A paramedic describing the aftermath of the attack on the Van Breda family said it was the worst thing he had seen in his 39-year career.
“Blood ran like a waterfall down the stairs,” testified the now-retired Christiaan Koegelenberg.
Henri van Breda used an axe to kill his mother, father and brother, while his younger sister managed to survive.
The motive for the horrific murders is still not known – some believe it was to inherit his father’s estate but this was never proven. But whatever the motive, investigators and South Africans alike have been left cold by the violent nature of the attack.
Van Breda is due to be sentenced shortly for the killing of his wealthy family in a supposedly secure estate in South Africa’s wine countryof Stellenbosch.
It was in the morning of 27 January 2015 that Mr and Mrs Van Breda were found in a pool of blood on the first floor of their upmarket home on the De Zalze Golf Estate.
Close by were their son, Rudi, who was also dead and their 16-year-old daughter Marli, fighting to stay alive. All three where found within a confined space.
The attacker had moved quickly and determinedly. The Western Cape High Court agreed that the extent of the injuries meant that the assailant intended to kill.
Who would want to kill the family, and in a manner as brutal and merciless as this?
No-one, says Henri’s van Breda’s Uncle, Cornelius Andries.
He testified that his 54-year-old brother Martin and sister-in-law Teresa, 55, were loving people who had no enemies.
Mr Andries also told the court they were a close-knit family, something his nephew attested to.
Who else could be responsible?
Van Breda gave a statement to police soon after the incident claiming that a well-built black intruder was to blame.
He described a man wearing gloves and a balaclava breaking into the family home and attacking them.
“My… my family and me were attacked… by a guy with an axe,” he said in a phone call to emergency service around 07:00 that morning. The recording was replayed to the court.
On initial inspection, his story seemed plausible. After all, Van Breda himself had also sustained minor lacerations during what he said was an altercation.
He later told the court that he wrestled the intruder who then stabbed him in the torso with a knife.
The court later found that many, if not all, of his injuries had been self-inflicted.
An alibi gone wrong
This explanation was readily believed, at first at least, because of South Africa’s high crime rate which leaves many living in fear of the “intruder in the mask”.
Sooner or later all the questions starting pointing to Van Breda as the only suspect.
Eighteen months into the investigation, police instructed Van Breda to to hand himself in or face arrest.
He duly turned himself in but insisted he was innocent. Months later, he would stand trial for the murders of his family members.
During the trial, the prosecution carefully pointed out the many inconsistencies in Van Breda’s testimony.
Why would an intruder seeking to rob a home ignore valuable items downstairs and embark on a killing spree upstairs instead?
Van Breda couldn’t answer that.
He also couldn’t answer why there were no signs of forced entry. Nor why he had escaped with only minor bruises when his loved ones died from deep gashes to their heads.
Experts who analysed the injuries testified that they came from one attacker, who used the same amount of force on each victim.
Martin van Breda and his family had moved from Australia nine months earlier to the De Zalze Golf Estate in the wine-producing Western Cape.
It has been described as a “medium security” estate, but the truth is De Zalze was considered one of the safest places to live in South Africa before this attack.
Motion detectors, an alarm-system, 24-hour guard patrol, access-controlled gates and an electric fence are all in use at the gated community.
Such security features are meant to make it impossible for an intruder to break in undetected.
Not even Houdini could pull off such a feat, remarked security experts who testified during the trial.
Another inconsistency unsettled the court – the amount of time that had passed before Van Breda rang the emergency services.
Court papers reveal that a distressed Van Breda called his girlfriend at 04:42 numerous times. But all of these calls went unanswered.
He then searched the internet for local emergency numbers, not calling for help until nearly three hours later.
It was clear to the court that Van Breda wanted his family to bleed to death.
Asked to account for the time lapse, the young man said he had collapsed after witnessing his family being attacked and remained unconscious for hours.
It was only when he came to that he asked for help, he added.
Months earlier, the van Bredas were living happily in Melbourne. So what attracted them to South Africa?
They moved back primarily because of Martin’s business interests – he was a successful businessman with many interests, including real estate.
The other reason for returning to South Africa was his wife Teresa’s desire to live closer to her family.
Their son Rudi, a motorsport enthusiast who enjoyed beer, remained in Australia with brother Rudi where they studied at the University of Melbourne before joining the family in South Africa later that year.
In court, Henri van Breda said they were “a normal family” with normal disagreements.
If any of the children got into arguments with their parents, it was generally his teenage sister Marli who was “growing and rebelling,” he said.
Many who heard the story empathised with Van Breda, who had apparently survived the attack, and his sister who was barely alive in hospital fighting for her life.
Marli to this day has no recollection of that horrific day.
Her extensive head injuries and self-defence wounds were used to lead testimony in court.
Of all the victims, Marli had put up the greatest fight.
Unlike her parents and 22-year-old brother who were believed to be asleep just seconds before the attack, she saw Van Breda coming and tried to fight him off.
Van Breda. in one of his three versions of events, testified that he’d helplessly watched on as a laughing intruder butchered his family one by one.
This showed that the robber “had fun murdering people,” he said.
A neighbour living a few hundred metres from the Van Bredas’ home told the court she heard what what sounded like loud, arguing voices late that evening.
The defence argued it was the sound of a film being played at a high volume, but neither the neighbour nor the court were persuaded.
There may have been an argument in the Van Breda house but over what it remains unknown.
Now it is up to the courts to deliver justice for the Van Breda family, who by all accounts were well-loved.
Neighbours and close family friends described Henri van Breda as always having been the “black sheep”.
When the other van Breda children were thriving at school and university, he returned home for a “gap year” with no real plan for his life.
Farther Martin van Breda was a loving but strict man – he wanted the best for his children and expected the best from then.
Henri was hardly the model son. He reportedly had a drug addiction, leading his parents to threaten to cut-off his allowance if he didn’t clean up his act.
Many believe it was the pressure of not measuring up to the image of the perfect family that drove him to the edge.
We will never truly know what snapped in the mind of young Henri, only that something did and it left a bloody trail in its wake.