‘On the Devil’s Trail’ – Hunting down the Krugersdorp Killers
After a string of police botches, Captain Ben Bliksem Booysen was assigned the Krugersdorp Killers’ case in 2016. Eleven people had already been brutally murdered by a group calling themselves Electus Per Deus. Booysen made headlines when he arrested the mastermind Cecilia Steyn, and her accomplices.
In On the Devil’s Trail, South Africa’s own “Chuck Norris” takes the reader behind the scenes of the killings, divulging new and shocking details of the crimes that kept the nation on edge for almost a decade.
In a review for the Daily Maverick, Suné Payne called the book “funny, sad and, most of all, a reflection of a complicated policing service where the good guys are really good but the bad guys are rotten to the core”. Read an extract.
More Cop Complications
I did not book out any weapons when I learned there was a potential threat to my life, but one person who apparently did relay the threat was Lieutenant Colonel Hennie de Jager, the head of Gauteng’s Occult-related Crime Unit. He just didn’t relay it to me. I heard that he was allegedly telling people at the Gauteng Provincial Police Headquarters in Parktown, where he was based, that there was a hit out on me. I don’t know where he got the information.
Christelle was still working at the province at the time, in charge of disciplinary cases against the police, when someone who worked with her called to say: “De Jager is walking around here telling everyone that there is a hit out on your husband.”
Christelle was surprised because she had already seen De Jager that day. He had been in her office that morning, thirty minutes before she received the call. Because he was attached to the provincial investigation unit, and from time to time they would arrest police officers she was responsible for disciplining, she and De Jager had a lot to do with each other.
Later that morning, Christelle bumped into Brigadier Leon Kruger, who was head of supply chain. At the time of Mikeila’s murder, he was the station commander of the Honeydew Police Station and had been on the murder scene.
He said, “Christelle, what’s this nonsense about Ben’s life being in danger?”
“Yes, Brigadier, there is a hit on Ben. Why do you ask?” she replied. “De Jager just came to me and requested an R5 rifle to be booked out to him. I asked him why he needed it and he said, ‘Because Ben’s life is in danger.’”
Kruger asked De Jager why he needed the rifle if it wasn’t his own life that was in danger and De Jager allegedly responded, “Ja, but you know I was previously involved in this stuff.”
Kruger asked De Jager to put the request in writing, which he never did. When it came to light in Mr X’s court testimony that De Jager often visited Cecilia in her flat, ate cake there and gave lectures about what police look for on a murder scene, I made it known that I believed his poor investigation was one of the reasons the 2012 murders were not solved when they should have been.
Eventually De Jager phoned me and said he wanted to see me at the office of his commander, Brigadier Gina Palko. When I arrived at her office, it was clear that this was going to be a showdown. She was immediately on the offensive and said: “I have heard that you are suspecting De Jager. What is the situation?”
This is how I remember the conversation that now took place:
I told her: “De Jager was on all the murder scenes from the beginning – from Natacha and Joy, to even where Zak Valentine was believed to have burned to death in his car in Petrus Steyn in 2015, he was on the scene. This is out of his jurisdiction. We work in Gauteng.”
She replied, “No, he was busy with an investigation in the Free State.”
And then I turned to De Jager and asked, “But what investigations were you doing in the Free State, Colonel? Where was your authorisation and stuff?”
He couldn’t answer me.
“And, anyway, who called you to tell you that Zak burned to death in Petrus Steyn?”
He said he couldn’t remember.
In the interim, I had also spoken to the detective who investigated the Petrus Steyn docket and he told me that De Jager told him that if he received any information, he should phone him first.
But this was long after then-Gauteng head of detectives, Norman Taoie, took De Jager off the 2012 murders, allegedly because of the conflict between him and Captain Van Wyk, the Honeydew detective who investigated Mikeila and Pastor Reg’s dockets and was later assigned the dockets of Natacha and Tannie Joy when those cases were linked. Major-General Oswald Reddy, who was the commander at Honeydew, apparently ordered Van Wyk to no longer involve De Jager in the investigation.
I asked De Jager why he persisted with the cases and why he visited Cecilia at her flat.
“What did you do there?” I asked him. “You were not supposed to investigate these cases any more. What did you do at Cecilia’s?”
He responded that Electus per Deus members were suspects in the 2012 murders and he was supposed to infiltrate them.
I then asked him where his section 252A authority to do that was. (According to section 252A of the Criminal Procedure Act, you need authorisation from a judge to make use of traps and undercover operations so that the evidence you obtain can be admissible in court.)
He responded that he didn’t have to “infiltrate” them, and that he had to “befriend” them. I asked him what the difference was. He couldn’t answer me.
Brigadier Palko ended the meeting saying: “Ok, yes, he will give you a full statement now. He will give you want you want.”
I told her, “I don’t want his statement. His warning statement will be taken at a later stage.”
And, with that, I walked out of her office.
During the trial, Mr X testified that De Jager had set him up with a voice recorder to entrap Cecilia and her acolytes but, allegedly, De Jager had no permission to do so. Mr X, Ms Y and Mandy also said they had handed over perfectly audible voice recordings to De Jager of Mr X speaking to Cecilia and the others about the 2012 murders and their conspiracy to kill Ria’s son. But when I asked him about those tapes, De Jager said they were inaudible and useless and also that he didn’t know where they were.
