Shrien’s denials of his own sexuality. “The man told detectives that Dewani was a ‘submissive’ who enjoyed sadomasochism and dressing up in leather,” the Daily Star, another British tabloid, reported. Nobody in Britain would have mistaken the Star or the Sun—with their topless model photos and soap-opera gossip—for a reputable source, but soon the story was given credence by more respected British newspapers, including the Guardian.

In February, the South African legal team seeking Shrien’s extradition told a magistrates’ court in London that they had obtained an affidavit from “a significant witness”—identified in the press as Leisser—who had agreed to testify that Shrien had been unhappy about his upcoming marriage. Shrien told him that “although she was a nice, lovely girl who he liked, he could not break out of the proposal to get married because he would be disowned by his family,” the South African attorney told the court. “He went on to say to the witness that he needed to find a way out of” the marriage.

The idea that Shrien’s double life would prompt him to murder his new wife might have been far-fetched, but it quickly gained traction with the Hindochas. In their view, he was terrified by the possibility of being exposed as a homosexual and of the scandal that might ensue. “If Anni knew [that he was gay] she would have left him, and if she found it out during the honeymoon, he would have panicked,” Ami told me. She and other family members argue that a failed marriage, following his earlier broken engagement, could well have destroyed his reputation within the close-knit, deeply conservative British-Indian elite. Maybe Shrien, they supposed, panicking and desperate to preserve appearances, decided to kill Anni rather than face the humiliation of a divorce. “This marriage was supposed to be perfect,” says Ashok Hindocha, who has frequently voiced his certainty that Shrien murdered his niece. “This is a religious family; they are very involved in society. Shrien could not have it come out openly that he was gay.”

There were also unrelated incidents that, in retrospect, appeared ominous. Ami described to me a phone call she had received from Anni three weeks before the wedding. Anni, in tears, told her she wanted to call off the ceremony. “I’ve thrown back the ring. I’m not going to marry him,” she told Ami. She said she had moved out of the hotel room she and Shrien were sharing in Mumbai and was staying at a friend’s apartment. “He’s so controlling, I can’t stand him,” Ami says Anni told her. She was sick of how Shrien berated her about petty things: not folding dirty clothes before tossing them into the laundry basket, eating ice cream and other sweets, leaving her belongings scattered about the room.

Chalking up Anni’s second thoughts to pre-wedding jitters, Ami tried to calm her. “It’s stress,” she said. “You’ve been planning this for two months.” Hundreds of people had already booked their flights, she reminded her sister, including their parents. Anni’s father and cousin and Shrien’s brother Preyen called her over the course of the night as well, and by the next morning the crisis seemed to have passed. But Ami would remember the advice she had given her sister. She had to go ahead with the wedding, Ami told her, and if things didn’t work out, “You can always get a divorce.”

Eight

Late in the afternoon on November 15, the day after the police found Anni Dewani’s body, a freelance reporter named Dan Newling walked into the lobby of the Cape Grace hotel. He spotted Shrien Dewani, who was standing in the middle of a group of well-dressed Indian men and women, and introduced himself as a journalist. Shrien declined to talk, and Newling told him that he would be in the hotel’s café if he changed his mind. He found a table in a secluded corner of the café, overlooking the waterfront, and settled in to wait.

Newling was 34 years old, a tall, good-looking Englishman whose disarmingly laid-back manner belied his tenacity as a reporter. He had spent seven years in London working for the Daily Mail, covering foreign news and working on long-term investigations. Earlier that year, his wife, a physician, had taken a job in Cape Town, and Newling quit the Daily Mail and followed her. The expatriate life agreed with him, and he had cobbled together some freelance work for the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and half a dozen other British papers. Newling had as much of an appetite as the next tabloid reporter for a good crime yarn, but he also had a sharply analytical mind. The day before, an editor at the Daily Mail had phoned him after seeing a wire-service report on Anni Dewani’s murder and suggested that Newling check it out.

After an hour, Shrien walked into the café and sat down at Newling’s table. He had immense bags under his eyes. Newling told him he looked exhausted. Shrien replied that he had barely slept since the night before the murder; he had been awake for three days. For the next 45 minutes, he took Newling—the first reporter he had spoken to—step-by-step through what had happened on Saturday night.

He was polite and well-spoken in spite of his visible distress. “Of course I have an enormous amount of guilt about the whole episode,” he told Newling. “However, having gone through events over and over again in my mind, it is difficult to see how we could have done things differently.” When he talked about Anni, his eyes welled up with tears. “She loved people and she loved life and she was always, always happy,” he said. Newling didn’t question him aggressively about the hijacking. “I expected him to be traumatized,” he told me. It had not occurred to him that Shrien might be anything other than a victim.

Four days later, Bheki Cele, the national police commissioner, called a press conference in a community hall in Gugulethu township to discuss the case. Identifying himself as a British journalist, Newling asked Cele whether he considered Cape Town a “safe destination” for tourists. The commissioner, a large, bullet-headed man known for his shoot-from-the-hip style, glared at him. Instead of answering the question, he recounted a recent trip he had made to London, during which his taxi driver had “literally refused” to take him through the South London neighborhood of Brixton. “We should not come here as if we are spotless in our own countries,” he said. “You are not crimeless. Don’t talk as if you are crimeless.”

Newling had grown up in South London. Brixton was a bit rough, he knew, but hardly comparable to the township where the Dewanis had been hijacked. But the commissioner’s fierce defensiveness about Cape Town was shared by many in the South African media; several journalists rebuked Newling after the press conference. There is something funny here, he thought as he left the community hall.

As the case lurched through its bizarre twists and turns in the weeks that followed, Newling dutifully reported them, but the whole affair still seemed fishy to him. “From the very beginning of this case, I’ve been skeptical of the official account of Anni’s death,” he told me when I met him for lunch recently on Cape Town’s Long Street. He was a newcomer to South Africa, but he knew enough about the national police’s reputation not to take law-enforcement officials at their word. The South African police were haunted by the legacy of the apartheid years, when ill-trained cops carried out extrajudicial killings and used torture and planted evidence to win convictions. According to the country’s Independent Complaints Directorate, 294 people died in police custody between 2009 and 2010, and seven of them had been tortured to death. The police were also legendarily corrupt. Cele’s predecessor had been removed from the job the previous year over allegations that he had received more than a million rand in bribes from a prominent drug lord.

The enthusiasm and credence with which politicians and ordinary South Africans had rushed to embrace Tongo’s confession surprised Newling. Many Cape Town residents, he knew, were aggrieved by their city’s reputation for violent crime. For the one in ten of them who were employed by the tourism industry, that reputation wasn’t just an insult but a threat. The day after Anni’s death, Cele—a man with no prior law-enforcement experience who owed his public profile to his loyal membership in President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress political party—had bitterly rued its potential impact. “It’s appalling that the actions of one or two thugs should bring our entire country into disrepute in the eyes of the world,” he told reporters. “South Africa hosts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually without any incident, as was proved during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”

Shortly after Shrien was granted bail in London, Cele, speaking at a police ceremony in the northern province of Limpopo, was asked again about the case. “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here,” he said. “Shrien thought we South Africans were stupid when he came all the way to kill his wife in our country.” William Booth, chairman of the criminal-law committee of the Law Society of South Africa, described Cele’s “monkey” comment as “bizarre and ridiculous,” arguing that the prejudicial statement could jeopardize South Africa’s case for Shrien’s extradition. (The following October, Zuma fired Cele for conflict of interest and corruption relating to the leasing of police-owned buildings to a business tycoon. A board of inquiry found that he was “unfit for office.”)

Several other details had started to bother Newling. How plausible was it, really, that two strangers had arranged a murder-for-hire during a brief conversation after a ride in from the airport? Similarly skeptical reporters for the West Cape News had tried to find out firsthand how easy it would be to do what Shrien had allegedly done. Using underworld contacts, they found three young men willing to carry out a hit for between 5,000 and 15,000 rand—but all three said that the killing would take days, maybe even weeks, to organize.

There was also the matter of the accomplice. Tongo had no criminal record, and there was nothing in his background to suggest that he would jump at the opportunity to play assistant hit man. Even if he had, it seemed to stretch credulity that Tongo would have considered the plot to be worth it. His salary at the tour company where he worked was 5,000 rand a month plus tips, and he made another 2,000 a month freelancing on the side. Would he really have risked a life sentence for less than one month’s pay?

But Newling kept running up against one detail that seemed to point strongly toward Shrien’s guilt: the police’s insistence that there was no sign that Anni had been raped by her abductors. When lawyers for the South African government formally requested Shrien’s extradition from Britain in January, they cited this fact to support their case. If not rape, what other reason than premeditated murder would the attackers have had to separate the couple?

Newling puzzled over that question. Then, one morning in early February, he decided to take a drive.

