Henri van Breda’s axe at the DeZalze crime scene – what’s wrong with this picture?

Okay armchair detectives – here’s a chance to prove your worth. In the clip below is an instrumental and obvious clue that should pop up out of the crime scene and wave a giant red flag. There’s something about this clue that’s an immediate sign that the suspect on scene might not be all that he appears.

Watch the clip and see if you can figure it out. Watch it a few times.

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Figured it out?

If not, here’s a last chance. It’s this frame right here. Notice anything wrong about it?

C’mon, let’s see those true crime muscles flexing…

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What it is is the fact that there’s no blood around the axe. Not around the handle, and not around the axe head. You might argue that actually there is a little smudge of blood under the blade, or a smear near the bottom part of the handle. If so, you’re missing the point.

Consider a scenario where the axe is used [as it was] to bludgeon to death 4 people one by one. By the time Henri was done, not only the axe, but Henri himself would be dripping – showered – in the warm blood of his victims. The wooden handle and metal blade would have been doused several times with brain matter, cerebral fluid and blood, and right at the end, blood gushing out of Marli’s neck.

When Henri dropped the axe, it should have left a thick trail of blood drops behind and around it. The axe itself should be covered in scarlet blood, almost as if its been painted from end to end.

Instead, the axe looks fairly innocent here. In fact, it may take a while to figure out [or even prove] that the axe was the murder weapon. That’s the problem with this picture. Someone has wiped it clean to minimise what it did, and what was on it. On the whole staircase, Henri seems to have found one of the few spots where there is no blood.

You could argue that Henri’s version about the axe being thrown and embedding in the wall caused the blood on it to miraculously float off. If it was flung, then there would be a big red blood spatter splodge where it impacts the wall, and there’d still be big drops of blood surrounding the still wet axe, but there isn’t.

Indefensible is available on Amazon at this link.

 

Is Henri van Breda’s motive “a culmination of a festering of a perceived injustice”? + 5 Easy Insights from the Carte Blanche Show

At the time Carte Blanche aired their coverage of the Van Breda trial I was doing an interview with A Dark and Stormy Book Club podcast on my book The Murder of Vincent van Gogh. I was angry that Carte Blanche were releasing crime scene footage in a “South African television first” when I had directly and repeatedly petitioned for the release of those same records, in the court building, in person but to no avail.

I was also gobsmacked that an award winning investigative show would interrogate motive without contacting someone who’d written five books specifically interrogating that subject, especially when no one else had.

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You might imagine this is sour grapes, but from an investigative perspective, do you really think you can come into a narrative when it’s all over and pick a few brains over 5 minutes and gain any insights, when ultimately those same brains didn’t answer the question of motive in prior court appearances, or to the media? So why would they be in a position to know more now?

I assumed of course that when Carte Blanche sold their show on why Henri killed his family that they would actually do that. As is typical in investigative shows these days, they hype up the exclusive reveal of “why”, of motive, and then when it comes down to it, they either say “we’ll never know”, or they shovel the same shit that’s been shoveled by the accused since the beginning. In short, they don’t deliver on their premise or their promise. They sell their show on why and then they shortchange their audience.

Now, I did get to watch a repeat of the show during their Monday broadcast. For me the most revealing and important moment came over a few seconds right at the end. State advocate Susan Galloway was careful to emphasize [twice] that it was her personal opinion that Henri’s motive amounted to:

…a culmination of a festering of a perceived injustice…

You can watch that moment below, but notice the way Galloway says it. There’s a slight smile, and a slight stuttering and pausing in the way she communicates it.

The reporter then tries to draw out a little more. “Over a period of years though?”

Galloway confirms this, repeating: “Over a period of years.”

When Andre van Breda, Henri’s uncle [Martin’s twin brother] is asked the same question, he basically inverts it, repeating that he’s been asking the same question over and over to himself. “I still want to know why…I don’t want to think about what happened in that room. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine.”

At the end of the clip the reporter offers the van Breda family comfort, saying: “May the Van Breda’s find the answers they need.”

The thing is, isn’t that the job of an investigative show, and investigative reporters? Wasn’t that what the show explicitly claimed to be providing?

It’s been the question many have been asking: why did Henri brutally attack his family with an axe? This Sunday, in an SA television first, we look at the actual crime scene footage & @Devi_HQ speaks to Henri’s uncle to try and make sense of this tragedy.

So did they? Did they make sense of the tragedy?

I’ve written extensively on the subject, especially in Diablo and Diablo II, so I’m not going to rehash all of that here. I do want to pluck a few low-hanging fruit, if only to expose just how lazy the thinking is, including by the mainstream media.

