Convicted triple murderer Henri Van Breda inside the Western Cape High Court. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Convicted triple murderer Henri Van Breda inside the Western Cape High Court. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Shocked by the Devilsdorp doccie series? Here are 8 other court cases that have rocked SA

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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DEVILSDORP, a new documentary series on Showmax about a series of murders that rocked Krugersdorp in 2016, has captivated South African audiences.

All together, 11 murders were carried out by members of a cult-like religious group, known as Electus Per Deus (Chosen by God), under the leadership of Cecilia Steyn, between 2011 and 2016.

Steyn, who claims to be a 42nd generation witch, is portrayed as a conniving, manipulative con woman who enlisted the help of a handful of devoted Christians to help her escape from the clutches of Satanism.

She would eventually lead these hapless people down a dark path of murder and mayhem that culminated in a murder trial that stunned the country.

The Krugersdorp murders, however, are by no means the only bizarre crimes South Africans have seen over the past few years.

Marcel (seated), Cecilia (red and black jacket), and Marinda Steyn (grey jacket), with Zak Valentine (burgundy shirt), in the High Court in Johannesburg on charges related to 11 killings. File picture: Shain Germaner

We’ve put together a list of some of the most sensational cases in recent criminal history. Not all are bloody murder cases – a few also brings a smile, while others are downright sad.

Convicted double murderer Madeleen Bredenhann. Picture: Supplied

Madeleen Bredenhann: A murder case that boggles the mind

“That which will never be revealed is far worse than fiction.” This was the reaction of a family member of Madeleen Bredenhann. Bredenhann was sentenced to two life terms for the murder of her mother and grandmother.

The only person who probably knows the true answer to why 59-year-old Elma Bredenhann and her 89-year-old mother Dassie Wambach were hacked to death is Bredenhann, who has been convicted of the killings despite the apparent lack of a motive.

She was 29 when she was sentenced in the Pretoria High Court in 2004 for the axe killing in Pretoria North. Although she had blood splatters on her pajamas, she denied attacking them in their beds.

An appeal court judge confirmed her convictions but said it was clear the petite woman did not act alone. After spending 17 years in jail, where she obtained her honours in tax law, she remains tight-lipped about her accomplice.

Businessman Martin van Breda, 55, and his wife, Teresa, 54. The couple and the eldest of their three children, Rudi, 22, were killed in their home on the De Zalze Golf Estate. Picture: Supplied

Henri van Breda: Cold-blooded killer with a baby face

Cold-blooded, baby-faced Henri van Breda is serving three life sentences for the 2015 murders of his parents and elder brother, and 15 years for the attempted murder of his sister.

The then 23-year-old Van Breda was sentenced in 2018. He showed no remorse for the murders at the Van Breda family home in the De Zalze security estate in Stellenbosch.

His sister, Marli Van Breda, who was 16 at the time of the attack, barely survived.

Henri van Breda at the Western Cape High Court. Picture Noor Slamdien

Throughout the trial, Van Breda maintained his innocence, claiming instead that a laughing, axe-wielding attacker, also armed with a knife, was behind the murders.

In this case too, the motive remained a mystery.

Pictures of Don, Christelle and Marthella Steenkamp at a memorial service at the NG church in Griekwastad. Picture: Lizell Muller

Don Steenkamp: A bloody Easter weekend killing spree

Another baby face… Then-teenager Don Steenkamp’s family to this day remain divided over whether he is a ruthless killer.

He was sentenced in 2018 after being convicted of the premeditated murders of his parents, Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43, and his 14-year-old sister Marthella.

It was found that he also raped Marthella and that that could have been the reason for the triple murder on Easter Friday, 2012.

Their lifeless and bloodied bodies were found with multiple bullet wounds, on their farm, Naauwhoek, near Griquatown.

Don Steenkamp, who was convicted of killing his father, mother and sister. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo was convinced that not only was he responsible for raping Marthella, but that it was not the first time she had been the victim of sexual abuse.

While Steenkamp maintained his innocence, the only conceived motive for the family murder was that Marthella was going to tell her parents about the rapes and that Steenkamp wanted to silence her.

