The brutal death of Desiree Murugan has left her family wondering how it all went wrong.
Here was a woman, once full of life and energy, something of a fashion trendsetter and an aspiring designer, who was brought down by a long fight with drug addiction.
Ultimately, her battles with her personal demons led her to a life on the street, where she was murdered in grotesque fashion, her decapitated body found at Shallcross Sports Stadium last month.
Desiree was born in Durban’s St Aidan’s hospital in 1974.
She attended Sunbeam Primary School and later went to Chatsworth’s Newhaven Secondary School.
Coming from a deeply cultural environment, she learned how to play the harmonium, flute, cymbal and keyboard in high school, and was particularly fond of playing traditional music.
Her younger sister Jenette Murugan described Desiree as being a “lady and the trendsetter” from a very young age.
She recalled how Desiree would buy traditional Indian clothes and alter them to suit her style. Often, she would sketch clothing designs.
After high school, Murugan’s first job was at Milady’s in Malvern, where she worked as a sales lady.
In pursuit of her dream of becoming a fashion designer she found a job at Durban Clothing Manufacturing, where she was a supervisor.
The company awarded her a bursary to study fashion design, but when it ran into financial troubles, she was retrenched.
The company eventually closed down, putting the young woman’s designer dreams on hold and forcing her to look for work outside her chosen field.
Desiree was married for 10 years and desperately wanted to have a child.
After years of trying, she gave birth to a baby boy.
However, while all this was going on – the normal dramas and joys of normal life – Murugan was battling with something far darker.
Unbeknown to them, her family said, she was developing a drug addiction.
Jenette said: “We all lived together in the same house, but we used to live different lives.”
The family only became aware of the problem four years ago. The family started to become suspicious when Desiree lost a lot of weight, her skin complexion changed, and she started to ask for money constantly.
Her parents, friends and siblings tried to help her out.
They talked to her and eventually sent her to a rehabilitation clinic – “but she would escape… the fear of cleaning up got to her”, said her sister.
Jenette said her family could not believe what was happening and were eventually at wits’ end. But despite this they tried to assist her – “your blood is your blood”, she said.
In October last year Murugan moved out of home.
She would come home to visit for the day, have a meal and leave.
Jenette said: “With the way things turned out we do ask ourselves questions on what we could have done to help her. But at the same time, we do realise we did what we could,” said Jenette.
The family were aware that Desiree was leading a potentially dangerous life on the street, but when news came of her death, it was a shock.
“We did not believe it when we were told she had died. We thought it was someone pulling a fast one.”
Jenette said the family had been going through a difficult time since the tragedy.
“Nobody can understand what really is going on. We are trying to cope as best we can... media frenzy has affected my mother in a bad way. People are feeding off the tragedy... she is a human being despite her problems.
“It was disappointing as I expected much from her. I thought ‘what a waste of a life’.”
She said there was a lot she learned from her older sister. “I used to be shy as a child... I learned to be independent and bold from her,” said Jenette.
She said the family was grateful for the help it had received since Desiree’s death.
“We were financially not able to do anything. The community came to support us.
“We even received help from people who we did not even know,” she said.