Prior to the murders, was Chris Watts a good father?

Chris Watts appeared to be an attentive dad. We see him reading to his kids, horsing around with them, cutting their hair, blowing hot food to cool it down, even taking cake in the face while Shan’ann and and his mother-in-law looked on with a camera.

He also dressed up as Santa and took direction from Shan’ann in playing that role for them. So at face value, he seems to have a much closer bond with the children than with Shan’ann.

If he murdered his children, why did he?

What did Chris Watts HATE about Shan’ann?

What did he hate the most about her? What did she hate most about him? What this question really addresses is not only the family dynamics, or the interpersonal dynamics between the husband and the wife in their marriage, but also just two individuals living under the same roof. What was Chris Watts like to live with? What was Shan’ann like – as a person?

What are the things that generally agitate people in a marriage, after a length of time together? What things would have specifically chafed at these two particular personalities?

To adequately answer these questions we have to know more about who Chris Watts is and was. Fortunately we get to have a little peek into that area thanks to Ashleigh Banfield’s recent interview with Richard Hodges, a former roommate and college classmate of Chris Watts.

Take a look.

On the surface, and bearing in mind Hodges last made contact with Watts in 2005, there’s an impression of a hard working kid who is also very hard on himself. He’s trying hard and working hard to elevate himself into some significance. He’s trying to become someone.

Skip to ten years later and Chris Watts is in Colorado in a picture-perfect house, with a picture-perfect wife and picture-perfect family. One has the impression this is what he always wanted – the picture-perfect side of things. This is significance. He’d spent a good fifteen years building himself up, and for that matter, so had Shan’ann. Both of them came from humble beginnings and both worked their asses off to build what they had by August 2018.

So if they had so much in common, what did Shan’ann do “wrong” in Chris Watts’ eyes?

Let’s examine that through 3 prisms. Firstly, the Scott Peterson case. Secondly, the particular circumstances of the Watts case. And thirdly, through my personal experience with someone involved in MLM.

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A. What did Chris Watts Scott Peterson HATE about Shan’ann Laci?

Like Shan’ann, Laci also saw Scott as a sort of trophy. She hero-worshiped him in public. She idolized him. Scott was part of her idea of a fairy tale. It’s not clear that that was the case so much behind closed doors.

If Scott murdered Laci, then clearly what was happening was the desire to believe in something that wasn’t true overpowering the reality. In other words, Laci was more in love with the idea of being in love, than with the actual person. The same was true with Shan’ann and Chris, wasn’t it?

And this idea is mirrored in the fantastic amount of fairy tale but ultimately fake happy snaps associated with the Watts case.

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B.  The circumstances of the Watts case

Chris was dedicated to what he was doing, so was Shan’ann. Chris was working hard. Shan’ann was working hard. So what was the thing wedging its way between them?

In my opinion it was primarily two things. Shan’ann was suffering from a serious auto-immune disease, and this made her into a particular kind of person with a particular psychology. Although it manifested in some ways positively [wanting to better herself, developing a fighting spirit], she may have overcompensated in the sense of becoming a perfectionist and a control freak. Managing her anxiety about her health ended up becoming managing her world, and everyone in it.

In the oft played clip where she tells Celeste in a singsong voice to say “hi” to the camera, when Celeste doesn’t, Shan’ann barks at her: “Say hi!”. How often was that merciless tone used behind closed doors, when the camera was off? Because it’s a tone that brooks no truck with dissent. It’s my way or the highway.

In Two Face I explore this aspect in a lot more detail, using another example from her social media to reinforce this impression of an always-on pushy, controlling, oppressive person.

There is definitely something more to this, because even her colleague, Nickole Atkinson, describes Shan’ann as OCD. Her scheduling alone describes a very anal attitude to time management, a key trait of the perfectionist, and OCD. Some folks on the Websleuths forum have also picked up on the same thing. Chris Watts may have put up with this throughout their six-year marriage, and all things being equal, he may have taken it on the chin, and on both cheeks. But all things weren’t equal, and they weren’t equal in a very key, and very crucial sense.

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C.  My personal experience with someone involved in MLM

We can’t prove – at this point – that Shan’ann wasn’t making the sort of money she claimed she was making. Until we have access to the forensic files and financial data, we have to resort to some extent to speculation. What we do know is that as recently as 2015 the couple were bankrupt. We also know that their money troubles were still with them in August 2018 – they had a date in court with the local homeowners association which proves this. So even without delving into the debits and credits, we know the Watts finances for reasons unknown were fucked.

What were those reasons? Was it because a third kid was on the way? The finances were already fucked before that happened. Was it because Chris Watts was spending the money, or not bringing the money in? We see that he was in a stable if relatively low paying job, but he was reliable and hard working, and doing double time for Shan’ann in her job.

It’s her job, see, that’s the unknown factor. One way to decipher this aspect is to personalize it. What does it feel like to live with someone who is a multi-level marketing [MLM] type? What are their finances really like?

Below, in italics, I’ve provided a brief anecdote of my experience. This isn’t to indulge you, or myself, but as a way to better understand what Chris Watts may have despised, even hated, about Shan’ann. Before you begin reading, just be aware that this isn’t about transference. Whatever my feelings about MLM or yours, all this is is my experience with a particular person. It may or may not provide insight into this case, and it may shed more light on the unknowns that went on behind closed doors.

Harriet – let’s call her Harriet – lived in a big, beautiful double-story house in a posh suburb. She was a young, single mom. Pretty. Blonde. Blue-eyed. The house wasn’t hers. It belonged to her wealthy parents. Harriet was involved in AMWAY and Herbalife. Sometimes packages would arrive, and if Harriet wasn’t around, I’d sign for them. It was invariably AMWAY shit, sent by courier. I often heard her telling people  AMWAY’s “not a pyramid scheme”.

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I also often heard her rationalising about how great MLM was because once you’ve done the initial work you don’t need to do anything any more, other people work for you. She didn’t seem to recognize that that’s what everyone else was planning on too. If people allow themselves to be recruited [for a fee], and all the recruits rely on the fact that other recruits will do their work for them, who actually works? Who actually makes money? The only real money comes from the way the cumulative memberships and profits from product sales are distributed from those at the bottom to those at the top of the pyramid.

Although Harriet called the AMWAY MLM “her business” or “the business” over the course of five years she very seldom worked. I don’t know how much money she made from AMWAY but I do know she never had any money, and that her parents were always giving her money, and buying her things.  Often this money was given to her as part of an agreement or incentive to do something. She’d take the money but they never got her to execute on her end of the bargain. At one point when I was there they even bought her a brand new car as a gesture of faith. She took the car but later fell out of the arrangement they made.

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Occasionally, when her parents grew desperate and threatened her, there were spurts of activity. She’d have a few meetings at home or she’d travel off to AMWAY’s motivational workshops. Each time she’d arrive back from these workshops inspired, pumped up and ready to get to work. Harriet was someone who often overstated things, often exaggerated.

Harriet had friends but they were weird. While she saw herself as upper class, none of her friends were. One long-term boyfriend was about 15 years younger than her, whom she asked me to keep secret from her parents. The next was about 15 years older, who worked in a junk yard. Many of her female friends were over-the-hill housewives, almost all overweight, uneducated and ragged in some way. Since I’d known Harriet through a prior circle of mutual friends, now it was clear that virtually all those solid middle class friendships had fallen away. Had she pushed the MLM stuff onto them until they shut the door? I know she tried several times to recruit me but instead of buying into it or rejecting it, I simply said “I’ll think about it” even though I’d made up my mind.

What started annoying me over time was how hard I was working and her constant and very apparent laziness. And her inclination to complain about small things. I wasn’t the only one aggravated by this. Her parents, who often loaned her money, increasingly demanded that she find a real job. All told, in the five years I lived there she worked less than a total of six months in real jobs, and for the rest, told people she had her own MLM business. 

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Harriet’s finances weren’t my concern as a lodger, but what got extremely irritating was because she didn’t work, she had to find something to do. Since she was home all day, she soon began to worry and complain endlessly about whether I was dirtying her furniture by sitting on them, or dirtying the carpets by walking on them. She was pedantic about cleanliness. Her kitchen and lounge had those gadgets that puffs out toilet spray every few seconds. The carpets were repeatedly dry-cleaned, the house repeatedly painted. Everything was constantly being washed and cleaned.

Sometimes she’d arrive home with bags of shit-smelling compost, which would make the entire house smell of guano. Landscape designers would arrive every so often to deal with her garden.  The pets in the house began to gravitate towards me, because I paid attention to them.

In the end I placed sheets and towels over the furniture and carpets I used upstairs so that my filthiness wouldn’t disturb her. And so on and so forth. Harriet’s MLM didn’t bother me, but it didn’t endear her to me either. I simply thought of her as extremely high maintenance, a self-centered alien species that had lost her mind. I put up with her OCD, no matter how unreasonable it was, because while I lived there, I had to. So I did with minimum fuss.

I wasn’t married to her and I was never her boyfriend, but the OCD was a symptom of a larger malaise. Had I been involved with her, the MLM would have been the first to go.