It seems to me that sometimes influencers are absolutely incapable of thinking. You run to an expert and an insider, and if they can’t do your thinking for you, then…well…it stays a mystery.

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So without further ado, here are 5 Easy Insights from the Carte Blanche Show:

  1. The reporter asks the pertinent question: Why would someone murder their family members in such a brutal way. The question isn’t just why Henri murdered his family, but why the brutality?  Judge Desai referred to it as “unbridled violence”. Why did Henri feel justified in being so gratuitous, so cruel, about dispatching each of his three family members?
  2. Advocate Galloway goes some distance to answer this question, although the distancing of the language she uses is hardly helpful:…a culmination of a festering of a perceived injustice…So, placing the semantics side by side, Henri’s brutality towards his family was as a result of a culmination of something. Or: Henri’s brutality towards his family was as a result of a perceived injustice.
  3. And that injustice took place over a period of years…
  4. What could this distancing language possibly imply, because that’s precisely what it does do. It says something without saying it. So what’s it saying? On December 3rd 2017, an extract from Julian Jansen’s book was published in the Sunday Times. It was appropriately titled Who is the real Henri van Breda…? The answer to why a middle child, and second son harbored violent intentions not just to one member of his family, but all can only be addressed by addressing the family dynamics. In the Carte Blanche interview Uncle Andre addresses the family dynamics, but not very helpfully, because naturally he’s part of that family. So there’s the mismatch between Henri being a wonderful almost perfect son, and then this horrible crime. When Andre van Breda says he can’t imagine what happened in that house, in terms of the crime, there’s some psychological mirroring of him also being unwilling or unable to imagine what went on in the house before the crime. In terms of discord. Julian Jansen, however, addresses it.Fullscreen capture 20180905 082316Now, did friends visiting the family in the week before the murders know better, have better insight than the Uncle living in Pretoria? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? In this tiny little snippet are big answers, though incomplete answers, to the riddle of why. The first is so obvious it’s almost ridiculous. Henri was laboring under acute sibling rivalry. Whether you want to call it a sense of his brother being favored by his father, or Henri himself being jealous of Rudi, it’s the same thing. It’s sibling rivalry that’s at the center of a crime, and thus, it’s the key to seeing why Henri’s attack started where it did and with whom: Rudi in the boy’s room.

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  5. Just as Galloway’s semantics are distancing and don’t really reveal the emotional heart at the center of this case, and this crime, talking about sibling rivalry is the same thing. It’s throwing out words but not really feeling them out, not testing them in scenarios and contexts that were playing out during the real life timeline of this family, their lifestyle, their expectations, their culture and Henri’s individual experience within all that. We only get a handle on the subtle and slippery family dynamics, we only figure that out by climbing higher through the true crime tree and getting beyond the low hanging fruit. That’s not easy. When I was in court I spoke to Galloway directly and mentioned my research, specifically into Rudi’s Facebook account, and suggested the key to understanding Henri was to see him through the eyes of a student, and a young man wanting to individuate, who wanted to be allowed to be himself in the world [whoever that may be]. In other words, to fathom Henri’s identity, who Henri really is within the context of other family members. Rudi provided a glimpse through extended social media posts to the world Henri either aspired to, or was jealous of. Julian Jansen touches briefly on this as well, this idea that the one son – the older son – is at university achieving, partying and progressing while the other is not. Henri pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes when he said he was not studying, and taking a year out because it was a Gap Year, and by choice. Really? Fullscreen capture 20180905 082320

To do justice to this question, and to answer it to completion, can’t be done in a single blog post. I devoted several chapters in Diablo and Diablo II to interrogating these issues.

What I will say here is that no matter how wealthy the Van Breda’s were, and no matter how much Martin favored Rudi over Henri, and no matter what the scales of Henri’s “perceived injustice”, sibling rivalry alone isn’t a sufficient explanation for Henri’s “festering” inadequacy. 

Virtually every family with siblings in this world has sibling rivalries. It’s absolutely normal and healthy for a sibling to be upset when another gets slightly more cool drink at a birthday party. If that wasn’t the case, people and animals wouldn’t survive the real world. They’d get trampled. We absolutely should demand and fight for what’s due to us in the family setting and beyond.Fullscreen capture 20180905 084302

So I believe there was another issue eating at Henri. The unacknowledged narrative – the hidden narrative – is that if Henri was on drugs and seriously compromised by them, then something was fueling that disproportionate need for soothing. We look at the drugs and say Aha, but what we miss is the thing chewing at him. And it wasn’t just sibling rivalry, although I believe it fed into that. It was, in a manner of speaking, a “perceived injustice”.

This something was disproportionate to Henri and this in turn was mirrored in the savage violence he visited on his folks. But what was it?

