Read of the Week

The De Zalze Murders

Julian Jansen


Review: Simonéh De Bruin-Fortuin

Although I have mixed feelings about a book that’s been published while the person at the centre of this real life crime tragedy is currently being tried in the Western Cape High Court for the murders of his parents and his brother and the attempted murder of his sister, there is no denying that The De Zalze Murders – The story behind the brutal axe attack, written by investigative journalist Julian Jansen, is gripping from the first page.

With an insider’s access to the family, Jansen writes about the Van Breda murders that shook the country almost three years ago, examining the question on everyone’s lips: can drugs, jealousy and money drive a seemingly normal 20-year-old to pick up an axe and wipe out nearly his whole family?

On the surface, the Van Bredas looked like the perfect family – wealthy, successful, well-known and well-liked – but this changed one night in January 2015 when Martin, Teresa and Rudi van Breda were brutally axed to death in their own home.

With their teenage daughter Marli having no recollection of that night, Henri van Breda, their middle child, is the only person who knows what truly happened but he stands accused of this horrific crime.

Through interviews with relatives and friends, Jansen, a Strand resident and one of the first reporters on the crime scene at the luxury De Zalze security estate in Stellenbosch, puts together a picture of parents at their wits’ end with their difficult “loner” child and his drug problem.

There are accounts from people who relate incidents in which Henri made obscene and offensive remarks to women, in one instance at a shopping centre in Welgevonden carrying on like a “madman” with an open fly, swinging his private parts around.

Jansen also writes that Henri spent time at a Bellville mental health treatment facility at a cost of R3 000 a day.

While Jansen is careful to stick to the facts of the case as revealed in court, he skillfully introduces each player dealing with the aftermath of the gruesome murders, from the operator who received Henri’s call at 7.12am on Tuesday January 27 2015, to the investigating team, legal counsel, forensic and medical experts, shocked and grieving family and friends and trustees and curators who have to handle Martin and Teresa van Breda’s estate – estimated to be worth
R200 million.

The De Zalze Murders is not only a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a murder trial that has and will again dominate headlines soon, it is also a work that speaks of painstaking research, patience to gain the trust of key figures at the centre of this tragedy, and keen observation.

The Van Breda case has been postponed to February 12 next year for closing arguments. It is then that Judge Siraj Desai will have to come to a decision – guilty or not guilty – based on whether the State has presented enough evidence to find Henri guilty on all or some of the charges, or whether the defence succeeded in proving his innocence.

Whatever the finding, there are only two survivors who know what really happened that night – Henri and Marli.

And until Marli regains her memory, Henri’s account, other than the forensic evidence collected, is the only version.