All that is a very long way of saying something very simple. Someone with OCD is tolerable when they’re holding up the fort, and when there’s a fort that you also have a stake in. But it’s intolerable when they aren’t holding up the fort and you are, or when they’re ruining your stake in your own home.

There definitely is a certain point, an inflection point, when that happens. Everybody knows in a domestic situation that moment when they decide, irrevocably, they’re done. Some people tell those they share their living spaces about their change of heart, but that only makes everything worse. You’re wiser if you don’t, but then, for as long as you continue living there, you feel like you’re pulling on the short end of the straw.

I know I reached that point with Harriet and her junkyard boyfriend. A few months before I left, I felt I’d had enough of their bullshit. Obviously I didn’t tell her this, I simply started preparing myself and my affairs to move out. I spent less and less time at home and tried to manage things so that I never encountered either of them, even in passing. I was just trying to avoid communicating and thus confronting. So I was living with the enemy but eager not to be. I didn’t let on that I was pissed off about anything.

The exit, when it happened, wasn’t pretty. There were no dead bodies, and no one was strangled, but there was some anger, shouting and unhappiness. I won’t go into the details but it wasn’t pleasant.

I suspect that like Harriet, Shan’ann wasn’t actually pulling in 80K a year. Either the money wasn’t coming in, or it wasn’t coming in consistently. What happened to her mandatory Live videos in August? And if she was still bringing in the money, why didn’t they have any money? Why were they an ongoing foreclosure risk?

If it was Shan’ann’s fault that they were losing their home because she wasn’t holding up her end of the deal, because of the MLM hocus pocus bull crap, then Shan’ann’s OCD and cheery Facebook mindfuckery had to have become harder and harder to live with. Then, with the announcement in May of a third child on the way, Chris Watts had a serious sense of humor failure.

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Two Face is available right now on

Chris Watts: Inside the Criminal Mind

What goes on behind closed doors? What happens underneath appearances, edifices and facades? Knock, the Bible says, and the door will be opened. So let’s knock on the brown door at 2825 Saratoga Trail.

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Today we’re going to deal with one of your questions on #Shakedown. It’s this idea that there’s “no why”.

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There is a why, and it’s behind that door. Just because the door’s not opening, doesn’t mean nobody [and no why] is home. Is there a way we can get inside, without the door being opened? Actually, there is. But before we open that door, let’s look at part of Diana’s question:

“…when a pregnant woman is murdered or mysteriously just disappears, it’s almost always the father of the unborn child who’s responsible for her death/disappearance….”

This casual remark is startlingly close to the essence of what we need to get at, and why we can’t see what we need to see, why we can’t get in the door. The reason the door is staying closed isn’t because the door won’t upon, but because we’re not open. We must open our minds.

Taking Diana’s statement, the reason we’re defeated at the door is because we see this case through the prism of our own minds.

…it’s almost always the father of the unborn child who’s responsible…

If we want to see into Chris Watts’ mind, then we have to let go of what we know, of our standards for ourselves, our realities, and be open to someone else’s. In this case what that means is:

…it’s almost always the father of the unborn child who DOES NOT WISH TO BE responsible…

And then, in the aftermath of the crime, we see that habitual flouting of responsibility writ large. He won’t admit what he’s done because he can’t, because he’s been living a lie. For us, reality has caught up with him, but when you’re living a lie, reality never catches up, and liars – especially murderers – make sure it never does. That’s why they commit murders, to escape their reality.

All of this is very loosey-goosey though. What are we really dealing with though? Practically? We enter the door of Chris Watts mind by using a key I call True Crime Intertextuality. It’s a tool we use to begin profiling our killer’s psychology. We use it to decipher not only who he is, but who he isn’t.

Let’s use Diana’s first example. Christopher Coleman. How like Chris Watts is Coleman, and how like the Watts crime, is Coleman’s crime?

The Coleman Case

An attorney for Christopher Coleman, who was convicted of strangling his wife and two children in May 2009, is requesting a new trial.

Coleman was found guilty in 2011 of strangling his wife, Sheri, 31, and their sons, Garett, 11, and Gavin, 9, in their home in Columbia, Ill. He was sentenced by a judge to three life terms without possibility of parole.

But this week — almost seven years after that conviction — Coleman’s appointed attorney Lloyd Cueto Jr. filed a petition arguing that the jury’s verdict hinged on four explicit photos that were not properly reviewed by the court.

The photos were exchanged between Coleman and his then-mistress, Tara Lintz.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Coleman wanted to leave his wife to marry Lintz. Exposing his adultery, the prosecution said, would have jeopardized Coleman’s $100,000-a-year job as bodyguard for televangelist Joyce Meyer.

Prosecutors argued that lurid emails, texts, photos and videos between Coleman and his lover showed Coleman’s motive to kill his family and indicated the emotional intensity of the affair.

Defense attorneys asked that the images be banned because they could prejudice the jury against Coleman due to their explicit content.

Judge Milton Warton opted to allow some of the images but specified that the genitals in the photos be covered with black bars.

But during deliberation, thumbnail versions of the images that were not censored were let into the jury room on the back of a foam evidence board, according to Cueto’s petition.

The thumbnails included time stamps that were not entered into evidence, Cueto said.

Multiple jurors later told reporters from the TV show “48 Hours” and the Post-Dispatch that reading the time stamps with a magnifying glass was a turning point for some of the jurors in the 15-hour deliberation.

The dates on the photographs indicated they had been taken as early as October 2008, in contradiction of testimony by Lintz that the affair began two months later.

Ferrari told the Post-Dispatch the jury also came to believe the time stamps showed Coleman was deleting photos while police were interviewing him on the day of the murders.

Ferrari said several jurors were initially unwilling to find Coleman guilty, but the vote shifted after the discovery of the time stamps.

Coleman’s attorney argues the jurors should have never been able to see those dates and times.

“The jurors made their decision based on something that was never admitted into evidence,” Cueto said.

Cueto’s petition also points to the omission of other evidence during the trial including fingerprints and a shoe print that may have cast doubt on the prosecution’s narrative of events during the trial.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann must now review the petition and decide how to proceed, Cueto said.

Hitzemann was not in office during the trial that captivated the local community in 2011 with its combination of sex, religion and violence.

The region was so transfixed by the courtroom drama that the Monroe County Circuit Clerk told the Post-Dispatch at the time that there was a waiting list of 165 area residents hoping to sit in on the trial. The eventual jurors were bused in from Perry County.

Clearly a single news story about a murder is nowhere near sufficient if we’re looking to produce a psychological blueprint for our suspect. But we’re not trying to do that just yet, not exhaustively anyway. All we want to do right now is get a handle on the basic criminality.

A quick gloss through the red highlighted text below confirms that in many [but not all] respects, the Coleman case is a reasonably good fit for the Watts case. We can tick the following boxes:

  1. The manner [or mechanism] of death, for both Sheri and her two sons Gavin and Garett was the same – death by strangling. Follow this link to see the difference between cause of death and manner of death.
  2. The murders took place inside the residence.
  3. There was a secret mistress involved.
  4. The secrecy was important to maintain – Coleman stood to lose his job if he didn’t keep it secret.
  5. The adultery was well-established. It wasn’t merely a fling, it was a serious relationship.
  6. Coleman wished to establish a new life with a new wife but for known and unknown reasons, felt he could not do that in a conventional manner. The known reason is that he stood to lose his job. The unknown reason has something to do with religion.
  7. Coleman’s employment [as a bodyguard to an evangelist] was an important feature in the case.
  8. The motive according to prosecutor’s was the emotional intensity of the affair. Whether this is accurate or not, we see that emotional intensity on top of other key factors can trigger family murders.
  9. The lifespan and seriousness of the affair was undermined and underreported by the mistress, which is indicative that not only was Coleman reluctant to acknowledge what he’d done, but the mistress as well.
  10. Coleman was actively removing evidence while he was being investigated. Much of this involved destroying digital artifacts, especially photos.
  11. Jurors were initially unable or unwilling to find Coleman guilty.
  12. The court case ultimately turned on a factor that wasn’t even part of the court evidence [which had to do with the timeline of events, and also Coleman and his mistress lying about that particular aspect].

In sum the Coleman case involved a toxic combination of sex, religion and violence. We may say the odd element in this mixture – in terms of the Watts case – is religion. But before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, wasn’t Thrive the “religious” element in the Watts case? In Two Face I compared the activities of Le-Vel employees to those of a cult. With most cults it’s difficult to leave, and the costs associated with leaving – and staying – are enormous.

Another aspect that’s similar is the age and to some extent, the appearance of the victim. Sheri was an attractive blonde mother, 31 years of age. Shan’ann was 34, brunette and also attractive. Appearances – vanity – with regards to sexual attractiveness and the perceived sexual attractiveness of the murderer spouse, often figure highly in family murders.

The key element in the Watts case missing from the Coleman case is that Sheri wasn’t pregnant. Now let’s examine a case where the victim was pregnant.

The Hacking Case

The reference case below is longer and divided in two parts. It’s not necessary to read the entire script, simply gloss through the highlighted text.


7/19/04 Salt Lake City, Memory Grove Mark Hacking talks to the media on the first day his wife Lori is reported missing. He has now been arrested on charges of aggravated murder.

