In the hours leading up to the discovery of Susan Rohde‘s body at Spier Hotel in 2016, her husband Jason told her he was calling it quits on their 23-year marriage because he could not take the fighting and tension any longer.
Testifying in his murder trial in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, he explained how their arguments over his affair with his colleague Jolene Alterskye reached a climax while they were attending the Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty convention.
Rohde had secretly started seeing his mistress again after the couple began marriage counselling.
The counselling made him realise that, while he loved his wife, “I had fallen out of love with her”.
“Divorce was definitely an option for me, but I didn‘t want to hurt my children.”
No spouse rule
Susan invited herself to the convention despite a rule that spouses were not allowed to attend, he said.
She borrowed clothes from friends and also hired outfits for the weekend‘s events, which Alterskye was also attending.
Jason said he was “absolutely terrified” of ending up in the same room as the two women. He and his wife were apparently very tense and argued about small things.
“I was thinking the whole time something was going to happen, so I made an effort not to be seen close to Jolene. Susan and I weren‘t a happy couple,” he said.
Rohde was the co-host of the convention and got ready to attend a black-tie prize-giving on Saturday evening, July 23.
He told his wife in their room that he could not be late because he was sitting at the main table.
She allegedly started shouting at him before opening a wine bottle and drinking straight from it.
He left and she later joined him outside the main event area, so they could walk in together.
Rohde said he did not know how much his wife drank before joining him but she enjoyed white wine at their table.
He ordered her a double Amaretto at the bar later that evening.
“I am a social drinker. I did drink that night but I am very conscious of my drinking when I am a host. You can‘t be drunk, be a CEO of a business and hand out awards. No ways was I intoxicated.”
Walking back to their room at the end of the evening, two colleagues invited Rohde to an after party.
“Susan turned to me and said there is no f-ing ways we are going there.”
He was annoyed with her but didn‘t want to create a scene, so went back to the room.
Fight over text message
While Susan undressed, he started sending a romantic message to Alterskye.
He heard his wife come closer and deleted the message, but not before she could see he had deleted it.
“She just went loose. Apoplectic. Beyond furious. She told me what a lying deceitful fucking bastard I was and how could I message that ugly whore.”
Rohde admitted he retaliated verbally.
Because it was in his nature to avoid conflict, he said he wanted to leave the room because he could not defend himself but Susan apparently blocked him repeatedly.
He thinks she must have known he wanted to go see Alterskye later that night.
Divorce an option
It was at this point that he realised divorce was the only option.
“I said yes, I have had enough Sue. This is it. I am done. I can‘t do this any longer.”
“I can‘t fight for three hours like Susan can fight. I just don‘t have the strength. I give in. And I don‘t like it. Especially when Susan is as cross as that, it will not stop.”
He explained to the court that he envisaged them returning to Johannesburg after the trip so they could plan their divorce and a future where their three daughters would not suffer as a result.
The court heard earlier on Monday that the affair consumed Susan and she ate and slept very little.
She apparently vacillated between sadness, anger and obsession with every detail of the relationship between her husband and Alterskye.
Rohde said Susan would call him up to 15 times a day, keep his phone when he returned home from work and wake up him up every few hours at night to ask him about the affair.
They both saw psychologists.
Susan was found hanging from a hook behind their bathroom door at Spier Hotel in 2016.
Although her death was thought to be a suicide, her husband was later charged for her murder and accused of staging her suicide.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Rohde said he never anticipated that his wife was in such a dark space that she would do something extreme like taking her own life.
“It just never occurred to me that Susan was in desperate need of psychiatric help.”
The trial resumes on Tuesday.