Chris Watts Case: What would Sherlock Holmes Do?

As a detective story, the Watts murder mystery isn’t very compelling. There’s a little intrigue about who did what, and given the current moratorium on releasing information to the press, people have become even more intrigued about what unknown unknowns may be out there, based on the known knowns [the surveillance video] and known unknowns [the children dumped into the tanks, but precisely where and how is uncertain].

For the world’s greatest detective, certainly in terms of evidence and investigative work, the Watts case looks set to be fairly open and shut. If Sherlock Holmes did walk the Earth today, it’s unlikely Weld County would call on him to consult – especially not about evidentiary aspects.

The second crime scene adds a complicated layer to the first, but the quick work of the cops means even the tissue evidence was still in a similar relatively fresh condition when their little bodies were recovered, compared to when the girls were dumped there just a few days earlier. Compared to the paper-thin cadaver evidence in the Casey Anthony and Scott Peterson cases, there’s going to be a whole lot more, an encyclopedia of tissue data, to go on in the Watts case.

There is some speculation, currently, that the delay over the release of the autopsy report is due to a lack of incriminating DNA evidence.

Is that so?

Although possible the lack of DNA theory seems unlikely, especially since 1) the remains as mentioned were recovered as quickly as they were, 2) the overall slapdash nature of the crime [shallow grave, cell phone found in the home, bed sheets stuffed in the kitchen trash etc] and let’s not forget 3) Watts’ shaky version of evidence as presented in his slippery-but-not-slick Sermon on the Porch.

The Science of Post Mortem Tick Tock 

Even if the DNA evidence is in doubt, the case could easily turn on something as elementary as whether the children died first. Has the coroner been able to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty how long before their mother’s death the children were killed? If the time of death difference is significant, the only logical inference is that Watts murdered all three victims.

Time of death is a science, but not an exact one, and even the prescient genius of Sherlock Holmes isn’t going to perform miracles in the area of clockwork.

We ought to caution ourselves on this matter of time, because in the same way if the murders may be demonstrated to have all occurred simultaneously [or cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they weren’t] , then the legal pendulum edges in Watts’ favor.

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In the Scott Peterson trial, time of death was a huge issue on two fronts. The second involved the contention by the defense that the fetus had developed for several more days after Laci went missing, and thus Laci was supposed to have been murdered several days later. The enormous uncertainty around her precise time of death, as well as the fetus, meant this area above all gifted the defense case with significant reasonable doubt.

Proving time of death in the case of the Watts children will probably come down to an analysis of stomach contents. If food remains of the birthday party are evident, then time of death may be imputed to as early as Sunday afternoon. That’s early afternoon – before dinner. If there are barbecue-type morsels in the digestive track, if they were murdered after dinner, then it may be less simple to separate the murders of the children from that of their mother.

In hindsight we can already see how things are shaping up for the defendant in court: Chris Watts may rue the fact that the flight delayed Shan’ann by several hours, especially if the children were killed in a premeditative fashion in terms of Watts’ initial estimate of Shan’ann’s arrival [in the relatively early evening].

Did Chris Watts anticipate time of death would be so vital to his defense, or lack of? Chris Watts was counting on the bodies never being discovered, and thus rendering any autopsy [let alone autopsy evidence] moot.

“Mr. Holmes, we need you to pick this man’s brain…”

But what makes the Watts case interesting – even terrifying – isn’t the forensic side at all, it’s the psychology. Why did a picture-perfect dad destroy such a picture-perfect family?

In that question [and in the questions around who was “picture perfect” and how much], there’s the real mystery. When we plumb through Shan’ann’s enormous archive of posts, pictures and videos, the psychological mystery deepens. All is not as it seems.

This is the area where we might want Mr. Holmes to apply his mind. Why did this guy commit the murder [or murders]? Was it economics? What was the motivational mechanism exactly?

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The worst criminals in true crime are also the most anal, and thus, the best detectives are also the most anal. Think about the likes of Dexter, Monk, Dr. Hannibal Lecter [when consulting for the FBI] and Mr Holmes himself. All sticklers for detail, all anal.

The anal aspect matters when it comes to forensics, but let’s face it, any idiot with a magnifying glass and tweezers can find and recover evidence if it’s there. Photography is there to record it. Technologies are there to decipher it. Great minds are no longer needed in the forensic side. They’re needed to decipher the criminal mind.

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Although popularly known as the world’s greatest detective, there’s actually someone better at the detective game than Sherlock Holmes, it’s his brother Mycroft.

This is Wikipedia’s description of Mycroft:

Possessing deductive powers exceeding even those of his younger brother, Mycroft is nevertheless incapable of performing detective work similar to that of Sherlock as he is unwilling to put in the physical effort necessary to bring cases to their conclusions. In “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter” Sherlock Holmes says:

…he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points…

Though Sherlock initially tells Watson that Mycroft audits books for some government departments, he later reveals that Mycroft’s true role is more substantial. While Conan Doyle’s stories leave unclear what Mycroft Holmes’ exact position is in the British government, Sherlock Holmes says that “Occasionally he is the British government […] the most indispensable man in the country.” He apparently serves as a sort of human computer, as stated in “The Bruce-Partington Plans“:

He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used for this particular business. The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. 

I like to bring up Mycroft when I hear criticism that one cannot possibly know anything about a case [because it’s too early or too late], how can you know if you weren’t there, and “how can you write a book about a case before the trial” etc.

Mycroft manages to be omniscient without setting a toe on a crime scene, and doesn’t seem to talk to many of the people involved directly either. So how does he do it? He does it by gathering evidence, reading newspapers, listening to the news, listening to what people say about people and what the criminal says for himself. He does what no one does – he looks armed with sufficient background information [sufficient in the sense that this knowledge opens all the doors and windows to deepest and most difficult sanctum in true crime: human nature].

The Craft of Pattern Recognition in True Crime

When we are masters of psychology, the variations in human nature are a snip. Quickly,  intimately and intuitively one can step into a new crime scene schema and see how the strings tie-in, and how the puppets got themselves tangled.

Over time overlaps re-occur, repeat and reinforce themselves, generating so many  mental maps. Each new iteration allows for ever quicker and more effective processing of people, patterns and predispositions. Once he’s developed the handy psychological profiles and patterns, this sharp tool of the mind allows him to recognize systemic data shapes that can be easily mapped, matched and oriented.

That’s a fancy way of saying, for example, that when you spend time in true crime, the semantics repeat themselves. Criminals on different continents tend to default to the same patterns when lying and covering up.  Deception, it turns out, is fairly uniform in how it plays in the real world. Criminality tends not to reveal creativity and enterprize in the criminal mind, but the opposite: laziness, entropy, weakness, path-of-least-resistance programming, impulsivity, lack of foresight, lack of compassion etc.

In this respect, something as simple as simple observation – penetrating observation – where you see through things rather than simply seeing what everyone else sees, can be  a mighty skill.