 Brian Hamilton became friends with Mark Hacking when they worked together in the children’s psychiatric unit of a Salt Lake City hospital. He said Hacking loved to entertain the kids at the hospital.

The couple had just learned Lori was five weeks pregnant, friends say. And they were about to embark on a cross-country move to North Carolina, where Hacking said he would be starting medical school“It seemed as though they had their life planned, chapter by chapter,” says Hamilton.

On Thursday, July 15, Lori emailed the Hamiltons with their new address. But the day after she sent the email, Lori received a phone call from the University of North Carolina. She left work early in tears. Apparently, she’d just learned that Mark’s big plans for medical school were all a lie. He’d never even enrolled with the school.

A few days later, on Sunday evening, the couple went to a convenience store. It’s the last place where anyone would see Lori Hacking alive. As seen in surveillance footage from later that night, Hacking returned to the store around 1 a.m. – but this time, he was alone.

Now that Hacking has allegedly confessed to killing his wife while she was sleeping, people wonder, after seeing these images on the surveillance tape, had he just murdered his wife? Or was he about to?

The next morning, Hacking reported his wife missing. He said she never came home after going for an early jog in nearby woods. Hacking said he went searching for her, but later that day, police learned that he’d been shopping for a new mattress before he called 911. That was the first sign that Hacking’s concern for his wife was all an act. And it was the first of many lies to come.

“My name is Mark Hacking,” he said in a press conference. “And I have so much gratitude today for the friends, the family, the officers, the search-and-rescue people. Everybody. It’s just been the worst day of my life; it’s good to feel some comfort from the community.”

Later that night, Hacking was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after he was seen walking around outside, naked. “He kept his shoes on – his sandals – that’s not generally something we see in someone truly psychotic,” says Candace DeLong, who was an FBI profiler for 20 years.

Does she think he was faking his condition and setting up a defense? “I think there’s a very good chance he thought that might work,” says DeLong. In the days following Lori’s disappearance, while hundreds of volunteers searched for her, it became apparent that Hacking had been making up stories for years.

“We were under the impression that Mark had been accepted to medical school and just found out a few minutes ago he never even applied to medical school at North Carolina,” says Mark’s father, Douglas Hacking.

In fact, Hacking had never even graduated from college. He stopped attending classes at the University of Utah three years ago, and Lori, and Mark’s family, found out.It’s a story that’s never been reported in detail.

“His mother called their house and left a message asking why he wasn’t enrolled in school, ’cause she had attempted to pay the tuition and it wasn’t– he wasn’t in the — enrolled,” recalls Hamilton. Lori heard the voice mail first, and when Hacking came home, she confronted him. He took off in his car, and when Lori couldn’t find him, she called the Hamiltons. “She was just crying on the phone,” says Hamilton. Lori later found out Hacking was at a hotel an hour away.

“We didn’t really think anything of it because the next day, Jennifer talked to Lori and she said, ‘Oh, yeah. Well, we went and we reconciled things and made up,” says Hamilton. “And the way that it kind of played out was that he had made a mistake or he had forgotten to register. I think that’s how it went. We thought he went back to school.”

And apparently, so did Lori. And from then on, Hacking’s lies just got bigger and more elaborate. “I remember for the last two-plus years, the extensive preparations for medical school,” says Lori’s brother, Paul Soares. In fact, Mark went so far as to fly to Manhattan, and pretend to interview for medical school, while staying with his cousin. “He got up in the morning, put his suit on — like day before, she drove him by where Columbia was, so he’d know where it’s at,” recalls Soares. “And– left– went to do his interview and came back a few hours later and talked about the interview and how it was.”

“He talked a little bit about his deception to us, how it all got started a few years ago,” says Mark’s father, Douglas Hacking. “He has two brothers who are high achievers. He felt pressure to excel as well.”

The real tragedy is that many believe Lori would have loved Hacking, no matter what he did for a living.

“As long as he was doing his best, she would have loved him with all of her heart,” says Soares. “And he didn’t have to be a doctor, a president — whatever it was. As long as he was doing his best, she would have loved him.”

And Hacking may have been the only person who didn’t truly believe this.

“Failure just was not an option. It almost seemed like– he couldn’t handle the idea of letting her down,” says Hamilton. “Basically, I think that maybe he was just so sad or so distraught about the idea of letting her down that maybe something did snap. I mean what that was, I don’t know.”

There’s a lot there, but it’s not the half of it. We’re looking for more insight into Hacking’s psychology, and we find plenty more of that here:

According to Mark’s friend Paul [no surname given], Mark Hacking’s double life began when he was not accepted into a bachelor’s degree program at the University of Utah. Rather than tell his father that he had been rejected, he pretended that he had been accepted.

The desire to please his father, Paul said, was driven by a sense of inadequacy. Mark Hacking’s father is a successful pediatrician. A brother is also a doctor and another brother is an engineer.

Paul said Mark Hacking’s father – who he claimed to have known well for years – was not overbearing or demanding, and did not create the pressure Mark supposedly felt. Paul described Mark Hacking’s father as a wonderful man.

At any rate, when classes began at the university, Paul said that Mark Hacking bought the requisite textbooks and studied them, while telling his wife, parents and friends that he was a student. Paul claimed that he and Mark Hacking were routinely together during the time Mark was supposed to be in class. This happened semester after semester.

According to Paul, the entire charade was meant to keep Mark Hacking’s father from learning about his son’s academic difficulties. When asked why Mark Hacking lied to his wife, Paul said of Lori Hacking, “His wife is … the stereotypical ‘good Mormon girl,’ and she would have told his dad.”

The description sounded contemptuous as Paul said it. He also said that Lori Hacking would have been angry that her husband had lied to her. Which was apparently the case on the last weekend of her life. On Friday, at work, she accidentally learned from officials at the medical school her husband claimed to have been accepted to that he was not a student. The couple had made plans to move across the country the next week so that he could go to school.

Co-workers describe Lori Hacking as being very upset. And Paul says that when he went to the Hacking apartment on Sunday night Mark Hacking told him that he and Lori had argued angrily earlier in the evening. He also said the Hackings had argued other times in their marriage as well.

“She is a little spitfire,” Paul said of Lori Hacking. The description, again, sounded contemptuous as Paul said it.

He described Mark Hacking as extremely agitated that night. Paul said that he seemed frantic and at his wits end. The upset, though, was primarily from the fact he feared his wife would tell his father about his fraud, rather than that she had said she wanted a divorce.

Another previously unreported aspect of this story, if Paul’s account is correct, is that Mark Hacking – after claiming to have graduated from college – worked as a psychological counselor, something which he was apparently unlicensed and unqualified to do. Paul said that he and Mark Hacking had discussed Mark’s fears that he would be caught for that and sentenced to “five years in prison.”

Paul said that he counseled Mark Hacking to “disappear” for a couple of years, to escape his lies. Paul said that when he returned his father would be so glad to see him that he would forget about the deceptions. Additionally, the institution where Mark Hacking had supposedly performed the illicit counseling would sweep the matter under the rug, to avoid the embarrassment of having employed an unqualified person.

Paul also said that family statements that Lori Hacking was pregnant at the time of her murder are true. He said that Mark and Lori were ecstatic when she became pregnant. “He did not do this because she was pregnant,” Paul said of the murder.

Paul also said that Mark Hacking did not use drugs or alcohol, but that, rather, “He fits the stereotypical sociopath.”

Paul said that when he first heard media reports that Lori Hacking was missing he presumed that she had left Mark. Later that day, however, when he saw Mark Hacking on TV, claiming that his wife was missing, he said he knew Mark Hacking was lying and he turned and told his wife so at the time.

Concerned, Paul went to the volunteer search headquarters and told a police officer that he knew Mark Hacking and believed that he was lying. The officer took Paul’s name but did not seem interested. Paul was eventually interviewed by police a week later.

Paul also said that, contrary to rumors, he did not believe Mark Hacking was involved with pornography. And while Mark Hacking told Paul that he believed in his family’s Mormon faith, he felt that he couldn’t live it, but would later on, repenting of his wrongdoing.

Paul said that Mark’s plan was to move to North Carolina and pretend to go to medical school. He intended to keep up that charade and eventually “graduate” and go practice medicine with fraudulent credentials.

There more than twice as many boxes to tick here, than in the Coleman case. We won’t tick all of them, but let’s pluck the low hanging fruit and then see how the Hacking case stacks up to the Coleman case, and why Watts is more like one than the other.

