Susan’s last journey: Rohde was damned by his lies
Now heartbreak compounds tragedy as three daughters are left without parents in wake of love triangle murder
Jason Rohde seemed like a terrified man who had not slept for days as Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe began reading out her 38-page judgment summary in the High Court in Cape Town on Thursday.
He had every reason to be terrified: the verdict was finally about to be announced proclaiming whether he had been found guilty or not of murdering his wife and the mother of their children.
The full judgment, she said, was a whopping 258 pages, and as is common when summaries of such documents are read out, both the state’s case and the defence’s case are presented.
This can mean the criminal justice system holds its breath since it is unclear right up until the conclusion is read what the verdict will be.
But in court on Thursday morning Rohde’s face began to droop as his cheeks darkened about a quarter a way into the summary.
The judge, whose summary was as poetic as it was scientific, minced no words about which version of events she felt carried more water – with one doing so beyond reasonable doubt.
She described how, in July 2016, Susan Rohde had packed her suitcase and headed off into a situation that would mark the end of her short life in Room 221 at the Spier Wine Estate.
“This was the final scene of a love triangle that had formed some months before,” said the judge.
A few months prior, Susan had found a love card stowed away in her husband’s suitcase – a card that was small in size but had the impact of a wrecking ball. She confronted him about the affair, and ordered him to call Jolene Alterskye on speaker phone in front of her, and end the affair.
“Her ill-fated discovery was followed by months of trauma,” said the judge, “and, ever the perfectionist, Susan had struggled in silence.”
When he was scheduled to attend the conference at Spier Wine Estate in July 2016, Susan knew his mistress would be there, and insisted on joining him.
“That,” said Judge Salie-Hlophe, “would be Susan’s last journey.”
One of the most telltale signs of Rohde’s guilt – apart from the damning forensic evidence – was in the realm of his behaviour.
He had made a call to the central desk at the hotel, saying his bathroom door was locked and he couldn’t open it.
And, said the judge, he had “waited 20 minutes before even making that call to hotel reception, and even then it was just for maintenance to open the door. It is most peculiar that he did not call for medical assistance.
“He made no mention of a medical emergency,” said the judge.
Later, it was not only Susan’s blood that was found on the bathroom floor, but that of her husband too.
“He was unable to give a reason for why his blood was at the scene and on the bathroom floor next to the deceased,” said Judge Salie-Hlophe.
Susan’s blood and smudges of mascara were found on the pillow. These, and a ream of other forensic scientific data, led the judge to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Susan had been strangled and smothered, and that her “suicide” was merely a ruse by a desperate man to escape the long arm of the law.
The judge was at pains to draw a picture of a woman who was most certainly anxious, but was definitely not suicidally depressed.
“She made contact with her therapist from the wine estate and did not seem suicidal. She had many protective factors in her life, and she had progressed well with therapeutic support,” said the judge.
The two had had extensive marriage counselling, and Susan had insisted they attend to “improve communication and restore their marriage after his infidelity was uncovered”.
But none of that was to be.
Rohde’s sexual and perhaps emotional connection to Alterskye was one that his marriage could not survive.
Left in the wake of this heartbreaking situation are three daughters – two have only just started writing matric, and one is in second year at university.
It is likely that when all legal avenues have been exhausted, they will have lost both their parents – one at the hands of the other in a moment of fury, the other behind the dark walls of the prison system.