The work of a true crime writer [ahem] is similar, except that unlike Mycroft he uses an actual computer, and through this extraordinary modern tool he becomes capable of Mycroft’ s superhuman data collection, data mining and data assembly. But even with a computer doing all the processing, he still needs the imagination and the intelligence to tie all the pieces of string together. That can’t be taught. It can be learned, and the skill honed and that’s the difference between a true crime rookie and a true crime maestro.

So you see, it’s not so much about how big and powerful your true crime grey matter is, it’s what you can do with what you have in your head that counts.

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The computer facilitates the same swift assembly of Mycroft’s mental palace. It does the rudimentary but colossal work of finding the right needles in the right haystacks. It collects these haystacks and needles and sorts them further into something that adds up to an orderly and untidied fabric. Finally, the structured mind must examine the fabric and see how haystracks and needles translate into trees, until trees become woods.  The woods then tear apart to reveal the castle. This is how a cogent narrative is conjured into being.

While the work of the lawyers, law enforcement, journalists, experts and pundits all matter, it’s only the true crime writer who synthesizes all of it, and if he truly has no horse in the race, then you’re probably going to get to the crux first, and best, via this  uniquely authentic omniscient narrative. Needles retrieved from haystacks need to build castles, not tee-pees of hay or worse, tee-pees of needles.

The narrative is the Holy Grail of true crime. It’s the story about what really happened, isn’t it? It’s such a simple question and yet how often is it adequately addressed, let alone answered.

What really happened?

In court, two narratives compete for jury votes, but the narrative in court is only the one that sells best based on the available evidence. It’s not what happened, but a distorted reflection at best. The distortion the jury likes best is voted on and becomes legal reality for the defendant. Think about the warped legal realities in the Casey Anthony, Oscar Pistorius and O.J. Simpson trials. Justice is an imperfect system, but with enough grease in the right gears, the wheels do turn and sometimes it can and does work.

A narrative needs to be more and do more than just turn a few gears. It has to do more than reflect a cool distillation of all the facts. A good example of a narrative that simply loads the reader with information is Perfect Murder Perfect Town. The book provides no insight into who killed JonBenet, other than to offer every conceivable tidbit about who it might be. That’s a cop out. It has to be better than that!

After gathering all the information, there has to be an intuitive flourish at the end – not necessarily demonstrable or even provable, but accurate all the same. This is why the thing that differentiates the exceptional true crime narrative from the trial narrative and the media narrative and the defendant’s narrative, is the ability to decisively answer not the forensic question, but the psychology.

Why?

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Ode to the Tongue Flick

After covering a series of high-profile true crime cases, I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken to pick up on the tongue flick as a behavioural giveaway of some significance.

It was probably thanks to the LIVEFEED video in the Henri van Breda axe murder trial, that I actually began to really notice it. Because it happens so quickly, you tend to miss it in real time, or even in television coverage.

Since the LIVEFEED was immediately available on YouTube, I was able to go back and review what I thought I’d seen and heard in court, and that’s when a whole new world opened. Henri often lifted his hand just as his tongue poked out, or just as his lip would snarl. It was virtually impossible to catch this unless one slowed down the YouTube video and rewatched it again and again.

Then I noticed the same thing in the Rohde case. Then you start seeing just how often it comes up in true crime. When you realize it’s out there, it starts coming out of the woodwork. What you want to watch out for, besides the tongue flick itself, is the context within which it happens. What is being said, what idea is being brokered when the person flicks their tongue?

Below, John flicks his tongue as he’s congratulating himself about “the point at which justice comes into our system.” He’s referring to the Grand Jury system, and implying the Grand Jury voted not to indict the Ramseys, when in fact they had voted to indict. Watch the clip here.

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In the screengrab below Patsy is explaining that the $100 000 is for the arrest and conviction of the killer of their daughter. If the killer was under age 10, then Colorado law wouldn’t even recognize the crime, so there could be no arrest or conviction, and so there was no way that reward could be paid out.

Patsy’s tongue flick happens as she says: “We feel there are at least two people on the face of this earth that know…” Uh-oh. Watch the clip here.

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Burke’s tongue flick happens when Dr Phil is taking him through the morning when they discover JonBenet is missing. He describes Patsy coming into his room, and then a cop coming in and shining a flashlight [Burke pretends to be asleep]. When Dr Phil says: “It’s still dark when this happens…” Burke pokes out his tongue. Watch the moment here.

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In the Madeleine McCann case, Gerry’s tongue flick happens immediately after he says: “Everything we’ve done is to increase the chances of her being returned.” Then he looks down, and the flick happens. Is that true? Is everything done to increase the chances of Madeleine being found and returned to them? Watch the clip here.

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What prompted Scott Peterson’s tongue flick [below]? He says: “A lot of the questions are ‘how do you stay focused and keep working…?'” Does Scott mean the questions are about him continuing with his life almost as if nothing has happened? If so, part of the answer to that may be his affair with Amber Frey.

In the same interview he says “it [the affair, which by then was public knowledge because Amber had told the media] had nothing to with it…” and then “I had nothing to do with it.” Didn’t it?

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Read the analysis on Chris Watts here. He does more than one tongue flick in his seven minute interview.

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In the Rohde case, which is still sub judicae, Jason Rohde [accused of murdering his wife and staging it to look a suicide] not only flicks his tongue often, but shrugs constantly.

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Henri van Breda was an excellent case to learn to catch the tongue flicks. Because of his laid-back demeanour on the stand, and his well-groomed and educated manner of answering questions, you tended to miss the tongue flicks entirely. Only when making a close study of the livefeed, watching snippets repeatedly, did you begin to notice the many times Henri would touch his face. Behind his hand you saw the tongue reflexively slipping out, and the lip curling, as if to hide a nervous smile or twitch of the upper lip.

Below is a rare screengrab where his face is not obscured by his hand, although his head is turned away from the camera slightly. On this occasion, the convicted triple axe murderer was asked to demonstrate – using a balsa wood prop of the axe – how the axe murderer bludgeoned his father while he [supposedly] watched from elsewhere in the room. According to Henri, the attacker laughed while raining axe blows on his father in particular. It may be that his hand isn’t blocking his face on this occasion because it’s holding the axe.

Watch the relevant clip here.

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What’s the actual significance of the tongue flick? It could be several things. It could be the psychological idea of tucking into a good meal, in the sense that what’s being asked is something of immense value, but the suspect is determined not to give this information up. As a result, there’s a sense of relishing this delightful leverage, of knowing something someone else doesn’t.

It may also be to hide another microexpression, like a smile, or a nervous curling of the upper lip, and in this sense the tongue flick might be reflexive.

Often we associate a flicking tongue with a snake. Snakes flick their tongue, but that is done to smell. Human beings aren’t trying to smell when they flick their tongues, except that those questioning them are trying to intuit something. So in a sense, there is this psychological effort to perceive something, to smell something. The tongue flick intuits that on a primal level. The suspect is asked a series of questions which the suspect probably could offer a lot more information. This information is on the “tip of their tongue”, but there would be dire consequences if this information is simply volunteered.