  1. It’s one thing to talk about someone “living a lie”, isn’t another to actually see how it might play out in their lives. It’s impossible to feel the drama, desperation, intrigue and emotional intensity in the idea of someone else living a lie. But when we see the extent of it, and the absurdity of it, and the scale of how it plays out, we see just how destructive and consuming something as simple as a lie is. In Hacking’s case, the lie was that he was [or could be] successful. In the Watts case it’s the same. Of all the analysis posted on the Chris Watts case on Shakedown, this one is one of the most important, and the most overlooked. We see where he came from, not only humble beginnings but dirt poor. He wanted to keep his house, keep his idea of success, and Shan’ann was destroying it.
  2. Inadequacy. In the same way that some people are inadequate about their weight, or being bald, or being poor, or being unsuccessful, it doesn’t tend to mean very much unless it’s you. Unless the inadequacy is yours. Often we laugh at the inadequacies of others, but do we laugh at our own, or tried to hide them? The more inadequate people are the more they lie. The more lies the more the tendency to live a lie. And the murder is just a natural end to that process, which is why after the murder, it’s so easy to lie about what happened as well.
  3. Our identities – who we are – are built on what we do for a living. Chris Watts either felt a sense of crisis about what he was doing, or what Shan’ann was doing, but probably both. It’s not a one-way dynamic, it’s a two way dynamic.
  4. Curiously in the Hacking case, the murders have nothing to do with a mistress, though one could argue that the secret medical school fraud was his mistress. It’s the thing he felt guilty, insignificant and inadequate about.
  5. We see a mirror in the confining Mormon faith on the one hand, which artificially forces the marriage to remain in place, and the contempt Mark apparently feels for his demanding Mormon wife. An analogy for this in the Watts case are the artificial forces of the Thrive cult, and the impact of strictures and expectations that had on him. In the Hacking case, the Coleman case and the Watts case, there’s a an overarching belief system that causes the men to feel trapped into their own lives.
  6. Hacking didn’t murder his wife because she was pregnant, but the pregnancy undoubtedly had an impact of the dynamic, heightening expectations, stakes and the levels of alertness and aggravation for all involved.
  7. In the Hacking case we see a clear precedent for a scenario of lies which he got away with [the psychological counselling] and this then sets the tone for a much bigger set of lies. It’s unclear what set the precedent for Chris – whether it was the MLM, or his own sexuality, or the affair, or some subset of deceits we don’t know about yet.
  8. In the Hacking case there’s also the initial suspicion that Lori had left her husband because of acknowledged marital strife. In the Watts case there’s no sign of marital strife in the narrative until Shan’ann’s dead. Then it’s invoked as something that happened on the morning of her death. Had they  really never argued? Or was this pressure to pretend to never argue the real pressure cooker in the Watts family dynamic?
  9. Hacking apparently believed in his family’s Mormon faith, but couldn’t live it. Chris Watts probably found himself in the same dilemma. He believed in the idea of his marriage, but couldn’t live it. Why not? Refer back to point 1.
  10. Many of us look at the Watts case, especially the interview on the porch, and we can clearly see that his goose was already cooked then. But that’s not what we need to see to figure out this case, and the man underneath Christopher Watts. See – he couldn’t see it. There were so many lies he was still buried under them. In the same way, even though Hacking couldn’t hack medical school, he had every intention of pretending to enrol, pretending to take classes, pretending to graduate and pretending to be a doctor. He had no problem with that. The problem was, his wife did. She was exposing him for the very thing he was trying to hide – a fraud, a cheat, an imposter, a victim of his own inadequacy. When the lie is big enough, the desperation can be just as big to defend it.

That’s ten, that’s enough.

There should be some inklings, by now, what lie Chris Watts was trying to defend. It wasn’t a small lie, which is why he went to such extraordinary efforts to do what he did.

Between the Coleman case and the Hacking case we have plenty of blueprint material. One family murder involves a mistress, a mother and two children [but she’s not pregnant], while the other has no mistress and a pregnant mother, but no children. The one case involves the fear of losing a job and an income, the other involves a man who’s afraid to lose an idea of himself. 

While Watts and the Watts case is similar in many respects to both Coleman and Hacking, it’s obvious that Chris Watts is much closer to Hacking’s psychology than Coleman’s, isn’t it?  What this reveals is that unlike Coleman, Watts wasn’t stuck in a religious or quasi religious dimension, in fact, the crime probably happened because of it, to extricate himself out of it.

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Like Hacking, Watts felt contempt for Shan’ann. The thing burning him, see, was that she was exposing his inadequacies – as a man, as a father, as a success, to the world [via Facebook, via the marriage, via the whole parenting debacle].

Despite her glowing endorsements on Facebook, Shan’ann had confided to a friend that “he has no game”. Well, he was determined to prove that he did.

Did he?

Has he, so far?

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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.





Is THIS Casey Anthony’s motive, timestamped, in her own words?

On June 21 2011, the New York Post provided coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, and 25-year-old Casey’s “mostly sullen façade [during] the first weeks of testimony.”

By now everyone who knows this case knows that after her two-year-old daughter Caylee disappeared on June 16th 2008, Casey “went on a bizarre, monthlong partying spree while lying to everyone that Caylee was still alive.”

During that time, almost everything Casey said was a lie. Almost everything. On June 21st, Casey scrawled the following entry into her personal diary.


When the New York Post quoted this excerpt it was condemning as it was, but it was incomplete.

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Here’s the full version again with the parts left out of the article in bold, even though the diary page speaks for itself:

I have no regrets, just a bit worried. I just want for everything to work out okay. I completely trust my own judgement & know that I made the right decision. I just hope that the end justifies the means. I just want to know what the future will hold for me. I guess I will soon see.  This is the happiest that I have been in a very long time. I hope that my happiness will continue to grow.  I’ve made new friends that I really like. I’ve surrounded myself with good people.  I am finally happy. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t change.

In that simple paragraph the word happy or happiness comes up three times. She herself clearly anchors her happiness to “good people” which we now know was a new group of friends she made in early June. She also locates her happiness contemporaneously. We see that according to her she wasn’t only happy that night in June, but had been unhappy for a period of months prior to that weekend.

Although she’s happy, it’s coming out of a period of misery which is why she hopes it will continue to grow. Who or what is the source of that misery? Well, whatever it was that prevented her from having nights like these, experiences like these.


The Post describes the diary entry as being from June 21 2008 and a wider angle of the diary appears to show the number ’03 in the upper left corner. If it was written five years earlier then Casey was around seventeen-years-old and still at school when she wrote it. Caylee wasn’t even more.  In 2009, when the information first surfaced ABC reported:

Hundreds of pages of newly released evidence from prosecutors in the investigation into the murder of Florida toddler Caylee Anthony contribute to a growing body of circumstantial evidence against the child’s mother, but reports on a key detail against Casey Anthony are being vigorously challenged by representatives of the jailed mom.

Anthony’s representatives insisted that a seemingly damning diary entry prosecutors allege she penned was written before the child was even born — not in 2008, as has been reported.

Calls to the prosecutor’s office were not immediately returned.

A representative for Casey Anthony, Marti Mackenzie, told ABC News that the entry was written in 2003, before the Caylee was born.

The Post also cites prosecutors saying they believed the diary was from 2008.

On a blog posted in 2009, two years before this evidence was led at trial, there is some mention that the specific diary Casey used wasn’t on the market until 2004.


We know Caylee disappeared on June 16th, and probably died that day too. Five days later, clearly, Casey felt no regrets, and was hoping “everything would work out okay”.

When we look into the timeline, we see June 20th, the day before Casey wrote in her diary, Casey was at a Hot Body Contest at the Fusian Ultra Lounge with many of her friends, as well as her new boyfriend.

Casey won the Hot Body Contest that night, then spent the rest of the weekend with her boyfriend. This time there were no real babysitters to worry about, no curfew to obey, no rap songs kicking off her phone from Momma cussing her, and calling her home.

This was “happiness at last” for the real Casey.

The clip below is from

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Chris Watts: It’s time to talk about Why.

The media still don’t know why Chris Watts committed murder.

Who does?

Do we have to wait for prosecutors to tell us Chris Watts’ motive, or can we figure it out on our own? If we can’t, what does that say about our ability to intuit the thoughts, desires and machinations of those around us? If we can’t figure out hypothetical catastrophes in other folk’s families, do we have any chance of piecing the puzzles [hidden and less hidden] of the motives of those that are part of the fabric of our lives?

What true crime offers is a series of precedents and templates. The criminal psychology is never a new journey, although some tangents along the way may be a little unusual or even novel.


The best place to start in order to fathom a motive for Watts is Scott Peterson. There are many similarities: pregnant wife, business trips, Mr Perfect persona, picture-perfect marriage and family, fairy-tale home, sunny smiles all round versus fertilizer/oil, selling, foreclosure, financial ruin, her earning more than him and the collapse of the Picture Perfect Charade. There’s a lot of vanity in both marriages. There’s also a lot of shallowness. Under the vanity there’s no real wealth, just empty words.

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Of course, to intuit a motive in the Watts case requires that we went to the trouble to figure out Scott Peterson’s motive. Did we? Was Scott’s motive that he wanted to have an affair? I hope that’s not your answer, because millions of married folk cheat on each other quite happily, without resorting to murder. The affair was a factor, and I believe it was a factor with Watts. Both good looking, charming and facile men. In both cases, women who knew or should have known their husbands were cheating, but kept up the pretense that everything was just fine, including through the new pregnancy.

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Was money a factor? Of course it was. But millions of couples struggle through financial difficulty without resorting to murder, though perhaps less than the group committing adultery. Add together financial difficulty and adultery, and we’re starting to get somewhere, but we’re still not quite there.

