Finding Tracy

Pic: Pretoria Moot Rekord

One of the main news items in South Africa this week comes after Mark Scott-Crossley handed himself over to police. A warrant for Scott-Crossley’s arrest was issued in December after an alleged racist incident in Limpopo. He now faces attempted murder charges. In 2005 Scott-Crossley was tried and convicted for the murder of a worker who he threw into a lion enclosure.

In 1988 Jani Allan found herself in the Johannesburg family home of Mark Scott-Crossley whilst working as a journalist for the Sunday Times. The disappearance of Mark’s sister, Tracy was quickly developing into one of the most high-profile crime stories of the decade. Tragically, Tracy was one of six schoolgirls who disappeared in 1988 and 1989 shortly before paedophile Gert van Rooyen and his lover Joey Haarhoff committed suicide during a police chase.

Tracy’s name reappeared years later in her brother’s 2005 murder trial. Tracy  had wanted to go shopping at Cresta Mall the day of her disappearance and had asked her brother, Mark to go with her.

He said he had other things to do.

“Up to today he cannot live with that decision,” a psychologist told the court.

In the grip of the frantic search for Tracy, Jani was sent to interview Tracy’s mother, Noreen Scott-Crossley at her Randburg home. This is their interview in full:


TOMORROW it will be exactly six weeks since the 14-year-old Tracy-Lee Scott-Crossley disappeared. A nationwide search involving the police and private detectives, sangomas and a massive hypermarket poster campaign have so far proved fruitless. What could have happened to her? Did she run away? Was she lured into a drug and depraved underworld? Was she abducted and is she being held as a sex-slave? Or is she …

JANI ALLAN spoke to her mother Noreen Scott-Crossley FACE TO FACE and caught a searing glimpse of the torment of a mother whose child has gone missing.

THE small block of duplexes on the corner of Queen and Beatrice is typical of many in Windsor Park.

In the dog-day afternoon, a solitary woman is sweeping a tiny patio. To a casual passer-by the scene is normal enough.

Come closer now. Only then do you realise the woman’s movements are those of a republican robot imbued with a curious dignity.

To a casual passer-by she looks attractive, impeccably neat in a striped shirt and navy slacks. The kind of trim body promised to you in diet Mayonnaise ads.

Come closer now. Dare to look into her eyes. Strange navy circumferences contain the green seas that are her irises. The strange navy rings fail, however, to contain the depths of her anguish.

Look long enough into these seas and you may drown in her heartache.

Noreen Scott-Crossley has come home from work early to speak to me.

She’s come home to tell me the story she’s told countless reporters.

The story of another abducted child. Except that this abducted child happens to be Tracy-Lee. Her daughter.

Noreen Scott-Crossley is a pretty woman. A gamin face. Cheekbones you could nick your knuckles on. She’s lost nine kilos since Tracy …

‘I’m down to wearing Tracy’s clothes,’ she says.

There’s a sob in her voice.

Every time you try to eat a meal you think ‘I wonder if Tracy is eating …’

The haircut, like a blonde crysanthemum, the air of vulnerability, make her look a lot younger than 41.

Sincerity shines like a halo.

She’s grateful for the chance to speak to the Sunday Times. There are three-million readers. Maybe someone will see her picture, come forward, offer a clue, provide a piece of the jigsaw of a shattered life.

A metal buyer, Noreen is described as diligent and responsible. Liked by her colleagues. On the road most days, weekends were free to spend with Tracy … that is until …

I SIT on a sludge-green sofa. She excuses herself and takes a phone call. There have been hundreds of sick, crank calls. Tracy-Lee’s father, Paul, has offered a reward of R10 000 for any shred of information.

But the family can’t afford to tap the phone.

It’s a humble room. A few lovingly tended pot-plants flourish bravely. A pair of China swans. There’s a reggae tune playing on the radio. There’s a bottle of nail polish on the coffee table.

I read the label. The colour is ‘Frantic Pink.’

Tracy-Lee is Noreen’s youngest child, her laatlammetjie. There are two grown-up sons, Mark, 21 and Sean, 23.

And there was Hayden.

‘Hayden died when he was four-and-a-half months old. He would have been 18 in July. A disease which affect the large intestine. I must admit when Tracy went I thought, ‘Why a second child taken from me?’.

‘But I don’t blame God. It’s the society we’re living in today. Let’s face it, nothing is really sacred. A life is so cheap today.’

She pours tea. Her hands, her voice, both shake slightly.

Tracy-Lee Scott-Crossley, a Standard Six pupil at Northcliff High, was living a life similar to thousands of teenage girls growing up in a lower middle-class family in suburban South Africa.

She had been going to dancing lessons since she was three. Loved watching Who’s the Boss and Loving on TV. She adored Patrick Swayze. She thought about becoming a dancing teacher, a hairdresser or an air hostess.