I won’t reveal what that thing was here, because that’s a narrative in and of itself, but it was mentioned in court, and it was rumored, just like the drug rumor, from the get-go. Once we intuit that narrative and its implications in the context of university student wanting to occupy his place in the world, we suddenly see the source of almost unfathomable rage coming into sharp focus.

The short answer to why this crime was so brutal, and why the axe murderer laughed while slaughtering his own flesh and blood, has to do with a person who on the one hand was pushed down [by his family and by other things], while on the other hand he’s out of his mind in some way. We experience this in the emergency call, where Henri oddly out of it; he doesn’t seem to be 100% in the real world.

How do ordinary people completely lose their inhibitions in the suburbs, on a daily basis? Not drugs, but…?

The 5 book Van Breda series is available exclusively on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.

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“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.

Based on Botha’s Arguments, will Judge Desai Grant Convicted Triple Axe Murderer an Appeal? Should he? ANALYSIS

When I first heard Advocate Botha’s arguments in his bid to win leave to appeal I was very underwhelmed. I didn’t get a sense that Botha was volunteering anything new on behalf of his notorious client. There were no game-changers. There was nothing that stopped one in one’s tracks and went, wow, I never thought of that, this could change everything.

After further analysis Botha’s arguments do have a little merit. He starts off challenging the state and the court a quo on the “premeditation” findings.  In the first three minutes of the hearing Botha emphasised precisely this aspect.

Let’s review the transcript.

BOTHA: Even if the court confirms the guilty finding, on counts 1 to 3, there’s a reasonable prospect the court of appeal may find that the state failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant planned the murders, or that the murders were premeditated. Of course in that premise [clears throat], in that event, the charges – if a court of appeal agrees with us on that aspect – the mandatory life sentences fall away. And the court will then consider [correcting himself] will then be free to consider afresh, a sentence without the uh-uh…provisions of section 51 B…the Criminal Law Amendment Act being applicable

In theory this is a reasonable argument. It worked in the Oscar Pistorius case. Premeditation is often very difficult to prove, especially in circumstantial evidence cases.

In the Oscar Pistorius case, had Oscar shot Reeva with his prosthetic limbs on, the court would have had a strong case for premeditated murder. Why? How? Because in Oscar’s own version he was asleep with his legs off. If he had the presence of mind to put on his prosthetic limbs and arm himself [an activity that took time, perhaps half a minute] and rather than flee the scene, approach the danger and shoot, well that creates a mosaic of premeditated action doesn’t it? When Oscar was putting his limbs on, had he formed an intention in his mind?

As it turned out, Oscar wasn’t on this prosthetic limbs when he fired the shots, which was a huge early miscalculation and embarrassment to the state and the state’s case.

Personally I believe Oscar was guilty of premeditated murder, because he heard Reeva screaming [I believe], because he approached the screaming cubicle, because he fired four shots into it, and because each shot’s trajectory differed markedly from the other, which means he was tracking his target who was unsighted,  using sound. Using her screams to see her.

3 of the 4 shots were on target, despite the fact that Reeva was moving behind the door, and the last shot was a head shot. The sound she made when she received this wound, was falling on the wooden magazine rack. This sound would have told the shooter exactly where Reeva was.

I covered a lot of this in my book Justice Eventualis, cross-referencing expert testimony with ballistics angles and measurements. I even reconstructed a to-scale scene in my garage with a real door.

Ultimately though, despite a fairly good palette of evidence, the state failed to prove premeditated murder, and ultimately failed to prove that Oscar murdered Reeva.

In the end Oscar was only found guilty [Dolus Eventualis] of indirect intent, in the sense that he murdered an unarmed intruder, not Reeva. Indirect intent, such as throwing a hand grenade into a crowd may be an indirect way of killing specific people, but it’s intent nevertheless. You might not know who you’re killing, but you clearly intend to kill nonetheless. I cover this intention in detail in Slaughter, my book on mass murderers.

It’s difficult to see more premeditation and a clearer motive in mass murderers, and yet the media and even the FBI often are unable to say why these mass murders happen. They can’t say why the Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock killed a record number of Americans. Ditto Newtown’s Adam Lanza, Virginia Tech’s Seung Hui Cho or the JThe Dark Knight cinema shooting in Aurora by James Holmes.

Because of the state’s failure to prove premeditation and direct intent, technically and legally, Oscar is only guilty of murdering someone, not of murdering Reeva. Wherever Reeva is right now, I’m sure she’s not happy with that. If you were murdered, would you be?