Also, the suspect tends to know before he is asked what is being asked [or suspected] of him. So when the question is fielded, often on camera, there is a sense of savouring it, almost as one would a nice meal.

The tongue flick’s real value, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t that it happens, but when it happens. Catch the tongue flick and then go back and see what prompts it, and a world of psychological possibilities is revealed, including the crown jewel in unsolved true crime cases: motive.

“Henri’s lack of motive might sway the Supreme Court.” – ANALYST

Throughout the Oscar Pistorius case, Cape Town’s Kelly Phelps,  a senior lecturer on criminal law at the University of Cape Town’s department of public law [and thus a legal expert] often provided expert counsel to the clueless mainstream media. Below are just a handful of Phelps’ contributions to the media narrative.

‘Appealing Oscar Pistorius’ conviction a waste of taxpayer money’ November 2015 – Despite Phelps contention that it was a frivolous waste of time, the State won the appeal on Oscar’s murder sentence.

Why parole for Oscar Pistorius is perfectly legitimate – written by Kelly Phelps on June 23rd, 2015, when Oscar was about to be released from prison after serving just 10 months in jail.

Experts differ on Oscar Verdict – on September 11 2014, when Judge Masipa found Oscar guilty of culpable homicide [a verdict ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal to murder] Kelly Phelps told the media:

“I support her finding and her reasoning… Culpable homicide was always a likely outcome in this case,” she said.

There’s a lot more where this comes from. I remember Phelps very well during my coverage of the Pistorius case between 2014 and 2017. I remember not agreeing with virtually every criminal law assessment she made. Ulrich Roux, on the other hand, I remember made fairly astute calls and sensible commentary during the first third of the trial narrative, but his handle on the case got a little more wobbly from there onwards, I thought.

In order to comment on a court case with true insight requires more than a passing knowledge of a trial, and a lot better source of information than coverage by the mainstream media. To pick the nuances you really have to be there, or failing that, study everything that’s out there. Most of these experts simply don’t have the time for that, so it’s no wonder their assessments are glances and glimpses, and of dubious worth otherwise, especially when there are long court narratives. The Van Breda case has been pending for the past three years and counting. That’s a lot of intrigue to have to catch up on at short notice.

When Phelps cast her pearls to the media during the Pistorius case, which was a five year trial narrative from beginning to final conclusion, I wondered whether it was just bad luck, or whether one of us was consistently critically misinformed about the case.

You can say what you want, in spite of Phelps’ prognostications from the get-go, let the records show, the most authoritative courts in the country have consistently found otherwise, contrary to her expert academic counsel to the media regarding Pistorius.

Now, with Henri van Breda, she appears to be doing to same thing.

Over the weekend, Cape Town’s Weekend Argus quoted the criminal law lecturer [whom they describe as a legal analyst on the Oscar Pistorius trial for CNN] saying:

“I’m convinced after reading the defence’s papers that they stand a decent chance of getting a Supreme Court hearing…it’s not unthinkable the Supreme Court could be swayed into acquitting him. [The state’s] argument is strong, but the defence’s is equally so. This case is not as open and shut as the public have been led to believe.”

This whopper from Phelps makes me wonder how much time she has spent following this case, between her duties as a university lecturer. If I had to score the state’s case against the defence case I’d say it was a 9-1 whitewash. Botha only gave the appearance of fielding a defence, in my view.

In the Pistorius trial, we saw similar legal sleight of hand. Oscar really had no defence, but Barry Roux managed to convince a few, at least for a while, that he did, or at least that there was some doubt to consider.  I’d score the Pistorius defence’s case slightly better, at 8-2.

The only point for the defence in the Van Breda trial was that Henri presented a version in court, which was better [barely] than presenting no version. I agree with what Desai said during the application for leave to appeal hearing, rarely do you come across a case as open and shut as this one. It goes without saying that Henri was a very unconvincing witness on the stand, among a host of other problems which I’m not going to go into here.

[Phelps] said to understand the complexity of the trial, it was important to grasp the distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence. “Direct evidence supports the truth of a claim directly. For example, if a witness saw an accused shoot and kill the deceased, this testimony is direct evidence of the guilt of the accused. After reading the defence’s appeal application it’s clear that another reasonable inference may be able to be drawn. And if the Supreme Court is persuaded then Henri van Breda will walk free.”

It sounds like the same sort of drivel about Oscar, doesn’t it? There are very few high-profile criminal cases where someone actually sees someone else commit a crime. Direct evidence cases basically negate the need to even have a trial. Something that’s self-evident typically doesn’t need to be tested in court, just look at the CCTV footage. Case closed.

A good example, said Phelps, is the way the defence challenged the State’s persuasive argument that De Zalze’s security was not penetrated. “Van Breda’s lawyers refer to unrefuted testimony that real alarms went off on the night in question, which were never explained by the State. Furthermore, they point out that the majority of the fence was not covered by cameras and there were in fact 191 prior incidents of crime reported to the police. This clearly shows that the security is not impenetrable.”

If you sat through the court testimony, and you were properly appraised of the DeZalze estate – it’s size, it’s extent, the mapping,  the location of #12 Goske Street in the fabric of the estate, the various security layers etc – then you’d know the perimeter security isn’t a good legal argument in this case. You’d also know the alarms that went off sound like a promising defence but they’re not; they’re just false alarms picked up the perimeter sensors that are typical at estates of similar size.

Phelps said while the State’s case was compelling enough to secure a conviction, it nevertheless provided no motive as it is not a legal requirement in South African law. “However, motive is an important persuasive tool as it adds plausibility to the State’s case. So why did Van Breda just decide out of the blue one morning to axe his family to death? It beggars belief it’s deeply implausible. “The State provides a compelling narrative but no context to drive it. They did not put forward a shred of evidence to explain why Henri would have murdered almost his entire family. Ultimately, the lack of motive might sway the Supreme Court.”

On paper, this also sounds like a brilliant legal argument, and certainly the court and the media all scratched their heads post conviction. It was as if for the first time people wondered – shit, if he did it, why would he? And then a few people pontificated about a boy being wounded by his dad, as if that’s never happened in every other family in the world that’s ever raised teenage boys or male siblings.

Once again, Phelps is making the same mistake she made with Oscar Pistorius. There the state, the court and the media all failed to address motive as well, and yet ultimately, Oscar was found guilty of murder and sentenced to the appropriate sentence.

In South African criminal law, all you have to prove is intention, also known as Dolus. In the Van Breda case the state went even further, proving premeditated murder.

The Van Breda case has far more intentionality than the Pistorius case, because Van Breda puts himself at the scene in his own version, and because he’s there when four people are slaughtered at arm’s length from where he’s standing like a statue. He’s right there as his brother and father are being hacked multiple times – he’s standing right there in the same room. Murdering someone with an axe takes time. Each blow takes a moment to lift and smash, and then there’s another blow, and the victim may move and perpetrator must change position to land the blow where it will inflict the most damage. Killing one person with an axe takes time, even after you’ve landed your blows. Imagine how long killing four people, one after another, takes? Imagine how tiring it is.

