The mind of Henri

Who is the real Henri van Breda? A baby-faced in­no­cent or a dan­ger­ous mon­ster guilty of killing his par­ents and brother with an axe? In this ex­tract from ‘The De Zalze Mur­ders‘, jour­nal­ist Ju­lian Jansen delves into the story be­hind a bru­tal fam­ily mur­der

Sunday Times - - INSIGHT -

Henri’s ner­vous, al­most amused gig­gle in an au­dio record­ing of his con­ver­sa­tion with the emer­gency ser­vices when he called them to De Zalze on the morn­ing of the mur­ders does not go un­no­ticed — or un­crit­i­cised. In light of the tragedy in which he finds him­self, it sounds some­what cal­lous. The am­bu­lance ser­vice op­er­a­tor’s floun­der­ing re­gard­ing the street names also at­tracts at­ten­tion. Had it not been for the grav­ity of the emer­gency, her bum­bling ef­forts to find the cor­rect ad­dress would have verged on the com­i­cal. More­over, the leak­ing of the au­dio clip of the emer­gency call, which was broad­cast as an ex­clu­sive by the tele­vi­sion news chan­nel eNCA, leaves the Western Cape health depart­ment red-faced. The breach of con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion leads to an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ad­di­tional se­cu­rity mea­sures, and dis­ci­plinary steps.

Two days af­ter the mur­ders, an Aus­tralian news­pa­per re­port causes quite a stir in South Africa. Tucked away in the on­line ver­sion of The West Aus­tralian, an ar­ti­cle head­lined “Fam­ily left safety of Perth” claims that Henri had suspended his stud­ies tem­po­rar­ily the pre­vi­ous year be­cause doc­tors dis­cov­ered a tu­mour in his brain. He re­port­edly went to live with his par­ents in South Africa while re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

Fam­ily spokesman Ben Root­man is put on the spot. He con­firms that Henri did un­dergo a brain scan at the Royal Melbourne Hos­pi­tal in Aus­tralia, but the tests were “neg­a­tive” for any cyst or tu­mour, and merely “part of a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion”.

Trou­ble about drug use

In an Aus­tralian news­pa­per, an “im­pec­ca­ble po­lice source” con­firms that a med­i­cal doc­tor in­formed the in­ves­ti­gat­ing team of the brain scan, and that the term “brain tu­mour” has been perti­nently men­tioned in the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal ex­perts con­sulted by the me­dia, a brain tu­mour, es­pe­cially in the frontal lobes, may lead to im­pul­sive be­hav­iour.

Did Martin and Teresa van Breda per­haps know of the ex­is­tence of a tu­mour in their son’s brain? If so, they kept this in­for­ma­tion from the ex­tended fam­ily. Right un­til the end.

In the mean­time, new al­le­ga­tions start cir­cu­lat­ing about Henri and drugs. The ru­mours sim­ply refuse to die down. In a spon­ta­neous e-mail to Rap­port, a res­i­dent of Perth and close ac­quain­tance of the fam­ily claims that both in Perth and later in Melbourne, where he was at univer­sity, Henri “got into trou­ble about his drug use”. It was also ru­moured among stu­dents in Perth that Henri had been caught with dagga in his pos­ses­sion and was sub­se­quently sent home.

Henri’s nick­name at univer­sity was re­port­edly “Drug­gie”. He had al­legedly also clashed with the au­thor­i­ties in Melbourne over his drug use. Could that be the rea­son he “dropped out” of his course and re­turned to South Africa the year be­fore? And what was his par­ents’ ex­pla­na­tion to the rel­a­tives and friends who won­dered why he left Aus­tralia in the mid­dle of his aca­demic year?

Yes, there was “great dis­cord” in the house­hold about Henri’s drug use, said friends who had vis­ited the fam­ily at home in the week be­fore the mur­ders. Fur­ther­more, Henri was ap­par­ently “pissed off” be­cause his par­ents sup­pos­edly “favoured” Rudi, and made his feel­ings known about this in no un­cer­tain terms.