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In any event, not all cases are born equal, and the Van Breda case – in terms of intent –  is a lot simpler than the Pistorius case. Obviously where there are four victims, three of whom are bludgeoned to death, and the fourth also bludgeoned but miraculously survived, you have clear premeditation. Just in the act of successively murdering one, then another, then another, and then attempting to murder a fourth, you have an assailant who has a very clear intention. In an axe murder death isn’t instantaneous. It requires several blows to the head and neck, and in this case, all four received blows to the head and neck. Henri is the only family member who didn’t.

One sees this intent reinforced by the fact that Henri also didn’t come to the aid of any of his family members after they were attacked.

Even though he knew his brother and sister were alive, struggling to stay alive for at least two hours, he didn’t come to the aid of either of his siblings, or even comfort them. In fact, there’s some reason to believe Henri laughed while he massacred his family. In his own version he described the axe murderer laughing while hacking his father to death. This isn’t premeditation, but it suggests if he wanted his family dead, after killing two family members, he was prepared to still let nature take its course.

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In my books on Van Breda I’ve gone into some detail why the second axe murder – of his father – is clearly premeditated. Galloway skillfully avoids getting her hands dirty in these arguments by simply stating that if the family members were all upstairs, and the axe was downstairs, it required Henri [who claimed he was also upstairs], to go downstairs in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, collect the axe and then head upstairs and carry out the slaughter he had in mind.

I agree that this implies premeditation, just as the fact that the crime occurred when it did, at about 03:00, about three hours after a neighbour heard the sounds of raised male voices arguing.

I also feel this ought to be sufficient, except we see a mirror image of this scenario in the Oscar case. It’s not a 100% reflection, but it is similar. In Oscar’s story he got out of bed, went to the balcony door to close the curtains, heard a sound, went to retrieve his gun from under the bed [right where Reeva was supposed to be sleeping, but blanketed in impenetrable darkness].

Oscar claimed he either spoke to Reeva in a low tone, or whispered to her. In this schema he spoke to her too softly for her to hear, that’s why she didn’t answer, but in the reality of the story, Reeva wasn’t there to begin with, she was already in the toilet, and had locked the door.

The point is, like Van Breda, Oscar also had to retrieve his weapon from somewhere else, and then approach his target. Instead of a stairway, he went along a hallway, was presented with an empty bathroom, and someone inside a locked room. Oscar’s story that he’d communicated with Reeva throughout waves the flag that he’d warned her he was armed, and this was in a sense a warning shot. In Oscar’ version, Reeva’s failure to acknowledge herself cost her her life. Oscar was justified in being afraid and trigger happy, and Reeva died because she failed to raise her voice and identify herself. That’s his explanation.

I don’t wish to conflate the two cases more than that, other than to point out Henri’s girlfriend invoked Oscar’s testimony and how Oscar was blamed when he showed emotion, and blamed when he didn’t. Danielle said in her exclusive interview with 60 Minutes that Henri was trying very hard not to fall into the same trap. But what she seems to have missed is that Oscar was found guilty of murder. It’s not as if he was innocent and his emotions were wrongly found to be inappropriate by the media. He was guilty and thus his inappropriate emotions made sense. The same applies to Henri, doesn’t it?

At face value then, Botha’s argument that the premeditation narrative is a little shaky holds some water. But for anyone familiar with this case, and applying the logic that premeditation is implicit in multiple serial killings, then Botha’s arguments are very shaky indeed. The Van Breda axe murders are almost at the scale to meet the classification for mass murder. If Marli had died, Henri would officially be regarded as a mass murderer. Even worse, a mass murderer exclusively of his own family members.

In terms of Judge Desai, he was combative and interrupting throughout Botha’s arguments. He was also scornful straight off the bat when Botha said this was merely a “circumstantial evidence” case.

The Judge is correct that most criminal cases are circumstantial evidence cases. In criminal cases, direct evidence tends to be lacking, often because the perpetrators conduct their crimes in secret, and tend to remove the direct evidence implicating them.

Examples of direct evidence are eye witnesses. A fingerprint isn’t direct evidence. In a circumstantial evidence case, a court must draw inferences based on the mosaic of information provided.

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My favorite moment during the 28-minute hearing was when Galloway accused Botha of nit-picking the circumstantial evidence, causing him to miss the wood for the trees. That’s exactly what he’s done.

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If I had to bet, I’d say the Judge won’t grant an appeal, because this would be little more than giving further opportunity for further fruitless nit-picking. If that happens, Botha can apply to the Supreme Court of Appeal [SCA] directly, just as Gerrie Nel did when Judge Masipa denied him leave to appeal her “shockingly light” sentence.

If the SCA refuse to grant an appeal, and they tend to be very strict in the cases they do grant leave to, Botha can apply to the Constitutional Court. Oscar did this when the SCA ruled against him. The Constitutional Court rarely rule on criminal matters, and it’s virtually inconceivable that they’d want to hear this case.

