Henri’s New Look: Day 64


When 23-year-old triple murder accused Henri van Breda stepped into Court 1 on Day 64, for a brief moment he resembled his equally bald defense counsel. Are three bald heads better than two? Was this really a good option for Henri?

Henri, I’m advised “cleans up quite nicely” when he wants to. Some female readers of the first two books have said as much, as have a few members of the public I’ve encountered in the public gallery of the Western Cape High Court.

To be honest, I hadn’t noticed. If anything, I found Henri something of an oddball, who often seemed calm if ill-at-ease in court.

It’s interesting how impressions differ. For me, the physical attractiveness of an accused is pushed far to the background as one examines what they have done.  Of course, we’re all human beings, and some of us are more human than others. Having heard Henri’s appearance in glowing terms, I started seeing him in a different way. He can look like a nice guy, and at turns, has a male model-ness about him.


If the image adjustment was meant to distract the court – and the judge – from Susan Galloway’s arguments, it sort of worked, and didn’t. Henri’s new look occupied many on social media, and the media, but not necessarily in a good way, as this video capture shows. Have a read at the comments below Aartsi Narsee’s tweet.

The last time I saw an image change crash and burn was in the Larry Nassar case. Nasser, if you didn’t know, was recently convicted in the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history.

Pictures of the doctor before trial show what appears to be a professional, well-respected doctor. In court, the five-o’clock-shadow suddenly made Nassar look exactly the way he was – a creep and a predator using his credentials as a doctor to prey relentlessly on women.

Nassar’s behavior – and appearance – pissed off a Michigan court so much, one aggrieved father [265 victims came forward] tried to pounce on the little slime-ball. No charges were brought against the understandably unhappy father.

Surprisingly, over the course of this case, Henri’s appearance has varied almost as much as his ties. This appears to be both a sign of immaturity, and of a youngster “finding himself.” What’s strange and certainly compelling about this case, is we are seeing Henri growing up [become a man, arguably] inside and outside the court, and on camera. In a way, it’s a Western Cape High Court version of The Truman Show, except the stakes are much higher in The Van Breda Show.

When the show is over, Henri may well spend the rest of his life behind bars. Whatever we may say about his guilt or innocence, given his youth and obvious potential, this is a sad ending, but far less tragic than the way the lives of Martin, Teresa and Rudi ended on that January morning three years ago.

No matter what Henri loses, Martin, Teresa and Rudi have – and always will have – lost everything.

The incident took place barely three months after Henri’s 20th birthday. Although three years have passed since then, and Henri’s tested out various looks and identities for himself, he’s clearly still a very young and brash 23-year-old.

By Day 64, Henri’s appearance has fluctuated the full circle; from shaggy Neanderthal to evil Nazi. Until now,  for the most part he’s come across neat and presentable, even if, as Galloway noted in her closing arguments, Henri’s decision to take the stand “ultimately left a poor impression [in terms of his alleged innocence]”.

By shaving away his hair, the face is far more exposed, and without hair there’s less reason to pretend to brush at one’s face in order to hide nervous ticks etc.

Nartsee’s video has exposed Henri’s seemingly screwy countenance, but the fact is, when one examines the LiveFeed throughout the trial very closely [I highlighted dozens of nervous lipsnarls Henri made during testimony in Diablo], that hooded, screw-slightly-loose look has been there all along.

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For the Judge, it will be important not to factor appearances into his assessment of Henri, but Judges are human too, and if anything, Henri’s new look has shot himself in the foot.  Because he looks so different, it’s difficult not to look at Henri even more closely than we are, and wonder: who are you?

We have no way of knowing the outcome on this side of time, but it’s possible a poor grooming decision for a triple murder accused may add years to a potential sentence, just as good grooming decisions [for example in the Jodi Arias case] can sometimes mean the difference between a death sentence, and life imprisonment.

Coming soon: Diablo2  available in middle February 2018


An Excerpt from DIABLO: Henri Van Breda

From the chapter

Into Darkness

John Harrison: You should have let me sleep! ― Star Trek Into Darkness


Henri ax

Exactly twenty minutes into the court session after lunch, Henri’s advocate draws another line through his checklist, and wraps up his direct examination.

BOTHA:  Did you kill your father with an axe?

The accused casts towards his Judge, and his lips seem to curl involuntarily as he wrestles them into a single, softly spoken word.


BOTHA: And did you kill your brother with an axe?


As Henri answers his advocate on these direct and dire accusations, something sinister has happened to his posture. There’s a dark look in his eyes. From the fig-leaf position, a classic defensive posture which he’s maintained throughout the day while standing, often pressing down on his right hand with his left, now suddenly his demeanour has transformed into something else. Henri looms in his grey suit, both arms brace the side of the dock in a kind of casual menace. He’s spread out, almost like wings, or the ears of Dumbo the elephant.

Having answered the second question, Henri briefly glances from the Judge to the quivering, key-tapping media gallery on the opposite end of the room. And then to his advocate.

BOTHA: Did you kill your mother with an axe?


BOTHA: Did you attack your sister with an axe?

HENRI [Mouth gaping]: No. [Henri almost seems to sigh as he answers that one.]

Look carefully and in each of the four ‘no’s’, Henri answers open-eyed while looking at the Judge, but in each case, blinks moments later.  So it’s no…BLINK, no…BLINK, no…BLINK, no…BLINK.

BOTHA: Did you change the crime scene in any way…?

HENRI [Shakes his head]: No, my Lord.

The throwing of the axe, and the hitting of the axe into the wall, is an incidental way of explaining away the absence of blood, touch DNA and tissue DNA on the leading edge of the implement, and fibres and fingerprints on the haft, throat and grip.

Just as we saw in the JonBenét Ramsey case, in a genuine kidnapping, one would expect to find the fingerprints of the parents’ on the Ransom Note. Didn’t they pick it up and read it?  Or if they wrote the note themselves, were they extra careful not to leave any traces of handling it?

In the same way, we’d expect to find Henri’s fingerprints on the axe based on his version of handling the axe.  This absence shows, perhaps, that in his care not to make a mistake, just as in the Ramsey’s case, he was too careful.

BOTHA: Did you have any reason to attack your family?

HENRI [Seemingly aghast]: No, none whatsoever.

It’s difficult to make out on the livestream, but Henri either glances down or blinks as he says the word “none”.  But Botha’s not quite done.  There are three additional cards he wants to put on the table.

1st Card: No Clean-Up

BOTHA: Did you attempt to wash away any blood on your hands, or body, through the course of that morning?

HENRI: No, my Lord.

Henri’s suddenly deferential again.  In the entire court transcript for October 31st …


The first installment of DIABLO is available now on Amazon

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