One of Kensington’s most famous sites has recently been sold. Now 103 years since the gang hid in the cave on Juno Street for two weeks I was fortunate enough to meet Anne and Denis Cacho before they move down to the coast where they have lived since 1993. The property has now been sold to a Mr Pillay.

Over they years there has been much interest in the property and this is with good reason. It is named in the Johannesburg top 100 places to visit , which focuses on cultural, historical and architectural value. With its beautiful garden and large peppercorn tree that seems to stand guard over the entrance of the cave one can appreciate the love that has been put into caring for this heritage property. Above the cave there is the Foster Inn, Anne has decorated the white walls with pictures of the time, The 500 Pound reward offered for the gang poster , images of Foster and his gang, the original hand cuffs, leg chains, lock, even a Rose cordial glass bottle that was found down in the cave. A photo album lies on the bar , bringing back a sense of nostalgia as one realises how far scrapbooking has come. Inside are images of the excavation of the cave and the local people that helped.

The story began in 1914, there were rumours of World War one starting but with William Foster the gang leader who had a string of convictions behind him having broken out of Pretoria Central Prison on the 27 February it seemed to take a back seat. On the 17 July the gang now made up of John Maxim, an American , ex – cowboy , ex – mechanic and an excellent shot, if someone threw a penny in the air, he could shoot a hole right through it and Charles Nezar who was only 21 years of age, claimed their first victim while robbing the National Bank in Boksburg North. Alex Charison resisted and was killed.

And so began the biggest man hunt in South African history. The gang was ruthless. They carried out countless robberies and thefts. These included the Bellevue and Roodepoort Post office and the Imperial Bottle store.
On September 13, 1914 Mcleod and Mansfied , two police sergeants , found a man sitting outside a bottle store in Fairview ( now known as the Jumbo Bottle Store across from Oribi Hotel ) they searched him and found a revolver. Sgt McLeod proceeded to the prisoner back to the station when the prisoner starting yelling for help. Two men with guns ran out of the bottle store . Sgt Mcleod was shot and killed. Sgt Mansfield had gone into the bottle store he was later found dead after being shot several times. After this event photos of the gang where circulated.

On the 15 September after a tip off from a a woman in the community about the gang living in a house in Regents Park, Detective Mynott , Murphy and Layde went to investigate. Detective Mynott came across the gang and Mrs Foster climbing into a car with her child. He told Foster to put up his hands but instead Foster drew his gun and shot Mynott dead. They then rushed off in the black car and left Mrs Foster with friends in Germiston.

The gang return to Johannesburg and decided to enter via Bezuidenhout Valley. The car they were driving in got damaged so the gang spent Tuesday night roaming Kensington Koppies. At the time the area was sparsely inhabited with farms. On Wednesday morning after having found the abandoned, stolen car search parties spread out and eventually found the cave that Foster knew about from childhood. The three police members entered and the gang immediately opened fire. The police men left the tunnel and it was decided to close the tunnel using rocks from the vicinity. On the Thursday morning 17 September some rocks were moved aside and Inspector Leitch spoke to the trapped gang.He wanted them to surrender. After lengthy discussions Foster said he would if he could speak to his wife, child and parents.

They all arrived and went into the cave. The parents later left and the baby was handed out to a police officer. Mrs Foster never came out. A while later distant gun shots where heard and when police later entered they found all four occupants dead. Foster and his wife were found in each others arms, it was clear the shooting had been done by Maxim. Nezar had tried to flee but Maxim had shot him and then finally shot himself.
It was a sad end for a fast paced life. No less than 9 innocent lives were lost from July until September 1914 of people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the time, had they been caught alive they would have faced the death penalty and been sent to the gallows. Mrs Foster must have loved her husband but one must wonder if she had a choice in giving up her life because after all she had a 6 month old baby girl to raise.

And the question “ what made William Foster choose this path in life ? “ he was good looking, had completed his matric and worked as an apprentice surveyor on a gold mine. He had an interest in photography and wanted to travel. He went off to the then South West Africa ( Namibia ) and was arrested for stealing donkeys, he spent a month in prison. It is thought that is when everything changed for him.

The foster gang along with a number of their victims are buried in the Braamfontein cemetery. Foster and his wife Peggy are buried in the same grave. Foster was 28 years old at the time of his death.

Mystery still surrounds this cave as it was closed then blasted open again by Wits students in the 1980’s. Its a story that all little boys go to bed at night with in their head dreaming about . After all how many villages in a city have both a castle on a hill and cave that housed a notorious gang for almost 2 weeks ?

Sources: Joburg East Express
A.J. Hoffman – Op Die Spoor
Saturday Star 1 December 2012

For walking Tours of Kensington and surrounds contact Isabella Pingle 071 329 5253