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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