We have seen that Judge Desai has been somewhat sympathetic towards Henri. That said, he has been exceedingly patient hearing Botha’s case, even when it’s been hours and hours of much ado about nothing. Prior to sentencing, Desai repeatedly offered Botha the chance to provide evidence in mitigation of sentence. Botha and his client spurned this offer, a decision both may rue for the foreseeable future.

If Desai refuses leave, it’s also possible that in future another application may be lodged, fielding a new set of evidence. The Drugs Narrative, in my opinion, may yet be out there, but I wouldn’t count on those chickens before they hatch.

The Axe Murder Appeal: Rumor Control and what to expect?

Over the weekend, some media reported that Henri’s “appeal” resumes today, Monday. It doesn’t. A hearing where the Judge will decide whether to grant Henri leave to appeal will be heard tomorrow, Tuesday August 14th.  This date was agreed upon on June 25th, two weeks after Henri was sentenced to three life sentences on June 7th.

Judge Siraj Desai will hear arguments from both counsel on why his findings ought to be appealed. If the defence are able to field a reasonable amount of “new information”, and if the Judge feels there’s a reasonable prospect of success, or a reasonable case to be heard, then he’ll grant an appeal. What the court wants to avoid is simply rehearing the same case, retrying Henri effectively.

In America this is known as Double Jeopardy. According to Wikipedia’s description:

Double jeopardy is a procedural defence that prevents an accused person from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges and on the same facts, following a valid acquittal or conviction. As described by the U.S. Supreme Court in its unanimous decision one of its earliest cases dealing with double jeopardy, “the prohibition is not against being twice punished, but against being twice put in jeopardy; and the accused, whether convicted or acquitted, is equally put in jeopardy at the first trial.”

In the Oscar Pistorius case the Judge granted an appeal on her verdict of culpable homicide, the Supreme Court of Appeal [SCA] then came to a different outcome, Dolus Eventualis [murder with indirect intent]. The SCA sent the case back to the court a quo for sentencing on their verdict. Masipa then sentenced Oscar to a “light sentence”. The state again asked for leave to appeal – just the sentence – but in the second instance, Masipa refused to grant leave. So the state took the case directly to the SCA. The SCA decided to grant the appeal, heard it, and sentenced Oscar accordingly – an effective prison term of 15 years for murder.

In my view, Desai will grant the defence an appeal simply in the interests of hearing a case “to completion”. To his credit, Desai’s trial exhausted very many avenues of legal argument though, so an appeal, if it happens will be very limited in scope.

So what new evidence, and perhaps new witnesses, will the defence bring forth? We’ve already seen one of them:

Another potential witness might be Henri’s girlfriend Danielle Janse van Rensburg. Remember it was Danielle who effectively introduced the Epilepsy Narrative. She apparently was talking to Henri when he had a seizure, she then called her father, a GP, and the next thing the court was informed that Henri had epilepsy. All of this happened right at the end of the trial in November, when Desai was hoping to pronounce his verdict.

Advocate Pieter Botha left the court and the public with this cliffhanger to ponder on over the holiday season when the courts went into recess.

So the Epilepsy Narrative is likely to be fielded, I believe, as new evidence. As I tweeted in May, I believe this evidence was intentionally withheld as a defence strategy, allowing them a back door – a legal loophole – to take the case to trial. It was clear throughout most of this trial that Botha was losing this case for his client.

What do the defence hope to gain through the Epilepsy Narrative? It’s unclear. According to Henri, he blacked out after the crimes were committed. If the defense can persuade the court that epilepsy was there to begin with [something I’ve maintained throughout my book series], then this may have an impact of his memory and theoretically on his culpability.

It’s a weak defence in my view, but who knows, the court may feel curious in the face of “no motive” to find out more. Personally I think this would be a poor reason to rehear the case, but legalities aside, more might be revealed.

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What’s interesting to note, over the past few weeks and days leading up to the leave for appeal hearing, we’ve seen a PR Narrative emerge. We’ve seen a Twitter account pop up “Support For Henri”, although if anything, this account shows how little support Henri has amongst the public. To date Henri’s support on Twitter stands at a meagre 17 souls.

We’ve seen a big effort to get the “Henri’s Innocent” narrative into the media, via Henri’s key Apologists, his aunt Leenta Nel [the sister of the murdered mother, Teresa van Breda] and Henri’s girlfriend.

According to Danielle, and what she told 60 Minutes Australia, Henri told her “everything”. Well, then why didn’t she testify in his defence at trial? Why is she talking to the international media instead? But rather than eye-opening insights during the 60 Minutes “world exclusive”, all Danielle basically did was stand by her man. She didn’t field a detailed, evidentiary argument about why he was innocent, except to use sentiment, saying the Henri she knew didn’t like to cause pain to anything. Well, his entertainment choices seemed to suggest otherwise.