The vital element of course is the pregnancy. In the Scott Peterson case, Scott endured the pregnancy for eight long months, until just before Christmas. He figured Christmas was a good time to do things when people would be away or not watching so closely.

In the Watts case, fifteen weeks proved to be his cut-off date. What does the pregnancy reveal about the motive? Simply that her husband’s threshold for commitment had been exceeded by a substantial margin.

It’s not just financial commitment, and financial overreach that’s at issue here. Like Scott, Watts is having a kind of existential crisis. He doesn’t want to be married.

He doesn’t want to be a dad. He doesn’t want to be burdened or pressured by life-sapping and gut-draining expectations. He was living a life he didn’t want to be living, and it was killing him. He was living a lie, and in his fucked psychology, the only way to fix that was by killing them. That way he could get his life back. By taking their lives, he got his.

It’s transactional, but then Capitalist society is rigged that way. Give and take, cash on delivery, no work no pay. So we’re wired to function in a transnational system, but every now and then someone thinks they can outsmart it. How to get something for nothing. How to get what you really want without paying the price.

So in a sense, it is the simply dimension of a man who wants his freedom. He wants to escape the bind he’s in. But we have to look at the scale of the things that are tearing at him. Moneylessness. Pregnancy and the raft of commitments and expectations that are part of that. And probably someone else pulling him away from the marriage, some sort of fairy-tale romance that offered him a better, alternative happily ever after.


When we add all of these together, we need to come up with a simple hypothesis. Why, in a single word, did Watts commit triple [actually quadruple] murder of his own family.


He wanted more. But he wasn’t prepared to pay the price to get what he wanted, so he chose subterfuge, so that he could dodge paying for what he wanted, the same way he’d been dodging reality for year.

He wanted to have his cake and eat it. Just like Scott Peterson did. I suspect further investigation will show Watts was a spoiled kid, and used to entitlements. He didn’t like the drudgery of his job. He wanted to convert his family to oil and gold, cash in his chips and start a new life with someone else.

JUST IN from People Magazine –  When Nickole Atkinson, Shanann’s friend, didn’t hear from her, she called Chris Watts to find out what was going on. That’s when he made this surprising disclosure to Nickole about his 6-year marriage:

“I didn’t find out that they were going to separate or anything like that until I called Chris that morning. When I called him and asked him where she was, that’s when he told me and I basically told him that that wasn’t my [concern] at that particular moment, because it wasn’t and that their business was their business, that they would either work it out or they wouldn’t.”

Why would Watts be chomping at the bit to tell someone their marriage was in trouble immediately after his wife was dead and the kids gone? Why would it not be okay for his own wife to know [or say] their marriage was in trouble?

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There could be other factors too, depending on issues of Watts’ identity. Without knowing his background, his make-up, his backstory, it’s difficult to be more accurate.

Now let’s see what the prosecutors have to say today…


Henri’s Humiliation lies at the heart of the Triple Axe Murder Motive [WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO]

The 80 second video you’re about to see is graphic. It’s crime scene footage showing the actual victims, lying where they died, inside the family mansion at 722 North Elm Drive in Beverly Hills. The footage is from August 20, 1989, the scene of a parricide, the double murder of José and Kitty Menendez.

Instead of an axe, the Menendez parents were shot point blank with two Mossberg 12-gauge shotguns, each shotgun wielded by their two sons Lyle 21 and Erik 18. Through the Menendez case we want to get a better sense of how and why the Van Breda Axe Murders were similar, and similarly motivated, and how they were not.

It’s important to view the footage if only to get a sense of obvious, ordinary and macabre context. Initially it’s just a home. Then there are a few bloody footprints. And then reality seems to shift. In the lounge, which could be a lounge in any family home, a man is – or was – watching the James Bond film The Spy who Loved Me. It’s clear he was shot multiple times. From from the way he’s leaning, the shape of his head and the enormous red stain on his shirt, he died instantly right there on the sofa, still pretty much in a comfortable sitting position. His brain matter was on the ceiling, but José didn’t know what hit him.

José’s wife Kitty, a former beauty queen, wasn’t as lucky. She knew what was happening, and who was behind it, and she was trying to flee the scene when she was shot. She didn’t get far, perhaps one or two steps. The brothers later confessed that their father died instantly, but their mother did not. She was moaning and crying, and as Nancy Grace puts it: “She was trying to crawl away from her own sons…”

The brothers went outside, reloaded, and then returned to finish off their mother. Neighbors thought the sound of two shotguns going off were firecrackers.

Since Kitty was shot many more times than José , it’s a mercy the crime scene video isn’t very detailed. It shows a dark shape curled up into a foetus, lying on the floor beside the sofa.

I’ve described the scene in sufficient detail for it not to be necessary to view, but if you have the stomach for this kind of thing, watch the crime scene video at this link.

On May 29th, about a week after Henri van Breda’s conviction for the triple murder of his older brother and both parents, The Times‘ Tanya Faber provided a little insight into the more obvious connections between the Menendez case of August 1989, and the Van Breda case of January 2015.

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Faber is right to highlight 1) the murderers were in the prime of their lives, 2) from exceedingly wealthy families and 3) also that the murders were grotesque in their brutality. Just as the meaty holocaust of an axe bludgeoning a skull and neck is extremely gratuitous, so is the overkill in not only dispatching an unarmed family member with a shotgun, but having two shotguns and taking the killing far beyond the functional point of ending someone’s life. In other words, there’s a similarity in the sadistic excess and the sheer pleasure involved in ending the oppressive control over their lives that the parents represented.

According to Wikipedia:

José was shot point-blank in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty, awakened by the shots, got up from the couch and was shot in the leg as she ran towards the hallway. She slipped on her own blood and fell. While on the floor, she was shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both José and Kitty were shot in the kneecap, in an attempt to make the murders appear related to organized crime.

Even from this brief excerpt there are tons of similarities, even if we restrict ourselves to execution. An extensive analysis would require a trilogy of chapters to do the comparisons justice, but for now, let’s gloss through a few similarities:

  1. José – the father – is killed from behind, and his killer aims for the back of his head when he executes. In other words, it’s a cowardly move. Henri also killed his father from behind [as the previous blog describes] and aims for the head when he executes his first blow.
  2. The attack on and death of the father immediately causes the mother to awaken, get up and run. This also happened in the Van Breda case. Teresa was attacked second, as she was considered less of a threat.
  3. Kitty slipped on her own blood. Teresa was also running barefoot in the hallway, though it’s unclear if she was running away or towards the crime scene in the boy’s room. If Teresa didn’t slip on the blood shed near the door, Marli almost certainly did.
  4. While the Menendez brothers further mutilated their parents bodies post mortem, in Henri’s case, he allowed both his siblings to survive in a seriously injured state for several hours. Rudi was making gurgling noises and gesticulating, and Marli was also, for hours after the actual attack. This also suggests sadism, a cold-blooded sense of enjoying the suffering one has inflicted.images (3)
  5. Henri’s staging involved hitting the axe into the wall, which accounted for his explanation that he pursued an intruder, but also did the job of removing sequential blood traces from the face of the axe. It’s possible Marli disarmed her brother and tossed the axe, or that when she tried to escape, Henri threw the axe, missed, and it hit the world. But Marli slipped…
  6. In the same way that the knee cap set-up is a trademark of organised crime, Henri also tries to simulate aspect of his story, in order to correspond to organised crime that was taking place at the time – a reign of terror by the Balaclava Gang [more burglars than murderers though].

There are also some incidental similarities, such as that José and Kitty had been out shark fishing on a chartered yacht the previous day. In the Van Breda’s case, they’d been out shark diving in Gansbaai as a family the previous day. Who knows, this idea of humans getting the better of an apex predator might have sparked something in the minds of these young men in their prime.

There’s also the perception that this was the picture perfect-family, living the South African/American dream. The Menendez family and the Van Breda’s were described as “closely knit.”

Some similarities seem to go further than being incidental. The older brother Lyle, like Henri, was on academic probation at the time he murdered his parents. If you want to mince words and say Henri was on a gap year, or expelled, fine, but the bottomline is both rich kids were in a state of disgrace in terms of their initial foray into the world.

Henri was expelled because of drug abuse, whereas Lyle was on probation for poor grades and discipline. After allegations of plagiarism during his freshman year, Lyle was suspended for a year.

Meanwhile, the other sibling, Erik, was ranked 44 in the USA as an 18-and-under tennis player. So there is a mismatch between the performances between the two siblings, and also between at least one of the children and the high performing parents.

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Just as the Van Breda’s were perfectionists with high standards, so were the Menendez parents. They wanted the best for their sons, but it seems their sons resented the pressure and expectations, especially when they felt entitled to what was already there – and why couldn’t cauldrons of treasure be given to them now when they needed it, now that they were coming of age? Why did they have to study anyway?


Another parallel is how the media and the courtroom players humanised these murderers. Many people said they liked them, felt sorry for them and couldn’t imagine they were capable of such cruel atrocity. What it really was was a shallow media, and a shallow public, that liked the look of the murderer/s.