Poppie van der Merwe

Poppie van der Merwe: An angel face which masked a life of pain and suffering

Little Poppie van der Merwe was only three when she died a slow and painful death at the hands of her stepfather Kobus Koekemoer, while her biological mother did nothing to help her.

This once-smiling girl with blue eyes and blonde curls, was not the child we saw pictures of in court – an emaciated child with her hair shaved off and haunted eyes.

The story of the horrific abuse of the child over a period of about eight months as her parents moved around to avoid social services, unfolded in court. The child was beaten, humiliated and neglected.

After another horrendous beating, her stepfather took her to hospital when she was dead. The doctor found her little body covered with bruises and she had suffered major brain injury.

The judge who presided over the trial, in 2018 while sentencing the pair, said that looking at the pictures of the battered child, he has never seen anything like that in his entire career.

The mother received a 10-year sentence for child abuse and the stepdad a life sentence.

William Tjane: A child killer in the house

In another case involving a three-year-old, a Mamelodi man was sentenced to an effective 10 years in jail for beating his girlfriend’s child to death for soiling himself.

The judge remarked on the anguish the child must have felt while being beaten by William Tjane, 35. He said he found it hard to put the horror of it behind him.

Tebetso Phahle apparently cried out "Mamma" before his mother found him on a bed in a house she shared with Tjane.

She rushed him to hospital in a taxi but by that time, he was dead.

Tjane claimed the boy injured himself by falling out of the tub when he tried to clean him after he had soiled himself.

Convicted murderer Rehithile Katlego Matjane, 34, and her husband, well-known psychiatrist Dr Maxwell Matjane leave the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. File picture: Oupa Mokoena/ANA

Rehithile Katlego Matjane: Motherly love turned deadly

The wife of a psychiatrist who killed their two sons, Ivero, two, and Keyondre, six, was sentenced to two life terms in the high court in Pretoria. Rehithile Katlego Matjane, 34, blamed her actions on medication she was taking.

She fetched the boys from school in April 2015 and drove to a remote spot near Hammanskraal where she shot them dead. She claimed she had no recollection, saying she had temporary amnesia from the non-prescription painkillers she took earlier that day.

The mother, who said she loved her children dearly and would never intentionally harm them, has had another child since the boys' deaths.

The house that used to belong to the so-called “Springs Monster". Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/ANA

Springs Monster: Sexual slavery and abuse in suburbia

Sex, pornography, drugs and child abuse featured in the trial of the man nicknamed the "Springs Monster" and his wife.

The pair, who may not be identified to protect their children, were accused of the attempted murder of their 12-year-old son, the abuse of all five of their children and well as a host of other charges.

The case made headlines when the boy escaped from the family's prison-like-home and alerted neighbours.

A bizarre tale unfolded in the court, of how the mother had to dress-up as a prostitute for the father, how she had to partake in orgies and how especially the elder children were subjected to torture and abuse.

The man is serving a life sentence, while his wife, who found new love while standing trial, received a suspended sentence.

Machiel Meintjes: The paedophile with a penchant for under-dressing

Then there was Machiel Meintjes, an apparently unrehabilitative paedophile.

In 2003, Meintjes was declared a dangerous person and sentenced to an undetermined amount of time in prison. He is brought before court every few years to evaluate his situation, but he is always sent back to prison.

This is done to ensure the person is not forgotten in jail.

Meintjes often pitched up in court during his trial, in his prison-issue pajamas, sometimes only wearing the top and a Jockey.

Shortly before he was sentenced, he tried to inject himself in court with a substance he brought with him from jail. An alert court orderly pounced on him in time.

An irate Meintjes pelted the media and prosecution in court with hefty law books he found on the prosecutor’s table shortly after sentencing.

He was convicted on an array of sex charges relating to boys.

Bizarre pictures, including depicting him near naked and covered only in the American flag were handed to court.

He was questioned about some of the pictures taken in the presence of his boy-victims and the fact that he displayed “a more than normal size erection”. Meintjes casually answered the prosecution that that was “no erection, it was simply the way he was”.

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