On day 33 of the Van Breda murder trial, we heard from Sgt. Marlon Appollis who is currently the investigating officer in this case.

Sgt. Appollis took over as lead investigator from Constable Martin. However, due to this being a relatively big case, a team of investigators were appointed to work on the case, with each member of the investigative team being given various investigative tasks.

In a brief, but noteworthy, testimony today, he told the court Marli had no recollection of the events of the night, and the Defence confirmed that this is what had been said in a statement given to Coln. Beneke.

Since his first day on the scene, Sgt. Appollis has been responsible for collating information in the investigation, following possible leads, filing the docket and checking the cellphone records of the Van Breda family members.

One axe, or two?

A noteworthy takeout is that Judge Desai and his assessor raised the issue of their being the possibility of more than one axe at the scene, which was put to Sgt. Appollis right at the end of his testimony today.

This isn’t the first time Judge Desai has sought clarity from witnesses in this regard. Today, the Judge asked the witness how many axes were found on the scene and Sgt. Appollis confirmed that there was only one axe – the murder weapon.

Advocate Botha, not wishing to let the point go untested that there may possibly be a second axe, quickly jumped up and clarified the reason the Defence takes issue with this point. Advocate Botha reminded the court that James Rheede Jahn, Marli’s then boyfriend and a Van Breda family friend, previously testified that the axe he had seen in the family house had a black head, and James said he did not recognize the axe which was shown to him in court. James had initially, after looking at a photograph of the bloodied axe, confirmed it to be the axe from within the family home, however, once it was cleaned he noticed the head was green, not black.

Advocate Botha asked Sgt. Appollis if the police had found an axe with a black head, and the witness said no, they only found one axe, and he testified the top part of the blade is black with the sides being green. Sgt. Appollis also reminded the court that the domestic worker had identified the axe in court as being similar to the one she had seen in the pantry.

The Defence does not seem ready to let this point go. We can presume the Defense will argue that the axe found on the crime scene was brought into the home, by the intruder. And, if James is found to be truthful, then there may have actually been two axes.

It’s a point the Defence cannot afford to let go regardless of how far-fetched it seems, but I think the court is going to want to hear more testimony before finding that the murder weapon was not from within the van Breda home.

Possible Suspects

Sgt. Appollis told the court that his team had explored many possible leads and eliminated other suspects in their investigation.

Access Cards

Sgt. Appollis said he had collected every access card (used to gain entry into Klein de Zalze Estate) issued to the family. James Rheede-Jahn had one and so did a good friend Martin’s, Henri’s father. The remaining three were all found within the Van Breda home and everyone was accounted for.

Cellphone Records

Sgt. Appollis checked the Van Breda family’s cellphones, looking for correspondence containing threats or an indication of blackmail. The only strange correspondence he found was the WhatsApp messages between Marli and James Rheede-Jahn.

In cross examination, Advocate Botha asked whether someone who did not know the family would be able to send them threatening messages, and Sgt. Appollis conceded this would likely not happen.

James Rheede-Jahn (Marli’s boyfriend)

In a message to Marli, James had said he wanted to kill people close to Marli, so Sgt. Appollis investigated him as a possible suspect. He told the court that these investigations confirmed that James was at home the night of the murders.  James’ cellphone records confirmed that he was at home and he went to school the following morning.

Vehicles or persons entering the Klein Zalze Estate

Ms. Rossouw, the Klein de Zalze Estate Security Manager, gave evidence for the State and during her cross-examination the Defence showed the court videos of vehicles which had entered and exited the estate that night, but which were not accounted for in the security register. Sgt. Appollis has since investigated this and produced three statements from those three drivers verifying their access. Two were the drivers of tour buses and the third was a newspaper delivery. Under cross-examination Sgt. Appollis conceded that more than only those three drivers had accessed the estate during that night without being recorded on the security register.

Past reported cases in Klein de Zalze Estate

Sgt. Appollis had compiled a report which detailed all of the criminal cases, occurring within the estate, which were reported to the police between February 2014 and February 2015. The reason for doing so was to investigate arrested persons, look at possible motives and modus operandi. He told the court that these cases were mostly theft, and the suspects were identified as being domestic worker/s or moving companies who were given access to the estate. They were thefts of items which had been reported to the police for insurance purposes such as a golf clubs and cameras. He said that in these cases, none of the expected signs of a house break-in were reported, and none were cases of forced entry.

Under cross-examination, Advocate Botha asked him about an instance where two cheques had been removed from a home in the estate. It was reported as theft however, Sgt. Appollis thought it was more likely fraud than a break-in. In this instance, the complainant said his study was in order, his cheque book and ID document on his desk but two cheques had reflected on his statement which he did not use. Advocate Botha did get Sgt. Appollis to concede that the cheque thief may have gained access into the home through an open window and left undetected, with the two blank cheques.

Advocate Botha raised a further issue under cross examination. He went back to the compressor, valued at R16 000, which had been stolen from a home in the estate. Sgt. Appollis confirmed that he knew of the matter and that they had never confirmed the identity of the thief nor did they know how they gained access to the estate.

The witness also explained to Advocate Botha that although in only 20 per cent of the reported cases perpetrators were arrested, a lot of theft cases was reported for insurance purposes.

Investigation of the Intruder described by Henri

Today’s witness also told the court that the investigating team had tried to find other suspects based on Henri’s description. You’ll recall Henri described a very large built man, about 1.8m tall, wearing dark clothes, a balaclava and gloves. Advocate Botha wanted to know, based on Henri’s description how intelligence even knew where to start looking for someone meeting that description.

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Photography K-leigh Siebritz / HM Images

 

Article written by

Tracey Ann Stewart

Legal expert and counsel for Highbury Media