Since her parents’ divorce four years ago, she lived with her mom, a cat Syllvester and a Pom called Fifi.

Although Noreen speaks in the past tense she believes Tracy is still alive.

She says: ‘Tracy and I were very close. We were more like friends than mother and daughter. She’d talk to me about anything,’ Noreen tells me. ‘She’d speak to me openly about sex.

‘She liked boys to think her attractive, but shied away if they tried to get close.

‘I suppose the three most important things I taught her were that you must never lie, you must enjoy life, but you must always respect your body. Never do things to it to be in with the ‘crowd’.

‘I’m a Jehovah’s Witness and Tracy and I had just started going to Bible reading.’

Noreen and Paul – production manager at a brewery company – were divorced four-and-a-half years ago.

‘It wasn’t a good marriage. There was a lot of stress. Since the divorce Tracy has blossomed. She was her father once a month – more or less.

‘She was a contented child. Never wilful. Never moody. Never gave me a day’s trouble.

‘We’d walk to Cresta arm in arm, drink milkshakes, play putt-putt and go for picnics at Florida Lake.

‘Sometimes she’d say to me ‘Just sit in that chair, Mom’ and I’d say ‘What for, Noonoo?’ – that was my pet name for her – and she’d say ‘Just sit in that chair!’ So I’d sit in the chair and she’d come and flop onto my lap and say ‘I just want a cuddle!’

On the Monday morning she disappeared Tracy wasn’t feeling well. Noreen had taken her to the doctor on Saturday who had diagnosed her with a mild lung infection.

‘I wanted to take her to work with me. When I went into her room to give her her medication she said she thought she’d lie in bed and then go to Cresta and maybe see a movie.

NOREEN says she asked Tracy what she would do for money ‘because I’d forgotten to draw cash. I had to borrow money from Tracy to pay the maid on Saturday. But she said I must just leave her my credit card. She needed to get a few things at Cresta. Her father gives her R15 a month and I give her R40.

‘I thought she wouldn’t go with her friends. They’d had a fall-out about discos. Tracy said she disagreed with young girls going to discos. People judge you by the areas you gravitate to.’

A week before she disappeared she said: ‘Mom, from what I’ve read in the papers, bad things happen in discos.

‘You can get murdered or kidnapped or drugged.’

A talented dancer since the age of three, Tracy was forced to stop when last year in December she started having blackouts. The blackouts developed into epileptic seizures when her blood pressure became too low.

BUT years of dancing left her with the legacy of a beautiful figure. Then there was her flawless complexion, silky blonde hair and a manner that was somewhere between coy and naive.

Fatal attraction. 

‘If I wanted to tease her I’d say ‘You’re a sexy bombshell, Dolly Parton’s going to have nothing on you. And she’d groan and say ‘Mommy you’re such a pain!

‘But she never showed off her figure. She always wore baggy clothes. Even on the beach she’d always cover herself up with a towel or a T-shirt.

‘At the age of 12 it was so bad grown men used to wolf-whistle at her in the street. I used to say, ‘Noonoo, there are so many weird people you must be careful.’

‘And she’d say, ‘Mom they’re so silly I don’t take any notice.’

When Noreen pulled up outside the flat at 2.40pm on Monday, July 1, she knew instantly something was wrong.

Tracy didn’t run downstairs to greet her as she usually did. An open biology book lay next to her little purchases: pantihose, pencils, pens. A half-eaten packet of Whispers. The TV was on.

Missing was a pink blanket that was usually folded at the foot of the bed.

And Tracy.

These are the recurring stitches that weave through the story.

Tracy wouldn’t go to her friends for 10 minutes without leaving a note:

‘Mom, I love you stacks. Just gone to Didi for half an hour.’ Or she’d call. ‘Mom, I’m at Yvonna’s house, can you fetch me on your way home? I love you stacks.’

A MOTHER’S desperation can only be guessed at. Noreen went to a black prophet in Groblersdal who sent her on a wild goose chase to Maritzburg.

Another crank caller (they come with daily frequency and mind-boggling cruelty) said Tracy was in Groote Schuur Hospital and SAA would fly her home as soon as she was  better …’

‘The clairvoyants? Their stories keep changing …

‘But they all said Tracy was being held against her will and that there was a tall, young, blond man involved

‘I know she’s alive. I believe that she might be involved in some sex-slave or prostitution racket. They might want to send her overseas …

‘I talk to her all the time. I tell her to hang in there.’

If only those who have known fear can be brave then undoubtedly Noreen is brave.

‘If it had to be that I had to die so that she could come back, I’d do it gladly …’

What can I say to a woman caught up in a nightmare perhaps only a mother can understand?

I pick a jasmine blossom and close it in her hand.

The divine guidance always comes when the horizon is blackest. 

This column was originally published by the Sunday Times on 11 September 1988.