‘Ria Grunewald is dead. I lost everything’: Witness in Krugersdorp killings case tells how her life fell apart
Ria Grunewald told the South Gauteng High Court that she was ostracised by her family and friends because of her association with murder accused and self-proclaimed ex-satanist Cecilia Steyn.
“Ria Grunewald is dead. I lost everything,” said an emotional Grunewald when asked what had become of her life after she had cut ties with Cecilia.
“I never saw or heard from my children. They don’t want to hear from me. I’ve never spoken to them again.”
She is testifying this week in the trial of housewife Cecilia Steyn, neighbour’s daughter Marcel Steyn and former insurance broker Zac Valentine.
The Krugersdorp neighbours and friends stand accused of involvement in the murder of 11 people from 2012 to 2016. The trio have pleaded not guilty. Three other people are serving lengthy jail terms in connection with the killing spree, including Marcel’s mother, Marinda Steyn.
Grunewald told the court that she had cut ties with Cecilia after she had become wary of her. But when she distanced herself from Cecilia, she was shunned by everyone.
Cecilia, had, according Grunewald, turned everyone against her.
Grunewald said she started getting death threats and people close to her started dying.
She was not able to get a job because no one trusted her because of her association with Cecilia, she said.
Her plans to travel to Israel were thwarted when her passport disappeared from her flat, Grunewald said. She was later told it was found in a safe Cecilia kept in her bedroom.
“My name was dragged through the mud. A website was created which painted me badly,” said an emotional Grunewald.
She said the website had created an impression that she was not a person to be trusted or even dated.
“I couldn’t find a job. The lady who gave me a place to stay kept telling me to look for a job.”
She said the police refused to take her calls when she received threatening messages.
She had no one to turn to.
The first victims in the accused’s alleged killing spree were linked to the OTC church: Natacha Burger, 33, and her neighbour Joyce Boonzaaier‚ 68‚ who had their throats slit in Centurion in July 2012. Then 75-year-old pastor Reginald Bendixen who was stabbed and hacked to death with an axe at his home in Honeydew in August 2012.
“I died when they died,” Grunewald said referring to the people who died after she broke away from Cecilia.
Asked what would liberate her, Grunewald said: “God will liberate me. He took me through this, he will get me through it.”
The trial continues.
Background to the Krugersdorp murders
After their arrests, police signalled they believed the initial killings were sparked by a split in a church group called Overcomers Through Christ (OTC). The group’s aim was converting satanists to Christianity. Cecilia and her friends formed the Electus Per Deus (Chosen by God) group after the split.
Cecilia lived on the ground floor of the block of flats with her husband and two children, while Marinda lived on the top floor with her two children and John Barnard.
The killings are alleged to have started when Cecilia had a fallout with the pastor of the OTC church.
One of the victims was the wife of accused Zac Valentine, a former insurance broker. Mikeila‚ 25, was killed in October 2012 in their home in Ruimsig‚ Roodepoort‚ apparently because she refused to support the alleged revenge plot carried out by her husband and other breakaway members of the church.
Timeline of death
2012 — July 26: Natacha Burger‚ 33‚ and her neighbour Joyce Boonzaaier‚ 68‚ had their throats slit in Centurion. The bodies were found in Boonzaaier’s home.
August 14: Pastor Reginald Bendixen‚ 75‚ was stabbed and hacked to death at his home in Honeydew.
October 11: Mikeila Valentine‚ 25‚ was stabbed to death in the home she shared with her husband‚ Zak.
2015 — November 27: Peter Meyer‚ 51‚ and his wife Joan‚ 47‚ were stabbed to death at their home in Rudd Street‚ Noordheuwel.
December 6: Jarrod Jackson‚ 44‚ was burnt to death in a car in Petrus Steyn in the Free State.
2016 — January 27: Glen McGregor‚ 57‚ was shot on his smallholding in Randfontein.
May 10: Anthony Scholefield‚ 64‚ was strangled to death. His body was found in the boot of his car‚ which was abandoned on Premier Street in Krugersdorp. His belongings were stolen and R9‚600 was withdrawn from his bank account.
May 26: The body of Kevin McAlpine‚ 29‚ was found in the boot of his car on the corner of Sivewright and Francis streets in Krugersdorp. He was robbed of his wedding ring‚ laptop‚ shoes‚ watch and R1‚300 in cash. He had been married to 26-year-old Kezia for a year and she was six-months pregnant.
May 31: The body of Hanle Lategan‚ 52‚ was discovered in the veld along the Randfontein River on a farm in Elandsvlei. Her cellphone‚ gold and diamond ring‚ watch and R3‚000 in cash were stolen. Her car was found in front of the Krugersdorp Private Hospital.
— Compiled by Tanya Steenkamp for TimesLIVE