And by his own admission, Henri does nothing while the one family member is attacked, then the other, then the other and does nothing for several hours afterwards when he has the house to himself, to help any of his family members even though he has minimal injuries, and he’s well aware that they are seriously injured and still alive.

The fact that Marli survived in spite of her injuries, and despite her brother’s callous lack of compassion, indicates there was something that could have been done, there were lives that could have been saved.

Yet Henri can also offer no explanation for why he didn’t come to the aid of any of his four slain family members, and yet he came to his own aid. According to his version, he fought off the attacker with ease, but only when the phantom confronted him.  In this sense there is a clear intention to fight for his own survival, but then not to assist his family whose suffering persists for hours on end, and for many more minutes during his ridiculous phone call in which he expresses a deplorable lack of urgency given the circumstances.

Van Breda’s 20-something emergency phone call is another huge piece of evidence which we didn’t have in the Oscar Pistorius case.

In my view – and I don’t think this is legal rocket science by any means – Judge Desai will not grant an appeal, neither will the Supreme Court of Appeal and neither will the Constitutional Court.

Lie Spotting: Test your true crime lie detector nous with the Chris Watts case

Is Chris Watts a convincing liar? Really?

Fullscreen capture 20180818 104436Have a look at the seven minute interview Chris Watts gave while his pregnant wife and two daughters were still missing. Make a mental note of any inappropriate behaviour, micro-expressions, mannerisms, phrases or words that raise red flags. Ready? Go!

It hasn’t taken long for the media and the public to draw comparisons between Chris Watts and Scott Peterson. These two assholes even look similar. People magazine’s so-called experts have called Chris Watts “very convincing” in front of the cameras. Here’s the full quote:

Investigative experts tell PEOPLE, Watts’ behavior comes as no surprise. “He has an incredibly large ego,” says Dale Yeager, a criminal analyst and forensic profiler who is unconnected with the case. “He was very convincing in front of the camera, which means he really comes off as sociopathic. That doesn’t mean he is mentally ill, just that he has a personality defect.”

Drawing a parallel between Watts’ case and that of Scott Peterson, who notoriously murdered his pregnant wife and then repeatedly gave interviews, Yeager says, “He’s Scott Peterson, just less charismatic.”

Australia’s News.com.au also fielded one of their true crime specialists to give their “expert” take on Watts.

To the untrained eye, Watts may have given the impression of a quietly anxious husband and father seemingly clueless about the whereabouts of Shanann, 34, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. But to renowned body language specialist Judi James, the subtle quirks in his physical behaviour told a different story to the one coming out of his mouth.

Ms James has identified nine techniques that Mr Watts may have used to conceal his guilt as he was filmed on the front porch of the family’s home in Frederick, Colorado on Tuesday.

She says Mr Watts may have gone to extraordinary lengths to appear calm and unruffled in the belief that was how innocent people behaved.

What a crock of shit. You don’t need to be a forensic profiler or a body language specialist [whatever that is] to intuit decepion. You just need to pay attention, be alert, and some familiarity with other true crime cases and their patterns doesn’t hurt.

Now, without any further ado, what are Chris Watts’ tells?

  1. Lack of affect. The biggest clue that something is seriously wrong and seriously off here is the most obvious. Watts simply doesn’t look or sound upset. On many occasions in the interview he smiles.  A genuinely grieving father and husband to a 15-week pregnant wife would be anxious, distraught and overwhelmed. There’s none of that here.
  2. No urgency. When the reporter asks Watts what’s going on, Watts immediately leaks a smile of contempt while shaking his head. Why? Because he knows – or thinks he knows – k9 units or cadaver dogs aren’t going to find anything at his home. [Watts killed his wife and two daughters and later dumped his wife’s body near an oil rig where he worked, he stuffed the bodies of his two daughters, Bella [4] and Celeste [3] into a large gas drum to disguise the smell]. It’s noteworthy that the first thing Watts thinks about when asked what’s happening is the dogs [and the idea of scent and smells].
  3. When the reporter asks the very open-ended question about what’s going on, Watts’ tongue darts out of his mouth. This is at about 33 seconds into the clip, and happens so quickly, if you blinked just then, you’d miss it. In a scenario where a killer goes to a lot of effort to kill and cover up, when asked what happened, this is an opportunity not only to savour his efforts, but to verbally cover them over. The licking of the lips is the psychological equivalent of being about to dig into a meal. Often this poking of the tongue is also intended to hide or cover a microexpression. As Watts begins to answer, he seems to be holding back a smile. Fullscreen capture 20180818 110955
  4. When Watts actually answers the question, he starts off with a stutter. Well, he has a reason to be nervous. What happened? Watts’ story is the typical story you hear, everything is “perfectly normal”. But if it was perfectly normal, why are things fucked up? Something was far from right, something did happen – triple murder – but Watts is doing his best to pass it off as no big deal. The problem is, that’s completely inappropriate to the situation. It’s a big deal that his wife’s gone, that his children are gone, and by trying to seem unemotional about the circumstances prior to and around their disappearance [in effect his words are hiding what he did], Watts is revealing a mismatch.
  5. Watts’ words matter. He refers to texting his wife, and Shanann not texting him back. “If she doesn’t get back to me that’s fine,” he says, and shrugs. Shitballs it’s not fine. In an emergency situation when you want someone back, them not getting back isn’t fine. This narrative aspect is also a mismatch to what Watts says later in the interview, that he really hopes he gets his family back. Also, what really concerned “a lot of other people” [not him] wasn’t that Shanann didn’t get back to him [as if that was normal or reasonable], but because she didn’t get back to them.
  6. Once again, the microexpression as Watts describes Shanann “not getting back” to him is so quick at 52 seconds, it’s almost invisible. The screengrab below doesn’t quite capture the triangular curl of the lip, so it’s better to watch the clip in real time a few times to catch it. There’s a slight snarl, a slight lifting of his left upper lip. This is a key indicator of contempt. Contempt in true crime is a critical red flag. A genuine victim tends to feel the opposite – helpless, humble, agonised. Contempt is a kind of sadistic and scornful pleasure at the expense of a murder victim, after the fact.Fullscreen capture 20180818 111856
  7. When Watts describes walking into the house there’s another microexpression, another smile leaking through. He’s dismissive and flippant. Rather than sympathising with his own feelings of anguish, or reliving them, he’s smiling. All that comes from the first 75 seconds, and these are just the highlights.Fullscreen capture 20180818 112747
  8. When the reporter asks Watts to spell his wife’s name, the second tongue flick happens. Once again, Watts is either trying not to smile, or he’s enjoying the new context he’s in. There’s duping delight in spelling out something as basic as his wife’s name when he knows so much more, and he’s not going to tell them, when he’s done so much more, and they don’t know! Fullscreen capture 20180818 112959
  9. When Watts names his daughters at 1:24, there’s another slight smile. Fortunately the cameraman zooms in at this point, as if he’s also trying to catch the little nuances.One of the ways we try to hide a smile is by pinching our cheek muscles against our lips, causing the smile to be crushed or overpowered by the cheek muscle. Again, the screengrab doesn’t really do the mechanism of this microexpression justice, and since it’s so reflexive, it’s better to catch in real time and the context of what is said when it happens. When Watts has finished spelling out Celeste’s name, he briefly repeats the same “cheek-crush” microexpression.Fullscreen capture 20180818 113212
  10. When Watts provides the ages of his two dead daughters,  Watts gulps and immediately afterwards there’s another tongue poke. Once again, providing such basic information to the reporter may be amusing to Watts given what he’s done to them. Watts is relishing this, taking sadistic pleasure in being able to account for the complex details of the crime in such simple terms, information he knows is virtually useless in the scheme of things. But there’s also a degree of anxiety underlying the questions and his answers – the stakes are high, is he being convincing? Fullscreen capture 20180818 113735
  11. When the reporter asks how many times Watts called his wife, Watts tilts his head and says matter-of-factly that he called Shanann three times and texted her three times. Here Watts tries to turn on the charm, trying to convey himself as a caring spouse. He crinkles his forehead and continues to talk matter of factly. Again, what’s missing here is requisite emotion. There’s no concern, no anxiety, instead, there’s charm and swagger.
  12. The reporter has asked Watts a very simple question. How many times did Watts call his wife. He goes into verbal diarrhea, providing a lot of extraneous information, suggesting that he thought she was just busy, that’s why she didn’t answer, or that she was getting back to other friends and not him. Again, not only are the words themselves inappropriate [he seems resigned to the fact that she’s not communicating with him, but is communicating with others], but Watts only figures something is wrong when his wife’s friend showed up. Only then did it “register” that something was wrong. All the reporter asked was how many times he called his wife, and Watts has confessed here that it took a friend to “bring it home” that something was amiss with his wife, despite the fact that she wasn’t home, and the kids weren’t, and he was. [Shanann and the two girls were all murdered in the home, and then their bodies dumped at the oil refinery where Watts worked]. Throughout Watts’ overly long answer, he hardly blinks, he touches his face a few times and otherwise stands with his arms folded.

