Un­der the skin of a killer

‘They de­scended on the body of their vic­tim, Michael van Eck, like hye­nas tear­ing a buck apart. They de­rived plea­sure from the mur­der,’ the pros­e­cu­tor told a hor­ri­fied court in Welkom. Vi­vian Attwood re­ports

Sunday Tribune - - Graveyard Monster -

RES­I­DENTS of the Free State town of Welkom are reel­ing af­ter a soft-faced young wo­man was sen­tenced to 20 years’ jail with­out pa­role on Fri­day for her role in slaugh­ter­ing, dis­mem­ber­ing and skin­ning a young man she lured through Face­book.

Jo­han de Nysc­chen, ad­vo­cate for the state, said if one looked be­yond the lit­tle-girl­lost façade of Chane van Heer­den, you would find a mon­ster who would kill re­peat­edly.

“They re­searched every­thing to do with the dark side of hu­man­ity and found plea­sure in the killing and mu­ti­la­tion of their vic­tim,” he said. “Once you’re pro­grammed to kill, you will do so again and again.”

De Nysc­chen was ar­gu­ing for the ac­cused to be de­clared a dan­ger­ous crim­i­nal.

When the judge sub­se­quently ruled that Van Heer­den would serve 20 years be­fore she could hope to have her sen­tence re­assessed, his words were greeted with dis­be­lief by many in the court and towns­folk were also aghast.

Dur­ing the trial it emerged that Van Heer­den and her coac­cused fi­ancée, Maartens van der Merwe, en­acted fan­tasies fu­elled by their love of crime nov­els and the macabre, by stab­bing 23-year-old min­ing en­gi­neer Michael van Eck to death in an iso­lated ceme­tery out­side the town.

They then hacked off his head, right arm and both legs and buried his torso in a shal­low, im­pro­vised grave.

Van Eck’s skinned head was found in a fridge at the cot­tage the cou­ple shared, along with his fa­cial skin, eyes and ears. His right arm was buried in the gar­den, with the re­mains of two slaugh­tered cats.

Tes­ti­fy­ing for the state, Univer­sity of the Free State foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist Dap Louw said he had con­ducted in­ten­sive in­ter­na­tional re­search and skin­ning was a rare phe­nom­e­non.

“There has never been a case where a vic­tim was so pre­cisely skinned. She (Van Heer­den) had done it so pre­cisely that one could eas­ily have con­fused the skin with a real mask,” he told the court.

So­cial worker Mar­ilise Ver­got­tini tes­ti­fied that Van Heer­den’s vi­sion of the world was ab­nor­mal. She said the ac­cused had in­di­cated she would have killed again if she had not been ap­pre­hended.

“The sen­tence is ridicu­lously le­nient for such a ter­ri­ble crime,” said a Welkom busi­ness­woman who de­clined to be named. “She showed no hu­man­ity. Next thing we’ll hear that the other one (Van der Merwe) is go­ing to get away with it be­cause he’s crazy.”

Van der Merwe is un­der psy­chi­atric ob­ser­va­tion at a state men­tal fa­cil­ity to de­ter­mine whether he will be fit to stand trial in Fe­bru­ary. He was re­port­edly di­ag­nosed as schiz­o­phrenic in his early teens.

Be­fore her ar­rest, Van Heer- den, an am­a­teur artist, also had a his­tory of psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. Friends of the cou­ple said they both ap­peared to “live in a fan­tasy world”.

Although they at­tended Bi­ble classes reg­u­larly, the two never missed the tele­vi­sion drama, Dex­ter, about a se­rial killer who leads a dou­ble life as a “nor­mal” cit­i­zen.

Dur­ing the trial it emerged that Van Heer­den and Van der Merwe had de­cided to es­ca­late their ex­per­i­ments from killing cats to larger prey.

“Van Heer­den told the court they were go­ing to adopt a dog from the SPCA, but she told her lover she could not stom­ach pre­tend­ing to an an­i­mal you we were of­fer­ing it hope and a home, only to mur­der it. The two then de­cided to hunt for hu­man prey,” said a reporter who had cov­ered the case.

Van Heer­den duly

ap- proached Van Eck on Face­book, and ar­ranged to meet him for a spu­ri­ous date in April. When he failed to turn up for work the next day, his em­ployer raised the alarm, lead­ing to the dis­cov­ery of his dis­mem­bered re­mains and the ar­rest of the two sus­pects.

Bri­gadier Gérard Labuschagn­e, head of the SAPS In­ves­tiga­tive Psy­chol­ogy Depart­ment, tes­ti­fied that Van Heer­den “should be man­aged as a se­rial mur­derer”.

He ex­plained that a num­ber of aspects of the case, in­clud­ing “trial runs” on an­i­mals, the gath­er­ing of body “tro­phies” at the mur­der scene and fan­tasies prior to the killing, were con­sis­tent with psy­cho­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated crimes.

Van Heer­den’s port­fo­lio of art­work was in­tro­duced as a court ex­hibit. It pro­vided a hor­ri­fy­ing in­sight into her dis­turbed psy­cho­log­i­cal make-up.

Labuschagn­e said she had ren­dered “sketches rep­re­sent­ing a face with the mouth stitched closed, sim­i­lar to the man­ner in which the de­ceased’s mouth was stitched closed”. She had also writ­ten a poem in which she said: “I will tear off their faces to see the truth… .”

Although Van Heer­den’s Face­book pro­file has been re­moved, her lover’s is still in­tact. His pro­file pic­ture shows the good-look­ing Van der Merwe kneel­ing in a pas­sage­way, dressed en­tirely in black. His eyes are closed and his hands are placed as if in prayer. Un­der “ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ter­ests” he lists: “Si­lence” and “Not sleep­ing”.

He cites his favourite quo­ta­tion as fol­lows: “Sift­ing through the facts, I some­times be­lieve I see that life is two locked boxes, each con­tain­ing the other’s key.”

The graveyeard in Welkom where min­ing en­gi­neer Michael van Eck was lured on Face­book by Chane van Heer­den, and then slaugh­tered, dis­mem­bered and skinned.van Heer­den has been sen­tenced to 20 years in prison.

Maartens van der Merwe and Chane van Heer­den, above left, were ac­cused of killing and dis­mem­ber­ing Michael van Eck, above right. Top: One of Van Heer­den’s chill­ing self-por­traits. Pic­tures: FOTO24, FACE­BOOK

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