Ruan van Heerden handed 25-year sentence for murdering his mother in horrific knife attack

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Ruan van Heerden in court. Photo: Deaan Vivier
Ruan van Heerden in court. Photo: Deaan Vivier
  • Ruan van Heerden has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of his mother.
  • Van Heerden stabbed his mother more than 30 times during an attack at their home in January 2020.
  • He pleaded guilty to murder and the attempted murder of his father.

Ruan van Heerden has been sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment for the murder of his mother after stabbing her more than 30 times in their home in Pretoria in 2020.

Van Heerden and his co-accused, Carlson Phelps, appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday. He was convicted and sentenced after entering into a plea agreement with the State.

Van Heerden admitted that on the evening of 9 January 2020, he and his friend, Phelps, stormed into his home at around 23:00.

His mother, Magda van Heerden, had been sitting on the couch in the living room while her husband, Barney van Heerden, had already gone to sleep.

While Magda had been sitting in the living room, Van Heerden went to the kitchen, where he got a knife, before going back to his mother.

During that same time, according to the plea agreement, Phelps went to the bedroom where Barney was sleeping.

READ | Pretoria woman stabbed 36 times allegedly by her teenage son dies of illness two years after attack

Van Heerden then started stabbing his mother "all over her body". News24 previously reported that Magda had been stabbed more than 30 times.

While Magda was being attacked in the living room, Phelps allegedly started beating Barney with a golf club in the bedroom.

Van Heerden later entered the bedroom and then proceeded to stab his father as well.

Following the attack, Van Heerden admitted to stealing several items from the house, including a cellphone, a wallet with credit cards, cigarettes, the CCTV recording device, and the weapons used to attack his parents.

Van Heerden also stole his father's bakkie. News24 reported that the vehicle was later found abandoned near Tembisa.

Van Heerden was arrested a day later after using his father's bank card to pay for a 600km Uber trip to Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape.

READ | Man on trial for horrific knife attack on friend's parents goes for psychiatric tests

While Magda survived the initial attack, she had been severely wounded. She had been in and out of hospital and underwent dialysis until she eventually died from the wounds in October 2021.


Van Heerden pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances.

He was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment for murder, five years for attempted murder, and 15 years for robbery with aggravating circumstances.

The court ordered that the other sentences run concurrently with the murder sentence.

According to the plea agreement, the State and defence teams agreed that compelling and substantial circumstances existed for the court, at its discretion, to deviate from the minimum prescribed sentences.

The compelling and substantial circumstances in mitigation of sentence included:

  • Van Heerden was only 18 years old at the time of the attack.
  • He was a drug addict who had left a rehabilitation facility 10 days before the attack.
  • On the day of the attack, Van Heerden was reprimanded by his mother for stealing money from his father's wallet.
  • The rehabilitation facility manager told him that his parents had wanted to put him up for adoption.
  • Van Heerden has deep remorse for what he has done.
  • He phoned his father from prison to express his remorse and find out how his mother was doing.
  • Van Heerden accepted the consequences of his deeds and took full responsibility for his actions.

Aggravating factors included:

  • Van Heerden attacked his own adoptive parents and stabbed them with a knife.
  • Magda suffered for many months after the attack.
  • Barney paid for his son to undergo rehabilitation again, and Van Heerden was caught with dagga while in rehab.
  • Magda, before her death, and Barney were left severely traumatised by the attack.

The court accepted the plea agreement, and Van Heerden was sentenced accordingly.

Meanwhile, the State separated the trials of Van Heerden and his co-accused as no plea agreement had been reached with Phelps.

Phelps will appear in court again on 7 June.

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