His mother was part of a lift club of par­ents from Marli’s school, who took turns to drive their chil­dren daily to Som­er­set Col­lege. “Teresa was some­times so ex­hausted from sit­ting up at night with Henri that his dad had to take the chil­dren to school in her place,” a friend of the fam­ily re­counted. “Martin knew his younger son was tak­ing drugs. At some point he threat­ened to cut off his al­lowance. He had high ex­pec­ta­tions of his chil­dren; there­fore it up­set him that Henri was not at univer­sity and

‘loafed about’ at home.”

Martin oc­ca­sion­ally raised his son’s drug use in con­ver­sa­tions with in­ti­mate friends. “At one stage, he was very con­cerned when he found dagga in Henri’s pos­ses­sion.”

He took Henri to task about the issue more than once. One such con­fronta­tion was re­port­edly wit­nessed in the weeks be­fore the mur­ders by Delores van Wyk, carer of the Van Breda fam­ily’s neigh­bour Martin Locke. But the friendly woman was wary of elab­o­rat­ing on what she had ob­served. “I’ll prob­a­bly have to tes­tify in court. I’m al­ready scared. I can’t sleep. I saw and heard things I can’t talk about now. It was of such a na­ture that I couldn’t sleep for a long time,” she said softly. What ex­actly she saw and heard she re­fused to re­veal, men­tion­ing only that the de­tec­tives had “ques­tioned” her about it.

Ob­scene re­marks

Teresa’s close friend Michelle Barnard re­lated ear­lier that Henri had al­ways been the quiet one, the mid­dle child. “Since child­hood he hasn’t eas­ily made friends. Al­ways apart . . . in such a happy, close fam­ily.

“Some­thing about him has al­ways been dif­fer­ent. For some or other rea­son my sons didn’t play with Henri. I couldn’t con­nect with him ei­ther. I have hun­dreds of pho­tos of our chil­dren’s par­ties. They show all the chil­dren sit­ting around the ta­ble. But Henri sits apart on the ground. On his own.”

She re­called the time she and her fam­ily vis­ited the Van Bredas at Th­e­sen Is­lands in Knysna in 2013. Her sons went row­ing with Rudi in the sea. “Henri didn’t want to go along, like many times be­fore. Rudi then told my sons that Henri was ‘se­ri­ously on dagga and other hard drugs such as tik [crys­tal meth]’. They were so shocked about it, and too scared and ashamed to dis­cuss it with me. If they’d told me about it at the time, I would def­i­nitely have in­formed Teresa. I would’ve warned her.”

Michelle wished that Teresa had told her about Henri. “I knew ev­ery­thing about her mar­riage, and she about mine. Ev­ery­thing. She’d said ab­so­lutely noth­ing about any such prob­lems. Maybe she kept it only to her­self. Teresa would have wanted to pro­tect Henri, per­haps tried to hide the ‘shame’ of his ad­dic­tion to drugs. These were pri­vate mat­ters. Who knows the heart of a mother?

“I heard from friends that Teresa told Henri the day be­fore the mur­ders she wouldn’t ‘give him an­other cent’.”

An al­ter­ca­tion that took place the year be­fore be­tween Henri and Mar­garet Del­port, a do­mes­tic worker on the es­tate, is also made pub­lic. Col­leagues de­scribe her as a “deeply re­li­gious per­son” who coun­sels drug ad­dicts in her spare time. Ac­cord­ing to Mar­garet, Henri made ob­scene and of­fen­sive re­marks to her when she ran into him at De Zalze in Oc­to­ber.

“He shouted at me: ‘Hei! Jy is darem maar ’n lekker m*** met ’n lekker p*** en ek gaan jou lekker n***!” [Hey! You’re a hot m*** with a hot c*** and I’m go­ing to f*** you good!].’ I thought im­me­di­ately that Henri could be un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs.”

She shouted back at Henri: “You need God in your life! Go to your home!” A se­cu­rity guard on the es­tate told her af­ter­wards: “Aun­tie, don’t take any no­tice of him; he’s al­ways been a nut case.”

Mar­garet says she heard later that his par­ents were also wor­ried about him. She didn’t see him again — un­til she caught sight of a news­pa­per in the week af­ter the mur­ders. “Then I thought, oh my King, it’s that boy!”

