I’m where I’m meant to be. It’s these words, inked on the inside of his left bicep, that private detective Brad Nathanson believes in.
So, too, the words “protect” and “provide”, on the underside of both his forearms. Equally, he firmly believes in truth, and has the Latin word “veritas” permanently marked on his right index finger to prove it.
Truth be told, Nathanson is covered with tattoos, which plays into the gung-ho stereotype that accompanies his profession. He always carries a firearm and is regularly called in to help in high-profile cases.
From finding the men who raped Jessica Foord, to being called by Johan Lotter just two weeks before he was murdered, Nathanson is often the go-to guy. His Facebook page is regularly inundated with praise and thanks, and he’s built up a huge support base.
But a week ago, the 49-year-old had his world shaken.
On Saturday, Nathanson was driving down the South Coast when, on the N2 near Pennington, he saw two men carrying several bags. He pulled his car over and questioned the men, saying it was obvious the goods had been stolen.
As he walked to the car to call police, he says one of the men attacked him from behind and tried to reach for his gun, which was tucked into the front of his shorts, as the second man ran away across the highway.
In the tussle, a shot went off. Nathanson says he wrestled his gun away from the man and shot three times behind him. Only then did the man let go and he, too, ran away. He is unsure whether he had hit the man.
He said when he went to his car, he saw the man who had first run away “bleeding profusely” and lying on the road.
“At first I thought he’d been hit by a car or something. I walked over to him I saw that he had been shot in the lower back,” Nathanson said, insisting the shooting was accidental. “I know the law. I know what sh*t I can get into for shooting someone in the back. I would never do that,” he said.
Nathanson has since been charged with attempted murder. He appeared in court on Tuesday and was granted bail of R1 000. He will appear again on May 17. The injured man is in police custody facing charges of possession of suspected stolen goods.
This was not the first time Nathanson has been in hot water with police. He admitted he had faced charges “five or six times” in the past. The charges included one of murder, but it never got to court. The others ranged from assault to reckless and negligent driving. In each case, the charges were dropped or he was found not guilty.
Despite some initial backlash when he posted pictures of the injured man on his Facebook page, Nathanson says he’s been inundated with support.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. People are commenting on Facebook, supporting me. It’s been overwhelming and really encouraging,” he said. He admitted though, that he now regrets stopping the men last Saturday.
Asked what gave him the right to stop and question the men, Nathanson said he possibly didn’t have the right to do so, but knew there was something suspicious about them.
“I have this ability of being able to spot a criminal. My whole life I’ve been really good at catching criminals,” he said.
Nathanson said, though, that this incident might change the way he works.
“It might even change my entire attitude to fighting crime. It might make me do only work I’m paid to do. But I don’t want to be that guy.”
Nathanson is married and has three daughters and a son aged between 11 and 19 from a previous marriage.
“My wife, Nicola, has been really upset by all of this. My son has taken this particularly badly, but he’s also really grateful it wasn’t me lying on the road after being shot,” he said.
Before this incident, Nathanson made headlines when he brought Katherine Fuller back from Uganda. Fuller was in that country with American TV series producer Jeff Rice when the pair used laced cocaine in their Kampala hotel room. Rice died as a result and Fuller was left partially paralysed. Nathanson says this was his toughest case.
“I landed there not knowing anyone. I went in ice cold. It was difficult because it became political as there was an American involved. There were also all these rumours that they had been poisoned, and other crazy stuff, which made it tougher,” he said.
In just over a week, Nathanson was able to track down the person who sold the drugs, and was praised by Ugandan police. Fuller pleaded guilty to possession of drugs and paid a fine. She was then flown back to SA with her father, Stuart, and Nathanson.
“I visit her every couple of days. She’s still paralysed, but when I last saw her, her fingertips were moving slightly. We’re not sure yet if she suffered a stroke, or if the nerves have gone dead because she was lying in the same place, unmoved, for over 12 hours,” he said.
Nathanson also made news last year when he helped to track down Isabella Krog, who had been kidnapped by her father, Clint Wally, and returning her to her mother, Catherine. A few months later, Wally shot Catherine, before turning the gun on himself.
Nathanson said the two were “obsessed with each other, and there were still many questions unanswered”.
Perhaps the single biggest case that thrust Nathanson into the limelight was his involvement in finding the men convicted of raping Jessica Foord in 2008.
On the Tuesday after the rape, he started investigating.
“I started at 7pm, and by 7am I had all of the suspects. I was trained to build up a good network of informers, and I have been able to do that. I asked one of my informers and he gave me information. We started by looking for one man, and when we found him, he led us to the others,” he said.
This was his first foray into criminal investigations, after he left the police in 1988 to start his own company. He served in the police force from 1980, first in the reaction unit in Durban and then moving to the detective branch’s field unit, also based in Durban.
Despite being in the headlines due to the incident last week as well as having faced previous charges, Nathanson insists he’s no vigilante.|||
“It depends on what people mean when they say ‘vigilante’. If they mean someone who cares about the security of this country, then yes I’m a vigilante. But if they mean that I go out to deliberately break the law and harass people, that’s just preposterous.
“I’m not a vigilante; I uphold the law and I respect the law,” he said.