Image composite: The Reading List
Jana Marx’s book ‘The Krugersdorp Cult Killings: Inside Cecilia Steyn’s Reign of Terror’ delves into one of the most sensational serial killer cases in South Africa’s history. The book has been made into a TV series, Devilsdorp, narrated by the author.
Eleven murders over a period of four years sent shockwaves through the Krugersdorp community and made headlines nationwide. Eventually, these murders were connected to Cecilia Steyn and her cult, Electus per Deus (chosen by God).
The murderers are seemingly ordinary people – a teacher, a financial broker, and a teenager who – despite her involvement in the murders – still managed to obtain six distinctions in matric and be accepted to medical school.
Who is Cecilia Steyn? How can one person manipulate five others to commit murder on her behalf? How did inexperienced criminals manage to evade capture for so long?
Through interviews with those in the inner circle, evidence given in court and police files covering a period of four years, Marx attempts to answer these questions and provide a view of the inner workings of a cult.
“Kill her or I’ll shoot you!”
Cecilia was not at all happy with the loot from Kevin’s murder. The R1,300 wasn’t enough for even half of one of her “psychology consultations”. Electus per Deus almost immediately started planning the next appointment murder.
Marinda was leafing through a newspaper when she spotted a RE/MAX Masters advertisement. Cecilia liked the idea of approaching an estate agent, seeing as financial advisers weren’t producing as much money as she had hoped.
Four days after Kevin Mc Alpine’s murder, Marinda contacted the estate agency and made an appointment with Hanlé Lategan. The 52-year-old Hanlé sold property in Roodepoort and Krugersdorp on behalf of RE/MAX Masters. Marinda said that she was from Cape Town and wanted to discuss a house in the Krugersdorp area with Hanlé, as her husband had found a job at one of the mines. Marinda pretended not to have any transport and asked whether Hanlé could pick her up at the Netcare hospital across the road from Cosanna for their appointment.
At 15:00 on the afternoon of Monday, 30 May 2016, Hanlé fetched her husband André’s iPad at the office because she wanted to take photographs of the property to show Marinda. André and Hanlé had been together for 34 years and had three adult children. That afternoon was the last time André saw his wife alive.
Meanwhile emotions were running high at Cosanna. Marcel had just received very good news. Some time ago, without telling the others, she had applied to study Medicine at the University of Pretoria. Today she heard that she had qualified for provisional admission. She was a little apprehensive about telling her mother and Cecilia because they had been insisting for a long time that she would not be allowed to leave the house. If she wanted to study, she would have to do it via distance learning so that she could stay at home. The studies that Marcel dreamt of, however, could not be completed through distance learning.
Marinda exploded when Marcel shared the news and threatened to “get rid of her” just as they had done with Mikeila. She accused Marcel of failing the group. This time Marcel took no notice of the threats, but the prospect of making something of her life made her fear that Hanlé’s murder would be botched and would thus thwart the plans she had for her future.
Late that afternoon, Hanlé headed off to pick up Marinda from Cosanna, after which she would meet colleague Riana Burger at 18:00 at the property in Rant-en-Dal. She informed the owner of the house that she was running a little late as she still had to pick up the client (Marinda).
As soon as the members of Electus per Deus heard that Hanlé was on her way, they took up their positions in 17 Cosanna. As usual, Cecilia stayed in her own apartment as if she were completely unaware of what was going down.
Once again the music was blaring from the bedroom, but this time Marcel was busying herself in her mother’s kitchen. The details of the plan to lure Hanlé to the apartment remain unclear – they almost certainly relate to Marinda’s lying about not having transport – but, as with Tony and Kevin, death awaited her at 17 Cosanna.
This time Marinda didn’t follow the usual kitchen routine but produced the .38 Special from her handbag as soon as Hanlé entered the apartment. She wasn’t interested in buying a house, she told Hanlé; what she wanted was Hanlé’s bank cards.
Hanlé cooperated and lay down on the floor so that Le Roux could bind her hands behind her back with a rope. Her bank cards were taken from her purse so that John and Marcel could go test them. At first, Hanlé was too rattled to remember the PINs – or cleverly pretended that she was unable to – but eventually John and Marcel left with the correct numbers. This time they drove Marinda’s Hyundai.
CCTV cameras captured Marcel, wearing a beanie, in front of the ATM at 18:35, as John waited patiently in Marinda’s car. This time Marcel didn’t just test the PINs; she wanted to withdraw the money, too. The first ATM generated a “fault” message. The next one showed two balances, which confused Marcel. She still hadn’t managed to withdraw any money. As soon as she tried to, she received a “fault” message. They visited more ATMs but got the same message every time.
Meanwhile, Marinda phoned to ask why they were taking so long. After Marcel explained that she hadn’t managed to make any withdrawals, Marinda decided to force Hanlé to transfer all the money to one account in the hope that that would simplify things. For her part Hanlé convinced Marinda that Marcel would not be able to withdraw money from that specific account before first transferring money into it.