So did the opposite sex, and that gave the story an added dimension. Both Menendez brothers married behind bars [post conviction]. Danielle’s attachment to Henri remains part of the mystery that clouds his case.


To put the absurdity of feeling sympathetic or worse, attracted to a mass murderer of one’s own flesh and blood in perspective, have a look at this excerpt from Barbara Walters interview:

ERIK: I’m just a normal kid [smirking].

WALTERS: Oh, you’re a normal kid who killed your parents!

ERIK: Yeah, I know.

A final parallel to draw is the use of movies to create an alibi. In the Menendez case the brothers committed the murders at about 22:00, went to watch the ironically titled License to Kill at a local cinema, and then after returning home “discovered” the crime at 23:47. When Lyle called 911 he sounded frantic.

I’m not sure whether the Van Breda uncles watched this documentary [see above] – “Snapped” – because the word itself, an English word, has come up a few times to describe what happened to Henri even in Afrikaans newspaper columns covering the case. I don’t think the handsome and privileged Menendez brothers snapped, and I don’t think Henri snapped. Snapping doesn’t involve premeditation, and it doesn’t involve postmeditation. If you snap, then when you come to your senses there is shock, remorse and regret. I don’t get a sense that Henri – or the Menendez brothers – have any remorse for what they did. If they had to do it again, probably they’d do it again with fewer mistakes.

That’s where the similarities end.

Although there are two surviving siblings in the Van Breda case, one is very clearly the victim, while the other acted alone. In the Menendez case, the two siblings worked together as accomplices and accessories before, during and after the crime.

During the Menendez’ appeal, the brothers showed extraordinary emotion as they claimed their parents sexually abused them. I expect in Henri’s appeal, we’ll also see more emotion. Or perhaps not. I doubt whether Henri will claim sexual abuse though, but this brings us to motive.

We can see why the older brother Lyle may have hated his parents. He was a university dropout at the time, and with their high standards, they expected more. But many kids are dropouts and don’t murder their nagging, disapproving parents. So what was the thing really chewing on the bone here?

We get a clue in the other brother Erik, who was a homosexual. His parents were strident homophobes. So now we have a strong motive in the younger brother that goes to the core identity that’s under threat.

In effect we have the older brother whose career and life is under threat in terms of his education and reputation, and the younger brother whose career and reputation is perceived to be under threat because he’s homosexual. Juxtaposed besides these anal straitjackets is the life-giving elixir that is family treasure. This can release them both with their deathly insignificance, only their parents in their anality and sadism, won’t let them have any money.

After murdering their parents, the Menendez brothers went on a huge spending spree, buying apartments, cars, a restaurant, racking up gambling debts etc.


Henri didn’t go on a spending spree, although he did buy a white BMW within six months of the murders, and it didn’t take long with his parents gone for him to get himself arrested for drugs. He also hooked up with his first serious girlfriend, although that took longer.


According to the not particularly reliable Son newspaper, Henri and Danielle became an item virtually immediately when he started chef school at Capsicum Culinary Studio, in February 2016.

Another sharp contrast to the Menendez brothers is how their appearance in court over several months is the same, whereas Henri and Danielle sport every look imaginable, from the Neanderthal to no hair, and in Danielle’s case, from cute to pudgy to pink hair to anorexia.

In sum, the similarities between the Menendez Shotgun Murders, and the Van Bred Axe Murders boils down to two basic scenarios on both sides. There’s incredible wealth and privilege on the one side, but also a sense of discipline and high standards from perfectionist parents. That’s not unusual.

On the other side of the equation is a sense of low-performance, low-standards, and something critically undermining the perfect family image. The parents are humiliated, but so are the children. Again, many families have Bart Simpson teenagers and over-expectant parents. What’s unusual here is the learning curve of the parents in both scenarios – both sets of parents were extremely are working and very self-disciplined. What’s more they were moral figures. In a situation like that, simply being a failure, or not measuring up would be humiliating enough, being told or taunted that one is falling short when one’s peers are subjected to more casual codes of conduct, well that might feel intolerable.

Add to that a perception, whether secret or not, that makes this hole feel impossible to climb out of, given these impossible standards, and add to that the critical phase when young men must assert their manhood, and you have your recipe for wanting bloody revenge, you have your motive for cold-blooded sadistic mass murder.

The murder is the young human male trying to assert his power over a controlling male lion that won’t let him. It’s overkill because the young male isn’t your average insecure male, but is extremely insecure about something central to his identity that the older male lion cannot abide. This frustrates him, then it awakens a rage.

For Erik it was his homosexuality. For Lyle it was the double humiliation of being caught cheating and getting kicked out of university. For Henri I believe it was his epilepsy. The anxiety around the epilepsy, the stuttering and being thrown out of the University of Melbourne made him feel less-than next to his more polished Golden Boy brother. And this made him seek solace in drugs. And it was all downhill from there.

When the penny dropped, Henri realised he could never compete, could never meet the standards set for him in father’s eye. His brother could, but not him. And he made them pay for that.


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.


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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What is Henri van Breda’s ring of power – and pain?

Remember Gollum? He was an unearthly creature, the one that stole the show from all the Hobbitses, elves and orcs. We were amused most of all by Gollum, but we weren’t sure why. We have the same ghoulish fascination for Henri, and we aren’t sure why.

After 70 court days, the court that was called to prosecute Henri for his cold-blooded crimes, doesn’t know why either. Incredible as it sounds, it’s not the job of a court or the law to say why, only how, and with what.

Judge Desai, during his judgment, mentioned “clear intent” and almost immediately after “having no explanation.”

There is an explanation, and it’s clear as day it’s being hidden. It’s something Henri feels ashamed of, and the lack of remorse, the lack of any flicker of emotion, especially during sentencing, completely lines up with the Henri that’s been with us all along, since that weird-as-hell 25 minute emergency call. So what is Henri hiding?

To understand the psychology, to enter the ring of power, as it impacts the blood of young men, we must intuit the life of a 20-year-old. The libido, the hubris, the mood swings, the ambition, the idealism, the physical strength, the emotional weakness, the frustration and anger, the ego, the interplay with fantasy and reality, the spectrum upon which the individual finds himself in terms of social and sexual maturity. At 20-years-old, a man must answer the call to be a man, or hide from that call, cowering, like a coward. Sometimes boys who wish to leave the cave and become men feel especially humiliated during this time, and many feel that humiliation is deserved – because a bird must leave the nest in order to fly, and in order to relieve the burden on others.

Some families exert tight controls over their progeny. Sometimes the encouragement is too little, sometimes the cutting down to size, the bringing back to earth, is too much. It is the job of parents to give their children two things: one is roots, the other wings. Which did Henri have? My opinion is that he was too rooted, and for reasons I won’t go into here, wasn’t allowed to have his version of having wings. He got his wings, incidentally, after his family were dead. And Henri in court today seems satisfied with his decision. One has the impression, if he went back in time, he wouldn’t change anything.

I say Henri was too rooted for three main reasons. One, he was loafing around at home for months before the murders as it was. This is a stressful, fraught time for any man, to feel useless, directionless, inhibited, especially at this prime time in his life. Imagine being a first year student, and told to come home, and stay home, and basically find yourself grounded after you’ve tasted freedom.

For another, Henri wasn’t only at home, but he wasn’t applying himself. Although Judge Desai says Henri gave no explanation, he gave many indirect reasons for he was. He revealed what he was preoccupied with at the time of the slaughter – watching anime while the family was sleeping, playing games late at night on his phone, watching Star Trek on the family’s new theatre system, drinking rum and coke, walking the dog, smoking cigarettes that he had to hide in his shoes, and trying to engage with a girl [Bianca], only she seemed less interested in him than he was in her. In other words, Henri was a perfectly normal young man, except, from an extremely wealthy family, a high-performing bunch of perfectionists that brooked no truck with a Bart Simpson [give-up-don’t-try] attitude to life.

It’s that dodgy time in a man’s life where he’s part man, but still part boy. He doesn’t know who he is. He’s still discovering his power, still learning his lines, his moves, developing his charm, and finding where he fits in the pride of other young male lions. His parents are loosening the reins, and tightening them, and it’s not clear how much is right, either way.

And the female lions roaming somewhere out there are aware of the fluctuating status of the young male lion, just as they are painfully aware of their own status and desirability. A big part of being 20 is sex, and if you miss that boat, if your pride turns on you, you’re screwed, and not in a good way.


On the way to court this morning, many, many tweets were ringing in my sleep deprived frontal lobes. GUILTY! Lock him up and throw away the key. LWOP [life without parole].

On Day 70, I was the first journalist in court [for once], although many videographers were scuttling around setting up mikes. That moment when the court was quite bare, before 09:00, gave me a chance to reflect on the people I’d seen in front of me, telling their competing stories, for months on end.

A good prosecutor listens, and listens long and hard, which is what the Judge did in this case.

I don’t blame those who are unsympathetic to Henri. In fact, if anything, I blame those who are overly emotional about a triple axe murderer who shows no remorse. But if we are to deal in death and judgment, it should be with cool minds, it has to be a calculated punishment meant to extinguish, as far as possible, inextinguishable acts.

