A wedding – and then 3 funerals

By admin
02 January 2016

Young and madly in love, the teen bride looked like an angel in white as she pledged eternal love to the much older man at her side.

Young and madly in love, the teen bride looked like an angel in white as she pledged eternal love to the much older man at her side.  After the ceremony at the Anglion Christian Church on a smallholding in Kameeldrift, northeast of Pretoria, Ané Verreyne (18) left the church hand in hand with Leon Schoeman (42) as Mrs Schoeman. Her eyes sparkled and Leon smiled from ear to ear as their close family and friends took fun pictures of them in the lush green garden. Afterwards they all sat down to a celebratory meal on the stoep of the church hall. But soon after this happy occasion everybody was back at the church – but this time they weren’t gathered to celebrate. Exactly two months after her wedding day on 18 April and the day after her 19th birthday, Ané hanged herself. It was the evening of Leon’s birthday on Thursday 18 June.

'We had to drag Leon off his wife’s body on that Thursday night'

She and Leon lived in a one-bedroom flat on the smallholding close to the church, and on Wednesday 24 June their family and friends gathered in this place of worship again for her funeral.

“We had to drag Leon off his wife’s body on that Thursday night. He didn’t want to leave her,” says Boet Schoeman, Leon’s dad.

The angel of death wasn’t done with the family. A week later Ané’s mother-in-law, Cornelia (67), died of a heart attack thought to have been caused by the stress. She and Boet had been married for 45 years.

Cornelia Schoeman, Leon's mom, died of a heart attack a week after her daughter-in-law. PHOTO: Provided Cornelia Schoeman, Leon's mom, died of a heart attack a week after her daughter-in-law. PHOTO: Provided

“Leon was shattered. His mom was everything,” Boet (67) tells us in the modest Pretoria home where Leon grew up with his dad’s old-fashioned gramophone and his mom’s porcelain collection.

Within five months Leon was dead too.

Boet recalls that Cornelia had predicted at his sister’s funeral in May that the angel of death would visit them again soon.

Leon’s decomposed body was found at the end of November, a month after the car mechanic’s mystery disappearance on 30 October, at the nearby Moreleta Spruit. Like his wife, he’d hanged himself from a tree under a bridge, police confirmed.

Boet keeps a faded handkerchief next to him on the couch, reaching for it often to blot away the tears below his reading glasses.

On the morning of our visit his daughter, Nelia Hurter, received news that Leon’s body had been positively identified by his dental records. And with that Boet’s last hope that the man under the bridge was not his beloved son disappeared.

Shortly before Leon’s disappearance Boet’s brother, Frikkie, died on October 17 after a long illness.

The thought that within months he would once again be standing beside an open grave is just unbearable.

Boet stares into the distance. “What have I done that I’m being punished like this? Sometimes I feel I could also just leave everything behind and go.”

Boet Schoeman is a broken man after her daughter-in-law, wife and son died within five months of each other. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle Boet Schoeman is a broken man after her daughter-in-law, wife and son died within five months of each other. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle ANÉ and Leon met in 2014 at Roodeplaat Dam northeast of Pretoria when she went there on a family fishing outing. The girl with the long brown hair caught the eye of divorcé Leon, a keen fisherman, and they soon formed a close friendship. By the end of the year they were engaged. Those who knew the couple will tell you they clearly loved each other deeply. They were always together, living and working side by side. “He was crazy about that girl, but he and his mom were like this,” says Boet, indicating with two fingers held tightly together. “You couldn’t get away from that.”

'Will I ever again be able to be this happy for just five minutes?'

Married life did have its stumbling blocks, though. People in their inner circle say it was difficult for Ané to accept Leon’s 13-year-old twin son and daughter. She also struggled with the fact he still had to be in regular contact with his ex-wife.

Although Boet says only he and Ané had occasional differences, people close to the couple say Ané and her in-laws didn’t get on at all. This was particularly true of her mother-in-law.

“Will I ever again be able to be this happy for just five minutes?” Ané said in a WhatsApp message to her friend Talana Pretorius on the day of her death. The text was accompanied by a photo of her and Talana on her wedding day.

Talana says she knew the couple argued but can no longer remember why. “I encouraged her to spoil her husband on his birthday and to run a nice bath for him that evening.”

Boet and Nelia’s versions of what happened that evening are vague. Boet can’t remember if he saw Ané that night, but Nelia remembers that Ané drove off on her own that evening when Leon went with her and her family, as well as their elder brother Theuns and his family, to have dinner with their parents. Nelia says her mom cooked a delicious meal for them that evening. Neither Nelia nor Boet could explain why Ané drove on her own that night. But she did return and went home with her husband.

Boet and his daughter, Nelia Hunter. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle Boet and his daughter, Nelia Hunter. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle

Leoné Burger (23) from Potgietersrus, Ané’s sister, says she can’t imagine Ané wanting to drive somewhere on her own that night. She spoke to her sister on the phone just before 8 pm. She was upset. Ané says she argued with her mother-in-law. She and Leon also fought because his mother-in-law had made other plans for his birthday. She’d apparently also bumped their car that day. Leoné can’t remember whether her last conversation with her sister was before or after the dinner, but she encouraged Ané to resolve things with her husband.

Ané did run a bath for her husband that evening. She apparently stood in the door and read his birthday card to him.

The couple’s neighbours, Marietjie Strydom and her daughter Marlien, knocked on their door that evening to bring Ané a birthday gift. Leon had just gotten out of the bath and was doing something in the kitchen. When the neighbours arrived he wasn’t sure where Ané was but indicated she was probably outside, smoking. He said his wife had “lost her temper” and was angry with him. Marietjie went to investigate. At first at looked as if Ané was standing on the stoep but when Marlien went closer they saw the rope . . . Ané had apparently locked the door from the outside and they had to kick it open. When they lifted her down it was already too late.

Boet and Nelia found Leon just before 9 am, crying inconsolably on the cold stoep where he lay hunched over his wife’s lifeless body.

Ané hanged herself on the stoep of the garden flat she shared with her husband. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle Ané hanged herself on the stoep of the garden flat she shared with her husband. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle

IN HIS wife’s funeral letter Leon wrote: “With tears I write to ‘My Lovie’. You’re my life, my heaven and earth. You say you love me so much, is this how we prove love?” That Saturday his mother died. Boet found her on the bed in their bedroom where she’d collapsed with a chest pain, her body cramped together.

“Leon arrived here and looked at his mom. He just said, ‘That’s not my mother.’ I think he didn’t want to believe it. He went outside and sat on the little wall and cried,” his father says.

Ané’s mother, Debby Verreyne from Tzaneen, says Ané suffered from depression and never got over the death of her father, Tommie, who died a decade earlier in a motorbike accident.

Leon moved in with his father and in the following months became increasingly withdrawn and depressed.

“Leon was a very quiet person. He didn’t talk about things,” Boet says.

Although he was deeply affected by Ané’s death it was probably his mom’s death that pushed him over the edge.

“He was her blue-eyed boy,” Nelia says of the relationship between her mom and brother.

The people close to him don’t understand why Leon had two cellphones with him that day or what had happened to the keys of the house. They were never found.

“Why didn’t anyone see him when he was hanging under that bridge for at least 25 days?” his father wants to know. Sergeant Asnath Melatsi, spokesperson of the Villeria police station, confirmed that no crime is suspected.

For many Leon’s suicide is, like his wife’s, a mystery. And between their deaths, the death of the woman who shared the couple’s joys and sorrows.

-- Jana van der Merwe

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