Nine

The neighborhood of Elitha Park, near where Anni’s body had been found, sits on the western edge of Khayelitsha, bordering a sweep of sandy wasteland where adolescent Xhosa boys, according to tradition, live alone in isolated shacks for a month following their ritual circumcisions. The more prosperous sections of the neighborhood are sealed off by high cement walls topped by barbed wire. Piles of trash line the roadside and collect in the weedy vacant lots between the houses.

Leaving his car on the same asphalt strip where Anni’s body had been found, Newling began knocking on doors. When he got to a house 100 feet from the spot where the Volkswagen had been abandoned, a young woman answered the door. A 20-year-old business student, she had been at home on the morning of November 14 when Anni’s body was found. Yes, she said, she remembered the incident vividly. Sometime between 7 and 8 a.m., she told Newling, her brother had told her to come outside—there was a dead body in a car, he said. She arrived on the scene just in time to see a police officer open the rear side door of the minivan. “When he did,” she said, “the lady’s head fell back and blood spattered onto the road below.” She had had a clear view inside the car. “The woman’s head was nearest us and she was lying on her back,” she said. “Her knees were up and her legs were apart. I could see that her dress was pulled up to her waist and that her underwear was below her knees.”

Newling asked her whether she believed that Anni had been raped. “It looked to me very strongly that they had done something to her,” she replied. “I couldn’t say if they raped her. But she had definitely been attacked. That I am sure about.”

Not long after, Newling was leaked a postmortem report, written on November 15 by a pathologist who had examined Anni’s corpse, that had been invoked by the authorities but never released. “No signs of any sexual assault were found,” Paul Hendrikse had written in his affidavit for the court. In the press conference that week, Bheki Cele had insisted that “there is no evidence at the present moment that there was a sexual assault.” But the pathologist’s report suggested that, at the very least, this wasn’t the whole truth. In fact, there had been four bruises “arranged in a semi-circular fashion” on the victim’s lower left leg. “These are reminiscent,” the pathologist wrote, “of fingerprint contusions.”

The prosecution’s story was being challenged elsewhere as well. On February 17, lawyers for Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni alleged in interviews with the Guardian that their clients’ confessions had been extracted under torture by the police. Thabo Nogemane, Qwabe’s lawyer, claimed that his client had been beaten with a flashlight by one of the officers. “He was hit all over his body,” he said. “The police in South Africa only hit in such a way that there are no marks, no evidence.” Nogemane told the Guardian that Qwabe’s “statement was a suggestion put to him by the police. They already had the allegations so they told him: ‘Just sign here.’”

Vusi Tshabalala, Mngeni’s lawyer, told the Guardian that police “physically assault[ed Mngeni] with fists and use[d] a plastic bag to suffocate him,” because they were desperate to solve a high-profile murder that threatened Cape Town’s booming tourism industry. (Neither lawyer’s allegations have been independently corroborated.) “They were under pressure,” Nogemane told the Guardian. “They had to act quickly and get information. They arrested the wrong people.”


On February 20, an ambulance was called to the house at Westbury-on-Trym. Shrien had taken an overdose of sleeping medication and was in serious condition. At the Bristol Royal Infirmary, “He told the staff … that he did not want to live,” according to a subsequent psychiatric evaluation. His publicist, Max Clifford, claimed that Shrien had lost 28 pounds since his wife’s death and was getting “weaker and weaker and weaker.”

Shrien was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and committed to the Priory Hospital in London, a mental health and addiction rehabilitation facility popular with British celebrities. Three days later, a new article by Newling appeared in London’s Daily Express. It was different from his earlier stories, this time written in the first person and betraying a barely concealed sense of outrage. The headline read, “Why I Believe Shrien Dewani Is Innocent.”

 “There is no other reporter who knows the [Dewani] case better than I do,” Newling wrote. “So it has been with a growing sense of disquiet and anger that I have seen the traumatised widower I met three months ago turned, in the eyes of the world, into a killer. On the evidence I have seen, not only is Dewani unlikely to have killed his wife but he could be the victim of an injustice.”

While allowing that he could not say for certain what had happened on the night of November 13, Newling argued that “it seems highly unlikely that any criminal court—British or South African—would agree” with the prosecution’s theory of the case. The state’s witnesses were all hopelessly compromised. Zola Tongo “is a self-confessed liar,” Newling wrote, who had admitted to obstructing justice by misleading the police and had had seven years dropped from his sentence in exchanging for “helpful” testimony. The other witnesses had all been offered immunity from punishment in exchange for their testimony corroborating the prosecution’s story.

There could have been a perfectly innocent explanation for the envelope of money that Shrien was caught on camera handing to Tongo. While Shrien “likes to appear self-assured and worldly,” Newling wrote, “he is actually woefully naïve.” He had told Newling that in the days immediately following the hijacking, “he quite liked” Tongo, who had not been paid for the cab ride to Gugulethu. “If the guileless Briton was taken in,” Newling wrote, “then isn’t it possible that he could have fallen for a sob story a few days later and agreed to pay Tongo the fare they had agreed?” As it happens, the 1,000 rand that Shrien gave Tongo is about what it costs to take a taxi from the Cape Grace to the Strand—where the couple had eaten at the Surfside Restaurant—and back to the hotel.

In traveling into the townships late at night, the Dewanis had wandered into not just physically dangerous territory but also a perilous corner of the local public consciousness. “Talk about the Dewani case in South Africa and you risk getting into an argument,” Newling wrote. “People here are angry at the violent crime that plagues their country and at being reminded of it by foreigners. They are keen that their country—reborn after the horrors of apartheid—should not be a place where tourists get killed by cab drivers.”

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Shrien Dewani appears in Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in London on February 24, 2011. (Photo: Guy Corbishley)

Ten

In April 2011, Shrien Dewani got into a “heated discussion” with a fellow patient at Priory Hospital who had told him, according to a source close to Shrien, that he should “go back to South Africa.” A subsequent psychiatric evaluation determined that Shrien had developed “psychotic symptoms.” He was transferred to a psychiatric unit at Kewstoke and, two weeks later, to a higher-security facility in Bristol.

While Shrien underwent intensive treatment, lawyers, psychiatrists, and government officials wrestled with the matter of his extradition to South Africa. Two South African criminal justice experts, citing overcrowding and gang rape in South African prisons, warned that he would almost certainly face grave dangers if he were forced to serve a sentence there. “He fitted [sic] the profile of someone who was particularly vulnerable,” they wrote in their report. “He was youthful, good looking, and lacked ‘street wisdom.’” Shrien’s attorney argued that if he were ordered to stand trial in South Africa, he would likely commit suicide.

Nevertheless, in late September, the British home secretary ordered Shrien’s extradition. Shrien’s attorneys appealed the decision immediately. Six months later, a British judge temporarily blocked the order. He ruled that Shrien suffered from an “unusual combination of PTSD and depression to such a severe degree” that “extradition would present a real and significant risk to his life.”

That August, police extracted an official confession, in writing, from Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, Tongo’s alleged accomplice. By the terms of his plea bargain, Qwabe was sentenced to 25 years in exchange for corroborating Tongo’s story—he would be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of that time—and agreeing to testify as a prosecution witness in the murder trial of Xolile Mngeni, the only alleged accomplice in the plot who had not struck a plea deal.

Mngeni’s trial opened in August 2012. While in prison, he had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and he staggered into the Wynberg Criminal Court each morning looking frail and using a walker. He listened impassively as his alleged accomplices implicated him in Anni’s killing. When Qwabe took the stand, prosecutors showed the court a videotaped statement he had made immediately after his arrest, which told the same story as his recent written confession. Anni’s killing was a murder for hire, he told police, and Mngeni had pulled the trigger.

It was Qwabe, Mngeni insisted, who had fired the fatal shot. “He stopped the vehicle,” Mngeni said. “He then took his firearm, and I thought we were going to leave. And he climbed off the vehicle and walked around to my side. He opened the passenger doors right behind me. And [Anni] was sitting at the back, next to the other door. He then pulled a small bag from this lady, and the lady was hanging on, crying, and she was scared. I heard one gunshot. Then I asked [Qwabe], the thing that he is doing, what caused him to do it? Then we started arguing. Then he told me I cannot tell him what to do.”

Any skilled criminal attorney would have homed in on the discrepancy between Qwabe’s and Mngeni’s versions of events and used those contradictions to attempt to poke holes in Qwabe’s story. He would also have brought up the plea bargain that Qwabe had taken in exchange for a mitigated sentence and questioned whether Qwabe had lied to spare himself a life term. But Mngeni’s lawyer offered no such challenges. He posed only a few feeble questions during cross-examination. The judge found Mngeni guilty of a premeditated murder-for-hire and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Mngeni flashed an incongruous thumbs-up sign before he was escorted out of the courtroom, supporting himself on his walker.

