'I need to know what happened' - Jesse Hess's family celebrate her 19th birthday as murder probe continues

Friday, October 25, would have been Jesse Hess's 19th birthday. (Facebook, Jesse Hess)
Friday, October 25, would have been Jesse Hess's 19th birthday. (Facebook, Jesse Hess)

When Sandy Hess tucked into her slice of chocolate cake on her niece Jesse's 19th birthday, the treat was bittersweet. Usually, she would be forced to settle for vanilla, Jesse's favourite.

But this year, there was no birthday girl for her to argue with about the flavour of the icing, or to wish well for the year ahead.

Two months after Jesse and her 85-year-old grandfather Chris Lategan were found dead in the family’s Parow flat on August 30, no one has been arrested.

The first-year University of the Western Cape theology student – a youth leader who dreamt of becoming a preacher - was found on a bed, while Chris was discovered tied up in the toilet.

The family moved out of the one-bedroom council unit that same day. They took only their clothes, not wanting anything else in the once happy home that had become a crime scene.

"What was important to us – Jesse and her oupa Chris - was taken. They were gone. Everything else, the furniture, the possessions, doesn't mean anything. I didn't care what happened to it after it was dusted for prints, whether it was sold or burnt. Every item reminded us of what had happened."

The day her loved ones were murdered was Sandy's second day at her new job. The family had gone through hard financial times and things were finally looking up, she said.

But having to deal with the repercussions of losing two family members at once in such a violent way and needing time off to make the funeral arrangements saw her lose the work she had already struggled to find. 

Jesse Hess and her grandfather were murdered durin

Jesse Hess and her grandfather were murdered during what is thought to be a robbery. Only a TV set, two cellphones and Jesse’s backpack were taken. (Facebook, Jesse Hess)

On Friday, the remaining members of their household – ouma Cathy, Sandy, her son, as well as Jesse's brother – celebrated the teenager's birthday with a family dinner.

Friends and family visited her graveside over the weekend to spruce it up and lay fresh flowers.

"Jesse loved her birthday and all the presents and attention she would get. My mother would wake up at 04:30 to get ready for work and start singing for her in those early hours. Jesse would be wide awake. I would have to force her to go back to sleep because she wanted to be up, that time of the morning, to enjoy her day."

This year, 67-year-old grandma Cathy had no one to sing to.

"She lost her granddaughter and her husband. She doesn't sleep at night – she can't, not without a sleeping tablet," Sandy said.

Her mother, who had been in retirement, has since started working as a Grade R teacher to keep herself occupied.

"Last Sunday was their wedding anniversary. She was so heartbroken. She only wants to know why they did it. Those two wouldn't even have hurt a fly. Why them?

"They had been in their home. She was studying, he was watching soccer. Why did they come in here? Why did they do this?"

Jesse Hess and her grandfather Chris Lategan were

Jesse Hess was only 18 when she and her grandfather Chris Lategan were found dead in their Parow home on August 30. (Facebook, Jesse Hess)

Thought to be a robbery, only a TV set, two cellphones and Jesse's backpack were stolen from the house.

Sandy is convinced there is more to the murders than meets the eye.

"The music system had been unplugged, but wasn't taken. There were three laptops in the house. Why was that all they took? It doesn't make sense to me," she said.

Hours before her murder, Jesse had won R5 000 in a competition on Heart 104.9FM.

In a clip which the radio station shared, Hess said she had been saving money to do something special for her relatives at the end of the year.

She had sounded excited about winning, saying she could spoil her grandparents and aunt who had taken her in. Her mother worked as a hairdresser on a cruise ship and Jesse and her brother had lived with their extended family for years.

Sandy said the station had since doubled the prize money.

"She had planned to take us for spa and relaxation treatments, so I think that is what we'll do. I think we truly need it."

The first year theology student dreamt of becoming

The first year theology student dreamt of becoming a preacher. (Facebook, Jesse Hess)

Sandy on Monday praised the police officers investigating the case. Despite no one being arrested, she had been kept abreast of all developments, she said.

A private investigator was also probing the murders. This after more than R66 000 was raised through crowdfunding.

Police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk on Monday said the investigation was still underway.

Sandy is hopeful that a breakthrough will be made.

"I want closure. We all do. But first I need to know what happened, why they came in and did this. I can't deal with it until someone is arrested. Only then I can grieve."

Jesse Hess with her grandparents Chris and Cathy a

Jesse Hess with her grandparents Chris and Cathy after her grandmother completed her Level 5 Higher Certificate in Early Childhood Development. (Supplied, Sandy Hess)

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