By Vanessa Papas: Two little girls living on opposites sides of the world. Both sharing the same name – Poppi and Poppie. Both with the same baby-toothed smile and big playful eyes. Both living in dysfunctional households with histories of past abuse. Both violently attacked and killed at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.
The story of three-year-old Poppie Koekemoer of South Africa – who was murdered in October this year – and 13-month old Poppi Worthington of England whose life was taken four years ago are tragic and shocking in similarity. In both cases, the girls suffered unspeakable abuse before being killed by a parents – Poppie by her step-dad and Poppi by her biological father. Both cases are yet to be finalised and the monsters who took these girls’ lives put behind bars and the details surrounding both deaths have been shrouded in secrecy. Police assigned to each case have been heavily criticised for the way they handled the investigations. The police assigned to Poppi’s death failed to preserve vital items for forensic analysis, did not leave the scene properly secured and a senior detective didn’t think it important to visit the family home. Police assigned to Poppie’s case reportedly never followed up on a number of calls allegedly placed by a neighbour who had said he’d witnessed numerous occasions of abuse towards Poppi and her brother and often heard both children screaming. On one occasion the neighbour heard a loud thud against the wall and noticed Poppie walking around the next day crippled and bruised.
The Case Of Poppi Worthington
Poppi’s mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was 27 when she fell pregnant with Poppi, a twin, having had four other children previously. Poppi’s mom was 16 when her first child was born – a little girl who was later taken away and adopted after her mom was found in a drunken stupta while in charge of watching her. At 05h56 on the morning of 12 December 2012 Poppi father, Paul Worthington, who was 47 at the time, called police claiming the toddler had woken up screaming. She was rigid and stiff and then suddenly went limp. Paul claimed to have scooped his child in his arms and screamed for Poppi’s mom to call for an ambulance. Within 10 minutes the ambulance had arrived. Paramedic described Poppi as being ‘very pale, waxy and obviously not breathing’. A cardiac monitor showed that Poppi’s heart was not beating. On the way to the hospital, both the paramedic and Poppi’s father tried to revive her. At 07h07 Poppi was pronounced dead.
In the minute fought to save Poppi’s life, potentially crucial evidence was lost. Newspapers report that the gloves the paramedic who carried Poppi into the ambulance was wearing were thrown away. The stretcher sheet, which had blood and other bodily fluids on it and which might have yielded critical clues, was not preserved. One officer saw a used nappy on the floor near the fireplace in the home. It was believed to be the last nappy worn by Poppi. Her paternal aunt put it in the bin, but it was never retrieved. Other items not preserved for forensic analysis included Poppi’s pillow, her clothing, her parents’ bedsheet or any items that might have been used as part of the assault. Mr Worthington’s laptop ‘went missing’. The scene at the house was not secured and no reconstruction with the parents took place.
At a post-mortem examination found Poppi to have an earlier fracture of her right lower leg and suspected acute internal injuries. Dr Alison Armour, a Home Office pathologist who examined Poppi’s body, concluded that she was the victim of a sexual assault by a man. During the investigation, it emerged that Paul had prior run-in ins with the law. In 1995 he was informally interviewed by officers, following an ‘association with someone who may have committed offences against children’. In 2003, an unrelated allegation was made by his then stepson, which was later retracted. Paul, however, continued to deny any involvement in his Poppi’’s death and played the part of a grieving father overcome with heart-ache. Earlier this year a court ruled that Paul had abused Poppi in the hours before she died and that ‘careful assessment of the meticulous pathological and paediatric evidence clearly established that her injuries were the result of trauma from outside the body’. The judge heavily criticised Cumbria police for carrying out what he said was ‘a defilement investigation’ into Poppi’s death. To this day the specific cause of Poppi’s death remains uncertain, but is believed to have been suffocation or cardiac arrest as a result of being sexually assaulted by Paul. Results of the full inquest, which started this year October, are yet to be released in this case and until then, Paul remains a free man.
The Case of Poppie Van Der Merwe
Just two months after celebrating her third birthday, Poppie was laid to rest. Details surrounding the events of her death have not fully been revealed.
During the investigation into her death, allegations surfaced that the little girl with blonde curls and a love for the colour pink had suffered extensive physical abuse, to the point that her body gave up the fight to live. Her step-father, Kobus, was arrested in connection with her murder. It’s alleged that in the early hours of 26 October Kobus kicked and beat Poppie to death. The last weeks have seen various tales about the family come to light. According to some reports Poppie and her brother Johan were subjected to unspeakable horrors for several months from both their mother Louisa and Kobus. In addition to being hosed down with ice cold water during the winter months and forced to sit wet in the cold, they regularly endured extensive beatings. They were also allegedly exposed to ‘adult behaviour not suitable for children their age’ and constantly wet their beds. The Koekemoer’s neighbour had reported to the police in months past that Kobus had been abusing Poppie and Johan for some time.
In an affidavit made in February, the neighbour said he could hear the children screaming. “At times the beatings were so bad that her (Poppie’s) terrified screams actually masked the sounds of the punches and thuds against the wall, as she was so frantic”, reads part of the affidavit. One newspaper reported that according to the affidavit welfare workers did come around to ‘investigate’ after being told about the abuse– but never actually confronted Poppie’s mom and stepdad or did anything to help these children.
Another publication stated that it was known by many that Kobus had a tendency for extreme violence, especially towards children. According to his ex wife, who has a son with him and whose name has not been revealed, his violent temper was the very reason why she refused to let him see his son after the two divorced. She also allegedly said that Kobus and Louisa had fled their home several times in the past after hearing rumours that child welfare was investigating them. According to the childrens’ biological father, Christo van der Merwe, Kobus and Louisa had allegedly also recently fled from Orania, where Louisa’s mother lives, because locals had heard about Kobus’ behaviour and were in a furore. Poppie was laid to rest in Christo’s home town and her funeral took place at the Dutch Reformed Church . Speaking to Bloemfontein Courant, Christo – a diesel mechanic of Westonaria on the West Rand – spoke of how he was ‘heartbroken by the death of his little angle’ but had to, however, stand strong for his five-year-old son who is currently staying with him. He said he missed out on his children’s upbringing the past few years as he had limited visiting rights (he and Louisa never married).
Kobus has now being charged with little Poppie’s murder but, at the time or going to press, there were no charges made against Louisa.