But Mngeni’s account, set alongside Tongo’s and Qwabe’s conflicting confessions, left a morass of inconsistencies: the number of guns that had been used in the hijacking, the seating arrangement in the minivan, the identity of the triggerman. The South African authorities—who had once seemed eager to make a spectacle out of Anni’s murder—now mostly refused to talk about it. Eric Ntabazalila, the spokesman for Rodney de Kock, the prosecutor, provided me with some court documents, but when I pressed him for more information, he demurred, then stopped taking my calls. My last communication from him was a brief email, rebuking me for writing about the case. “I must say I’m very disappointed with you,” he wrote. “I won’t be able to assist with anything from now on.”

Meanwhile, one of the critical pieces of evidence against Shrien—the text messages about money that he and Tongo had supposedly passed back and forth in the car before Anni’s killing—had proved to be a chimera. In court the police were forced to admit that though they had computer records showing that Tongo had sent seven texts to Dewani the day of Anni’s murder, they had been unable to retrieve the actual messages. Though the police had seized Tongo’s cell phone from Mngeni’s home the day after the murder, the incriminating texts had apparently been deleted—perhaps by Tongo, perhaps by Mngeni. And, the police admitted, contrary to earlier statements, they had no computer record of Dewani’s sending any texts to Tongo during the drive.

By this point, Dan Newling’s reporting pointed to a different scenario: Tongo had sized up the Dewanis as easy marks and arranged with his accomplices for a fake hijacking in order to rob the couple of their money and valuables. (The police had recovered a number of the Dewanis’ items from the suspects and their acquaintances, including a Giorgio Armani wristwatch, a white gold and diamond bracelet, a leather purse, and a BlackBerry.) But his coconspirators lost control of the situation and themselves, shooting Anni to death during a rape attempt. Tongo, the theory went, then incriminated Shrien to reduce his own sentence, and the police, eager to recast the murder as a crime instigated by a foreign tourist, went along with Tongo’s story, or even coached him on it.

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Xolile Mngeni appears in Cape Town High Court on November 19, 2012. (Photo: Michael Hammond/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Eleven

On a Saturday morning in December, I decided to trace the final journey of Shrien and Anni Dewani myself. At Mzoli’s, the barbecue restaurant in Gugulethu township, I met a local guide named Vusi. Together we drove to the crossroads where Mngeni and Qwabe had held up Tongo and the Caltex gas station where Tongo had been ejected from the vehicle. From there we turned onto the N2 and drove to Khayelitsha.

I had spent years reporting from some of the most dangerous corners of Africa and the Middle East, but even so, I found myself overwhelmed by the squalor as we drove deeper into the township. The wind kicked up sand, and through occasional gaps between the storefronts lining the shoulder I could see a sweeping bowl packed with corrugated-tin-roofed shacks—thousands of them, a vast human beehive. As we drove through Elitha Park, we passed Pentecostal worshipers in white robes gathered in a vacant lot, chanting and praying. The car descended a gentle slope and turned right at a T junction. Here, the shacks thinned out, and we passed a sea of empty dunes. It was somewhere on this deserted stretch of road that one of the two men raised his gun and fired a single shot.

We parked the car near the street where Xolile Mngeni lived, in a tidy if poor neighborhood of Khayelitsha consisting mostly of stucco and brick bungalows. Vusi had called Mngeni’s grandmother that morning, but she refused to see us. “She says the grandson has been sentenced, she sees no need to talk, and she says that you are giving her heartache,” he told me. Half a dozen adolescent boys playing in a makeshift video-game parlor next to the grandmother’s tiny butterscotch-colored house stared at me as I walked past.

Down the road we came upon a slim, bearded man wearing a golden earring and a red baseball cap, sitting on a stoop. It was Lwando Mngeni, Xolile Mngeni’s older brother. In return for an offer to buy him lunch, he agreed to talk a bit, and he got into the car with us. I asked him whether he believed his brother was guilty of Anni’s murder. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “I think it is impossible. Even the community was surprised. They saw him as a nice guy who would never do anything like that.”

Had Mngeni spent much time with Qwabe before they allegedly committed the crime? I asked. “Qwabe and Xolile and me, we were all together, playing music at some parties,” Lwando said. “If you didn’t have music for a function, you would always go and ask Qwabe. He had everything on his laptop—house music, R&B, ballads. But I didn’t know him as a criminal.”

The Mngenis’ mother, Lwando said, “died when I was eight years old, my brother was six years old. She died of poisoning.” He stopped, and for a moment I thought I could see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “The only thing I remember is that the priest came and asked me to say good-bye to my mother, that I would see her in heaven.” He and his brother lived for a short time with their father in Gugulethu, but the man had a second wife and a new family, and he sent them away. “After that we grew up with my grandmother.” He had never graduated high school, and got by, he said, “doing piecework—two months here, two months there, cutting trees, manual labor.” Sometimes, he said, “I did some [comedy] sketches, acting with my brother” in a neighborhood playhouse in Khayelitsha. Lwando told me that he’d last seen his brother in court a week ago, before he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. “He told me he was innocent,” Lwando said.


In a London courtroom a few days later, Vinod Hindocha sat in the gallery while Shrien’s attorney, Clare Montgomery, described her client’s diminished life. Shrien had become “a husk,” she said, who spent hours playing computer games in a camper van set up as a recreation room in the parking lot at Fromeside Clinic in Bristol, plagued by flashbacks of his wife’s killing. District Judge Howard Riddle ordered him relocated to another mental institution, one with a more “open, relaxed, and calm environment.” Then he postponed the extradition hearing until July 2013—putting on hold, once again, the final judgment of Shrien’s guilt or innocence.

By this point, it seemed to me that the initial confession that Mngeni had given after the crime was the most plausible of the many blurred accounts of what had happened the night of Anni’s murder—that it was a robbery, and possibly sexual assault, gone wrong. It was not out of the realm of possibility that Shrien had done what his accusers had said he’d done, of course—the scenario suggested by Dan Newling’s reporting would require a plot only slightly less elaborate than the one the police had accused Shrien of concocting. But the evidence against Shrien was too circumstantial, the witnesses too compromised, the motives too elusive to prove as much.

Perversely, the greatest barrier to establishing this once and for all was Shrien’s own unwillingness to travel to South Africa to prove his innocence. (Following his drug overdose in February 2011, a judge assigned to his case declared that it had been “a deliberate overdose to avoid engaging with the extradition proceedings.”) It was easy enough to see why he wouldn’t go: Was clearing his name really worth testing his luck in the prisons and courtrooms of a country that seemed so eager to find him guilty? But it was just as hard to deny the Hindochas’ demand that he do just that.

I spoke to Vinod for the last time in February, over the phone, after seeing a story in London’s Sun tabloid reporting that Nilam Hindocha had stopped eating because of anxiety and depression; she seemed to have lost the will to live. I sent Vinod a concerned email and received a quick response: “Nilam [is] better,” he wrote, “but NOT as it should be.”

When I called, I asked Vinod if, after all he had seen and heard, he could admit to any possibility that Shrien was innocent. “I’m not saying that he did it,” he replied. “I’m not saying that he didn’t do it. I’m saying, go to South Africa and give us answers.”

The Kalinka Affair

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The Kalinka Affair

A father’s hunt for his daughter’s killer.

By Joshua Hammer

The Atavist Magazine, No. 13


Joshua Hammer is a former Newsweek bureau chief and correspondent-at-large in Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of three nonfiction books: Chosen by God, A Season in Bethlehem, and Yokohama Burning. A contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside magazines, his writing also appears in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and many other publications.

Editor: Alissa Quart
Producers: Olivia Koski and Gray Beltran
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Sara Bernard

Published in March 2012. Design updated in 2021.

Chapter One

The abduction of Dr. Dieter Krombach began in the village of Scheidegg, in southern Germany. His three kidnappers punched him in the face, tied him up, gagged him, and threw him in the back of their car. They drove 150 miles, crossing the border into the Alsace region of France, with Krombach stretched out on the floor between the seats. The car stopped in the town of Mulhouse. An accomplice called the local police and stayed on the line just long enough to deliver a bizarre instruction: “Go to the rue de Tilleul, across from the customs office,” the anonymous caller said. “You’ll find a man tied up.” A few minutes later, two police cars arrived at the scene, their red and blue patrol lights illuminating the street. Behind an iron gate, in a dingy courtyard between two four-story buildings, Krombach lay on the ground. His hands and feet were bound and his mouth was gagged. He was roughed up but very much alive. When the police removed the covering from his mouth, the first thing he said was “Bamberski is behind it.”

The French septuagenarian André Bamberski to whom Krombach referred was, on the face of it, an unlikely kidnapper. Until 1982, he had been a mild-mannered accountant and the adoring father of a lively young girl, Kalinka. That year, Kalinka attended a French-language high school in the small German city of Freiburg, as a boarder, and spent most weekends and summers in nearby Lindau, with Bamberski’s ex-wife and her new husband, Dieter Krombach. On the cusp of 15, she was extroverted and pretty, with full lips and blond hair falling in bangs over her blue eyes. But she was also homesick: She barely spoke German, though she lived in Bavaria. She was looking forward to August, when she would move back in with her father in Pechbusque, a suburb of Toulouse.

