Henri's web of lies - seven things that tripped up the axe killer

22 May 2018 - 15:25 By Tanya Farber
Henri van Breda. File photo.
Henri van Breda. File photo.
Image: Athony Molyneaux

Henri van Breda put all his eggs into one basket‚ squandering what he had of the family money on a slick and hardworking defence team who‚ for 66 days‚ put up a breathless fight trying to keep him out of prison.

There were moments in the trial when advocates Piet Botha and Matthys Combrink pushed so hard for reasonable doubt to be invited into the courtroom‚ that Van Breda's usually motionless face would flicker a quick smile of triumph. But‚ on Monday - day 67 of a truly sensational trial - the lies that tripped him up could no longer be tippexed out‚ not even by a potent legal team.

Here are seven of them:

1. Breaching the perimeter: Not only did Henri point a finger at a phantom intruder‚ but he dressed him in a balaclava and gloves and had him laughing while hacking his family to death. The lingering question: How did he get onto the estate? Judge Siraj Desai's answer: he didn't. That's because he didn't exist.

2. The laughing intruder: Henri had himself hiding in the shadows while the crazed "intruder" hacked away at his brother‚ father‚ then mother‚ and sister (the only one who put up a fight and survived). He then had himself pushing and pulling both an axe and a knife as the "intruder" who had just brutally attacked the family drew neat‚ superficial parallel lines of blood on his skin. Unfortunately for him‚ there are countless pages in pathology textbooks that describe what self-inflicted wounds look like. Two witnesses‚ both deemed highly professional and credible by the judge‚ had one thing to say about the wounds “the attacker” inflicted on Henri: Lies‚ damned lies …

3. The phantom call for help: Imagine your family had just been savagely attacked with an axe. Not all have succumbed to their injuries. You hear gurgling‚ and all around the house there are copious amounts of blood. Do you call emergency services? Or try console or help your dying family members? No. You call your teenage girlfriend who lives in a school hostel. The first time you called emergency services was after 7am‚ but that sounds bad‚ so you say in court‚ "I then called emergency services again". This‚ said Judge Desai‚ was "simply not a true statement".

4. Oh sorry‚ Rudi was actually still alive then: When Henri called emergency services after 7am‚ and calmly told Janine Philander (the responder) that his family had been savagely attacked with an axe‚ he mentioned that Marli was still alive‚ but made no such mention of Rudi. But then it came up in court that Rudi and a bloody duvet were found near the bathroom door‚ not on the bed where he was hacked to death. But in his plea statement‚ Henri made no mention of going back upstairs or engaging with his brother after the attack. So now there's a problem: how did a deceased person drag himself and a duvet across the floor? Enter a new detail: Rudi was actually still alive‚ said Henri. But‚ Judge Desai wasn't falling for it. "Peculiarly enough‚" he said on Monday‚ "he made no mention to Philander that his brother was still alive."

5. The axe with the walk-on role: At no point in Henri's plea statement or in the early phase of the trial was a second axe mentioned. However‚ the defence began to build this into their case - bolstering the notion that maybe there was more than one attacker. Judge Desai had become visibly annoyed at the mention of a second axe at various moments in the trial‚ and on Monday he laid the matter to rest. The chances were "virtually nil" said the judge‚ saying an attacker would not have brought along his own weapon (used on Marli) that was so similar to the family one used on the other Van Breda members.

6. It was Star Trek 2‚ I tell you: When neighbour Stephanie Opt'hof took the stand‚ she described hearing a fight at 12 Goske Street where Henri and his family lived. She described aggressive undertones of male voices early in the evening‚ and also how her children's baby monitor was activated around 4am when she found them startled and wide awake. In a moment of true gaslighting (trying to get someone to disbelieve what they know to be true)‚ Henri's team shook their head in disapproval. Did this Opt'hof woman not know the difference between men having a fight and the soundtrack of Star Trek 2? The facts: yes. She did. And this was no movie.

7. A chilling calmness: Henri called emergency services‚ remained as cool as a cucumber for 20 minutes while describing how his family had been hacked with an axe‚ and then sat smoking in the kitchen waiting for the ambulances. Devoid of emotion‚ or keeping his stutter at bay to communicate more effectively? It depends who you ask. Judge Desai cited Henri's "lack of urgency" during the phone call‚ his "demeanour" during that "unduly long conversation"‚ and how "highly unusual it was for a traumatised victim" to behave like that.