Brutal. Inconceivable. Shocking. The words describe the 2015 Krugersdorp murders. For those who were following the case when it went to trial in 2019, witness testimonies read like a script from a Hollywood thriller.
It had all the ingredients for a big-budget flick – Satanism, the occult, bungled police investigations – except this was real life.
The Gauteng High Court found the group, which called themselves Electus per Deus (Chosen by God) and who later became known as the Krugersdorp Killers, guilty of 32 counts between them, including murder, fraud, racketeering and robbery.
But that’s not where the story ended; far from it.
Electus per Deus’s murderous rampage had been immortalised in the Showmax Original true crime docu-series Devilsdorp, making it an instant hit for the streaming service and social media fodder for weeks.
Described as “uncovering disturbing new facts about the brutal Krugersdorp killings that'll leave you questioning what you thought you knew”, the series delves into the criminal minds of Cecilia Steyn, Zak Valentine, Marcel Steyn, Marinda Steyn and Le Roux Steyn who murdered 11 people between 2012 and 2016.
Although Cecilia Steyn was found to be the mastermind behind the operation, focus shifted to siblings Marcel and Le Roux who were minors when the first slaying took place.
While on the witness stand, Marcel described when she accompanied her mom, Marinda, to Mikeila Valentine’s home with the intention of killing her.
Marcel, who was 14 at the time, killed Mikeila by smashing her skull with a blunt object and stabbing her several times as she lay on her bed.
Le Roux, who later entered a plea bargain with the State, admitted that he drugged and strangled Jarod Jackson in 2015.
The siblings continued their vicious killing spree with the rest of the group which later were dubbed the “Appointment Murders”, until 2016.
Callous, calculated and unprovoked, the Steyn siblings proved that the perpetrators of heinous crime don't have an age.
And it’s not just murder. South Africa’s recent criminal history of rape and aggravated assault show a chilling thread of young offenders.
One of South Africa’s most notorious serial killers and rapists, Moses Sithole, was in his teens when he was first arrested for rape. Sithole murdered at least 38 people between 1994 and 1995. They became known as the ABC murders.
Although racially motivated, Johan Nel was sentenced to four life terms for killing four black people, including a three-month-old baby, during a shooting spree in 2007. He was 18 years old.
In most countries, young people, particularly young men, constitute both the majority of perpetrators and victims of violence and crime, according to Safer Spaces.
The organisation quoted a study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention that found young people who have been victims of violence were six times more likely to commit a crime than those who have not been victimised.
When asked about the trend of young people committing such brutal crimes, registered psychologist Dr Melinda du Toit explained there were various factors at play.
“I would argue that the relationship between criminality and the current times we are living in will depend on the specific person, their intrapersonal make-up and the specific situation and type of crime,” she said.
“The situation in the series Devilsdorp has much more to do with personality disorders and the children's early development history than with any psychosocial issue as such.”
Violence affects youth and adults differently. If children and youth are exposed to or become victims of violence, there is a high risk that they will show violent behaviour themselves at a later stage, noted Safer Spaces.
A classic textbook version of this is Marcel and Le Roux Steyn.
But, “on the other hand, if you would refer to, for instance, gang violence and criminality amongst the youth involved in gangs, it could be more of a psychosocial phenomenon at play,” Du Toit concluded.