On Friday, July 9, 1982, Kalinka Bamberski windsurfed on Lake Constance, the sweep of clear blue water edged by the Alps and shared by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. At around five o’clock, she returned home, tired and, according to her stepfather and her mother, complaining that she felt unwell. The family sat down to dinner at 7:30. Kalinka went to bed early, rose to drink a glass of water at 10 p.m., and, according to her stepfather, read in her downstairs bedroom until midnight, when he asked her to turn off the light.

The following morning, sometime before 10, the 47-year-old Krombach, wearing equestrian clothes for his morning ride through the nearby mountains, came downstairs and attempted to wake his stepdaughter. He found her lying in bed, on her right side, dead—her body already becoming stiff with rigor mortis. Krombach would later tell medical examiners that he attempted to revive her with an injection, directly into her heart, of Coramin, a central-nervous-system stimulant, and doses of two other stimulants, Novodigal and Isoptin, in her legs. But he was hours too late. An autopsy would put the time of death at between 3 and 4 a.m.

At around 10:30 on Saturday morning, the telephone rang at André Bamberski’s home, three miles south of Toulouse, and his ex-wife delivered the news of his daughter’s death. The 45-year-old Bamberski sank into a chair, stunned. Kalinka had been a healthy, athletic teenager, with almost no history of medical trouble. How could it have happened? he demanded. His ex-wife, her voice jagged with sorrow, explained that Krombach had proposed two theories: Kalinka could have suffered heatstroke, caused by overexposure to the sun the previous day. Or she could have died from the long-delayed effects of a 1974 car accident in Morocco, in which she had sustained a concussion.

Bamberski was mystified and overwhelmed with grief. He flew to Zurich and rented a car at the airport. As he drove 50 miles east toward Lake Constance, the Alps silhouetted under a three-quarter moon, he continued to grapple with his daughter’s death. “I was devastated,” he recalls. “Kalinka was the joy of my life.” Bamberski checked into a hotel, and early Sunday morning he drove to the hospital to view Kalinka’s body, which lay in a refrigerated drawer in the morgue. Bamberski, a devout Catholic, said a prayer over his dead daughter, who was still clad in the white socks and red nightshirt she had worn to bed two nights earlier. Late that morning, he and his 11-year-old son, Nicolas, who was also living with his mother and stepfather, flew home to Toulouse to await the arrival of Kalinka’s body for burial.

For Bamberski, the shock and horror of Kalinka’s death were compounded by the mystery surrounding it. The notion that his vital, healthy daughter, after a day of ordinary activity, could be found dead in her bed was inexplicable. Though he was a deeply religious man and could find some consolation in his faith, he also felt that God alone could not help him make sense of his loss. Soon his suspicions turned toward the last person to see Kalinka alive: Dieter Krombach.

Bamberski could hardly have envisioned where those suspicions would lead. For the next three decades, he would pursue Krombach across Europe in a relentless attempt to establish responsibility for his daughter’s death. The campaign would leave Bamberski isolated and in legal jeopardy, with his judgment and even his sanity questioned. He would lose touch with friends, family, and colleagues. He would be accused of crossing moral and legal lines, of losing all perspective, of wading deep into groundless conspiracy theories. His one surviving child would find himself torn between his parents. By the end, even Bamberski’s own attorney, one of France’s most respected jurists, would declare himself unable to support his client in his campaign. Bamberski would leave his job, burn through much of his life savings, and devote thousands of hours to pursuing his quarry.

“It is not an obsession,” he would later insist. “It’s about a promise I made to Kalinka, to give her justice.”

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The Bamberskis, from left: Kalinka, André, Nicholas, and Danielle. Photo: Getty Images

Chapter Two

In the weeks that followed Kalinka’s death, Bamberski harbored no suspicions of wrongdoing. The Krombachs attended Kalinka’s burial in the church cemetery in Pechbusque, and the couple had seemed as sad and shaken as he was.

As time passed, though, Bamberski started to question the facts surrounding his daughter’s death. In early October 1982, he finally received a translated copy of his daughter’s autopsy report. He learned from the report that a Dr. Höhmann, apparently a forensic physician in a nearby town, had carried out the procedure, joined by the police superintendent of Lindau, the local prosecutor, and, in an unusual breach of protocol, Krombach.

At first puzzled by the physician’s presence at his own stepdaughter’s autopsy, Bamberski was soon stunned by the report’s revelations—and its omissions. Höhmann had discovered blood on Kalinka’s vagina and a “viscous whitish-greenish substance” inside. Höhmann had also noted a fresh puncture mark on Kalinka’s right upper arm, caused by an intravenous injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit, a controversial iron supplement. In the report, Krombach admitted giving her the injection before dinner on Friday evening, purportedly to help her tan. (Krombach would later change his story and say it had been to treat her anemia.) Höhmann hadn’t conducted toxicology tests on the blood or tissue, nor had the doctor determined whether Kalinka was a virgin. Instead, the report declared that the cause of death was “unknown,” and Höhmann sent tissue and blood samples to a forensics lab. “A definitive judgment” of the cause of death, Höhmann wrote, would have to wait until the scientists had a chance to examine the specimens.

After reading the report, now three months old, Bamberski was consumed with questions. What was Krombach doing at the autopsy? Why hadn’t he mentioned anything about the injection before? And what had the toxicology reports determined? Like any parent whose child has died far from home, Bamberski, it seemed, was tormented by a feeling of having failed his daughter, a sense that he had been unable to protect Kalinka. And it was perhaps that awareness that pushed him even harder to find answers to the questions surrounding her death. Bamberski’s suspicions deepened when he called his former wife and asked her about the tests. She promised she’d talk to Krombach and get back to him, but she didn’t. When Bamberski phoned again two days later, she told him that no tests had been conducted.

Bamberski was incredulous. “Kalinka died with you,” he said. “Your husband is a doctor. Now, three months later, neither of you are interested in the cause of her death?”

His ex-wife answered, according to Bamberski, “Kalinka died because it was her time to die.”

Bamberski disagreed. An alternate and far more sinister explanation for his daughter’s death had now taken hold in his mind: Krombach had raped Kalinka and then killed her with an injection, perhaps to silence her. Two forensic doctors whom he consulted in Toulouse agreed that his suspicions had merit. They pointed to the autopsy report’s references to her torn genitals and the presence of a fluid that resembled semen. “They never tested a 15-year-old girl to determine whether she’d had sexual intercourse?” Bamberski says the doctors told him. “It looks like they wanted to hide something.”

Friends also supported his conviction that something was terribly wrong. “He wanted somebody to tell him, ‘You’re not dreaming,’” says neighbor Elisabeth Aragon, who read the autopsy report that October. “And we had the same suspicions he had.”

Bowing to pressure from Bamberski’s attorneys, the local German prosecutor ordered more tests, and in February and March 1983, a forensic scientist at the Medical-Legal Institute of Munich, Wolfgang Spann, studied the tissue samples. The results cast the first official doubts on Krombach’s story and painted a far darker portrait of the physician than had previously been provided. Spann condemned Krombach for using a “dangerous” substance, one with no value for tan enhancement and one that, even used to treat anemia, should be given only in rare instances. He reported that Kobalt-Ferrlecit—if administered without close supervision, especially after eating—could lead to nausea, fever, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. The presence of food particles in Kalinka’s lungs and esophagus, he wrote, suggested that that was exactly what had happened: After receiving the injection, she had gone into anaphylactic shock, lost consciousness, and asphyxiated on her vomit. Spann determined that Krombach had misled authorities about the time that passed between the injection and Kalinka’s death; the absence of any evidence of an immune response in the surrounding tissue indicated that her demise had been “almost immediate.”

Spann was inconclusive about rape: Under Spann’s questioning, Höhmann, who conducted the first autopsy, had maintained that the tear in Kalinka’s labia had occurred postmortem and that her hymen was not ruptured, which Höhmann believed indicated that she was still a virgin. Still, Höhmann conceded that the “hymen was large enough” that penetration could have taken place.

On the ultimate matter of Kalinka’s death, however, another expert, a professor of pharmacology named Peter S. Schonhofer, was quoted in a French court document, concluding that “the intravenous injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit had probably led to the death of Kalinka Bamberski.”

That, however, was not enough evidence for the local prosecutor. Without a statement of scientific certainty, he closed the criminal investigation into Kalinka Bamberski’s death. Days later, the prosecutor general of Munich, the highest-ranking government attorney in the state of Bavaria, backed his subordinate’s decision. The officials never explained why, given the evidence of wrongdoing or negligent homicide, they didn’t investigate Dieter Krombach further. In fact, their actions hardly marked the first time that the doctor had escaped scrutiny: It would later be learned that the emergency physician who had pronounced Kalinka dead in her bed had never summoned police to the scene, bowing to Krombach’s insistence that the body be delivered directly to the morgue. Deference to Krombach’s professional stature in Lindau, a heavy workload, the ambiguities of chemical analysis—any or all of these could help explain the extraordinary lapses in judgment. Whatever the cause, Krombach would never again face a legal inquiry in Germany for the death of Kalinka Bamberski. In 1983, the judicial process stopped in its tracks.