    He’s too controlled under the circumstances, and when emotions do leak through, they’re the wrong ones. Also, he keeps smiling or looking like he’s about to smile.Fullscreen capture 20180818 114706

  13.  Just after 2 minutes, the reporter asks: “Do you think she just took off?” There’s another tiny snarl of the upper lip. It’s another expression of contempt. Think about contempt in the context of that question. Do you think she just took off? Is there contempt for the reporter, or for the idea that she’d dump him, and not the other way round?
  14.  Have a look at Watts face as he says he doesn’t want to think about what happened to her [or talk about it – and for obvious reasons]. Then he says: “I hope she’s somewhere safe right now, and with the kids.” The duping delight is etched prominently on his face, and once again there’s a slight sneer of contemptuous and cruel satisfaction, and yes, he’s still smiling.
  15.  At 2:48 Watts describes his “traumatic night just trying to be here…” Why is being at home traumatic? What should be traumatic is wondering how is family are? This is evidence of Watts’ ego and sociopathy. He’s trying to convey emotion, but all he can convey is his own narcissism. And he’s still smiling.
  16.  As the reporter gears up for another question, Watts sways slightly from side to, purses his cheeks, and gulps again. On a few occasions in the interview he seems slightly out of breath. He’s nervous, but trying to look composed. It’s the wrong emotion for an innocent man. An innocent man doesn’t care how he looks, he cares about the victims and he’s emotionally compromised. There’s grief and anxiety – for them.
  17. When asked about his relationships with the kids, Watts nods and bites his lower lip, repeating an earlier expression. Clearly the family dynamics played a crucial role in why Watts felt justified in murdering his wife and children. But is he really going to say what the dynamics were really like? Is he really going to reveal his motive? Well, that’s why he’s biting his lip.Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154
  18. When Watts actually answers the question, he stutters and shakes his head while saying “the kids are my life”. Obviously the opposite was true. Watts felt his children were killing him in some way; perhaps financially, perhaps robbing him of his freedom, who knows.  When Watts tries to think of an example of how he loves and misses his kids, what he comes up with is the cliched example of a parent telling his kids to eat their vegetables. That’s his favorite memory of his children? This kind of vapid persona suggests extreme narcissism, someone incapable of feeling someone else’s feelings.
  19. 19. At 3:09 Watts cracks a joke: “You know, you’re not going to get your dessert…” Again, Watts takes sadistic pleasure in comparing this expression to the reality. The reality is both his daughters are dead and dumped in an oil drum. He knows they’re never going to get their dessert ever again, and this is a source of amusement, even delight to him.  This is a sick bastard, but then he had to be to commit quadruple homicide [his wife, his unborn child, and his two small children]. That makes Watts a mass murderer, given that the definition requires the killing of four people without a cooling off period.Fullscreen capture 20180818 121822
  20. As Watts describes his daughters’ patterns, he can’t remember what exactly they watch. Again, he’s flippant. His memories of his kids aren’t personal or intimate. It’s not a father playing with his kids or sharing a moment, it’s him seeing them watching television. It’s sterile. And Watts is callous and offhand about it, smiling and flapping his hand casually – these gestures from the head of the house tell a lot about the true family dynamic underlying this terrible tragedy.Fullscreen capture 20180818 122214

That’s an analysis of less than half the interview, but I think it’s enough. Why is it important to study a shithead like Watts and figure out his MO, and his patterns? Because the failure to figure out when someone is lying to you, especially someone close to you, could get you killed. You could be a child, or a spouse in a family, you could be pregnant or engaged, or trying to make it work, and you might be living day to day with someone who means to kill you, or if not kill, do harm to you. Perhaps financially. Perhaps in a host of ways.

It’s important that we as social creatures are awake and alert to the many little gestures that give away a spectrum of our inner feelings, from mostly harmless disassociation, to toxic and callous sadism, to seditious and insidious and potentially destructive narcissism.

It’s important that we’re wise to these expressions masking incredibly destructive impulses in those close to us, and those around us. If it doesn’t apply to us in our relationships or friendships, it may come in useful with someone out there and our ability to look into their relationships, where those in them maybe can’t see the wood for the trees.

True crime has always been about figuring out ourselves and each other through the struggles and motivations, the life and death stuff going on with other people. Failure to figure this out places us at risk, if not in danger in the real world. In a world where tabloids and their “experts” advise us on how convincing the likes of Watts is in an interview, we need to be sharper than that. And with a little practice and attention to detail, we can be.

The good news is, when you know what you’re looking for, and when you’ve seen it once, it’s easy to pick up the pattern. The trick is to look and listen carefully,  to pay attention not only to the words but to the context of the words, and to have the confidence to think for yourself, to make up your own mind, rather than accept someone else’s version of events as gospel.

In a marriage, especially a doomed marriage, this simple ability to discern the difference between a genuine person and deception, could save lives. In the real world, the ability to discern the difference between reality and fiction can mean the difference between success and failure. A society that can read itself right is self-correcting. The same applies to us as individuals.

