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Two glasses of wine sat half-full on the kitchen table. The front door to the Orange Grove home was unlocked. The gate was wide open and lights glowed inside the house, even though it was in the early hours of the morning.
Two security guards on patrol passed by in their Stallion Security van and feared that one of their clients had accidentally left their gate open.
But instead of finding a forgetful homeowner, they found the dead body of Barney van Heerden naked and bound in a bedroom. There were no signs of a struggle.
Police are debating whether it was a date gone horribly wrong, or a potential hate crime, after Van Heerden was discovered at his home on Monday morning.
Norwood police spokesman Captain Thabo Malatjie said the cause of death was probably strangulation, as bruises around Van Heerden’s neck were clearly visible.
However, no signs of forced entry into the well-maintained home have led police to believe the murderer would not have had to break in, and was possibly invited in.
Police don’t believe robbery was a motive, as only Van Heerden’s laptop was found missing.
Police were unwilling to comment on a sexual component to the crime, but Van Heerden’s friends said he had been attempting to get back into the dating scene after breaking up with his long-term boyfriend three months ago.
Neighbours were appalled to discover the bevy of police officers gathered outside their homes on Monday morning, saying it was a great shock to lose someone who had lived in the neighbourhood for almost a decade.
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, discovered the remote control to Van Heerden’s gate outside his home. The neighbour handed the device to the police, who have yet to arrest a suspect.
Van Heerden’s ex-boyfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, was distraught after being informed by police on Monday afternoon.
“I just don’t know how this could happen. He never hurt anyone. I can’t believe it,” he told The Star.
Angus MacArthur, a friend who had known Van Heerden for several years, told The Star Van Heerden had been head of a department at Investec, describing him as a “loving, passionate person” who had been involved in numerous charities over the years.
MacArthur said the break-up had been difficult for his friend, but that he had been in better spirits at recent meetings.
On his Facebook wall, MacArthur posted a memorial: “Dearest Barney. Today, I am without words as I have been informed of your passing from this world that we live in. I am in shock and am extremely angry that the world is so cruel and has stolen you from our lives! I will miss you with many tears and hope that justice will be done to whomever has taken you from us.”
Van Heerden’s parents were on their way to Joburg from George on Monday to meet police about the death of their son.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) group head Dawie Nel said he was worried this might have been a hate crime, as he had heard numerous stories over the years of homophobic men attempting to trick people online into a meeting.
“We live in a conservative society, and the LGBT community has to deal with a lot of persecution. Gaining someone’s trust online would be a likely route for someone to act out their homophobia,” he said.
Nel recommended that people should meet potential love interests on safe, neutral grounds before inviting them into their homes. - The Star