Mystery, intrigue and unexplained motives featured prominently in the majority of murder cases that dominated headlines across the country this year.
As though they were live soap operas playing out in courtrooms, some of South Africa’s most compelling cases ranged from the arrest of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, to the “Griquatown murders trial”, in which evidence was recently wrapped up in the Northern Cape High Court.
One of the most bizarre trials was that of Johannesburg nurse-turned-businesswoman Thandi Maqubela, who is awaiting sentence after being convicted in November of the murder of her husband, Acting High Court Judge Patrick Maqubela, in June 2009 .
Throughout her trial, Maqubela insisted her husband had died of natural causes.
A host of State witnesses testified that Maqubela was motivated by her outrage at her husband’s infidelity and that she was bent on revenge.
In the end, Judge John Murphy found that the medical evidence could not conclusively determine a cause of death, leaving the manner in which the acting judge had died unsolved.
Instead, it was the trail of lies Maqubela had left behind and overwhelming cellphone evidence that created a timeline of her movements - and those of her husband’s cellphone - that led to her demise.
Her business associate and co-accused, Vela Mabena, was acquitted because the court found that the State had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was involved in the killing.
Also in November, 22-year-old Johannes Kana was sentenced to two life terms for the rape and murder of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen.
Seventeen-year-old Booysen was raped, assaulted and disembowelled on February 2 in the quiet Overberg town - a crime that shocked South Africans and the international community .
While Kana admitted to raping and assaulting Booysen, he denied he had disembowelled her, claiming there were no open wounds when he left the scene.
However, he did not testify and, although convicted, there were many unanswered questions about his motives, with some speculating that others were involved.
Judge Patricia Goliath said in her judgment: “The accused is the only one that could have provided the court with information about what happened that night.
“While he exercised his right not to testify, it did not come without consequence. He should have shown his innocence and not expected the court to speculate on what had happened in the period after he raped her.”
A case full of peculiarity was that of the murder of Fish Hoek mother Rosemary Theron in February.
Theron was reported missing in March and, months later, in September, her 19-year-old daughter, Phoenix Racing Cloud, was arrested for her murder, together with her 18-year-old boyfriend, Kyle Maspero.
The pair share the dock with 20-year-old Godfrey Scheepers, who allegedly confessed to police that he helped move Theron’s body from a Fish Hoek field near her home to a dune in Baden Powell Drive, months after she had been reported missing.
It is alleged that Maspero and Phoenix plotted to kill Theron after an argument.
When Theron returned home after the fight, her daughter allegedly hugged her and apologised, before Maspero allegedly put a rope around her neck and strangled her.
The pair, together with Scheepers, are to appear in court again on January 23.
Another closely watched case is that of murdered Stellenbosch academic Dr Louis Heyns, whose body was found in May, buried in a shallow grave off Beach Road, in Strand. His vehicle, a Peugeot 308, was found at a Malmesbury scrapyard, in the process of being cut up.
Later, brothers Marthinus and Sarel van der Walt were arrested for his murder and the scrapyard owner, Juan Liedeman, was arrested for being an accessory after the fact and defeating the ends of justice.
While the motive for the murder has not yet come out in court, there are many questions, including whether Heyns was hijacked and, if so, what he was doing at the Strand beachfront.
The accused are to appear in the Western Cape High Court again in February.
The trial into the murder of Chanelle Henning took a dramatic turn recently when her husband, Nico Henning, was fingered as having ordered her killing.
Chanelle Henning was gunned down by two hitmen on a motorcycle in front of the Morningstar Montessori crèche in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, in November 2011, shortly after she had dropped off her 5-year-old son.
After two years of speculation that her estranged husband had ordered the hit on her, one of the men found guilty of her murder, Andre Gouws, said that Nico Henning had offered to pay R1 million to have her killed so that he could get custody of their son.
Gouws, Nico Henning’s close friend, and former Nigerian Olympian, Ambrose Monye, were convicted of the murder two weeks ago, but have not yet been sentenced.
Disgraced former police officer Gerhard du Plessis and self-confessed drug addict Williem Pieterse, the two hitmen who carried out the shooting, are serving 18-year prison sentences.
In the Griquatown murders trial, a 17-year-old boy stands accused of killing Griquatown farmer Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and of raping and killing their daughter Marthella, 14.
They were slain on their farm, Naauwhoek, near Griquatown, on Good Friday last year.
The State alleges that the boy planned the murders because the daughter had threatened to tell her parents that he raped her.
This week, when Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo was supposed to deliver judgment, the teen terminated his legal team’s mandate without giving reasons.
The case continues in March.
In the North Gauteng High Court this year the case of Johan Kotze, dubbed The Modimolle Monster, played out.
Kotze and his three co-accused, Andries Sithole, Pieta Mohlake and Sello Mphaka, received three life sentences in July.
Kotze’s ex-wife, Ina Bonnette, was attacked and tortured in Kotze’s Modimolle home on January 3, 2012.
Her son, Conrad Bonnette, was shot and killed in the house on the same day.
Kotze and Sithole were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Conrad Bonnette.
Mohlake and Mphaka were acquitted on the murder charge.
However, each of the four was convicted of kidnapping and of four charges relating to the rape of Ina Bonnette.
Perhaps the most sensational case of the year was that of Oscar Pistorius, dubbed the Blade Runner.
Filled with drama, celebrities, romance and allegations of jealousy and flared tempers, Pistorius’s application for bail, and the ongoing investigation, have been of interest around the world and are likely to continue to make headlines for months to come.
The pre-dawn Valentine’s Day killing of Pistorius’s girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, took place in his upmarket home in Silver Woods Country Estate, Pretoria.
Shortly afterwards, Pistorius claimed he had thought she was an intruder when he shot her through the toilet door.
Police took six months to investigate the shooting before charging him with murder and the unlawful possession of ammunition.
More than 100 people are on the prosecution’s list of State witnesses.
It has been reported that a team of American forensic specialists is working with Pistorius’s legal team to prepare his defence.
Recently, the State added two new charges, which relate to alleged contraventions of the Firearms Control Act, to the charge sheet.
The trial has been set down for March 3 in the North Gauteng High Court. - Sunday Argus