A busi­ness­woman from Stel­len­bosch tells of a com­mo­tion at a shop­ping cen­tre in Wel­gevon­den out­side Stel­len­bosch about two weeks be­fore the mur­ders: “Henri and his friends turned up here in a car. He car­ried on like a mad­man in the park­ing area and danced to the filth­i­est rhyme. Then he opened his fly, swung his pri­vate parts around, and shouted to the young women what he was go­ing to do to them. The words were the same as those he’d said to the do­mes­tic worker at De Zalze. When I read the words in the ar­ti­cle, I recog­nised the rhyme.”

Fur­ther per­sis­tent ru­mours — this time al­le­ga­tions that Henri used to buy drugs, in­clud­ing tik, reg­u­larly in the vicin­ity of the es­tate — cause the me­dia to descend on Kreef­gat, an in­for­mal set­tle­ment a stone’s throw from the main en­trance of De Zalze. A res­i­dent of Kreef­gat, Robert Min­nies, recog­nises Henri at once from colour pho­tos. He of­ten came across him, Min­nies says, some­times in the Stel­len­bosch Square shop­ping cen­tre op­po­site the en­trance of the golf es­tate, some­times in the sub­urb of Jamestown be­hind the cen­tre.

“One af­ter­noon I ran into him at the traf­fic lights. He asked me if I could go and get him some dagga. What struck me was that he al­ways looked as if he wasn’t quite all there, in a trance, al­most as if he wanted to say: ‘Go on, hit me.’ ”

Soon it is ru­moured that Henri had re­ceived treat­ment in a pri­vate re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre. The fam­ily re­fuses to com­ment on this al­le­ga­tion. Even­tu­ally it is re­ported that in 2014 he did in fact spend some time in the Ti­jger Clinic in Lo­even­stein, Bel­lville, an ex­clu­sive men­tal-health treat­ment fa­cil­ity for con­di­tions such as drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, schizophre­nia, and anx­i­ety and psy­chotic dis­or­ders. Henri was, like all the other pa­tients there, as­sisted by a team of ex­perts. At a cost of up to

R3 000 per day.

Was there any truth to the ru­mours that Henri used dagga and tik? Tik users tend to suf­fer from, in­ter alia, in­som­nia, a lack of ap­petite and poor per­sonal hy­giene. Among the ef­fects of the drug are para­noia, hal­lu­ci­na­tions, mood dis­tur­bances and ir­ri­tabil­ity. Would these symp­toms per­haps be recorded in Henri’s par­tic­u­lars at the cen­tre?

The un­set­tling story of the 20-year-old’s life was in­deed start­ing to take shape.

Hemmed in

Only a full two years af­ter the De Zalze axe mur­ders would a re­la­tion di­vulge: “Henri was suspended by the Univer­sity of Melbourne be­cause of his drug tak­ing.” And: “Rudi, too, ex­per­i­mented with drugs, but it wasn’t so se­ri­ous. He was able to stop.

“The fam­ily had dif­fi­cul­ties try­ing to get Henri into a univer­sity in

South Africa af­ter­wards — be­cause of his sus­pen­sion,” the rel­a­tive re­counted. “Martin took his fam­ily away from here to es­cape from the crime. Then he took them to a coun­try where peo­ple set lit­tle store by re­li­gion, where they — how does one put it again? — are not kerk­vas [attached to the church].”

Ac­cord­ing to Alex [Boshoff], a stu­dent at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity, Henri of­ten vis­ited him at his univer­sity res­i­dence. (Their fathers were busi­ness part­ners at Curro Hold­ings, among oth­ers. The two fam­i­lies some­times went fish­ing, div­ing or paraglid­ing to­gether.) Alex called Henri a “ge­nius” who was very good at math­e­mat­ics.

Other fam­ily friends ob­served that Henri’s idle­ness oc­ca­sion­ally got him down, given the ab­sence of the pres­sure and rou­tine of a univer­sity’s aca­demic pro­gramme. The house made him feel hemmed in, maybe claus­tro­pho­bic. So, he’d drive to town in one of the fam­ily’s cars, or walk to the nearby Stel­len­bosch Square cen­tre or along the R44 to the Spar in Paradysklo­of, to buy cig­a­rettes.

