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Drugs have been ruled out as a motive in the murder of Chanelle Henning, but the rumour mill is in overdrive as police say they are primed to arrest the man who had ordered the shooting of the 26-year-old teaching assistant.
While Nico Henning, the estranged husband of Chanelle, is firmly in the public spotlight, officers say he was not a suspect despite being questioned about the killing on Tuesday.
Nico Henning’s friend Andre Gouws is among the five men that have been arrested for the murder.
While police deny that the hit on Chanelle was drug related, speculation is rife as to the reason for the drive-by shooting of the young Pretoria mother only metres from her son’s nursery school on November 8.
There is a web of intrigue around the motive for the killing.
Theories about the murder of Chanelle, who had been involved in a messy divorce for the past three years from her 45-year-old husband, are spreading like wildfire.
The couple appeared to have had a short and acrimonious marriage before separating amid a slew of abuse claims.
Was the murder a result of misguided loyalty by a friend? Was it because of drug trafficking and drug debt?
Was Chanelle killed to end a custody battle that had seen the couple’s son being placed in foster care for eight months before being released last year into the sole custody of his mother?
Police have rubbished the drug trafficking and drug debt claims. The Hennings’ five-year-old son was this week again placed in foster care as the Pretoria High Court and social workers decided whether custody would be granted to Chanelle’s parents, Sharon and Ivan Saincic, or to his father.
Jacques Fourie, a family spokesman, denied the Saincic couple were fighting for custody of their grandson.
Fourie also knocked any drug claims surrounding Chanelle, stating that she was an organ donor – “her eyes have been donated and her bone tissue has gone to help many people”.
“Drug tests are involved in all of this so any drug claims are absolute rubbish,” said Fourie.
Police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila and officials close to the investigation say Henning was not a suspect, but added more arrests have not been ruled out.
A Pretoria police detective Gerhardus du Plessis handed himself over to colleagues on Monday, claiming he had pulled the trigger. The father of three had gone to the Hercules police station, a short distance from his home, confessing to the killing, but was only handed over to colleagues at the national police office in Pretoria and officially arrested that night.
He appeared in court on Wednesday and the matter was postponed to next week for further investigation.
Du Plessis’s confession led to the arrest of two other men – former Nigerian Olympic athlete and security company owner Ambrose Monye and 24-year-old Pershan Singh – on Tuesday. The same day the couple’s close friend Andre Gouws and Willem Marthinus Pieterse were also arrested and Nico Henning handed himself over for questioning.
Du Plessis, Singh, Monye, Gouws and Pieterse will appear in court again on Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition. A bail hearing will be held on November 29.
It was alleged that Singh got the gun from drug addict Deon Schoeman, 20, who also appeared in court in an unrelated case this week. He was accused of stealing the murder weapon.
But Singh’s family said the 24-year-old’s only link to the crime was that the firearm was registered in his name. It remained unclear who Schoeman was alleged to have stolen the firearm from.
It was claimed that Gouws had allegedly asked Monye to arrange the killing of his best friend’s estranged wife, but that Gouws had been instructed to do so by an as yet unnamed party.
Gouws’s long-time partner Estelle Hepburn reacted angrily to the allegation that the man who had been the best man at Nico and Chanelle’s wedding would be involved in the murder.
“I can categorically state that he had nothing to do with the fact that Chanelle is dead. In fact, we are all very good friends,” she said.
Hepburn also questioned why Gouws and Pieterse, who were arrested on Tuesday, had not appeared in court within the legally required 48 hours, and why Gouws had a fresh cut on his face when he appeared in court on Friday.
“It is not nice to be held in custody for such a long time. You can see he has been roughed up,” she said as he was led into court.
Hepburn said she and Gouws had been friends of the Hennings for years.
“Nico and Andre have been best friends for about 20 years. Andre would not do something like this to him,” she said.
Those close to Monye confirmed he had admitted to police and his legal team that he had been approached by a person some time ago asking whether he could arrange the murder.
“He was approached but said he did not do that kind of work so he referred the person to other people. He gave the person names and numbers. But that was a long time ago,” a source, who asked not to be named, said.
The person added that Monye had been cleared of any drug trafficking claims during an earlier road rage murder investigation.
A court-ordered medical examination of Singh and Monye after allegations of assault by the police confirmed that Monye had two cracked ribs.
Monye’s legal representative Andre Swanepoel had on Thursday told the court that his client had been so seriously beaten that he had to be injected “to revive him” and that he was kicked in the ribs and in the head until he lost consciousness during the interrogation.
The nature of Singh’s injuries was unclear.
“The statements of the accused have been made under duress,” the source said.
Henning’s parents, siblings and friends remained mum about the murder this week, only appearing in public for her funeral in Hartbeespoort on Monday.
The family had been advised by the prosecution not to attend the court proceedings “because of the fragile state of mind of the accused”.
Prosecutor Andrea Johnson would not clarify what this meant.
Henning’s sister, Monique Habberton, had earlier confirmed the five-year-old boy had seen his mother being shot.
“We are trying to cope. We obviously have our ups and downs. It is basically just our faith which is pulling us through this. The funeral is also taking its toll on us,” she said shortly after the murder.
Habberton and friends on a Facebook tribute page described the young mother as a loving, friendly person.
On the Facebook page, a friend warned the more than 100 people posting their tributes, to “be careful” as to “what you say and whose name you use… you never know who might be watching”.
This statement saw responses including one stating “where pockets run deep, so do ears and eyes” and another remarking “get your point! Personal safety”.
Among the other comments were: “why?? why??? why???”, “So very sad and pointless”, “I’m disgusted that one of them is a policeman. I hope they get to the bottom of this and fast”, and “RIP Chanelle xx...you lived, you learnt and you loved...now it’s time to rest. A beautiful person taken way too soon”. - Sunday Tribune