Images will stay beyond trial's end
The first cop on the scene, he’d just been told by a bloodied Henri van Breda, who smelt to him as if he’d been drinking, that his family had been attacked by a man with an axe.
But besides some bloodied sock prints on the stone-coloured tiled floor in the entrance hall and mist-like blood spatter near the foot of the stairs, there was no sign of a house invasion, let alone an axe attack.
I see exactly what Kleynhans means as I begin paging through the thick Lever Arch file of photographic exhibits labelled A to I.
Prosecution, defence and the bench have their own copies which they frequently referred to this week. Journalists had to follow Van Breda’s plea statement and admissions and the in loco inspection notes blind. But now I get the picture.
First the calm. The white panama hat with a black band neatly resting on the entrance hall table. The lack of clutter. The neatness.
Next are detailed shots of the living area. An expensive-looking white leather handbag stands on top of some magazines on the dining room table. A Monopoly set, a closed laptop, a PC mouse and a few documents lie around the table as if recently used. Candles and salt and pepper grinders complete the standard suburban home scene.
On the marble countertop alongside the dining table there is an open almost-full pack of 20 Camel filter cigarettes, an orange disposable lighter, a smartphone, a cordless phone handset and a corkscrew.
On the tiled floor is the first sign of something amiss: three cigarette butts that look like they have been dropped on the ground, to burn out.
According to Exhibit Q, they are 1.53m away from the fridge on which a white A4 piece of paper is stuck. A close-up of the neatly typed sheet shows numbers for De Zalze security and emergency medical assistance as well as cellphone numbers of close family friends, including a couple who live on the estate.
A quick photographic tour of the lounge shows an expensive-lookingwatch on the coffee table and the silent flatscreen TV where Henri says he watched Star Trek 2 with his dad and brother the evening before the early morning axe rampage.
Flip the page and we are in Martin van Breda’s ground-floor study where nothing looks as though it has been disturbed. Piles of documents are stacked in a neat pile along the front length of a wood desk. Reading glasses, arms open, lie near a Toshiba laptop.
Back to the foot of the stairs like a movie director building tension, the police camera records a close-up of a pair of men’s brown moccasins stained with what looks like drops of blood.
There appears to be blood on the stairs up to the first landing, but not much. Then on the landing the murder weapon, not too bloodied considering what it was used for.
It was the kind that you would chop wood with, remarked Judge Siraj Desai, while feeling the weight of the Lasher axe in his hands on Monday.
According to Henri’s plea explanation version of events, the axe could have landed there after he threw it at the fleeing masked killer. This happened, he says, minutes after dramatic hand-to-hand combat in which he managed to disarm the man who had just savagely cleaved open the heads of his family.
Before we turn to take the next flight of stairs to the main landing, joining the family’s bedrooms, the camera pans to the wall to the left, revealing an ominous trickle of blood that has dripped down from a crimson-framed gouge in the plaster shaped like an axe blade. There is also blood spatter above the gouge. Even looking at it in a photograph is like one of those movies scenes that just doesn’t bode well.
Then, as you look up the stairs to the right which are more bloodied than the previous flight, the first sign of carnage: the lower legs of what looks like a woman’s body sticking out from behind the iron balustrade. Her right foot is dangling over the edge and looks pale as if drained of blood which has dripped down the first few steps.
Behind her is a low bookcase where you can’t help noticing a box of Scrabble and 30 Seconds games, and Petrovna Metelerkamp’s Ingrid Jonker biography.
Once up on the landing you can see it’s Theresa van Breda. Wearing white panties and a black camisole with small red flowers, she is lying face down in a large pool of drying blood, her bent right arm beneath her and her straight left arm jutting awkwardly towards the balustrade.
Sickening post-mortem photos reveal she was hit twice across the top of her head almost from ear to ear and once vertically on the forehead in line with her nose.
Theresa is slightly angled across the landing, her head facing her bedroom and Henri’s sisrter Marli’s bedroom to the left, her legs pointing towards her sons’ bedroom.