Or she simply used words to say she didn’t agree with certain findings, but wasn’t able to provide real insight as to why it made sense that her knowledge was more authoritative or credible.

We also know that Stefan van der Westhuizen, his former best friend, described Henri taking him at the throat when he told Henri Marli was having second thoughts about Henri’s innocence [prior to the trial].

Stefan van der Westhuizen, who cried in court when Henri was convicted on all charges,  has gotten engaged in the meantime.

Missing from the roll is Marli. If Marli testified in Henri’s appeal, that would be something, especially if she testified as part of his defence. That Marli hasn’t participated, and all indications are that she will not, speaks volumes. Think about the credibility of a girlfriend testifying in support of her beau, while a close family member who was not only at the scene of the crime, but the only survivor of the axe attack, maintains her silence. All this while millions hang in the balance.

The Drug Narrative is unlikely to be fielded in an appeal, not by the defence at any rate. Conceivably, it could be introduced as a mitigating factor, but also as an aggravating factor. Curiously, some journalists have accepted Danielle’s “rumor control” that Henri’s drug use is all a myth [and throw in a giggle for good measure]. If Danielle says it, it must be true, right?

The Drug Narrative might be fielded by the prosecution, in the event that Desai grants the appeal. Personally I wasn’t surprised, I was shocked when the Drug Narrative was completely excised out of the court case. The fact that Henri and Danielle were arrested on drugs, Henri spent the night in jail as a result, and attended a court hearing on drugs, and yet despite this, never a word about this was whispered in court beggars belief.

Interestingly, Danielle also plays a key role in this area. When the two were arrested for dagga possession, Danielle took the rap for it. The drugs were hers, she said.

I entered into a discussion with Anthony Molyneaux about the Drug Narrative on Twitter, but I see he’s muted/removed it. Molyneaux was effectively calling the entire drug story a myth, simply because Danielle [on the eve of the leave to appeal hearing] said so.

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To be fair, there’s not a lot of absolutely clear and verifiable evidence that Henri was a drug addict, not beyond a few tabloid articles, rumors and suggestions that he attended a drug rehab in Bellville. No drugs were found in Henri’s blood sample either, nor alcohol.

But is the absence of evidence an absence of evidence? Sometimes, often, the absence of evidence is evidence.

I’ve dealt with this aspect in detail in my books about the case. The Drug Narrative being so neatly excised from the trial narrative raises red flags, but even if Henri used dagga, that doesn’t make him a druggie. Of course, it doesn’t mean he isn’t one either. One might say, in light of “no evidence” there is no evidence.  Again, that’s the lazy approach to this case.

The Amanda Knox case also involved an extremely brutal and bloody murder inside her home, a burglar narrative, and so on. The Drugs Narrative was also neatly excised from that case, even though it was well-known Knox was using marijuana regularly, and Perugia was a hotbed for much harder drugs, like heroin and coke. In Knox’s memoir she wrote about sleeping with a coke dealer on her first train trip into Perugia.

Coming back to Van Breda, what we know is he was expelled from university, he wasn’t on a Gap Year quite as voluntarily as he claimed. We also know that because of his record, he couldn’t get into local universities either. Julian Jansen in his book refers to Henri’s university mates nicknaming him “Druggie” [page 61]. If this information wasn’t credible, the Van Breda’s could theoretically sue Jansen/Naspers for defamation. So why haven’t they? On the contrary, the Van Breda brothers are in regular and close contact with Jansen, often granting him and Media24 exclusives. If they disputed Jansen’s knowledge, some of which cites “anonymous family sources” or friends of family, surely they’d cut him off and not grant further interviews.

And yet they haven’t.

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And why would anyone come up with a rumor like that in the first place? Creative license?

According to Jansen Henri “clashed repeatedly with authorities” [in Mebourne, Australia] over drug use. The drugs appeared to be the reason Henri was sent home. Jansen also cites “great discord” in the Van Breda household over drug use. What else could cause severe discord in a wealthy family? Why else would university studies be permanently suspended for an otherwise intelligent kid from a well-to-do family?

In my own family, I had a close relative who was a junkie. This person stole some of my personal possessions. You can see from the way I’ve written this, that I’d rather not identify this person, or reveal whether it’s a he or a she. Why? Because there’ a huge stigma around it, and because of our family relationship, I’d rather not worsen things for this person. So there’s a reason drug use is difficult to see; there’s a collective effort to hide it away. Family are complicit in this. Do I have evidence that this person close to me was a junkie? Like Henri, this person also spent a single night as I recall in jail when this person was caught for possession. This person also used a lot of a dagga in public, and heroin in private. This person eventually had a near death experience due to a heroin overdose; I know because I saw the tubes down the throat, and the ventilator firsthand.

