Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Dear Readers,
          While the scenes of these two horrific crimes were some 13 000 km apart separated by nearly half a century, and the precise details might have been different, they have an eerie sameness about them that certainly makes one wonder how this could be possible.
          In 2015 20-year-old Henri van Breda was the only person to survive virtually unscathed when his father Martin 54; his mother Teresa 55 and his brother Rudi 22 were butchered around 3.0 am in their luxury town house on the De Zalze Winelands Golfing Estate near Cape Town. Both his parents, brother and sister were hit on the head repeatedly with an axe and Marli 16 had a gash across her throat leaving her close to death. However she recovered after being hospitalised for months, although she still suffers from retrograde amnesia and prosecutors are hoping that her memory of what happened will eventually return.
The Van Breda family in happier times
          Henri, who had a history of drug abuse, had razorblade-like cuts on his chest and a knife wound to the left side of his chest. Medical reports described them as “superficial” and “self inflicted.” All he required was treatment at the scene.

          In 1970 27-year-old Dr Jeffrey MacDonald a Princeton-educated, Green Beret army surgeon was the only person to survive virtually unscathed when his pregnant wife Colette 26 and daughters Kimberly 5 and Kristen 2 were murdered in their home near the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina. Colette, who was expecting a son and her girls, were stabbed multiple times with a knife and an ice pick and were also clubbed on the head.
          Macdonald’s wounds were not severe. He was taken to hospital with minor cuts and bruises to the face as well as a stab wound to the left side of his chest which punctured his one lung. It was described as a “clean, small sharp incision” and he was released after a week.  
          One of DStv’s true life crime channels IDx has been showing The Accused Jeffrey MacDonald in South Africa in the last few weeks. 
          Almost two years after the killings when Van Breda appeared in the Cape Town High Court accused of the murders he claimed his family was hacked to death by a masked, axe wielding man wearing a balaclava, who entered their home in the early hours of the morning. He was in the toilet at the time playing games on his phone. The court was told through his lawyer that he saw the silhouette of the man hitting his brother and father and heard him laughing. His mother and sister were attacked in another room. Henri managed to wrestle the axe from the man who then stabbed him in the side with a knife before knocking him out. Inexplicably when he came round he waited four hours before raising the alarm at the high security complex after first trying to contact his girlfriend. Both the bloody axe and a knife from the kitchen downstairs were found in the apartment. 
          At 3.42 a.m. dispatchers at Fort Bragg received an emergency call from MacDonald who reported a “stabbing.” When four military police officers went to his house in Castle Drive they initially thought they were going to settle a domestic dispute. They found the front door locked and the house in darkness. After no one answered the door they went to the back of the house where they found a door wide open. Inside they were confronted with the gruesome scenes in both bedrooms. 
Colette was lying on the floor in her room with her husband’s torn pajama top draped over her chest. He was found wounded next to his wife. He told investigators that after one of the children had wet his side of the bed he had moved to the living room couch where he fell asleep. He was awakened by the children’s screams and as he got up three men, two white and one black attacked him with a club and an ice pick. A white woman with them was chanting “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” His pajama top was pulled over his head in the scuffle and he used this to ward off the thrust from the ice pick. Eventually like Van Breda he was overcome by his assailants and knocked unconscious. The blood covered murder weapons, an ice pick, a paring knife and a length of timber ripped from Kimberly’s bed were found outside the back door.
          Van Breda’s trial is continuing while MacDonald now aged 73 remains in jail after being sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in 1979.  Van Breda is out on bail of R100 000.
          MacDonald’s story has inspired books; a TV mini series and is the most appealed case in US history. As recently as early this year his lawyers launched another appeal as he has consistently maintained his innocence.

          MacDonald was found not guilty at an army hearing and given an honourable discharge. His father-in-law Freddy Kassab initially believed in his innocence. His undoing was when he made jokes; painted himself as the person who had been wronged and showed complete indifference to what had happened to his family, when he appeared on the The Dick Cavett TV show.
          Kassab was so incensed by his behaviour that he joined forces with an army investigator to file a citizen’s complaint to have MacDonald tried in a Federal Court. In 1975 MacDonald, who had returned to work as a doctor, was arrested and given bail of $100 000.  
          Investigators concluded that an enraged Macdonald killed his wife during an argument and disposed of the children as they could have been witnesses against him. He then stabbed himself to substantiate his story that he was attacked.
          The living room where MacDonald claimed to have fought for his life against three armed assailants showed little sign of a struggle.
          They believed he tried to make it look like a Charles Manson type murder done by hippies by writing “Pig” in blood above their bed. Six months earlier in 1969 the nation had been mesmerised by the story of how the followers of cult leader Manson killed five people including actress Sharon Tate. They wrote the word “Pig” in blood on the walls where the murders took place.
          The prosecution’s reconstruction of what happened in the MacDonald home was fortified still further when they found a copy of Esquire magazine that contained a detailed account of the Mason massacre.
MacDonald as he is today
          In 1991 MacDonald became eligible for parole but refused to ask for it as he believed that would involved him having to show remorse for something he had not done. He finally applied in 2005 because he wanted to live with the woman he had married three years earlier while still in prison. But this was turned down.
He can’t apply again until 2020.
          At the parole hearing Kassab described him as a heartless psychopath who would never admit to butchering his family.
It remains to be seen what the verdict will be for the good looking Van Breda.

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