In her notes attached to the docket, dated 7 October 2013, Advocate Maro Papachristoforou, the prosecutor guiding the investigation, wrote: “Colonel De Jager was the biggest problem … Not only did he get too close to all the suspects especially Cecilia/C but he regularly tipped them off and accepted gifts. He often received crucial information from state witnesses [Mandy and Mr X] and he did nothing about it. He actually jeopardised the state’s case. He acted unprofessionally at all material times. This Colonel cannot be trusted and he is dangerous to work with.”
When I asked him for them, De Jager was also not able to account for some of the physical evidence collected on his crime scenes and couldn’t produce diary entries relating to his investigation.
De Jager was in charge of the 2012 murder investigations and insisted that they were Satanic ritual murders when there was good evidence that they were not. Although he wrote information notes to Brigadier Palko that Ria, Cecila, Marinda and Zak were the suspects in these murders, their warning statements were never taken.
Even up until today, it’s still difficult for me to figure it out. Did De Jager try to infiltrate Electus per Deus? Did he just neglect to do his police work? Or did he naively help Cecilia and her followers? Did they draw on his knowledge about crime scenes to cover their tracks? Electus per Deus always ensured that their murder scenes were completely clean, that they took all the murder weapons away, that they wore gloves to ensure that there were never any fingerprints and that they wore beanies and disguises so that the neighbours couldn’t pick them out in an identity parade.
For his part, I think Captain Van Wyk could also possibly have done a better job.
Ria claimed that Van Wyk never took a statement from her and failed to follow up the information she provided. Instead, he and De Jager threatened her, stating that she was a suspect and that they were going to lock her up. This was even after she told them of Cecilia’s threats that people were going to die. Why didn’t they follow up on that information? Take warning statements? Check out these people? I believe more could have been done to prevent the later murders.
One of the statements Van Wyk did take was that of Zak Valentine shortly after his wife’s murder. In it, Zak painted himself as a longsuffering husband, smearing his wife’s name, stating that she came home just before midnight the previous night reeking of tequila. He also smeared her name and tried to implicate Ria in her murder.
“I do not know who murdered my wife, but I know that she was involved in the past with drugs [coke]. For the past year and a half, she didn’t use any drugs as far as I know,” he said.
“We attended Ria’s Overcomers Through Christ classes but later felt uncomfortable and left the group … I also want to add that Ria is a very jealous and possessive person … Ria Grunewald’s classes feel like an occult [sic] and we left the classes.”
Zak provided another possible murder suspect, a “team leader” at Mikeila’s travel agency whom he “felt uncomfortable with”.
In his statement, Zak wrote that he was overcome with emotion at seeing his wife’s dead body. But it was clear to others on the scene – the estate agent he’d brought to the townhouse so he could establish an alibi, and the trauma counsellor who debriefed him – that he was not as good an actor as his cult leader, Cecilia.
“He calmed down quite quickly. He also asked me during that time, ‘Can you still sell the property?’” the estate agent told Van Wyk, adding that Zak appeared strangely concerned about where his cats were just a few minutes after discovering his wife had been brutally murdered.
Advocate Papachristoforou’s notes, attached to the docket, showed that she believed at the time that Zak was a suspect in his wife’s murder. She said claims in his statement that he was shocked and traumatised “were a lie” and that he “puts Mikeila in a bad light; says she was a druggie and an alcoholic”.
“He wants to shift the focus off himself as a suspect to his wife’s murder. He claims the house was broken into and items stolen. This is a lie! Wants to remove focus from himself as a suspect and persuade police that it was a house robbery and murder … Puts Ria in a bad light – wants to give police a suspect,” she wrote.
Papachristoforou’s notes contains the often-repeated phrases “circumstantial evidence”, “hearsay”, “inadmissible” and “illegible statement”.
So why was Van Wyk taken off the case? He couldn’t tell me.
But, at the end of the day, I could not find dockets from those cases, nor much physical evidence. All the stuff they had gathered – DNA, hair, blood – was all missing. It wasn’t showing up in the duplicate dockets and I couldn’t pick anything up at the stations. I asked them to please go have a look for the SAP 13 numbers. I am still waiting for them, until today.
After the case was finalised, I laid charges against Flippie Jacobs, Dries Steyn, Hennie de Jager and Johan van Wyk for defeating the ends of justice and being accessories after the fact. I felt that it was my duty to do so. I believe that if De Jager and Van Wyk had done a better job, the Appointment Murder victims could have been saved.
On 3 September 2019, I handed two lever-arch files of supporting evidence against the four to Brigadier Victor and he gave it to the Provincial Investigating Unit. That disappeared.
Journalist Jana Marx queried the police about this in late 2020 but they couldn’t find the docket. Major-General Johan Ndlovu, the new head of detectives in Gauteng, phoned me and said:
“Asseblief, Kaptein, maak a nuwe docket.” [Please, Captain, make a new docket.]
I said, ‘But, General, the originals were all in that docket!’
He responded, “Ai, Kaptein, maak asseblief ’n nuwe docket.”
So I did. DM/ ML
On the Devil’s Trail: How I Hunted Down the Krugersdorp Killers by Ben Booysen and Nicki Gules is published by Melinda Ferguson Books (R280). Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily – including excerpts!
In case you missed it, also read The Devilsdorp files — an unflinching true crime account of the Appointment Murders
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