In April 2011, the sleepy goldmining town of Welkom was deeply shocked when the dismembered, decapitated body of Michael van Eck was discovered buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the local cemetery. Was this a muti murder, the work of a deranged madman or part of a satanic ritual?
For the investigators and psychologists involved, the mystery only deepened when a seemingly unlikely arrest was made: a soft-spoken girl next door and her intelligent, well-mannered fiancé.
This gruesome true story is told in Grave Murder: The Story Behind the Brutal Welkom Killing by Jana van der Merwe, a gripping work of non-fiction published by Zebra Press last year.
In a third excerpt shared by the publishers, read about the eerie moment in which Van Eck’s body parts are discovered in the “soft-spoken girl-next-door”‘s fridge and the couple’s reaction to their arrest:
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At the flat’s entrance, Chané unlocked another steel gate, which led into their semi-detached garden flat, situated to the right of a larger house. On the windows were white burglar bars.
Once inside the flat, Nel carefully observed her surroundings. It looked like the messy living space of a rebellious teenager. At first glance, there did not seem anything disconcerting about the living room’s contents. There were a beige couch and a single bed, whose baby-blue mattress was covered only with a tucked-in winter blanket. Ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and two red cigarette lighters were on the armrest of the couch, while several items of clothing, including a pair of stonewashed blue jeans, and a yellow laundry basket filled to the brim were on the bed.
Against the wall was a small table with a desktop computer and a cabinet housing an old box TV set. On the floor was a small, unplugged heater, a pair of black-and-white lace-up long-top sneakers, a book by Stephen King, a black backpack decorated with white skulls with items of clothing pouring out of it, as well as a hardcover notebook, cherry LipIce and a pen.
Nel took a moment to examine the paintings that took up much of the wall space. The images resembled Chané quite strikingly: a series of large, alien-like self-portraits, the faces all in shades of bright, screaming yellow, tinted with luminous green and black shadows, the teeth rotten and X-raylike, the eyes dark wells of sadness.
In the small kitchen, Nel stood by as Chané voluntarily walked to the white, medium-sized fridge. On the table top next to it were some half-full bottles of liquor: Red Square and some peach schnapps. Stuck to a magnet on the fridge was a sheet of paper that read:
Angels with needles poke through our eyes and let the ugly light of the
world in and we were no longer blind.
Below it was another piece of paper, also handwritten in ink, of quantum physics calculations and formulas.
Chané casually opened the door to the smaller freezer compartment at the top of the fridge. A pack of Country Crop mixed vegetables was on the top shelf. On the middle shelf were three polystyrene containers with minced meat covered in cling wrap.
Nel and Steyn watched as Chané carefully reached inside and removed a flattened white plastic grocery bag, squeezed in between a small packet of frozen garden peas and a packet of sweetcorn, from the bottom shelf.
With great care, she put the plastic bag on the kitchen counter and removed the contents, revealing what looked like a flat pizza base. Nel did not even wince as she looked at what was, in fact, a macabre mask of Michael van Eck’s face.
Where the eyes once were, there were now only holes, absurdly framed by the young man’s dense, dark-brown eyebrows. His nose was still perfectly intact, and his cheeks still bore a slight, rough stubble. The mouth was sewn shut. A cut ran from the right corner of his mouth and another from the left, not more than three to four centimetres respectively. These cuts had also been stitched closed. ‘His face,’ Chané said, as if she were talking about a bag of tomatoes or an arbitrary grocery item. This was her trophy, Nel thought. She was showing off her work of art.
‘His eyes and ears,’ she continued, while removing small plastic medicine canisters from the fridge. Two white floating jellies in salt water were all that remained of his eyes. In another canister were Michael’s ears, cut off with surgical precision and preserved for who knows what.
‘You are sick,’ was all Nel could get out.
Steyn felt as if she was being pushed out of the room. She sensed a dark force she did not understand. Void of emotion, Nel took out the metal handcuffs. ‘You are under arrest for the murder of Michael van Eck.’
She read Chané her rights. They arrested Maartens, too. The couple stood waiting as Steyn called Chané’s father.
Van Zyl and Krügel then entered the flat. Van Zyl felt as if he was being smothered, as if the devil itself had wrapped its tail around his neck. He saw the mask. Chané’s eyes followed him from every corner of the flat.
Nel felt oddly calm as she asked Chané where Michael’s possessions were. Chané pointed to a jar on top of the fridge, next to a nasal spray. In it were some hundred-rand notes and some silver and copper coins. It was the money Michael had had in his wallet; the money he had drawn from his first pay cheque to pay his parents back for the car they had helped him buy; the money Henriëtte had said he must keep and use for petrol and pocket money; the money he was supposedly going to use to take a girl to the movies on the night of his death.
‘We used some of it already,’ the girl shrugged.
Stuck to the jar, handwritten in black Koki pen, engulfed in handdrawn red flames, was a label that read: ‘The spawn of our prostitution.’
Maartens mentioned that they planned to use some of this money to buy some spades for ‘the next time’. ‘It’s not easy to dig a hole with a soup spoon, you know,’ he said matter-of-factly.
For a while no one said a word.