When we develop the capacity to intuit lies, we’re forewarned. Because we have a handle on reality, we’re less easily to mislead or manipulate. We can act, we can change reality before it happens, rather than as we see so often in true crime, piecing it all together when it’s too late, after the fact.

Notice how different Watts presents himself in court. The glasses are meant to convey sensitivity and minimize the perception of masculine aggression, and malice.

Visit this link to watch Chris Watts’ reaction to his wife’s pregnancy test. Given that they’d bought an expensive house in 2013, and Watts’ had filed for bankruptcy in 2015, the news couldn’t have been received well in his heart of hearts.

According to the Daily Mail:

The couple declared bankruptcy in 2015, and despite Shanann’s frequent Facebook posts boasting of the Lexus and frequent paid trips she was awarded for selling health supplements, the couple [in 2018] was facing a $1,500 civil suit from their homeowners’ association. They purchased their five-bed, four-bath home for $400,000 in 2013, and their mortgage payment was about $3,000 a month, according to bankruptcy records.

Ironically Watts situation and Scott Peterson’s are almost a carbon copy – new house, new child on the way, and a job that’s not quite paying the bills. Divorce more messy than murder? Only if you’re a sociopath.

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I’m so excited about August! Girls and I Fly home August 7th! I fly to Scottsdale Aug 10-12 for an amazing weekend with my Le-Vel family! Gender Reveal for Baby Watts #3! Our team is having lots of success, growth both personally and business, several new friends starting their Thrive Experience and lots of new Promoters who decided to change their life! Lots of excitement, Lots to be Thankful for! You know what I love about waking up everyday…It’s a brand new day to have a fresh start, to be better than I was yesterday, To help someone feel better and happier, to make someone smile and laugh! I am just truly blessed and love waking up thankful and happy! If you are not happy, it’s up to you to change that! Everyone have an amazing day and absolutely fantastic month!

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22 Reasons Why “Lost Boys” Author Mark Minnie Didn’t Commit Suicide

As a full-time author specializing in true crime I can guarantee you, the last thing on a writer’s mind after publishing a book is suicide. Writing books is hard, and some books – like Minnie’s – require tremendous resolve and soul-searching. The mood after a book comes out is relief and celebration, even more so when it gets the airing it deserves.

Ironically, I was at the Ramsgate Book and Art Festival on August 5th, a Sunday, doing a presentation on the murder of Vincent van Gogh when I mentioned the cover of that day’s Rapport. I’d come across it on Julian Jansen’s Twitterstream that same morning.

As an introduction to my presentation on the famous Dutch artist, I cited as examples of popularly miscontrued suicides [besides Van Gogh] true crime cases such as Rebecca Zahau, Susan Rohde [still sub judice], and John Wiley [as per the Rapport’s front page that day], to name but a few.

Recently in South Africa there have been a number of additional murders made to look like suicides, including the double murder in Stella, and Natasha Mans, a woman who went missing in Bloemfontein recently, and was found dead under a tree with a gun beside her. The bullet shot through her body didn’t match the gun, and it was found that the body had been refrigerated for a spell to disguise the time of death.

Suicide is poorly understood, in true crime and otherwise. Suicide and murder aren’t very different. Suicide is the murder of oneself, and so in the same way as one investigates a homicide, it’s just as important to have a motive, a means, premeditation etc. when there’s a suicide. Since the “perpetrator” in a suicide is automatically brought to justice, there’s a deplorable tendency to sweep the circumstances surrounding suicides under the carpet. As if someone else’s death doesn’t matter as much if they’re responsible for it.

Because suicide is such a taboo, people tend not to think about these things, let alone investigate them. Given that every 40 seconds somewhere in the world someone commits suicide, compared to a murder committed every minute, we probably ought to be far more serious about suicide than we are – as a society.  In effect, we ought to be more serious about how and why people commit suicide than how and why someone is murdered.

Intuitively we know there is no comparison between the two. When people commit suicide, amnesia quickly sets in, and family especially tend to jump up to make face-saving [but inaccurate] pronouncements about their dead relative. Just as often intimate family members are so stung, so injured by a suicide, they’re unable to say anything for years, even a lifetime, which worsens the stigma and perpetuates the ignorance around mental health.

We also need to be far more discerning about when and why a suicide is not a suicide, but perhaps made to look like one.

Van Gogh is a great example of the incentive in perpetuating the suicide myth. In his case, his art is worth more and his legacy somehow more esteemed because a “troubled artist’s” art is somehow seen to be more valuable than an untroubled artist’s art. It’s not for nothing that the iconic martyr for his art, Van Gogh, is one of the world’s most expensive artists. Were his story to be properly redressed by the mainstream media, that may well change, and the implications would be vast: it could cost the owner’s of his works and the museums peddling the famous Tortured Van Gogh brand millions, including in ticket sales.

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Before we get to the list of 22 Reasons, one final point on Minnie. I have a huge problem with the media recycling the idea that his son Markus predicted his father’s suicide.

“When dad finished this book he sent me a copy. I got through the first 2 chapters and then stopped, Tears and a heavy heart, knowing my father was about to dive into something that could kill him.”

This was written and posted onto Facebook before Minnie’s death, so his son wasn’t suggesting his father was suicidal, but rather that he was, or may have been, in mortal danger. And it turned out he was.

It’s the media’s job to be more explicit about this, rather than making lazy and misleading allusions to his son’s “creepy” omen.

Now, there are three main areas to test why Minnie’s so-called suicide isn’t genuine: 1) the location of the suicide, 2) Minnie’s demeanour and intentionality at the time and 3) the circumstances and context immediately and generally surrounding the time of death.

1). LOCATION

  1. Minnie’s body was found in the veld near a rose plantation on a friend’s farm in Theesecombe, but basically in an isolated area.
  2. A handwritten “suicide note” was found, presumably on Minnie’s person, perhaps in his pocket. There’s still no information about the contents of the note.
  3. Minnie’s car and cellphone are still missing from the scene. The cellphone was switched off and Minnie hadn’t responded to emails in the hours before his death.
  4. The gun found beside Minnie wasn’t his gun, it belonged to Brent Barnes, a lifelong friend Minnie was staying with at the time. Barnes may be charged with neglect in terms of the weapon.
  5. The bullet wound was said to be between Minnie’s eyes.
  6. Minnie was based in China, he worked as an English teacher at a university in Guangzhou, China and was on holiday in South Africa at the time of his death. He had been on a 20 month sabbatical because he couldn’t work and write the book. In the end the university said they needed to fill the position, and Minnie – committed to his story – gave it up. While working and living in China Minnie visited his teenage daughter twice annually in South Africa.
  7. During an interview with Minnie on the last Friday before his death, at 11:00, Minnie was careful to meet Media24 reporters in a public area, the McDonalds parking lot in Cape Road, in the suburb of Linton Grange, Port Elizabeth. Fullscreen capture 20180816 112936
  8. Minnie was found at the back  of Barnes’ farm – near an old greenhouse bordering the end of the property.