A quick photographic tour of her and Marli’s rooms reveals beds that look as if they have been slept in and laptops and smartphones on charge. On one of the bedside tables in the parents’ room lies a copy of David Baldacci’s The Target.
Retracing steps towards the stairs past Theresa’s body, you enter Henri and Rudi’s bedroom, dominated by two grey-sheeted double beds. Rudi’s bed, closest to the door, is soaked in blood in the area below the pillows.
Martin, wearing only knee-length red and grey-striped sleeping shorts, is lying face down on the side of the bed nearest the door, his pale legs hanging over the edge, his right hand clutching a pillow. He looks as if he fainted after leaning over to tuck Rudi in.
On the messy bedside table in front of him is a wallet and Suzanne Collins’s book Catching Fire.
At the foot of Henri’s bed, closest to the brothers’ en suite bathroom, lies Rudi face down.
According to Henri’s plea statement version handed up on day one, he was in the bathroom playing cellphone games when he heard strange noises.
Frozen at the sight of his brother being hacked around the head, Henri shouted. He saw his dad burst into the room, switch on the lights and lunge for the attacker who was wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothes and who hit him several times across the head with the axe while laughing.
When Theresa called out “Wat gaan hier aan?” from the landing, the axeman left the room. Henri cannot recall if he moved from the bathroom or if he heard his mother and Marli being attacked.
The next thing he remembers is the axeman coming back into his room for him. In the ensuing struggle at the foot of his bed he managed to disarm him, ward off a knife attack, hit him with the back of the axe and then charge after him as he fled the room.
Running past Rudi who was “moving around on his bed rather violently” and past his mother and Marli on the landing, Henri spotted the axeman on the stairs and threw the axe at him.
Continuing his pursuit he lost his footing and fell “severely” but carried on his chase right through the open kitchen door.
On his way back into the house he called his girlfriend, who didn’t answer, and tried to Google emergency numbers.
Climbing the stairs he heard Rudi dying in their bedroom and saw Marli “moving about” on the landing next to his motionless mother.
Then he lost consciousness.
When Henri came to, he says Marli was still moving and Rudi was gurgling in their room. He went downstairs to call an ambulance.
“I looked at the emergency numbers on the fridge door but they did not appear to me to be of any assistance”.
Henri’s movie-like account of his battle with the axeman sounds like he can handle himself. Because the post-mortem photos towards the back of the album reveal the attacker to have been in deadly earnest.
Martin was murdered by savage blows that left four 6cm criss-crossed cleavages in the back of his head and another 8cm long one almost from ear to ear.
The back of Rudi’s skull showed three deep wounds almost from ear to ear and another across his upper neck.
The force of the blows was violent enough to leave blood spattered all over the headboard and walls and, evidence seems to suggest, on the boundary wall below an upstairs window.
Marli wasn’t spared either.
Heartbreaking photos that show her unconscious and intubated on the operating table, reveal a vicious wound below her left ear that looks like it could have partially severed her jugular.
Half of her left ear has almost been hacked off.
There are three deep axe wounds across the top and back of her shaven skull.
And another on her forehead angling down towards her left eyebrow.
Marli doesn’t appear in the exhibit file until you are well into it.
This is because when the horror on Goske Street was being recorded by police photographers, she was fighting for her life.
But Kleynhans had the presence of mind amid the carnage to record her body position with his mobile phone.
In the images, Marli, in grey midriff top, is lying on her back between the bookcase and her mum, her head at hip height and below the Scrabble set, her lower legs across the threshold of her brothers’ room.
Her eyes are open almost in a death stare and her tongue is slightly protruding.
She’s covered in blood and looks like her life has been sucked out of her.
How she survived is an absolute miracle.
Traumatised by my viewing, which will haunt me beyond the end of this trial, I close the album, grateful that Marli still has retrograde amnesia and cannot remember a thing.