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Kalinka Bamberski with Dieter Krombach. Photo: Getty Images

Chapter Three

Krombach and Bamberski had, in many ways, led parallel lives. Both had grown up in a Europe ravaged by World War II, and both had witnessed the horrors of the conflict firsthand. Krombach, born in 1935 in Dresden, was the son of a Wehrmacht officer; when he was 9 years old, he survived the Allied firebombing that killed at least 30,000 civilians, the subject of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Bamberski, born in 1937, was the son of Polish Catholics who had emigrated to France in the early 1930s. He was living with his grandparents, in the Polish region of Galicia, in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland. There he witnessed starvation, street fighting, and executions by the Nazi SS. In 1945, in Lille, he was reunited with his parents by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The horror of his experiences under German occupation no doubt contributed to his assumption, voiced at times during his pursuit of Krombach, that some vestiges of Nazism—corruption, inhumanity, imperious hostility to the outside world—still infected the country’s politics and judicial system.

Bamberski became a chartered accountant. Krombach became a doctor of internal medicine. Both built lives of bourgeois propriety, affluence, and apparent domestic harmony; both married and had children in the 1960s. And in 1974, both found themselves living on the same street in the Moroccan city of Casablanca—Krombach as a physician attached to the German Consulate, Bamberski as an accountant. Their children attended the same international school. And it was there, in that sunbaked North African city, that Dieter Krombach began an affair with Danielle Gonnin, Bamberski’s wife, an attractive thirtysomething daughter of French expatriates who had settled in Morocco in the 1950s.

As Bamberski tells the story, he was unaware of his wife’s infidelities when the family left Morocco in 1974 and settled in Pechbusque, not far from where Danielle had grown up. Krombach had also left Morocco and relocated to Bavaria. Then, in 1975, Danielle abruptly informed her husband that she had found a position in a real estate office in Nice, 350 miles to the east. She said she planned to rent an apartment there during the week and return home on weekends. She refused to give him the name or telephone number of the firm. Suspicious, Bamberski followed her one Sunday evening and watched as, instead of driving toward Nice, she parked her car in the garage of an apartment building in Toulouse. She remained there through the week. When he asked the concierge about her, the man replied, “Oh yes, that woman is Madame Krombach.”

The Bamberskis quickly divorced. Danielle joined Krombach in Bavaria in 1975, and they married in 1977. She initially ceded custody rights to Bamberski, and the children remained with him in France. But in July 1980, Bamberski, a single father yearning again for the ease of the expatriate life, decided to return with the children to Morocco. He insists that the move to Africa was within his legal rights, but it would have painful, and fateful, consequences. Days after he left France, Danielle filed a complaint against him in a Toulouse court, demanding custody. Bamberski was advised by his attorney not to challenge the motion: His ex-wife’s civil case included an accusation of “non-presentation of children.” Resigned to surrendering custody, he settled again in Pechbusque. In July 1980, two years before Kalinka died, the two children joined their mother and Krombach in Lindau. Bamberski agreed to see his children only during vacations.

Bamberski might have been more determined to challenge his wife in court had he known about Dieter Krombach’s darker side. It had apparently revealed itself as early as the 1960s, during his marriage to his first wife, Monika Hentze. She died suddenly at age 24. A statement given years later to German police by her mother alleged that Krombach, then a promising young doctor of internal medicine who had graduated with honors from the University of Frankfurt, had terrorized his wife, beaten her, and threatened to kill her. In 1969, Hentze was stricken with a mysterious illness that rendered her mute and blind and then paralyzed her. According to her mother’s account, Krombach elbowed aside the tending physician at a Frankfurt hospital and administered an injection of what he identified as “snake venom.” Hentze died hours later of a cerebral hemorrhage. No definitive connection was ever made between the injection and Krombach’s wife’s death—it was officially attributed to a thrombosis of the basilar artery, which supplies blood to the brain—but there’s no doubt that Krombach would later put his expertise with pharmacological substances, and hypodermic needles, to sinister ends.

In the 1980s, as he would later admit, the doctor repeatedly drugged Danielle with sedatives so that he could carry on affairs downstairs while she slept in her second-floor bedroom. And for more than a decade, he administered intravenous anesthetics to a series of women in his medical examination room, where he raped them as they lay unconscious. Indeed, Krombach’s abuse of his medical expertise to criminal—and perhaps lethal—ends would inspire lawyers hoping to try Krombach in France to compare his case to that of Nazi Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyon. The analogy, however extreme, was reinforced by the impunity that Krombach would enjoy for decades in his home country.

Chapter Four

It was just over a year after Kalinka’s death that Bamberski decided to strike back against the man he believed killed his daughter. He traveled to Lindau during Oktoberfest and walked through town passing out fliers from a satchel. They bore a photo of Kalinka and a warning: “People of Lindau! You should know that a murderer, Dieter Krombach, is living in your city. He raped and murdered my daughter on July 10, 1982, and his crime has been covered up by doctors, the police commissioner, and the prosecutors. Please help me obtain justice!” He walked the lakeside promenade and the jewel-like medieval town center, distributing 2,000 copies at homes, biergartens, and outdoor cafés full of lieder-singing, pilsner-swigging celebrants.

Late that afternoon, Bamberski was accosted by Boris Krombach, Dieter Krombach’s 17-year-old son, and Diana Krombach, his 19-year-old daughter, accompanied by two policemen. The police arrested Bamberski, interrogated him, and charged him with defaming Krombach, disturbing the public order, and injuring the reputation of the prosecutor. After 24 hours in police custody, he was ordered to turn over all the cash in his possession—about 2,000 Deutsche marks, or $1,000—as bond. Three months later, Bamberski was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison or a fine of 400,000 Deutsche marks, an onerous penalty that would make it impossible for him to set foot in Germany again until the statute of limitations ran out five years later.

Even as German authorities prosecuted him instead of the man he believed was his daughter’s killer, Bamberski had other circuits to justice. Because Kalinka had been a French citizen, French authorities could launch their own murder investigation on German soil and, if the evidence was deemed sufficient, issue an international warrant for Krombach’s arrest. In 1985, after two years of prodding by Bamberski, French authorities exhumed Kalinka’s remains from her Pechbusque grave. The disinterment failed to provide new clues to her death, but it did reveal one disturbing fact that cast further doubt on the German investigation: Her private parts had been removed completely during the autopsy, and neither of the German forensics labs that had handled the remains could turn up a trace of them. The question of whether Krombach had raped Kalinka before her death could therefore never be determined with certainty.

The disappearance fed Bamberski’s suspicions of a conspiracy to protect Krombach. It seemed odd that an obscure physician in a Bavarian town would receive special treatment by the government, but perhaps, Bamberski thought, Krombach had established connections during his two years at the German Consulate in Casablanca; perhaps he had worked in German intelligence. German authorities have always denied that Krombach was protected, and no evidence has ever been found to suggest that he was. What seems more likely is that sloppy forensic work, bureaucratic inertia, and, at some level, a desire to close ranks against foreign interference in a domestic matter had caused the Germans to resist pursuing the case.

In 1988, German authorities complied with a request from French prosecutors and sent lung, heart, skin, and other tissue samples taken from Kalinka’s body to be analyzed at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Paris. Cut into thin slices and preserved in paraffin and chloroform since her death, the material—minus test tubes filled with her blood, which Spann had inexplicably discarded—led three French pathologists to a near certain conclusion. While the available evidence did not permit knowledge of “the exact causes of Kalinka’s death,” they wrote, she had died in a “brutal” manner. “The regurgitation of food particles into the respiratory tract testifies to a profound coma that would have led to a state of fatal respiratory distress.” Asphyxiation and death would have occurred “almost instantaneously” after she received the injection in her right arm. The lack of blood samples made it impossible to find a “definitive link” between the intravenous substance and her death. Unlike in Germany, however, the findings were enough to persuade the French judiciary of Krombach’s culpability.

On April 8, 1993, the prosecutor general charged Krombach with “voluntary homicide,” punishable by up to 30 years in prison. “The elements taken together lead to the conclusion that Dieter Krombach [gave Kalinka Bamberski] a mortal injection,” the indictment declared, “not with a curative purpose, but with the intention of killing her.” The prosecutor asked German authorities to arrest him; they refused. So on March 9, 1995—in what was only a symbolic victory for Bamberski—Krombach was convicted of murder in absentia at the Cour d’Assises in Paris and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

If Krombach was upset by the French verdict, he showed little evidence of it. Indeed, he had no reason to be. Judicial authorities in Bavaria and Berlin signaled that they considered the case against him closed and the French trial in absentia illegal. Still residing by Lake Constance and working as a doctor of internal medicine with a thriving practice, Krombach continued to lead a socially and physically active life; he was a member of an equestrian club, and he kept a sailboat in Lindau’s yacht club.