In the above map we can see how much effort Minnie went to meet reporters in a public area closer to town. He traveled about eleven minutes by car towards the city of Port Elizabeth, in order to put himself more deeply inside the urban fabric.

When I first heard the story, I assumed from the very thin reporting, that Minnie had gone to visit a friend or neighbour and had been killed there. In fact he was killed on the property where he was staying, but in an isolated part of it, on the border.

It was also Barnes himself who found Minnie, after a female friend [his co-author or perhaps someone at Tafelberg Publishers] alerted him that Minnie wasn’t answering his phone.

The fact that Minnie’s phone and car are gone, but there’s a suicide note, is a huge mismatch. The cellphone data could indicate that Minnie was lured to the boundary of the property by someone pretending to be a journalist or friend.

Jacques Pauw, the author of another controversial book that shook the corridors of power in South Africa, has already suggested that if the handwritten note is found to be Minnie’s handwriting by a forensic analysis of the suicide note, it could still mean Minnie wrote the note under duress, meaning, he was forced to write the note before he was shot dead.

For me the number one indicator that this is a hit just from the above eight points is the bullet between the eyes. While we don’t have the ballistics yet, a key variable will be the angle the bullet entered Minnie’s brain. It’s very difficult to shoot oneself at right-angles with a gun, especially single-handed.

Also, people who commit suicide want to avoid further pain. So looking into the barrel just before firing is unlikely. When people shoot themselves in the head it tends to be from the side, through the temple, or in the mouth. It’s seldom through the forehead, and virtually never between the eyes.

In a peer reviewed study published in March 2012 by the US National Library of Medicine the following statistical correlations were noted:

The retrospective autopsy study was performed for a 10-year period, and it included selected cases of single suicidal gunshot head injury, committed by handguns. We considered only contact or near-contact wounds. The sample included 479 deceased, with average age 47.1 ± 19.1 years (range, 12-89 years): 432 males and 47 females, with 317 right-handed, 25 left-handed, and 137 subjects with unknown dominant hand. In our observed sample, most cases involved the right temple as the site of entrance gunshot wound (about 67%), followed by the mouth (16%), forehead (7%), left temple (6%), submental (2%), and parietal region (1%). 

2) DEMEANOUR AND INTENTIONALITY

9. “I spoke with him. He didn’t seem frightened or in a bad space. He was in a good space and he loved his children very much. He was determined to get justice at some point.” – Marianne Thamm [who wrote the foreword to his book]

10. “He was here for a book launch and he was doing some of his investigation with people who have contacted him with more evidence for the book. He met some of these people. He did fear for his life from the day he started this investigation, and that’s why he left the police service.” – Marianne Thamm

11. Tafelberg says that during the last communications with Minnie, he sounded enthusiastic about the book’s publication and to expose the 30-year-old secrets.EWN

12. According to Maygene de Wee who interviewed Minnie three days before his death, Minnie was “paranoid and didn’t want people to know he’d relocated to South Africa months previously”. The reporter had to promise Minnie that she wouldn’t tell anyone where he was.

13. Minnie also did a thorough background check on the reporter before agreeing to meet.

14. During the interview, Minnie took the reporter to the Tsitsikamma area to search for more victims of the pedophile network.

15. During the visit to the Tsitsikamma area Minnie wanted to identity the house where the rapes took place.

Fullscreen capture 20180816 121613

16. Minnie spent eight hours with the reporting team, an indication of his ongoing commitment and investment in his story. He was also constantly on his phone, taking one call after the next. Many messages were to his co-author Chris Steyn. He was also repeatedly contacted by people he’d mentioned in the book who wanted to know what they should say to the media, now that the media were reaching out to them for comment.

17. De Wee describes Minnie’s demeanour during her eight hours with him that Friday as “jovial, friendly and glad to be able to share his suspicions with others who wanted to investigate the story.” He was hoping more victims would come forward and share their stories.

18. Minnie spoke a lot, his blue eyes were alert, and he was described as a loving father of a 24-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. On the Wednesday before his death he attended a hockey match to watch his teenage daughter play.

In the same way that Vincent van Gogh struggled to sell his art his entire life, Minnie had his own struggles from his past. It’s a mistake to conflate lifelong struggle with a suicidal impulse. Van Gogh had accepted his inability to sell his work, just as Minnie had to some extent come to terms with his own past. But if anything, Minnie was more activated and motivated than ever when he was killed, ditto Van Gogh. Van Gogh was painting like a demon, a picture a day. Why would such a motivated artist commit suicide?

Although this isn’t conclusive proof that there was no motive to commit suicide, it certainly casts reasonable doubt on the notion. The fact that Minnie expressed joy and hope and interest in his story, reflects a will to live. His paranoia about his safety, his interest in his children and his chatty communications with those around him sketch a portrait of a man on a mission, a man with a reason to live, not a man without one.

3) TIMING AND CONTEXT

19. The crime took place on a Monday. Barnes’ left Minnie alone from 09:00 that morning. Minnie’s body was discovered at 20:50 that same night by Brent Barnes.

20. According to Jacques Pauw: “Minnie said while he was investigating the allegations of the young boys who were taken to Bird Island his docket was taken away from him by senior officers in the security branch.” Minnie and his co-author had received threats following the publication of their book. There had also been a number of anonymous inquiries about their whereabouts.

21. Minnie had told his publishers that he had successfully followed up leads in Port Elizabeth in the past week which would allow him to reveal further evidence. He told the media the book was “only the beginning”.

22. Minnie admitted to the reporters that as a young man he was sodomised by two other boys. He said this caused instability in his life.

The timing and context is perhaps the most crucial and obvious evidence in this case. We know what Minnie did on the Friday before his death, where he went and what he wished to find that day. If this was a hit, it’s possible the book itself didn’t ruffle as many feathers as the prospect that it was “only the beginning”.

The fact that the crime took place on a Monday, suggests the killer waited for Barnes to go to work, or to exit his smallholding so that Minnie could be dealt with alone, and with no witnesses.

This strategy also meant Barnes’ gun could be taken and/or used, and planted at the scene. If the suicide note didn’t sell, Barnes’ might be implicated – all part of the plan to distract from the real killer.

It’s likely the crime took place in daylight, and that the rural aspect of the smallholding afforded Minnie’s killer with the privacy and time he needed. According to the Sowetana farm worker heard a gunshot during the course of the day and reported it to the owner‚ however [Barnes]  “did not think anything of it”.

The suicide note imputes a high degree of planning, premeditation, strategy and stage-craft. The fact that the body was found at the boundary was meant to delay discovery. That the police quickly ruled the incident a suicide and “no sign of foul play” is real cause for concern.

If Minnie was murdered, the murderer had to know the murder itself would draw massive publicity, and indirectly draw attention to himself [the killer] and perhaps the killer’s client or patron. However, for reasons currently unknown, the killer felt it was even more risky to allow Minnie to bring further compromising  revelations to light. The timing of the hit, as I see it, just a week after the book was released, suggests a level of threat and impatience. The killer felt he couldn’t afford to wait longer, especially since Minnie seemed to be giving interviews around the clock.