As much as Molyneaux disparages the “tabloid media”, in the September 22 2016 edition of YOU magazine, reporters photographed a donkey cart driver interacting with Henri in front of Henri’s digs. This was just nine months after the incident, and prior to his arrest. When they interviewed him, the man admitted to supplying Henri with dagga on a few occasions. Here he was coming to the guy’s house in broad daylight! The tabloid admitted the man may have been lying.

But why would a tabloid purposefully make up a rumor like that, complete with a photo, in the first place? Creative license?

Some of those renting out accommodation to Henri said the rooms looked like a pigsty.

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But why would the Weekend Argus purposefully make up a rumor like that, complete with a photo, in the first place? Creative license?

For me the clearest signs of the Drug Narrative are from Henri himself. Like the family member I mentioned, Henri smokes a lot of cigarettes, and in his own version, drinks a fair amount of alcohol. In his version of the crime, he has himself drinking and staying up until 03:00 while everyone else is asleep.

After the crime he chain smokes three cigarettes, he has a beer at a friend’s home, and later on asks for his father’s whisky when his uncle chaperones him through the crime scene.

The cops on the scene say Henri smelled of alcohol.

While none of this is evidence, it’s clear that even as a young 20-year-old, Henri was particularly fond of substances, including addictive substances. This isn’t absolute evidence, but it’s getting there.

I interviewed a few people who said they had witnessed Henri’s erratic behavior. He apparently removed his clothes in a parking lot, and was singing in a mall. He appeared high or intoxicated to the people who saw him. According to Molyneaux, this is hearsay I guess.

I also discussed the impacts of various drugs on criminality. I’d done similar research in the Knox case. Because I have limited experience with drugs, I wanted to know which drugs were more or less likely to cause criminal behaviour. The sources I spoke to said dagga is the least likely to spark criminal action because of its “mellowing” effect. Alcohol was cited as a good candidate, especially for it’s tendency to remove inhibitions and compromise judgement. Cocaine was seen to be another possibility, especially if mixed with alcohol, thereby inducing paranoia, but also an extraordinary clearheaded arrogance that once the crime had been committed, it could be “handled”.

It might be hearsay and speculation, but sometimes when you dig, more is revealed. Sometimes when you dig, it goes nowhere and you quickly encounter contrary evidence, such as an interest in sport, or healthy eating, or healthy relationships with clean living folks, or an affirming approach etc. You don’t get that here. You have a pattern. Drug addicts are also notorious and habitual liars. Drug addicts are used to living a lie. We saw that in the Knox case too.

If the Drug Narrative mirrors the Epilepsy Narrative, then there’s also the Psychopath Narrative. This disturbs Danielle the most – the impression that Henri is emotionless. I think there’s a reason Henri tries so hard to hide his emotions. It’s because those same emotions empower the Drug Narrative. Some hole has to be soothed*, and so, having committed a crime, those giveaway emotions must be hidden or the real Henri will be exposed. This is why there is not one Henri in this case, but two. The Henri we see, and the Henri we don’t see.

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Henri himself intuits two axe murderers, two phantoms, in his version of what happened. One he sees, and one he doesn’t see. These psychological breadcrumbs speak volumes. People who know true crime through and through, know the gold isn’t to be found at the level of what’s visible, but what’s hidden.

Perhaps an appeal will expose some of that.

 

*I describe the source of Henri’s pain in Diablo, available here.

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Van Breda on 60 Minutes: Screengrabs of the Crime Scene

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I reached out to a few friends in Australia to ask them to watch the show. 60 Minutes also put some footage on their Facebook page [see links below].

This is the first time the South African public have had access to the crime scene footage. Personally I was surprised by how pink the blood appears in the footage. When I saw the previews, my photographer’s eye wondered whether this was a staged crime scene meant to resemble the real one, for drammatic purposes. But it’s the real thing.

When I sat in court Sergeant Apollis [who is interviewed by 60 Minutes] scrolled through the crime scene images on his laptop. I saw these images over his shoulder from about 2 metres away. From where I was sitting I was surprised by the lack of blood. Although the boy’s bedroom is very bloody, the staircase isn’t nearly as slick as I imagined it, and certainly doesn’t conjure the paramedic’s description of a “waterfall of blood” coming down the stairs.

The amount of contaminated boot-prints on the scene is also shocking, but it goes to show, if the cops left bloodied shoe-prints everywhere, why wouldn’t Henri leave any footprints, even if he was innocent?