By his own later admission, he also kept a series of mistresses and audaciously carried on affairs in his own home. In 1989, he and Danielle had divorced  and she returned to live in Toulouse, still proclaiming Krombach’s innocence. A little more than two years later, Krombach married his fourth wife, Elke Fröhlich, who was, like his three previous spouses, a decade younger than him. They divorced soon afterward because of Krombach’s infidelities.

The refusal of the German government to extradite Krombach, meanwhile, seemed rooted in any number of motives. Opposition to extraditing a German national for trial abroad had been enshrined in the postwar German constitution, though a legal exception could be made “in the case of extradition to a member of the European Union, or to an International Court, as long as the legal principles of the [German] state are guaranteed.” Repeatedly, however, prosecutors and judges, and ultimately the Minister of Justice in Berlin, fell back on the same justifications for why turning Krombach over for prosecution in France would violate those principles: The forensic examinations were inconclusive, Krombach’s account of Kalinka’s death seemed plausible, and Kalinka’s own mother had strongly maintained her husband’s innocence. German authorities continued to express great confidence in the local prosecutor who had closed the books on the case in 1983.

Bamberski’s zealotry and all of the public accusations of malfeasance and conspiracy may also have hardened the Germans against reopening the case. And perhaps the intransigence reflected the long-simmering rivalry and unresolved bitterness between the governments of Germany and France. Though Europe at the time was integrating rapidly—dissolving physical boundaries, unifying currency—the Krombach-Kalinka affair starkly demonstrated that judicial systems remained independent, even adversarial.

In April 1990, the state prosecutor in Munich again found no reason to reopen the investigation. The German government would maintain for years after Krombach’s in absentia conviction that, because its prosecutor had closed the case, the doctor could not be extradited to France. At the same time, the knowledge that he was safe inside Germany appeared to embolden Krombach. But perhaps it was simpler: He was unable to restrain the dark impulses that lay within him.

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Dieter Krombach. Photo: Getty Images

Chapter Five


On the afternoon of February 11, 1997, a 16-year-old girl named Laura Stehle visited Krombach’s clinic in Lindau for an endoscopic examination. His assistant was at lunch, and Krombach, the patient later recounted, ushered the girl into his examination room. The probe was likely to be painful, he told her before administering, with her consent, an intravenous anesthetic that knocked her out. “When I awoke, he was on top of me, totally naked,” she would later recount to a French television station. “I was shocked. I tried to move. I was completely paralyzed.” Krombach, apparently believing that she would remain silent, dropped her in front of her home. But Stehle went to her parents, who reported the attack. That evening, Bamberski received a phone call from a reporter in Lindau who told him that Krombach was in jail. “Finally, I thought that he’d been arrested for the Kalinka affair,” he told me. “But she said, ‘No, no, he raped a woman in his clinic.’”

Six months later, swayed by the victim’s vivid testimony and by lab tests on the semen taken from her body immediately following the attack, the German judge convicted Krombach of raping a minor, ordered him to surrender his medical license, and sentenced him to two years in prison. Then, citing Krombach’s lack of a criminal record in Germany and his prestige in the community, the judge suspended the sentence and set him free. Following the verdict, outraged protestors gathered in front of the courthouse, including six women who claimed they had been raped by Krombach. All had kept quiet until now, they said—either because of Krombach’s stature in Lindau or because the anesthetic had fogged their memories.

Krombach shrugged off the accusations. In an interview with a French radio reporter, he blamed the victim. “The girl wanted to sleep with me. … She started taking off her clothes. … It was all over in five minutes.” He ridiculed Bamberski, who—the statute of limitations on his own German charges having expired—attended the trial and provoked an emotional confrontation in the courtroom. “This man is crazy,” Krombach said. “It’s ridiculous for Bamberski to think that I made love to his daughter. I didn’t need to. I was married; I was happy with Kalinka’s mother.”

Chapter Six

Two years later, with Krombach free and the judicial processes against him at an apparent impasse in both Germany and France, André Bamberski returned to Germany. He drove slowly through the streets of a small German village near Lake Constance, a few miles from the Austrian border, to the house where Krombach now lived. Then, taking a deep breath, he knocked on Krombach’s door and confronted him face-to-face.

“Bamberski,” Krombach said, staring.

“Krombach, I will always try to bring you back to France to be judged,” he said. “I will not stop.”

“You’re crazy. You’re just out for vengeance,” the doctor replied.

“No, you raped her. I know what you did,” said Bamberski.

“Good. I’ll call the police, we’ll see.” Then Krombach closed the door in his face.

Chapter Seven

By 1999, Bamberski had quit his job to devote himself full-time to the pursuit and capture of Dieter Krombach. Dismayed by the verdict, angered by the intransigence of German authorities and the lack of urgency in the French government, “he felt that he was being blocked at every turn,” says one of his friends. Yet, Bamberski clung to one hope: that police would seize Krombach during one of the frequent trips he made across the German border to Austria and Switzerland, then extradite him to France. To that end, he visited Austrian and Swiss gendarmeries, police commissariats, and customs posts, handing out photos of Krombach and files of newspaper clippings and judicial warrants. At times he would be treated rudely, brushed off, he told me, “like a lunatic.” Just as often, the police received him politely, listened, and agreed to keep the photos and study the dossiers.

Once, Krombach’s recklessness—and Bamberski’s persistence—nearly led to the doctor’s capture. In 2000, a policeman on a train in western Austria recognized him from a photo Bamberski had distributed and placed him under arrest. Krombach spent three weeks in jail before an Austrian judge accepted his attorney’s argument that the trial in France had been illegal and ordered him released. Months later, in early 2001, the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, ruled that the country’s in absentia trials were “inequitable” because the accused had no opportunity to present his defense. The court voided the verdict against Krombach and ordered the government to pay him 100,000 French francs, or $20,000.

Adding to Bamberski’s frustration was his sense that Krombach was becoming harder to track. His reputation in Lindau in ruins, his medical certificate confiscated, his fourth wife having abandoned him, in 1999 the doctor embarked upon a nomadic life. He seemed to change homes every six months. Bamberski hired private detectives, built a network of connections around Lake Constance, and followed Krombach himself, carefully documenting each change of address. Many of Krombach’s movements, however, remained obscure. He would frequently disappear during the week and return home on weekends; neither Bamberski nor his detectives could figure out where he’d been.

During much of this period, Bamberski’s own life in some ways mirrored Krombach’s. He felt intensely alone, deserted by people close to him, sometimes on the verge of defeat, and treading on the margins of legality. “All my friends and family, including my father, told me to quit it at this point,” he told me. “They said, ‘You’re not going to achieve anything.’ But I’m a Slav, you see, and the Slavs are very emotional. I cried all the time when I thought about Kalinka. It was a question for me of moral duty. That was the most important thing: to get the truth.”

Bamberski spent weeks on the road pursuing Krombach. During his time at home, he manned a website dedicated to the case and sent hundreds of letters to French senators, judges, prosecutors, and other officials. He had only two sources of moral support during this period: his companion of two decades (who, as Bamberski himself notes with a half-smile, has the same name as his former wife, Danielle) and the Association for Justice for Kalinka, a group formed in 2001 by Bamberski’s neighbors, professors Elisabeth and Yves Aragon, along with Elisabeth’s brother, a Toulouse chemistry professor. The association grew to include nearly 1,000 members, including homemakers, teachers, engineers, doctors, and attorneys. Some had known Bamberski personally; others were strangers who’d read newspaper accounts or seen TV-news reports about the case and felt so outraged by Krombach’s seeming impunity that they offered support. Most of them lived in the Toulouse area, although in time the group’s makeup became more international. Association members developed great loyalty to Bamberski.

“André is an extremely passionate figure, and a romantic,” says the group’s secretary. “He cries about the simplest things, like the sight of a bird sitting in the snow. At the same time, he has a certain stubbornness and a sense of pragmatism. If one solution doesn’t work, he tries another and another. He refuses to be discouraged.”

In fact, Bamberski was so unrelenting in his quest that he eventually launched an audacious campaign intended to embarrass France’s highest authorities into taking action. The campaign consisted of a barrage of complaints filed in court against the country’s leading magistrates and the Minister of Justice, accusing them of corruption in blocking the pursuit of Krombach. Francois Gibault, one of France’s most esteemed jurists and Bamberski’s attorney since 1986, told me that he declined to represent Bamberski on the matter because of the awkwardness of the situation. “I knew a lot of these judges,” he says. “I didn’t want to get involved.”