A crucial issue is the fact that although the book was co-authored, the killer chose only Minnie as his target. What did Minnie know, what could Minnie reveal as an ex-Narcotics Bureau detective that his co-author couldn’t? Worth noting from EWN:

Thamm, who worked closely with Minnie during the editing process of the book, says his life was in danger from when he started digging for evidence.

“I am under no illusions that there are still people around who feel very threatened by the re-opening of this investigation.”

She says the information Minnie was working on is safe and will continue to be protected despite his death. Those who worked with him and Steyn say their lives have been in danger from the start [after publishing the book]. But police say they don’t suspect any foul play in Minnie’s death.

Minnie’s publisher has also said he was looking  forward to promoting his book in September 2018 at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, with his co-author Chris Steyn and journalist Marianne Thamm.

Finally, Minnie’s admission to reporters he hardly knew about the impact of the rape he experienced as a child is a clear indication that just three days before his death he’d transcended the curse, and had developed the creative capacity to alchemise all that pain – turning it into a healing gift that he could give to a still deeply wounded society.

Judge Desai’s incredible final question to Henri, Henri’s incredible answer and the secret it reveals

On November 7th 2017, Henri’s last day on the stand, Judge Siraj Desai had an interactive conversation with Henri. It was almost casual. During this easy, incidental chatter, Henri reveals a tremendous amount that was probably going on.

The pertinent aspect in the diaglogue is highlighted in bold below, but let’s do through these two minutes setp-by-step to contextualise what’s actually being said between the lines.

DESAI: One thing that bothers me, that I don’t understand. When you were in the toilet, and you saw the intruder attacking Rudi-

HENRI: Correct.

Henri’s not following Desai’s reasoning here. He’s simply confirming that part about him being in the toilet while the intruder [someone else, not him] was attacking Rudi.

DESAI: And your father came in…

HENRI: Can you repeat-

Henri has to ask Desai to repeat the question precisely because he jumped the gun.

DESAI: Before the…your father could have gone around the bed, and tried to disarm the intruder.

HENRI: Correct.

DESAI: He didn’t do that.

HENRI: No he didn’t.

Desai’s point is that in Henri’s version of events, Martin’s immediate thought was to protect Rudi who was being attacked. The implication is that Martin didn’t think he’d be attacked.  If he did, wouldn’t he have confronted the attacker?

It’s important to take this psychology further. If Martin saw Henri attacking his brother, one can see how he’d move to protect his son, thinking his very appearance on the scene would be enough to stop the bloodshed.

It’s a useful point, but I don’t think that’s how it played out. Henri wasn’t standing behind or near the bathroom door, he was standing behind the bedroom door, anticipating his father’s imment arrival. He knew the scene of his elder son bloodied would cause him to rush to Rudi’s aid, and while distracted, and with Henri coming out the door behind him, Martin wouldn’t see the first blow coming. And he didn’t. That’s why there were no defensive wounds.

This is also how and why it’s premeditated murder. It’s anticipating the next family member coming in, positioning himself in the room where he wouldn’t be seen when he rushed past, and then moving in for the kill.

I realise Desai’s not referring to a scenario like this in this discussion, which is why Henri has to awkwardly juggle his fictional version with the factual version. Henri would like to be truthful, but only as far as it gets him off the hook. But this causes Henri to make an enormous blunder.

DESAI: He went the other way and fell over Rudi.

HENRI: Well he went straight…at the guy.

Here Henri’s starting to blunder. Yes, his father went straight at Rudi. Henri stopping himself is because he has to figure out to say it. If Henri was the attacker, standing over Rudi’s bed, then he was the guy his father was heading straight towards.

DESAI: No…no he tried to protect Rudi.

HENRI: Yes. He took a beeline for the space between Rudi and…the attacker.

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Henri’s semantic choices here are very revealing. Consider the scenario where Henri is standing behind the bedroom door, obscured as his father rushes into the room. From that angle, what is his father doing? Making a beeline for Rudi. And in this scenario, it’s absolutely true, Martin as now entered the space between Rudi and the attacker – Henri. Except Henri’s behind him. Henri wants him in that space.

In the autopsy evidence we can see all of Martin’s injuries are to the back of his head and neck. Martin was the only family member who didn’t see Henri coming. Rudi was asleep as the bludgeoning began but was able to turn and try to defend himself, and he survived the attack for a few hours on the scene, before succumbing.

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DESAI: He had the option of going around the bed and disarming the attacker.

HENRI: I suppose, yes.

That ‘suppose’ indicates resistance, just as Henri resisted when Desai implied that it was unlikely an intruder would be given a key card if the family had no enemies. There’s a good reason Henri doesn’t want to concede; it’s because Desai’s portrayal makes Martin appear to be more heroic than he really was. He was heroic either way, but Desai’s version enhances it, and Henri doesn’t really like Martin’s heroism enhanced, especially not in how it favors Rudi.

DESAI: If he’d have done that [confronted the attacker, confronted Henri] he’d have saved the entire family.

HENRI: Yes…if that had happened I…I may have been able to…to…that may have…given me the courage to help…um…

Here Henri lets slip a very pertinent word: courage. In Henri’s own version of events, the attack on his family occurred because he lacked courage. In his own version, he didn’t come to the aid of any of his siblings essentially for the same reason – a lack of confidence. Although we may doubt a 20-year-old hacking his family members one by one to death seems to be the extreme of bravado, what it actually is is false bravado.

Only when Henri’s entire family is dead, in his own fairy tale, does he come up with the courage to face the attacker and disarm him. What this tells us is that, for whatever reason, Henri lacked courage and fortitude within his family. He felt emasculated next to his brother and father, he felt like a failure, he felt insignificant and humiliated. The axe provided him with the means to settle these imbalances, to regain par with the world.

When Desai stops Henri and asks him to repeat himself, Henri fumbles. He doesn’t want to repeat the telltale word “courage”. And yet five days earlier Henri had revealed precisely that in no uncertain terms.

“So in essence…you did nothing because you were scared.” ― Judge Desai, November 2nd, 2017

He hadn’t gotten angry with the intruder either. He simply stood and did nothing because he was afraid, in effect paralyzed with fear – according to him. And yet even Marli fought off her attacker, and won her battle against him.

DESAI: Sorry, what did you say?

HENRI: That…may have given me…what I…needed…to be able to overcome…what I was going to do and be able to help.

This is where Henri reveals the emotional truth of the moment, of the entire situation. Henri needed to overcome his sense of fear and intimidation. He was a 20-year-old who was trying to be a man, trying not to stutter, trying not to be a m-m-mouse. The axe gave him an almost superhuman ability to transcend his powerless situation inside the DeZalze home, but when it was over, he couldn’t reveal this terrible secret to anyone. The chuckle during the emergency call was another slip, a sneak-peak at the cruel sadistic streak hiding inside the middle child.

DESAI: It seems to me that he fell over Rudi in an endeavour to protect him.

HENRI: Yes. 

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