Smi­ley: my false con­fes­sion

As charges against him are dropped, Smi­ley opens up about his false mu­ti­la­tion and mur­der con­fes­sion

YOU (South Africa) - - CON­TENTS - BY JANA VAN DER MERWE PIC­TURES: MARTIN DE KOCK

THE smell of home­made Cor­nish pie and chips wafts from the kitchen as they pre­pare to share their first Sun­day meal to­gether as a fam­ily in al­most a year. A week ago their son was be­hind bars, fac­ing charges of mur­der and rape – now he’s back at his par­ents’ home in Pre­to­ria, a free man.

Yet although a weight has been lifted from his shoul­ders, An­dré van Wyk (25) doesn’t seem re­lieved – he looks dazed and shell­shocked as he sits on the couch. “It’s a big ad­just­ment,” he says. Four days ago charges against him were dropped in the Pre­to­ria North mag­is­trate’s court. But with An­dré home af­ter spend­ing a year in prison await­ing trial for the mur­der and rape of 17-yearold Anika Smit, one of South Africa’s most baf­fling crimes in re­cent time re­mains un­solved.

On 10 March 2010, Anika was raped, slain and mutilated in her dad’s home in Theresa Park, not far from the Van Wyks’ home. Her hands, which were chopped off by her mur­derer, were never found.

De­tec­tives were un­able to make any break­throughs in the case un­til six years later, on 17 Septem­ber 2016, when An­dré stum­bled into the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion and handed him­self over, declar­ing him­self to be the mur­derer (YOU, 29 Septem­ber 2016).

Although the tim­ing of the con­fes­sion was odd, it some­how seemed to make sense. Anika and An­dré had at­tended the same school, Ger­rit Maritz High in Pre­to­ria North, af­ter all.

She was a pop­u­lar so­cial but­ter­fly while he was a quiet out­sider who was of­ten in trou­ble. His friends called him Smi­ley be­cause his face was sel­dom with­out a smile.

“I didn’t know Anika well. We were in the same year and we had a few classes to­gether but we hardly ever talked to each other,” he says in an exclusive in­ter­view.

Although he’d like ev­ery­one to be­lieve in his in­no­cence, An­dré makes it clear he’s not re­ally both­ered about what peo­ple think. “This is a new chap­ter for me,” he says.

His par­ents, Jan (46) and Judie (45), join him on the couch. Although An­dré is Judie’s son from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship, Jan has been part of his life since he was two and re­gards him as his own. The cou­ple, who have four other kids, say they’ve been through hell in the past year.

“Ev­ery night you worry . . . What’s go­ing on in jail? Is he safe?” Jan tells us.

“There’s been a lot of cry­ing in this house,” Judie adds.

An­dré isn’t the same per­son any­more, his par­ents say. “He needed to grow up overnight,” Judie says. “All our chil­dren did.”

AT SCHOOL, An­dré con­cedes, he was a bit of a wild child. “I wasn’t in class much,” he says. Anika didn’t re­ally reg­is­ter on his radar un­til dur­ing assem­bly one day the head­mas­ter broke the news of her mur­der.

“I didn’t think about it much and only fol­lowed the case a lit­tle,” he says.

Later that year he was ex­pelled af­ter steal­ing the pa­per for his fi­nal Grade 11 elec­tri­cal tech­nol­ogy exam out of his teacher’s drawer. He dropped out of

school and did odd jobs. At the time of his ar­rest he was work­ing at an air­con­di­tion­ing com­pany.

On 16 Septem­ber last year he had the day off and had a braai with col­leagues. When the party broke up An­dré went bar-hop­ping, first on his own and later with a group of friends. The marathon drink­ing ses­sion even­tu­ally led him to a dance club.

In court An­dré told an elab­o­rate story about how a man and a woman at the club had in­tim­i­dated him into con­fess­ing to Anika’s mur­der.

Talk­ing to us now, An­dré strug­gles to de­scribe the cou­ple but re­calls the woman was blonde and slightly older than him. He says it’s hard to re­mem­ber be­cause it was dark. At first he thought the man was jok­ing when he told him to say he’d killed the teenager.

“I was more shocked than afraid,” he says. Then, he claims, the man be­came threat­en­ing and said “he knows where my younger sis­ter and brother go to school and he knows who they are”.

And that, he says, is why he went to the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion later that morn­ing and con­fessed to the mur­der, an act he de­scribes now as the big­gest mis­take of his life.

It was only when he ap­peared in court and the charges were read out by the pros­e­cu­tor that he knew ex­actly what he’d got him­self into.

“Mur­der . . . mu­ti­la­tion of body . . . rape,” he re­calls. “That was when I re­alised how se­ri­ous it was.”

Although he with­drew his state­ment it was too late. The wheels of jus­tice had al­ready started to turn and things had to take their course.

FOR Jan and Judie, it was the be­gin­ning of a night­mare. “It felt like hell,” Judie says. “We never thought it would go this far. We thought he’d say this is what hap­pened then they’d let him go.” Jan wipes the tears flow­ing from be- neath his glasses. Although they never doubted their son’s in­no­cence, they felt so pow­er­less.

“When I went to court the last time I had no hope he’d be re­leased,” he says. “Then they said that the case was be­ing with­drawn. I couldn’t be­lieve it.” And just like that every­thing was over. An­dré says his mom and dad kept him go­ing while he was in prison. “I hate my­self for what I put them through.”

And he’s also sorry for all the un­nec­es­sary trauma he caused Anika’s par­ents.

“I’m sorry I wasted ev­ery­one’s time. All my sym­pa­thy is with them.”

Although it’s a re­lief that the charges against him have been dropped it’s go­ing to take a while be­fore he can go on with his life. “Every­thing’s changed,” he says. “I don’t want to see peo­ple just yet.”

‘It felt like hell. We never thought it would go this far’

SHARON SERETLO

LEFT: An­dré van Wyk, who handed him­self over to po­lice in con­nec­tion with the mur­der and mu­ti­la­tion of Anika Smit (FAR LEFT), is now a free man. ABOVE: With his par­ents, Jan and Judie. BE­LOW: A pic­ture taken in his cell dur­ing the year he spent in jail.

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