Since the interests of society have to be met, it’s important that society engages in the question of crime and punishment. What are the interests of society? What should they be? Is society even interested in what really happened? In my book, Diablo III I deal indepth with the cerebral subject of civilization, and how criminality tends to undermine our culture, and our civil society. It’s very valuable then, at moments like these, to take stock and decide what our society is, who we are in it, and what we want it to be if it’s not a society that serves our best interests.

Since the verdict two weeks ago, I’ve been angry with those who’ve expressed sympathy towards Henri, but in court this morning, as people ventured their suggestions for the appropriate punishment, I wondered about this scene from the Lord of the Rings. It’s worth watching a few times, to really ponder what it means to you, and how it relates to the Van Breda case.

GANDALF: Many that live deserve death. Many that die, deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal in death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. 

In court today I had a long conversation with one of Henri’s uncles. It was especially long because the Judge was particularly late in arriving at court this morning. I won’t disclose what was discussed, but I looked at some old research in a new way, and saw some ideas confirmed, if only in the quietness of my own mind.

It seems to me, everyone looking at Henri doesn’t necessarily see Henri, they see what he wants them to see, or what he tells them, or they see themselves. Even his extended family don’t necessarily see the wood for the trees. So, seeing the real Henri – in effect, seeing Henri’s reality – is tricky. But that’s why he’s been lying, to obstruct not only justice, but exposure to the world for who he actually is. Not just an axe murderer…but something else that’s even worse in Henri’s mind…


What could be worse than for a young man to be condemned for being a triple axe murderer who bludgeoned his own family to death? How about for that young man to have his manhood challenged. Don’t laugh, being a man is a deadly serious business when you’re 20-years-old, not hitting par, while your older brother is the golden boy [man] winning every accolade, and deserving more pots of family treasure to buy bigger, gilded wings enabling him to flying even higher and shine brighter. Rudi, in this spiel, is one aspect, exposing Henri nor for what he is, but for what he isn’t. Rudi is finding his place in the sun, high in the sky, while Henri, rooted, is stuck in shadows and ashtrays, stuttering and stumbling, still trying to figure out his next step.

Yes, the sauve, handsome, well-brought up Henri from the De Zalze estate stutters. Over several years he’s mastered his stutter, but the stutter reveals something else Henri is trying very hard – like most teenagers and young men – not to acknowledge. His gnawing insecurity. His inadequacy.  Throughout this trial, Henri has changed his appearance constantly.

What do we know about the Henri of January 2015, when the murders happened? Henri’s single. Henri drinks and smokes. Henri doesn’t have many friends. Henri’s a dropout. Henri’s trying to find Henri, and ironically enough, this trial helped him do that.


Which is also why Gollum, who also talks funny and looks funny, is such an attractive character to us. He is so obviously flawed, we feel both world’s apart from his decrepitude, and simultaneously we feel we understand – even enjoy [in the sense that we’re entertained by] Gollum’s teeth-grinding frustration.


We see Gollum evolve from a pathetic creature to a creature of some significance [although he remains doomed and pathetic]. Isn’t that the same thing going on with Henri? Isn’t that what fascinates us, but we’re not sure why.  We’re not sure because it’s kind’ve uncomfortable to acknowledge. We don’t want to admit we’re anxious too. We sometimes dress ourselves up even though we’re cloaked in failure.

Henri had very, very few emotional moments in court. I sat in on all of his testimony. This was his most emotional moment on the stand:

In the narrow confines of this video, we have to wonder why Henri is so emotional. Is he emotional about his family. No. He’s referring to the fact of his family understanding him. Clearly, if he murdered them, they didn’t understand. And clearly wanting to be understood is a very emotional topic for Henri, as it is for most young people, especially young loners. Even now, the public, the media and the court, doesn’t understand Henri. We don’t know who he is, and he won’t tell us. So you can see why he had problems inside his own family.

Henri is crying, in the above clip, because he is acknowledging to himself, that his behaviour was “understandable”, or justifiable. Galloway is asking him almost inconsequential questions, but they get under his skin.

Why is he smoking in the house, when he may not. “They would have understood…” Galloway repeats Henri’s answer, but questions it. “They would have understood?” This inversion lies at the heart of this case. And on the stand, the inversion is unexpected, and forces Henri to reconsider the psychology, to remember that they didn’t – and wouldn’t – understood. When he does, he feels the same agony [which then gave rise to burning anger and hatred] rising in him again. What does he do? He calls an end to the questioning, showing, when he’s emotional, that he steps out and up and calls the shots when he feels it’s necessary.

Henri’s emotions draw him out of his shell, often with dire consequences [as is the case with so many young people who are untrained for the real world, and untested in terms of their attitudes and emotions].

In a much broader sense, we intuit Henri’s struggle for significance, and his battle against the entropy of failure and insignificance, even though he is doomed to fail in that battle. We share in that same struggle. Everyone alive now is battling, competing for significance. Not everyone gets it, and not everyone who gets it, keeps it.

On a daily basis, whether in traffic, or paying our taxes, when someone wastes our time, when some cubicle slave does something stupid with our information, we feel that murderous anger occasionally…and we let it pass.

Gollum, in the end, was consumed by his anger. That was his ring, his burden, to bear. Some people are consumed slowly by anger and bitterness. It may take a lifetime, or it may take a marriage. Or a bankruptcy. Or a job loss. That same anger, so salty it chokes you, consumed Henri.

Look into your heart. Anger is what keeps you poor. But anger is also an activating emotion; anger, harnessed the right way gets the lion back into the hunt, back onto the playing field. Anger can be adaptive or maladaptive. For Henri, it was the latter.

Henri’s story is a great tragedy, but at the heart of it is a blinding-white, metallic rage. The axe as an implement of death wasn’t an accident. Henri wanted to inflict maximum harm. He wanted it to hurt, like he was hurting.

In court, in a completely different setting, wearing a suit and tie, it’s easy to miss that. It’s easy because it’s supposed to be. Henri still thinks he can beat the system. As soon as Desai convicted him, Henri’s goal posts shifted to the next thing – the appeal. His lawyer would also be feeding him the hope of eventually prevailing [giving him wings, while he’s rooted in prison].

If a lion is stripped of his wings too soon, that anger can fester, and the wings can become an incubus, turning a lion into something else – a hyena. A hyena has the same impulses, the same legs, tail, eyes, as a lion, but it’s a different animal. The instinct has been perverted. The laughing hyena is more of an opportunist, a creature with powerful jaws meant to live off the dead, consuming – grinding – even their bones.

I’m interested to know – specifically – how that happened with Henri van Breda. When you’re feeling sorry for him, or judging him, you become blinded to his reality, and instead, see your own vividly cloaking his shoulders. Don’t do that. Don’t be that guy. Ask why and then take a long look, but take an even longer, and harder listen, for answers.

Look at Henri and drown out the sound and everyone else, and see what is obvious. Henri’s unemotional while being sentenced to life. Why does he feel he must show the world that he’s unemotional?

There are many good reasons for that, some legal, and some psychological, and I’ve gone into those in detail in my books, but it’s worth considering that there are reasons, even as we’re doing our best to gloss over them in our rush to judgment.


I think we’re prone to compartmentalizing our thinking with our emotions. If we feel sorry for someone, we give them mercy, we’re lenient. If we’re angry, we punish them. That kind of if-then reactionary thinking is the style of modern social media. We’re programmed to have shallow, one dimensional responses to things, even on complex issues: Agree, LIKE, disagree, RANT.

So here’s a suggestion. What about feeling very sorry for Henri, but punishing Henri strictly, nonetheless? This is the operative vibe I get from the Judge, and I give him credit for it. Of course, we could also feel very angry towards someone, and be lenient [which happened, at least initially, with Oscar]. In Henri’s case, by the time he comes out of jail he’ll look like this [or as old as this].


I’d like to think that within the next 25 years, Henri may change into someone that will want to show genuine remorse for what he did. But whether he does or not, the other side of the equation must be balanced.

We must remember the dead, and honour them. We must remember the silent survivor, that floats out there, who like her brother, hides her true story from the world.

In this story, a middle-aged businessman and his wife, and an older brother in the prime of his life, were mercilessly cut down. We must remember them, and remember that cumulatively, their lives held tremendous value. One life, and one life sentence, can’t pay for the damage wrought. That is the irony here – that the one who was least, struck down the best in his family, and he got to tell the tale at their expense.  And no one stood up to counter the lies with truth.

He liquidated their treasure, and took it, and used it to pave his way back into the world. His father’s gold cast into straw houses, straw men and straw mustaches. The world that has emerged at the other end of Henri’s story, is poorer and emptier as a result.

In a sense, isn’t that happening elsewhere too? The gods are being struck down by giants, who rise out of the earth with their spades and axes, and the world turns to molten fire at their feet.


Van Breda Sentencing: “Taking a wrong turn” – does it happen suddenly or systematically?

20180605_110408Nobody knows why Henri committed mass murder, not even on Day 69 of his mammoth trial. Since the state didn’t need to prove motive, they didn’t. Henri was convicted of intentionally murdering his family, and attempting to murder his sister. The law doesn’t require that anyone explain why he did it, it’s sufficient to prove simply that he intended to. That may be sufficient for the law, but it’s not sufficient for human beings.