The brown shoes at the bottom of the stairs had blood on them too. When Henri was asked to explain how the blood landed on his shoes, he said they may have dripped off the stairs. From the images this hardly seems possible.

The blood on the axe also looks very pink compared to some of crime scene images of the axe that have been released.

In terms of Danielle, Henri’s girlfriend, I can’t say I’m surprised to hear her punting the epilepsy narrative. In court one senses this was purposefully held back in order to give it a proper go round in an appeal. If that’s the best the defence case has going for it, they’re in deep trouble.

Danielle’s rebuff of the defensive wounds wasn’t very convincing either.

The aunt, Leenta Nel whose sister was murdered in the attack, has been an apologist for her nephew since day one. Nel basically says it all when she says “I can’t think”. She says “it’s too terrible to contemplate” and refers to there being “no motive in her mind”. That’s the problem though, isn’t it? It’s the failure to think about it, also because you won’t think about it. And since you won’t think, can’t think, you solve the problem by inventing an easy solution that makes even less sense. He’s not guilty. But if he’s not guilty, someone else is. What’s the explanation for that? There isn’t one, but who cares.

The “no motive” narrative was a weakness of the state’s case, and also a weakness of the media narrative. The Judge raised this as a key problem with the trial narrative. That’s why in my 5 part series, I focused entirely on this apparently unknown and supposedly inexplicable aspect. It’s hardly unknown or unknowable when one begins to dig into Henri’s identity, his personality, his backstory, and the family dynamics. It helps to think in order to understand. Of course, money can muddle the mind, especially when one’s “support” might be rewarded, where one’s failure to think critically can make you rich.

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Visit and purchase Indefensible at this link.

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The Media as a Co-Conspirator in the Van Breda case

Henri van Breda’s appeal was originally scheduled for late June 2018. It was then postponed to August 14th, 2018. Two weeks before that day, just long enough for the media message to soak in, Australia’s 60 minutes will do what they called a “world exclusive” on the story.

Australia’s Liz Hayes has, they say,  been given unprecedented access to the Henri van Breda murder files. That’s interesting because when I went to the registrar of the Western Cape High Court in person and with a fellow researcher, on more than one occasion including in late June, we were denied access. When I called, we were told the files were sealed until after the appeal. Only a few days ago, when I mentioned the status of the court files to another senior journalist covering the case, who has also written a book on the case, he’d experienced the same thing. The court files – unusually – still aren’t available for public consumption.

Which is why this is so weird:

60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes is given unprecedented access to the Henri van Breda murder files…

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Now I know the media were allowed a brief peek at the files while the court case was underway. No photos or video cameras were allowed. The media were allowed a few minutes to page through the file in court. So the suggestion that overseas media got “unprecedented” and privileged access to the court feels like grammatical license, or something worse.

60 minutes is clever in the way they suck the viewer into the premise. They pretend to be showing the gory crime scene in all its detail for the first time and then pretend they’re going to be asking why Henri committed the crimes.

I haven’t seen the documentary, but I wonder what footage they have? As part of my research for Indefensible, I contacted Warrant Officer Andrè Hitchcock, the police videographer who took the video inside the crime scene, and also discussed this footage with the prosecutor. I wasn’t allowed to see it until it was officially released by the court. This footage was shown in court last year in June, early on when the state pled their case and fielded their evidence. But it remains in the care and custody of the court.

More likely, in my opinion, they’ll use the little footage there is of the axe from police evidence, but the real story is this: not why Henri did it, but why he didn’t.

According to 9News.com.au:

On 60 Minutes, Hayes also speaks exclusively with van Breda’s girlfriend Danielle Janse van Rensburg, and his aunt Leenta Nell. They explain why they refuse to believe Henri is guilty.

All of this has been a carefully contrived and plotted dance between the media and the mass murderer – and his affilitates, in order to gain maximum traction just before the appeal trial. The idea is to sow seeds of sympathy with an international audience, and obviously, local media will cover the “revelations” as well.

Interestingly, neither Henri’s girlfriend nor his aunt testified at trial, not even in mitigation of sentence. So one has to wonder, why should the “exclusive” media narrative now be better, more convincing, or less biased than the evidence led in court?

It’s an influence campaign, aided and abetted by the media, to make the sentimental case that “the Henri I know would never do this…” Then who did? The Henri they didn’t know? The hardcore Henri that Henri’s hidden away?

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The 60 minutes exclusive on Sunday 29th July will nevertheless be interesting to watch to see how Henri’s closest family rationalise his crimes – if not to court, and perhaps not even to themselves, but to a media made to appear credible on the facts of the case.

The most reviewed and in-depth narrative on the Van Breda is available on Amazon.com.

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