Henri Van Breda, the Axe Wielding Murderer
A chillingly calm call was made to the emergency service, almost 3 hours after the murders.
In the early hours of the morning on January 27th, 2015, 20-year-old Henri was in the bathroom when he heard noises coming from his shared bedroom with his brother, Rudi. He slightly creaked open the bathroom door, and he could make out a figure hitting his sleeping brother in the dark.
Henri shouted for help, waking up his father, Martin, who rushed to their aid. Martin switched on the lights and immediately stepped in between his son and the intruder. The intruder dressed in black mercilessly struck down at the back of Martin’s head with an axe.
All this while, Henri stood frozen rigid while his father and brother bled out.
Henri’s mother, Theresa, and sister, Marli, too, woke up by the commotion, but the intruder brutally attacked them at the passageway to his shared bedroom. Only when the intruder charged at Henri, Henri picked up his courage and fought against the intruder. He managed to disarm the intruder from the axe, but the intruder used a knife to injure him.
As the intruder fled, Henri threw the axe down the staircase at the intruder but missed. Henri tried to chase him, but he tripped. He heard two voices, confirming that there were two intruders. He assumed they must have fled through the backdoor that was left wide open.
As his family bled out, Henri chose to call his 16-year-old girlfriend as he did not have the number to the emergency service. After all, his family previously lived in Australia and recently moved back to South Africa. But, his call went to voicemail. Then, he passed out until almost 3 hours later, he woke up and called for help.
At least, that was what happened, according to Henri.
Upon investigation, the statement given by Henri, the middle child of Martin and Teresa Van Breda, did not quite match up with the pieces of evidence found.
Did Henri truly single-handedly scare the intruders off?
The prosecution certainly did not believe that. He was charged with 3 murders, 1 attempted murder on his sister, and defeating or obstructing the administration of justice, but he denied all of the charges.
According to the coroner, Martin Van Breda suffered deadly blows at the back of his head but without any defensive wounds, indicating perhaps he was caught off guard. His wife, Teresa, also suffered blows to the head, but she had defensive wounds. Unlike her husband, her death was a quick one as there wasn’t any blood in her lungs. Their son, Rudi, suffered blows on his neck and head, but none of the blows delivered an instant death.
The only survivor of the family other than Henri was his 16-year-old sister, Marli. She suffered multiple heavy blows to her head, but miraculously, she survived. However, she suffers from retrograde amnesia, losing her memory of that traumatic night. She did not take the stand and remained very private.
Unlike his sibling and parents, Henri’s injuries were superficial and non-fatal. The wounds were even in-depth and in areas that were reachable to him, suggesting that it could be self-inflicted. He only had knife wounds, while the rest of his family had severe axe wounds.
It was odd why the father chose to expose his back to the attacker by jumping in between his son and the attacker when it was usually more instinctual to fight off the intruder front on.
Blood and DNA
Forensics could not find any foreign DNA, fingerprints, or shoe prints found on the scene.
There was blood splatter that belonged to Rudy and Martin on Henri’s shorts and Theresa’s on his sock. Based on the splatter, it would put Henri in close proximity to his family, which was inconsistent with Henri’s story as he was supposedly at the corner of the room, frozen. In Henri’s version, he did not see the intruder attacking his mother or sister as Henri was still in the bedroom, again, frozen.
They also found both blood samples of Rudy and Henri in the shower. Coupled with the presence of blood splatter on his shorts but not on his torso, this evidence suggested the possibility of Henri taking a shower after he murdered his family. In Henri’s defense, he said that the blood in the shower might have been from him and Rudi shaving in the shower.
Henri’s blood pattern and deviation on his chest and upper arm indicated he had little to no movements after the injuries. This, again, was inconsistent with Henri’s version as he stated that he tripped at the staircase and just had a life and death fight with the intruder. In 60 Minutes, it mentioned that if Henri did pass out, he passed out sitting upright.
When Henri regained consciousness, he googled the number to the emergency services instead of using the list of emergency services that included medical help and estate security plastered on the fridge door. The fridge was less than 2 meters away from where he dialled for help. At that time, Henri had been living there for 5 months and should be aware of the list’s presence.
As the emergency call was dialing, he had 3 cigarettes where he claimed it was to calm his nerves as he had an Australian accent with a history of stuttering as a child.
During his call to the emergency service, he was relatively calm and logical for someone who witnessed his family being ‘axed’ down. The emergency call was over 20 minutes long where most of it was spent on determining the location of the residence.
During the call, Henri confirmed in the cross-examination that his mother was not moving, but his sister, Marli, was still breathing with slight movements. One would assume that he would have a stronger sense of urgency to save his bleeding-out sister. Henri did not attempt to stop the blood flow for Marli or even stayed by her side for comfort.
As a matter of fact, Henri did not make any attempts to get help from his nearby neighbors or the estate security.
Duration of Unconsciousness
According to Henri, he passed out for almost 3 hours, but he would have to lose 900ml of blood to pass out due to blood loss. If he passed out due to a concussion or emotional shock, it would not have lasted over a minute.