At his un­cle An­dré du Toit’s home in the sub­urb of Wel­gele­gen in Parow, Henri is re­port­edly de­pressed, lethar­gic and con­sid­er­ably thin­ner. He keeps such a low pro­file that the res­i­dents of the quiet neigh­bour­hood are at first un­aware that he is liv­ing there.

The Du Toits’ do­mes­tic worker, Aysha Louw, re­counts later in a tele­phonic in­ter­view that she and Henri were some­times alone at home. He gen­er­ally kept to his room. “He didn’t come out of there when there were guests ei­ther. Henri some­times sat on his own out­side at the swim­ming pool, smok­ing. Those strong cig­a­rettes. He would also pour him­self a drink at the bar and take it to his room.”

She was rather wary of him in light of all the gos­sip and his pos­si­ble in­volve­ment in the mur­ders. “I never let him stand be­hind me. Later he would usu­ally drive off on his own in a BMW and stay away for long pe­ri­ods.”

Con­tact dwin­dles

Al­most three months af­ter the mur­ders, the world sees the first im­ages of Henri since the time of the tragedy. Pho­tos taken by a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher from a sand dune on a Sun­day morn­ing shortly be­fore Easter show him walk­ing along the beach at Blou­bergstrand with two black dogs with his un­cle An­dré and an uniden­ti­fied fe­male cousin. The smaller dog is Marli’s Sasha, which she brought back to South Africa from Aus­tralia. Os­car, the labrador, be­longs to An­dré.

Henri is bare­foot, in shorts and a track­suit top. He is fond of comic-strip lo­gos on his clothes. To­day it is Su­per­man’s turn.

Friends said af­ter­wards that An­dré and his nephew of­ten sat next to the ocean. They barely spoke: just sat on the sand, each wrapped in his own thoughts, gaz­ing out over the wa­ter. Then the young man might light a cig­a­rette.

A mag­a­zine pub­lishes pho­tos of Henri talk­ing to a man with a don­key cart in front of his un­cle’s home. The man claims he sold drugs to the Van Breda boy.

Henri also pays oc­ca­sional vis­its to rel­a­tives in Gaut­eng. He has few friends in South Africa, and mainly vis­its cousins on his mother’s side of the fam­ily. In pho­tos that the Du Toits share on so­cial me­dia, the lean young man stands for the most part with what seems like a kind of smirk on his face. He ap­pears re­laxed, as if he does not have a care in the world.

In time the ro­mance be­tween Henri and Bianca van der Westhuizen fiz­zles out. Af­ter the tragedy the cou­ple still saw each other oc­ca­sion­ally, friends said, but even­tu­ally the con­tact be­tween them dwin­dled down to texts or What­sApp mes­sages. Bianca was re­put­edly sent over­seas for a while to get over ev­ery­thing.

The face of the hand­some dark-blond young­ster grad­u­ally be­comes more known to the pub­lic. Peo­ple some­times stare at him in the street. Oth­ers take pho­tos of him or whis­per that the boy who sur­vived the axe mur­ders is in the vicin­ity. Some said af­ter­wards that it seemed as if he couldn’t care less that he was recog­nised. “He was in a world of his own. He was anony­mous, like many oth­ers in the street or restau­rant.”

Ow­ing to the con­stant me­dia fo­cus on his un­cle An­dré’s house, Henri books into a guest­house with a colour­ful gar­den where he stays for two weeks. He tells his hosts that he comes from Jo­han­nes­burg and stud­ies at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity. And that his par­ents live in Aus­tralia.

The im­age of Henri that un­folds in the me­dia is of a quiet per­son, some­one of­ten on his com­puter, oc­ca­sion­ally swim­ming in the pool, smok­ing a Camel cig­a­rette or sip­ping on a glass of wine or whisky in the soli­tude of his room. Alone with his thoughts.

‘Some­thing about him has al­ways been dif­fer­ent. For some or other rea­son my sons didn’t play with Henri.’ Michelle Barnard A close friend of Henri van Breda’s mother, Teresa

‘IT’S THAT BOY’ Henri van Breda stands ac­cused of mur­der­ing his brother and par­ents.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.