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