The case felt very unsatisfying today in court, although it has to be said, before Henri himself arrived, the court was very festive, with lawyers, family and journos making jokes and chattering excitedly. One could hardly imagine a young man’s life was hanging in the balance.

Over the past few days folks in the media have been speculating about “why”, some getting warm, as they say, some merely stirring up the cliches you invariably hear about any crime or criminal that shakes our world: evil, psychopath, monster.

Henri is none of these things. But one really has the sense that Henri has made peace about what he did, even if no one else has, which suggests that he had very good reasons [for him] to do what he did. So what were they?

The Judge, confronted with a presentable, pleasant, soft-spoken, reasonable young man [for the most part], was disinclined to pronounce judgment today, even though advocate Botha basically told him “I got nothing more”. Desai even offered him a chance to confer with his client, and Botha, surprisingly, spurned the offer.


It’s for this reason that Judge Desai was reluctant to pronounce sentence today, or even tomorrow. June 6th, Wednesday, was the original day set aside for sentencing, but evidently the Judge needs an extra day to mull this case cover. If Botha can’t provide him with something to think about, perhaps the Judge will come up with something on his own.



Interestingly, in court today Henri spent by far the most time not looking at the Judge, but looking down. I’m not sure whether he was reading a letter, reviewing messages on a cellphone or taking notes [or none of these], but for the first time in this trial, he didn’t look at the Judge throughout the proceedings. There were moments when he glanced up, but for the most part he seemed resigned to his fate. I wonder whether that wasn’t an instruction from counsel, to look down, to appear defeated. Conversely, when an accused has been convicted, making eye contact with a Judge that has convicted you, may seem confrontational. Aggressive.

Ironically, he was less sleepy and doped-up than on the day of the verdict. It seemed to be just another day for Henri in court… Well, except that it wasn’t. It wasn’t just another day. It was a day after spending two weeks in jail. Henri didn’t seem the worse for wear, but that’s exactly the point: Henri is trying to show himself [and the world], that he’s his own man, that he’s a man. What more than that?


I’ve also heard a few people saying “Henri just snapped”. I don’t believe that for a second. Murders don’t just happen by accident. Even accidents don’t happen by accident. To illustrate my point I’m going to refer to two examples, one from my own experience, the other from Henri’s:

  1. The Wrong Turn

This morning was a disaster. It was the first time I arrived at court [for the Rohde trial] late in very many visits. One might say I arrived late because I took a wrong turn. Yes, you could say that, just as you could call Henri a psychopath, and feel that suffices as an explanation. It doesn’t.

So what’s my reason for being late this morning; what lies behind the wrong turn?  Didn’t it just happen?  Well, it did and it didn’t. It’s a very tricky road from where I’m staying in Woodstock, back up to the N2 highway. There’s only one road, and if you take the wrong turn you end up going on the N2 away from Cape Town. That’s what I ended up doing. Another turn had me entering the belly of the city, right where I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t that I didn’t know my way, I did, and I arrived on time two weeks ago despite staying more than 120 kilometres outside the city, in Hermanus.

So what happened? I’m sure you’re not interested in my personal issues, just as the court isn’t interested in Henri’s personal issues. They want a quick, easy solution. He murdered his family because he didn’t get a car for Christmas, or some such nonsense. When you care about the personal nonsense, you get a real sense of the emotional dynamic that resonates. As a true crime writer, this is what I’m fishing for, and where I’m fishing, evidently no one else is.

I can tell you I was extremely bitter and upset as the clock ticked by and I was still stuck in traffic this morning. I was livid. But traffic is an interesting thing. If you don’t try to be clever, you tend to get where you need to go, just like everyone else.  Just stay in your lane, be patient, and head in the direction you need to go, like everyone else. If you’re immature, angry, impatient or nervous, you make mistakes – like I did. Part of the reason for the mistakes was leaving the hotel much later than I planned, leaving no room for error. When there was an error I had only myself to blame, and yet I wished I could blame someone else. Young people, when they have the same burning resistance to being stuck in a bad decision [their’s or someone else’s] can also lash out.

My point is, the lashing out didn’t just happen, it comes from an attitude, a laziness, a lack of preparation, perhaps even a lack of attachment to the real world. To be honest, I only had about four hours sleep last night. I couldn’t switch off for some reason. When my alarm went off, I put it on snooze about three times. There’s my mistake. If I had more time, I’d have had plenty of time to make mistakes and adjust.  But I left things to the last moment.

There’s another aspect to Henri, which you’ll only understand if you’re familiar with my personal circumstances. As I freelancer, and full-time writer, I have to be self-motivated, and I have to get what I come for when I take the trouble to attend trial. This trip has cost over R4000, including flights and car rental, but excluding accommodation, which has been fortuitously paid for using a friend’s hotel points [so that part is free]. So when  you’re stuck in traffic because you were a dumb, sleepy and lazy fuck, you clench your fists in anger and shout at your windscreen. But it doesn’t do any good.  It’s your own fault. Man up to it, and do better next time. Some don’t. For some they pay for a wrong turn for the rest of their lives, but it’s hubris to say if only I went the other way, everything would have turned out sweet.

In reality, you probably have a wrong turn coming. The issue is how do you deal with it when it happens?  Do you get angry, do you lash out, do you give up, or do you take responsibility. Do you accept personal blame [account to yourself], express regret and remorse and resolve to do better? Because there’s always another chance to do better [or fuck up even worse]. That’s life.

Do you see how we need to see the “wrong turn” as part of a complicated process, which on the one hand involves the complexities of traffic, and the nuances of rush hour, and on the other, the psychologies and attitudes of the genius behind the wheel [who is very likely to be an idiot on some other day – it has to happen!]

Criminals too, don’t just happen, they are part of a process of becoming too. If Henri had lashed out and had a weird out-of-body experience after a very random thing, he wouldn’t have obstructed justice as smoothly and persistently as he tried to do. Also, he would have battled to save Marli’s life. He didn’t. So what was going on with him?

2. What’s really eating at Henri?

This section deserves to be very long, even book length. The bad news is, I’m not going to write very much here because I’ve analyzed Henri’s motive exhaustively in a trilogy of books, and a fourth is on the way either tomorrow or Thursday. The good news, is I’ll touch on two aspects very briefly here. You’re welcome.

a) Henri and Danielle’s weight loss

Sitting in court today, Julian Jansen was beside me, and remarked on how incredibly thin Danielle has become. Anorexic thin. So much, she’s hardly recognizable. Henri also, has lost a lot of weight.


Julian wondered why both have lost so much weight. I think the answer is that the verdict and sentence has hollowed them out in a sense, physically, psychologically, emotionally. They’ve had months away from court, but each day away has had an inevitability about it, that the freedom they cherished was about to be stripped away, and nothing on Earth could prevent that.

Henri’s relationship with Danielle is also significant. There’s something tragic about it – the two star-crossed lovers, caught in a tragic bind with a happy ending extremely unlikely. I think Henri’s found himself in her, and through her, and vice versa. The fact that both have withered away towards the end of the trial speaks volumes. Psychologically, I think if they didn’t see this result coming, they feared it, and at the very least were excruciatingly aware of the possibility of it.


b) The Van Breda Family Dynamic [Including meat-and-potatoes sibling rivalry]

The day after the murders, Henri was supposed to go on a scuba diving course in Mozambique, for three weeks. The day after that, Rudi was scheduled to fly back to the University of Melbourne. You want to know why Henri felt angry, no, a rage, against his family? Part of it was how much he was out of step with Rudi.

Here’s a reminder who Henri was in January 2015; how he looked, and how he was.



Henri probably blamed Rudi for this, as well as himself, as well as the world and his family. One thing is clear, his brother was completely outshining him and there was nothing he could do to clear the deficit. No way to catch up. Rudi had many friends and many beautiful girlfriends. Henri had virtually no friends and no girlfriends. He had no prospects whatsoever, and his father kept reminding him of that…

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Henri didn’t want to go scuba diving, his aunt Leenta says as much in an interview she did with Huisgenoot magazine, and given the outcome, it makes sense that he was pretty pissed off about something. Where did Henri want to be? Have you ever been to Melbourne? It’s been voted one of the world’s best cities many times over. It is a beautiful city, a far better and nicer and sweeter city than Cape Town. Its university is also streets ahead of UCT. But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t dig into Henri’s [and Rudi’s] backstories. You wouldn’t know what Henri knew he was missing out on. Just as those who saw me fuming in my little rental car this morning, thought I was an asshole with a Gauteng registration plate. You won’t know until you pay attention. You won’t know until you find out who the person is, live in their world, walk in their shoes.

Henri’s world in 2015 was the world of the student. Do you remember your student days? Well, Henri was a student and he wasn’t. His brother was going back to the land of milk and honey, while he was going to fucking Mozambique. Does Henri strike you as the outdoorsy type, the guy who likes adventures on the seven seas? But Henri did want to be back in Australia and on the night of the murders, it suddenly became clear that he was on a different road, and he was likely never getting where he wanted to go. When you’re a student, that’s crushing…

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