Still, despite the rashness of Bamberski’s actions, and the lack of any tangible results, Gibault believed that Bamberski’s instincts about a cover-up could well be correct. “It is certain that there were political contacts between France and Germany at a high level” over the Krombach case, he says, though he declined to speculate on what could have motivated the two countries to protect such an obscure figure. Although Bamberski alienated some of France’s highest officials with his allegations, Gibault says that he never let his anger distract him from his ultimate goal or drive him to take shortcuts. “He never lost his head,” the jurist told me. “It would have been far easier for him to kill Krombach, but Bamberski’s aim all along was to bring him to justice.”

Chapter Eight


In early 2006, an important piece of the puzzle about Krombach’s movements fell into place. A woman in Rödental, in central-eastern Germany, went for a routine examination at the clinic of her regular physician, only to learn that he had hanged himself that February. The woman was treated by his temporary replacement, whose odd behavior and unusual backstory made her suspicious. That evening, while looking up the man’s name—Dieter Krombach—on the Internet, she came across a German documentary about the death of Kalinka Bamberski and Krombach’s subsequent rape conviction in Germany. She quickly notified Rödental’s police that Krombach was working at the clinic. Meanwhile, Krombach, apparently suspecting that something was amiss, had already disappeared. The woman then tracked down Bamberski on the Web and reported to him what had happened. Bamberski told her that, through his own research, he knew that Krombach was living in a small apartment in a private home in Scheidegg. The woman passed on the information to the police, and Krombach was located and arrested for practicing medicine without a license.

Between 2001 and 2006, a police investigation later revealed, Krombach had secretly found employment for periods of weeks or months as a substitute physician at 28 different clinics and hospitals across Germany. Having surrendered his medical certificate following his 1997 rape conviction, he would present a photocopy and claim that the original had been stolen. Until he was identified in Rödental, none of his employers or patients had bothered to check his background.

Two psychiatrists examined Krombach at the University of Munich’s hospital before his trial for fraud and practicing medicine without a license. The subject, they wrote, was a chronic liar, a sexual predator, and a narcissist with delusions of grandeur and a belief that he was “outside the law.” He admitted to having a series of “fugitive” liaisons during his marriages, including, most recently, a sexual encounter with the 16-year-old niece of his cleaning lady, whom he had drugged with Valium and another sedative. He showed indications of “repression and denial,” “minimization of his own weaknesses,” “dodging conflicts,” and “the embellishment of his own reality.” Krombach was also a “compulsive” who had serially molested patients and coworkers; if left without supervision in a clinic or other medical environment, he would do it again. After a two-day trial, Krombach was found guilty and sentenced to two years and four months in prison. For Bamberski, who attended this trial as well, it was only a partial and temporary victory.

In June 2008, after spending 18 months behind bars, Krombach returned to the German town of Scheidegg, just inside the Austrian border. Bamberski reactivated his intelligence network in the area, determined not to let Krombach out of his sight. Sixteen months later, in October 2009, Bamberski heard from his sources that Krombach had begun working again as a substitute physician. It was, he later told me, a sign of the man’s utter lack of contrition—or perhaps his desperation.

That month, Bamberski traveled to the town of Bregenz, Austria, which sits on a scenic plateau on the southern shore of Lake Constance, sandwiched between the slopes of Mount Pfänder and fertile terraces that fall off precipitously to the lakeshore. Like many of the towns that line the lake, this resort on Austria’s western extremity was rich in history, with town walls originating in the 14th century, a Gothic tower called the Martinsturm, and the Church of St. Gall, whose Romanesque foundations were built around 1380. It was a 10-minute drive to Germany and just a few minutes farther to the village of Scheidegg, and thus a perfect outpost for Bamberski to keep an eye on his mark.

Checking into the Ibis Hotel near the lake, he drove across the border to Scheidegg in search of information, hoping at least to land Krombach back in prison. Bamberski couldn’t verify how Krombach was supporting himself, but he discovered something else: Krombach’s landlord had put the house up for sale, and Krombach was to vacate before the end of October. Neighbors had heard that he had accepted a job in West Africa and was preparing to leave. With each move, Krombach had become harder to track, Bamberski told me. If Krombach left Scheidegg for Africa, Bamberski might lose him forever.

Chapter Nine

In early October, the phone rang in Bamberski’s hotel room, and a man who identified himself only as Anton said he had a proposition.

“I’d like to see you … about Kalinka,” the man told Bamberski in English. He went on, “I can help you move him. I can be involved in transporting him to France.”

In Bregenz, Bamberski had raised the possibility of kidnapping Krombach with an Austrian private detective, who declined to help, and talked openly about the scenario with waiters in local restaurants, members of the hotel staff, and others. Anton, he figured, must have gotten word of this from one of his acquaintances.

They met the next afternoon, in fine weather, and talked discreetly on a bench in a public park. Bamberski—though he takes pains not to minimize his role in plotting the crime—stresses that the proposal to abduct Krombach came from Anton, a Kosovar immigrant in his thirties with longish hair and an open, friendly manner. Anton asked for only 20,000 euros, to cover “expenses,” according to Bamberski, explaining, “I’m doing it for humanitarian reasons.” Days later, the pair took a scouting trip to Scheidegg. They parked across the street from Krombach’s apartment, and Bamberski pointed out the terrace where the ex-doctor did his morning calisthenics. Anton advised Bamberski to return to France and await a phone call.

One week later, at 10 p.m. on October 17, Bamberski received a call at home from a woman, presumably an accomplice, who spoke French with a heavy German accent. “Be prepared to go to Mulhouse,” she said, referring to a large town in France’s Alsace region, just across the German border. Five hours later, the same woman called back. “Krombach is in Mulhouse,” she said. “He is at rue du Tilleul, across from customs. Warn the police.”

Bamberski called and reached the night-duty officer in Mulhouse.

“I am Bamberski,” he said. “I had a daughter, Kalinka, who was raped and murdered by Krombach, and there is an international warrant out for his arrest. Please go find him on the rue du Tilleul.”

The policeman replied that a woman with a German accent had called him just a few minutes earlier and given him the same information.

Twenty minutes later, at 4 a.m., the officer called him back.

“We found him,” he said. “And he’s in bad shape.”

Immediately after Krombach told the police his story, Mulhouse police placed Bamberski under arrest and interrogated him for two days and nights. “I never wanted to lie,” Bamberski says. “I said, ‘I’m delighted to find out that Krombach is here, but I didn’t initiate it.’”

“Do you know Anton Krasniqi?” he was asked.

“I know an Anton, but Krasniqi, no, that’s the first time I’ve heard that name.” Police had been summoned to the scene of the kidnapping in Scheidegg by a neighbor, who had noticed a pair of broken eyeglasses, shoes, and blood on the street. Nearby they had recovered a phone bill with Krasniqi’s name on it.

Police that day retrieved 19,000 euros in cash from Bamberski’s hotel-room safe—cash that Bamberski had agreed to pay Anton Krasniqi. Krombach’s attorneys demanded that their client be released from custody and returned to his home in Germany. But French authorities reinstated the charges against him and ordered him remanded to prison in Paris to await trial for the murder of Bamberski’s only daughter, Kalinka Bamberski.

Bamberski père, in trying to bring Krombach to justice, had accomplished his goal of nearly three decades. Yet he had also crossed ethical lines, driven by his desperation and obsession. Now both their fates would be left to the legal system Bamberski had wrestled with for 30 years.

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André Bamberski. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Chapter Ten

Constructed in the 1860s on the site of the former royal palace of Saint Louis, the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité is one of Paris’s most elegant buildings. Its architects designed it in the Second Empire style, with a white marble facade, a gray mansard roof, two turrets, and exterior sculptures, all framed by a gate adorned with an elaborate gold seal. Contained within the walls is the Conciergerie, a former prison where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution by guillotine.

On the morning of October 4, 2011, Dieter Krombach, frail but still handsome at 76, was transported from a prison hospital to a large, high-ceilinged courtroom inside the Palais and led by gendarmes into a box of bulletproof glass. Krombach’s murder trial had begun at the end of March. “Can we take vengeance ourselves?” defense lawyer Yves Levano had asked the victim’s father in the courtroom that month. “Dieter Krombach was attacked, beaten, attached to a fence in a state of hypothermia.” The trial had been adjourned after a week, however, because of the defendant’s ill health. Krombach had suffered from hypertension and heart ailments for several years. Now, after medical tests that autumn found Krombach to be in reasonably good health, the president of the Cour d’Assises, Xavière Simeoni, had ordered him to assume his place again in the dock.

Seated at the front of the courtroom on an elevated bench were three black-robed magistrates, including the president of the court. They were joined by a nine-member jury, situated to the judges’ right. The prosecutor, Krombach’s German and French attorneys, and the court stenographer also sat toward the front. André Bamberski, a civil plaintiff in the case (under French law, this allowed him to question witnesses), watched from the first row of the gallery, joined by his son, Nicolas, his Paris-based attorney, Gibault, and a lawyer from Toulouse, Laurent de Caunes. Separated from Bamberski by an aisle was his former wife, Danielle Gonnin, who had been called upon to testify by the prosecution.

