PICTURE SUPPLIED CAPTION: Happier times: the complete Schutte family a year ago...from left... Gerlind, Angela, Ekard, Elizabeth, Matthias, Lutz and Stefan Schutte.

Four people appeared in court on Wednesday in connection with the murder of a Richmond farming couple and their son.

Ekard Schutte, 77, his wife Elizabeth, 66, and their 33-year-old son Lutz were killed on Saturday night.

Lutz had arrived from Germany to celebrate his father’s birthday the next day.

But the decision by Richmond magistrate, Thamsanqa Cele, to bar the public and media from the courtroom - because one of the accused is a minor - angered locals who had come, hoping to see them.

Cele turned down a request from reporters to be present during court proceedings, in spite of an undertaking not to publish the minor’s name or picture. It was in the best interests of the minor, he said, not to have any members of the media or public present.

Members of the Richmond crime watch and community police forum who went to court in support of the victims’ family, expressed outrage at not being allowed entry.

“So his (the minor’s) rights are more important than ours and the victims? That is ludicrous,” said Colin Woodhead, who owns a restaurant in the Richmond village.

The minor appeared in court alongside his co-accused, Zamo Maduna, 19, and Siphesihle Ngubane, 20.

The three accused were charged with three counts of murder, house robbery with aggravating circumstances, theft of a motor vehicle and the unlawful possession of firearms.

Maduna had worked on the farm where the Schutte family were killed.

A fourth accused, Njabulo Zuma, has only been charged with possession of stolen property and unlawful possession of a firearm.

It is alleged the others had dropped off items they had stolen from the Schuttes’ farm at his house for safekeeping.

The three made their brief appearance at court very late in the afternoon after giving police extensive statements detailing their alleged roles in the attack.

They were to have consulted with legal aid advocates on Thursday.

The bodies of the murdered couple were found by their son Stefan, a Pietermaritzburg businessman, on Sunday when he went to the smallholding for the birthday celebration.

The four suspects were arrested on Monday night.

Police said they recovered several stolen items from the men, including the Schuttes’ firearms, speakers and amplifiers. Their stolen vehicle was also recovered, but it had been burnt.

It is understood that just before Ekard was killed, three men had approached him on the pretext of buying wood. They allegedly stabbed him repeatedly before entering and ransacking the house.

His wife and son were not at home but their arrival disturbed the assailants, who then allegedly turned on them, stabbing Lutz several times.

Elizabeth, who was taken into another room to open the safe, was also stabbed repeatedly.

In an attempt to get rid of evidence, the assailants then set the crime scene alight by pouring petrol in the house and over the mother and son.

The trio fled in Elizabeth’s vehicle, in which they had packed all the stolen items.

A spokeswoman for the Schuttes, Karen Lowe, who was at court yesterday, said the family, especially Stefan, his brother, Matthias, and their two sisters, Gerlind and Angela, are devastated by the murders.

“This has hit very close to home, more so because one of the suspects was in the employ of the Schuttes.

“They placed their trust in him and he betrayed them,” she said. “The family have a lot of questions. We want to know why.”

Speaking at Stefan’s home in Pietermaritzburg, Lowe said the family had been back to the Richmond smallholding but had not wanted to spend much time there.

“The family will take a decision in due course as to what to do with the property,” she said.

Lowe said that the outpouring of support and condolences from around the country had been overwhelming.

“These were good people who were valuable members of the community. Elizabeth was a hugger, and had a smile that lit up the room. Ekard was a passionate cook and we all referred to him as our MasterChef,” she said.

“Lutz was just a downright genuine guy. They were a loving, welcoming family, and now they have been shattered.”

A friend of Elizabeth’s, who identified herself only as Kayleigh, said she had also gone to court yesterday.

She said that the community of Richmond was a close-knit one, which made the murders even more shocking and surreal.

Kayleigh, who works at a deli in the town, said Elizabeth would often visit to chat.

“Her cheerful voice is something I will really miss. This is just so difficult to process,” she said.

A memorial service for the Schuttes will be held at 11am on Saturday at the Lutheran church in Pietermaritzburg after which they will be cremated.

Lowe confirmed that relatives from around the world would be attending.

The media have been asked not to attend, to allow the family privacy. - Daily News