Skinning murder unique, expert testifies
Virginia - Welkom murderer Chane van Heerden's action of skinning her victim's face was a rare criminal act, the Virginia Circuit Court heard on Tuesday.
A State witness, forensic psychologist professor Dap Louw, testified in the Free State court that he could not find in research records another case that involved the skinning of a victim's face.
Van Heerden, 20, has pleaded guilty to and been convicted of luring Michael van Eck, 23, to the Welkom cemetery where he was killed and dismembered in April.
Some of his remains were found in a shallow grave at the cemetery, while other body parts were found in a fridge, including his facial skin, eyes and ears.
Other body parts were found in a cupboard and in the garden of the house where Van Heerden lived.
The case against her co-accused, Maartens van der Merwe, 24, was separated on Monday. He will undergo further evaluation and his trial resumes in Febrary next year. He has not entered a plea yet.
Louw said a crime involving the "skinning" of a victim's face was locally unheard of and even rare internationally.
"The uniqueness of this case must be mentioned," he said.
Louw said he looked up thousands of resources at the University of the Free State and talked to three international experts on the character of the crime.
"Mutilation of the body is not rare in crimes but the way the skinning [of the victim’s face] happened was unique."
Wouldn't take a chance
Louw, who interviewed both the accused and their families, said Van Heerden was the typical "girl next door" who was very pleasant and truthful.
Asked in cross-examination by Van Heerden's lawyer Leona Smit whether she would do kill again, Louw indicated he was not sure.
"I do not know, but I would not take a chance."
He told the court Van Heerden was a unique person who still had "out of body" experiences to meet Van der Merwe at secret places.
He indicated he never met someone where the difference between the observable person and the inner person, who was linked to an abominable act, was so big.
The court was told Louw could not reach a convincing diagnosis which classified Van Heerden as a psychopath.
Louw agreed that Satanism played no role and that Van Heerden herself in a "scornful" manner dismissed the Satanism link to the murder as "nonsense".
He nevertheless agreed with State prosecutor Johan de Nysschen that the murder and "skinning" of the victim was not a single criminal incident.
Louw said the nearest his diagnosis took him was to a rarely known psychotic disorder called "shared psychotic disorder".
He said Van Heerden and Van der Merwe were caught in a Bonnie and Clyde relationship which drove each other to a murder.
"These two people are sick, yes. These two people made each other far more sicker than... they would have been on their own."
The court also heard that Satanism and pure occult practises played no role in the graveyard murder of Van Eck.
Occult crimes expert Dr Kobus Jonker testified that the two accused at most had experimented with Satanism and occult rituals.
He said a list of items found to be used in the murder and the absence of many other signs and symbolic items were reasons that these practises were only experimented with.
Jonker agreed with De Nysschen that "Satanism could be put to bed" in the matter.
The police's head of psychology Brigadier Gerard Labuschagne testified that Van Heerden should be managed as a serial murderer.
He testified that various aspects were present that would indicate that Van Eck’s murder was a "psychologically motivated crime".
This include "trial runs" on animals, the bodily trophies that was removed and taken home.
He said a further concerning aspect was "collateral evidence" that was found at the accused's home such as books about well known American serial killer Richard Ramirez and other serial killers.
Others books found in her house included True Crimes: Lady Killers and True Crimes: Serial Killers and Mass Murderers and The world's greatest serial killers.
The court was adjourned to Wednesday.