In the front row were Krombach’s two children from his first marriage, Diana and Boris. Katya, 19, Krombach’s daughter from his fourth marriage, to Elke Fröhlich, was also there in support of her father. About 60 members of the public had come to watch the trial. Dozens of members of the press, mostly from French and German newspapers, filled the balcony. (Cameras were not permitted.) Gendarmes lined both walls. A firefighter trained in emergency care stood beside the defendant’s booth, ready to administer medical aid to Krombach.

For the next 15 days, Krombach’s trial proceeded at a stately, often tedious pace, interrupted by moments of high drama and emotion. Krombach’s lawyers argued that the trial was illegitimate, since German prosecutors had already dismissed the case and Krombach had been brought to France by an illegal abduction. But the court declared that Krombach had never been properly tried in Germany and that the “private action” of an individual could not impede an act of the state. The court heard testimony from the French and German toxicologists and pharmacologists who had examined Kalinka’s tissue samples, the doctors who had conducted the 1995 exhumation of her remains, and five French medical professors who had carried out a complementary forensic examination in 2010.

In that pretrial appraisal, the medical professors had determined that the injury to Kalinka’s labia could only have happened while she was alive, overruling the autopsy doctor’s finding that it was a postmortem tear. They also declared that the fluid in her vagina could only have been semen. The violence against her, they determined, was “sexual.” In addition, analyses of Kalinka’s lung and heart tissue, using methods that did not exist in the 1980s, revealed the presence of benzodiazepine, a powerful anesthetic—conclusive evidence, they said, that Kalinka had been drugged the night of her death. Three German victims of Krombach described how they had been anesthetized and raped. A psychiatrist who had examined Krombach in prison portrayed him as a classic narcissist driven by the desire to influence others through “charm or chemical means.” Incapable of empathy or self-criticism, the psychiatrist testified, Krombach blamed others and denied his crimes, rearranging the facts to suit his self-image.

The court heard from family members, as well. Boris Krombach swore that his father was innocent and insisted he would never have laid a finger on Kalinka. André Bamberski’s despair, he said, “transformed itself into hatred.” Danielle Gonnin, on the other hand, seemed a changed woman—drawn, grim, and shattered. The court had already heard dramatic testimony that March, in another courtroom in the same Palais de Justice, during which she backed away from her previous defenses of Krombach. She described him as “a seducer” with an irresistible will. “If he decided he wanted something, nothing could stop him,” she testified. “He chose me because I was married, which represented an additional challenge for him.” He was especially attracted to girls in their early teens, she claimed. She called the attraction “the lure of the forbidden.”

During her October testimony, Gonnin recalled waking up around nine o’clock, far later than usual, on the morning Kalinka was found dead. She said that she suspected Krombach had slipped her sedatives the night before. During a 2010 judicial inquiry, Gonnin had learned that Krombach had often put her to sleep with sedatives so that he could entertain his mistresses in their Lindau home.

Addressing Krombach, she said that the forensic report was no longer enough for her. For 29 years she had asked no questions. Now, she said, “I want to know the whole truth.” Later on in the trial, Nicolas Bamberski, who had kept his feelings suppressed for decades, tried to express his family’s sense of betrayal. “How could you be satisfied with an unexplained death and have never tried to figure out what happened?” he asked Krombach. “I never saw you make any effort to find an explanation.”

For the elder Bamberski, the answer to his son’s question was awful and simple: Friday night, after the rest of the family went to sleep, Krombach encountered Kalinka in the kitchen, slipped her a sedative, raped her, and then executed her with a lethal injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit. The motivation for the crime? “He killed her because he lost his head,” Bamberski told me. “He thought about the consequences that were in store and he got scared.” Acknowledging that the scenario didn’t fit Krombach’s usual pattern of drugging and raping patients he barely knew, Bamberski suggested that the doctor was motivated by a desire for control over women, and that he had been driven to act against his own stepdaughter because time was running short. “Kalinka had asked to move back to Toulouse, and to no longer stay with Krombach. She was about to escape from him: That could have been a motive. But one will never know. One can never know.”

The trial concluded at three in the afternoon on Saturday, October 22. It ended with a statement from Krombach: “I swear before the court and before Madame Gonnin that I never harmed Kalinka.” Then the three magistrates and nine jurors filed into a secluded chamber to deliberate. Bamberski passed the hours in a café across the street. At seven o’clock, the police summoned him to the courtroom. Krombach stood and faced the magistrates’ bench. His face betrayed no emotion when the president pronounced the verdict: guilty of “voluntary violence leading to unintentional death, with aggravated circumstances.” The crime was punishable by 30 years in prison; Krombach received a 15-year sentence.

Bamberski hugged his longtime companion, who had sustained him during his decades-long campaign, his eyes welling with tears. His insistence all along that Krombach had murdered Kalinka to silence her had been rejected by the court, and there was no mention of sexual violence in the verdict. But he was satisfied that Krombach had been exposed as “a sexual pervert” and that, barring legal manipulations, he would almost certainly die behind bars.

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André and Kalinka Bamberski. Photo: Getty Images

Chapter Eleven

On a Friday afternoon in mid-January 2012, Bamberski and I met at his home in Pechbusque, near the bucolic cemetery where Kalinka is buried. I was buzzed through the front gate, and I briefly encountered his companion, Danielle, in the driveway. She nodded at me, uttering a brisk “Bonjour,” then ducked into her car and drove off. “She doesn’t like journalists,” Bamberski told me at the door. “She doesn’t believe that our private matters should be made public.”

Bamberski led me inside and sat in his easy chair. The living room was framed by sliding glass doors that connected to a tiled wraparound terrace, which in January was still decorated with a Christmas tree covered in gold ornaments. A winter fog rolled over the Garonne Valley during the night, and the steep wooded slopes just below the house were shrouded in gray mist. Bamberski, now 74, looked youthful for his age, with a stocky build and a nearly unlined, ruddy face framed by a shock of white hair. Yet his voice, clear and mellifluous, betrayed a slight quaver. There was a tremor in his movements when he talked about the death of his daughter and the decades of obsession that followed.

We talked for a while about what had happened since the murder trial. Bamberski told me that he felt “like a great weight had been lifted,” an observation shared by close friends. (“He has been liberated from a duty,” says Elisabeth Aragon, his neighbor. “He’s changed since the trial. He’s more relaxed: He’s playing golf. But he’s still vigilant.”)

Bamberski continues to keep a close eye on Krombach: He maintains an office in the back of his home brimming over with 30 years’ worth of folders, articles, letters, trial transcripts, forensic reports, police dossiers, psychiatric evaluations, and other documents. He knows that his daughter’s killer receives a handful of regular visitors, among them Krombach’s daughter, Katya, and a representative from the German Embassy in Paris. He understands that Krombach has made at least “15 petitions” to be released from prison and that each one has been rejected. The German’s lawyers filed an application for an appeal, and a retrial is set to commence on November 26, 2012. Bamberski’s biggest fear is that he will make a successful plea to serve the remainder of his sentence in a German prison. If that should happen, he has no doubt, he says, that “the Germans will set him free.”

After his arrest in Mulhouse on suspicion of kidnapping, Bamberski was released on bail but placed under judicial control. He surrendered his passport and is now prohibited from leaving France. German prosecutors have filed an international arrest warrant against him—putting him into the same legal jeopardy that Krombach faced for a decade. (Krasniqi, who allegedly engineered the abduction, is currently living under judicial control in Mulhouse.) An investigation, begun in October 2009, is progressing, and the findings will soon pass either to the local court in Mulhouse or go to the Cour d’Assises in Paris.

According to his attorney in Toulouse, Bamberski will almost certainly be tried for conspiracy and kidnapping, and he could wind up in jail for up to 10 years. Yet Gibault believes that the strong support shown for Bamberski by the French public could result in a lesser sentence. “The war that he fought, for honor, for the memory of his daughter, was a very noble combat,” Gibault told me. One member of the Association for Justice for Kalinka says that she and others in the group believe it likely that Bamberski will receive a suspended sentence and a tongue lashing. “The judge will see it as a case of conscience. I cannot imagine he will go to jail,” she says.

Bamberski, however, said that he’s willing to accept time in prison as the cost of delivering Krombach to trial. “I don’t regret” the kidnapping, he admitted. “Something had to be done. You know the expression? I made the omelet, but it was also necessary to break the eggs.”

I asked if he would take me to see Kalinka’s grave, but he begged off. “I had a difficult night last night,” he told me, suggesting that our seven-hour recapitulation of the case the day before had stirred up long-buried emotions. “Je m’excuse, but I can’t go there today.”

He generally visits the grave several times a month, but the one visit that is planted most firmly in his mind took place just after Krombach was convicted of her death. Placing flowers on the simple granite slab in the rustic cemetery behind the Pechbusque Catholic Church, Bamberski bent down and spoke a few words to his daughter, dead now for nearly 30 years. “Kalinka, you see?” he told her. “I promised that I would give you justice. Now you can rest in peace.”