The defense argued that after the murders, Henri was diagnosed with epilepsy which could explain the time gap. Henri could have a seizure during the 2 hours and 40 minutes that could cause him to lose consciousness and memory. It would also explain Henri’s calm demeanor as after waking up, his senses would be likely dull with reduced cognitive power.
However, the prosecutor argued that this seizure diagnosis was made 3 years after the murders. It heavily relied on Henri’s words as he was not examined at that time.
The Van Breda were living in the wealthy, gated neighborhood of De Zalze Golf Estate. It has cameras, thermal cameras, electrified fences, 24 hours patrol, and access gates. It was nearly impenetrable.
The defense brought up that an alarm went off around 1:37 AM that could have been the intruders, but the security described that alarm as a regular activation alarm that would only be recorded in the history without sending any patrols over.
Under the assumption that if the intruders did enter and set off the alarm at 1:37 AM, that would mean the intruders were in the neighborhood for hours before entering the Van Breda’s home, and they managed to escape without setting any more alarms off.
Later, the security team also did a security check on the perimeter and found nothing wrong.
There weren’t any signs of breaking in into Van Breda’s home. It could be possible that the intruders entered and exited through the backdoor where it was usually left unlocked, according to Henri.
The Fight between Henri and the Intruder
According to Henri, he managed to disarm the intruder from his axe, where later, the intruder used a knife to attack Henri. However, given that the axe was in Henri’s dominant hand, it was odd that Henri did not use that weapon to defend himself, but instead, he chose to throw away the only weapon in his hand.
It was also odd that the intruder did not shout for his partner for help when he struggled to fight Henri, the last one standing in the house?
Both axe and knife were found on the scene.
They found unidentifiable fingerprints and Henri’s fingerprints, and Rudy’s DNA on the knife. It was unlikely that the intruder would leave fingerprints if he was wearing gloves.
Both weapons also originated in the house, meaning the intruders did not bring their weapons to Van Breda’s home. It seemed odd that the intruders could execute their entry and exit plan almost perfectly into a well-secured, gated community but did not arm themselves before intruding the Van Breda’s home.
Inconsistency in the Statement
In cross-examination, Henri disagreed with the number of intruders (one intruder) in the police statement. He said that it was two intruders and insisted that he mentioned it to the police taking his statement. Consequently, the police should have been searching for two intruders instead of just one.
In his police statement, Henri initially said he saw the intruder attacked his brother from the small gap from the bathroom and remained there until his mother and sister were attacked. But, in his testimony, he testified that he was between the bed and the bathroom door. He was also unsure whether did he remained stationary.
However, Henri himself signed that very same police statement on the day of the murders.
If the motive of breaking in was to rob the wealthy family, why was nothing valuable taken from the house? There was a laptop, and Theresa’s handbag with cash left easily accessible on the table on the ground floor while the family was asleep upstairs.
The Van Breda had a family dog named Sasha. The Van Breda’s domestic worker testified that Sasha would bark at her when she was at the door. However, according to Henri, Sasha was unlikely to bark at intruders and noises outside but would get excited and bark at doorbells and phone calls.
However, it was doubtful that Sasha would remain calm and quiet with commotion and attack on its owners. It should be noted that Sasha was feeling unwell but, Henri was unable to recall whether Sasha was on medication that day.
The Argument in the Family
On the night of the murder, Van Breda’s neighbor, Ms. Op’t Hof, heard yelling and arguments from Van Breda’s home, but Henri later added a possible explanation in court that they were watching Star Trek 2. This explanation was not in the initial police statement.
The Van Breda family was reportedly close-knit with a strong faith in Christianity. Sure, the wealthy couple were strict on the children but ultimately loving to their family.
Henri was dubbed as the black sheep of the family. Unlike his two siblings, Henri was still finding himself with a gap year from his studies in Australia. Allegedly, when the Van Breda found out that their son was involved in drugs, they threatened to cut off his allowance. However, none of these was taken in as evidence to the court as a motive.
Leenta Nell and Danielle Janse van Rensburg
Despite the mounting evidence against Henri, two women stood by him. One of them is Henri’s aunt, Leenta Nell, who said she would trust Henri regardless of the verdict.
The second is Henri’s girlfriend, Danielle Janse van Rensburg, whom he met after the murders of his family at a cooking class. Danielle wholeheartedly believed Henri is not capable of such a crime and said that there was not enough evidence against Henri.
Henri Van Breda was found guilty on all 5 counts, the murder of Rudi Van Breda, Martin Van Breda, and Teresa Van Breda, the attempted murder of Marli Van Breda, and the defeating or obstruction the administration of justice. Judge Sir Desai said,
“You’ve displayed no remorse. No compelling circumstances have been placed before us. There appear to be none.”
Henri Van Breda was sentenced to life in prison in one of the worst prisons, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison. It is overcrowded by almost twice its capacity with some of the most violent prisoners. With how common gang rape and violence there, it is safe to say he will be living in a nightmare, far away from his luxury homes and cars.
Thank you for reading! This article was originally published on Medium by author.