Church ‘cult’ to stand trial for 11 mur­ders

Vic­tim loved her hus­band, now he’s ac­cused of killing her

Sunday Times - - NEWS - By TANYA STEENKAMP

Mikeila Valen­tine had two great loves: her hus­band and God. When the 25-year-old de­vout Chris­tian was killed in a stab­bing frenzy in her Johannesburg home in 2012, her dev­as­tated fam­ily had no idea who had killed the young travel agent, or why.

Five years later, it ap­pears that both her pas­sions were linked to her death — and the de­tails be­hind her mur­der are more hor­rific than her fam­ily could have imag­ined.

Not only has her hus­band, for­mer in­sur­ance bro­ker Zak Valen­tine, been charged, but po­lice be­lieve Mikeila’s faith played a role in her mur­der.

Zak is among six peo­ple who were this week charged with four mur­ders, among them Mikeila’s. Po­lice be­lieve the killings were sparked by a split in a church group called Over­com­ers Through Christ, with one fac­tion ex­act­ing re­venge on the other.

The group’s aim was con­vert­ing sa­tanists to Chris­tian­ity.

Shortly be­fore Mikeila’s death, an­other church mem­ber, 33-year-old Cen­tu­rion lawyer Nat­acha Burger, had her throat slit in her neigh­bour’s home on July 2012.

The neigh­bour, 68-year-old Joyce Boon­za­aier, was also killed. Po­lice be­lieve the killers forced Boon­za­aier to lure Burger to her house so they could kill her.

The fol­low­ing month, 75-year-old pas­tor Regi­nald Bendixen was stabbed and hacked to death with an axe at his home in Honey­dew, western Johannesburg.

Mikeila was the fi­nal vic­tim in the spree — killed in her Ruim­sig home be­cause she al- leg­edly re­fused to sup­port the mur­der­ous re­venge plot car­ried out by her hus­band and other break­away mem­bers of the church.

Po­lice said her blood and in­testines were splat­tered on the ceil­ing.

It is be­lieved that the four mur­ders em­bold­ened Zak and his ac­com­plices.

Be­tween 2012 and May last year they are be­lieved to have com­mit­ted seven more mur­ders in the Krugers­dorp area, mostly for money.

The cult was headed by Ce­cilia Steyn, 36, who is be­lieved to have led the break­away. Other mem­bers in­cluded John Barnard, 41, Ce­cilia’s friend, high school teacher Marinda Steyn, 51, and Marinda’s two chil­dren, Mar­cel, 19, and LeRoux, 22.

Mar­cel would have been just 13 when she al­legedly helped her mother and brother in Mikeila’s mur­der.

They were ar­rested in 2016 and charged with three mur­ders. A fur­ther four mur­der charges were added in May. Barnard was tried sep­a­rately for the seven mur­ders and sen­tenced to 30 years.

This week, the group was charged with the mur­ders of Mikeila, Bendixen, Boon­za­aier and Burger.

In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer Cap­tain Ben Booy­sen said that af­ter an ini­tial lack of co-op­er­a­tion, LeRoux had con­fessed to the mur­ders.

“He said he’s pre­pared to tes­tify but crim­i­nals change their minds quickly,” he said.

The trial is set to be­gin in the High Court in Johannesburg in April.

Booy­sen said that the ac­cused have a Latin motto tat­tooed: Elec­tus per deus — cho­sen by God.

“They don’t speak about God, they talk about ‘our’ god, but at this stage I don’t know who their god is,” said Booy­sen.

He said the five had been charged with 11 mur­ders, rob­bery, ag­gra­vated as­sault, fraud, iden­tity theft and be­ing in pos­ses­sion of an un­li­censed firearm.

Mikeila grew up in Hei­del­berg and stud­ied at Rhema Bi­ble Col­lege and mar­ried in 2010.

Mikeila’s mother, Ilse van Dijk, this week de­clined to com­ment. Her friend Mareli Mool­man said Mikeila was “kind-hearted but naive as hell”.

Mool­man said Mikeila grew up in a deeply re­li­gious house­hold.

She said Zak was con­ge­nial but that she al­ways had an un­easy feel­ing about him.

“When I heard the news [that Mikeila had been mur­dered], the first thing I thought was: he mur­dered her.”

Mool­man said the few times she ran into Mikeila the month be­fore her death, the once tidy woman had be­come un­kempt and sullen.

“I know Mikeila phoned her mom a day or two be­fore she was mur­dered to ask for ad­vice for a lawyer. She’d heard in­for­ma­tion that was po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous but wouldn’t say what,” said Mool­man.

Sources close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said Mikeila’s mother had ini­tially been scep­ti­cal that her soft-spo­ken son-in-law, who grad­u­ated cum laude and worked for sev­eral large com­pa­nies, could com­mit such a heinous act, but now she was re­lieved he had been ar­rested so she could get clo­sure.

Their ‘god’ . . . I don’t know who their ‘god’ is Cap­tain Ben Booy­sen In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer

Mikeila and Zak Valen­tine on their wed­ding day

Church friends, from left, Ce­cilia Steyn, Zak Valen­tine and Marinda Steyn who have been charged with seven mur­ders in­clud­ing that of Mikeila Valen­tine, right

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