Birthday party ends in horror for family

2014-04-22 00:00

A WEEKEND of birthday celebrations at an idyllic farm resort ended in horror for a Durban couple when they were murdered as they slept.

Malvern residents Brian (61) and Tilly Pope (46) were shot and killed, and Brian’s son Warren was stabbed with a garden fork in the chest and throat. His wife Marlene was severely beaten.

The tragedy unfolded in the early hours of Sunday at the picturesque Tweevley Guest Farm in Harrismith, midway between Johannesburg and Durban.

According to police, there appears to be no motive for the murder as nothing was stolen and the prime suspect was the farm caretaker, who had let the family into the cottage just days earlier. He lived on the farm with his wife and child.

Tilly’s brother, Ockert Britz, told The Witness the couple had gone to meet Brian’s son and wife, who live in Johannesburg.

“It was a halfway meeting spot. They left on Thursday. This was a senseless killing. If it was a robbery or hijacking, their deaths could be understood, but this? We just keep asking why?

“They had shared potjie with him [the killer] and his family and given his children sweets,” said Britz.

The man is accused of unloading a revolver, which he is suspected of having stolen from the farm owner’s home, into the bodies of Brian and Tilly. The farm owner was away for the evening.

Britz, who had spent the majority of Sunday with Harrismith police and had the gruesome task of identifying the bodies, said the man started moving to the next room after killing the Popes, but was confronted by Warren.

“He pulled the trigger, but it was empty. Warren came at him. In the scuffle, with Warren pushing the man outside to get him away from his wife and their children, the man found a garden fork and stabbed Warren in the chest and throat, leaving him for dead.

The caretaker then went back inside the home and started beating Marlene with a steel pipe, aiming for her head but hitting her forearm as she defended herself. “She had already hidden her children under the bed,” said Britz.

The attacker then simply stopped, walked out of the building and disappeared. Marlene phoned for help and searched for medical supplies, but moments later the man returned and ordered her and the children, aged one and four, into a van parked outside.

“He then drove them to his home on the plot and told them to wait while he picked up his wife and child. But he had left the keys in the ignition. Marlene jumped into the front seat and sped off, to be greeted at the gate by a neighbour responding to the emergency call,” said Britz.

He said Warren is recovering at a Bethlehem hospital and could sit up and write to communicate by yesterday afternoon.

Britz said his sister, who grew up in Malvern and attended Werde Hoërskool, was loving and compassionate, while Brian was a “God-fearing man”.

“Even if she was busy, she would always stop to help someone in need. She was not a pushover. She had had a tough first marriage, which was very rocky. But Brian was good to my sister; they loved getting away,” said Britz.

The couple, both previously married with children, began a relationship nearly 20 years ago. But it was only once they became devout Christians and members of the Kloof Harvest Church that they decided to get married. On the day they were murdered, they had been married exactly one year and four months. On that same day, Tilly’s granddaughter turned two.

Brian, who was employed at heavy machine manufacturer Komatsu Durban for well over 20 years, had celebrated his 61st birthday just four days earlier.

“My sister worked at the same company for 10 years, but resigned after developing breast cancer. Her treatment was successful and she was in remission before they got married in December 2012,” said Britz.

Tilly’s daughter, Monique du Randt, said the tragedy has not yet sunk in.

“They were about to move from Malvern. They had sold the flat and were looking for a cottage in Kloof; small enough to maintain but big enough for the grandchildren to visit. Brian was expecting to retire soon. Sunday was meant to be a day of joy as my daughter turned two, yet it turned into a day of sadness,” she said.

Former neighbour Pastor Nereen Kissoonduth said Brian was the “kindest man”. “I was a tenant in the same complex in a flat he owned. I have a wheelchair-bound child and Brian was always willing to stop everything to assist me. He would fix the wheelchair and make sure the flat was always in good condition. They were wonderful people,” said Kissoonduth.

June Pritchard said Brian, as the body corporate chairperson, was trustworthy and had lived in the complex for 16 years.

The caretaker was arrested at the farm and is expected to appear in court soon.

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