In a recent global polling group, South Africa ranked as the 5th most dangerous country out of the list of 144 that were covered.
Of course, while alarming, such is the daily life of a South African exposed to a maelstrom of reports of murder, rape, hijackings, home invasions and so forth. To some extent, the frequency in which it happens has desensitised citizens.
But every now and then, a case comes along that, due to its disturbing nature, evokes a strong reaction and, in doing so, mobilises a call for justice.
“Devilsdorp”, a true-crime docu-series on Showmax, peels back the layers to one such disturbing tale; the Krugersdorp Killings of 11 people between 2012 - 2016. It was also referred to as “Satanic Killings”.
At the heart of the narrative are Cecilia Steyn and members of her Electus per Deus (Chosen by God) cult.
But the creators kick off the four-part series with the shocking murders that were orchestrated by one dark, twisted mastermind, before joining the dots.
In the first episode, “A Time to Die”, a spate of brutal killings leaves the local police baffled.
Dubbed the “Appointment Murders” by the media, it followed the brutal strangling of insurance brokers Anthony Scholefield, 64, and Kevin Mc Alpine, 29.
Their body was found in black bags and stuffed into the boot of their car. Not long after, real estate agent Hanlé Lategan (52) went missing.
Her body was later discovered, dumbed in the bush close to a busy roadside used by school kids.
These cases left the residents of Krugersdorp, a mining city in the West Rand, Gauteng, living in constant fear.
Appointments were cancelled and residents didn’t venture out after dark.
Aside from interviews with family members, residents, experts as well as members of the police force and the justice department, “Devilsdorp” is narrated by Jana Marx, who is also the author of “Krugersdorp Killings”.
Since this docu-series is based on a real-life story, the creators also interwove news clips of Riaan Cruywagen as well as Devi Sankaree Govender’s coverage of it.
Through the episodes, viewers get to feel the pain of the family as Kezia McAlpine, who, at the time of her husband’s murder, was several months pregnant with their child; Francois Lategan (Hanlé’s son) and Ilse van Dyk (Mikeila Valentine’s mother) share their heartbreaking accounts.
Discovery claims specialist Shane Chatzkelowitz also plays an integral part albeit with one aspect of the investigation pertaining to Zak Valentine, who is the husband of Mikeila, who was brutally slain in her home.
And Captain Ben Booysen, who prides himself on his dressing and is a bull terrier on cases, is assigned to the investigation. His knack for leaving no stone unturned made him the perfect choice.
Viewers also got to know crime journalist Marizka Coetzer, who caused a stir when she fell in love with one of the accused.
There are two coherent narratives in the docu-series.
On the one hand, you have a church-going community living by the word of God and, on the other, you have the same community gripped by unrelenting dread over the growing number of devil worshippers in their midst.
Around that time, there was much propaganda around protecting one’s family and home. The fear-mongering left many Christians taking drastic measures to protect their loved ones.
Ria Grunewald, who became known as an authoritative figure on getting people out of the occult, joined this “battle” by holding a course called, “Know Your Enemy” through her Overcomers Through Christ religious group, which attracted several believers, including Zak and Mikeila Valentine, Marinda Steyn as well as her two children, daughter Marcel and older son Le Roux, Natacha Burger as well as John Barnard.
And she used Cecilia, who claimed to be a 42 generational witch in the satanic church, as a success story.
Ria and Cecilia became really close. Cecilia was in constant need of Ria, especially on what she called “High Nights” on the satanic calendar.
As such, Ria enlisted those close to her to keep Cecilia company and Marinda became a blindly devoted friend of Cecilia’s.
When Ria decided to shift the focus off satan and back to God with a new course, it took the spotlight off Cecilia.
She was further incensed by Ria’s closeness with Pastor Reginald John Edwin Bendixon, who lectured at OTC.
With the friendship between Ria and Cecilia souring, Cecilia started poisoning members of the group against Ria. She then recruited the loyal ones to her Electus per Deus cult.
What started out as anger and resentment towards Ria devolved into a dark and twisted act of revenge as Cecilia got her “foot soldiers” to carry out the most abominable crimes against those close to her. However, her plans to eventually do away with Ria’s son fell through.
Her reign of terror included psychological mind games, where she would anonymously sending threatening SMSes as well as notes to Ria.
Cecilia’s perverse need to get back at Ria, who is now in witness protection, bordered on certifiable.
The investigation wasn’t without stumbling blocks as paperwork went missing, certain police officials befriended the suspects and a question mark was placed over the handling of the 2012 killings.
In the end, Booysen was able to piece together the puzzle with the deputy director of Public Prosecutions Gerrit Roberts filing charges of murder, fraud, racketeering, and robbery against the accused, two of whom (Le Roux and John) turned state witnesses.
While Marinda tried to absolve Cecilia and Marcel of any involvement in the crimes, it was Marcel’s jaw-dropping confession that sealed their fate.
“Devilsdorp” is an unsettling watch. The malice and brutality of the perpetrators hit you like a sledgehammer. Cecilia’s arrogance coupled with indifference and a lack of remorse paints the picture of a very sadistic individual.
Justice was served in this widely-publicised trial. But it’s not easy shaking off the reality that something like this happened on our doorstep or that such evil individuals live among us.
“Devilsdorp” is streaming on Showmax.