Marinda returned Hanlé’s cell phone to her so that she could make the transfer, but instead Hanlé transferred a huge sum to her husband’s account in the hope that he would become suspicious. Her strategy worked. André received an SMS notification from the bank that a transfer from one of their bank accounts to another had taken place. Because they very seldom used that account, he immediately wanted to find out from his wife what was going on.
Marinda, however, suspected that Hanlé was trying to outwit them and retrieved the cell phone from her. She handed it to Le Roux, so that he could check whether he was able to raise the limit on the cards on Hanlé’s internet banking profile or, better still, transfer the money electronically to an account from which they would be able to withdraw it. But Le Roux had no luck. Some detail to do with the fact that Hanlé was a woman apparently upset Le Roux a lot.
While Le Roux was working on Hanlé’s cell phone, someone SMSed her and André tried to call her to find out why the money was being transferred. After the unanswered call, Le Roux switched off her cell phone. He realised that people were already trying to find Hanlé.
It’s unclear why, but at one stage Marcel was indeed able to withdraw R3,000 in cash. André again received an SMS notification of the transaction, and then another warning that someone was trying to withdraw more money than what was available in the account.
André was still trying to figure out what was going on when Riana Burger called him to ask where Hanlé was. She had never arrived for their 18:00 appointment. That was when André realised that something was horribly wrong.
After Marcel informed her mother and brother that she had managed to withdraw a little money, Le Roux had to do something. The vulnerable woman lying on the rug in front of him stirred some emotion in him.
“I don’t want to kill the lady, Ma,” he pleaded.
A fuming Marinda then turned the revolver on him and ordered him to do his job – or she would kill both of them. Le Roux knew that his mother was perfectly capable of carrying out her threat. He proceeded to strangle Hanlé.
After the debacle at the ATMs, Marcel and John headed straight back to Cosanna to explain to Marinda what had initially gone wrong. By the time they entered the apartment, Hanlé was dead.
Marcel then had to accompany John to get rid of Hanlé’s body. John loaded Hanlé’s body in a Pikitup rubbish bin and pushed it downstairs and up to her car.
But there was one more obstacle: Hanlé’s Hyundai was marked with RE/MAX stickers. With all the news reports doing the rounds, the gang had to be cautious. Cecilia suggested that they use a different vehicle.
John and Marinda placed Hanlé’s body upright on the back seat of Marinda’s Hyundai i10. She was wrapped in a red blanket, her head resting against the window, so that it looked as if she were asleep. Marcel sat next to the body and, to avoid suspicion, tried to keep it upright.
While Le Roux was disposing of Hanlé’s handbag, John, Marinda and Marcel drove towards Tarlton, hoping to find a suitable place where the body wouldn’t be found too quickly. They turned onto a dirt road shortly after the sewerage farm in Elandsvlei. John dragged Hanlé’s body from the car and dumped it among the bushes between the trees right next to the road.
The threesome then returned via Randfontein, hurling some of Hanlé’s possessions, such as a boot and lipstick, out of the window as they drove. They kept her cell phone, watch and wedding ring. Later, Le Roux pawned the ring.
Back in Krugersdorp, André was going crazy. It was 21:00 and there was still no sign of his wife. He later returned home to inform the rest of the family of what was going on.
The gang of murderers had just reached home ground when the CPF traced Hanlé’s car to the Netcare hospital across the road from Cosanna. The CPF had cordoned off the road and the threesome even feigned surprise when they passed the roadblock on their way back to Marinda’s apartment.
André gave the CPF permission to break into his wife’s car in case her body was in the boot, as had been the case with Tony and Kevin, but there was no sign of her.
At one stage Cecilia, who had been home all evening, even went outside and spoke to members of the CPF as a concerned resident would. How terrible – and this had all happened right in front of her house where she lived with her family, she had reportedly exclaimed. Shortly after that, the CPF left the area and the members of Electus per Deus remained inside their apartments.
But once again murder hadn’t proved much of a success for Cecilia and the gang. They had looted only R3,000 and made a little extra cash from selling Hanlé’s wedding ring. Le Roux visited the ATM again after midnight, but by that time the bank cards had all been cancelled.
The following morning, Colonel Verna van Staden of the Krugersdorp criminal investigation unit notified André that a body had been found in the Tarlton area. Children on their way to school early in the morning had stumbled upon the corpse.
Le Roux’s father up next
Following the murder of Hanlé Lategan, Cecilia became increasingly ruthless. She instructed Le Roux to take out a life insurance policy on his own life as well as on that of his father. Le Roux panicked, but he was too scared to stand up to Cecilia.
He convinced his unsuspecting father, with whom he had recently started to build a better relationship, to go for medical tests, and then sent out the necessary emails and started preparing the paperwork. DM/ML
The Krugersdorp Cult Killings: Inside Cecilia Steyn’s Reign of Terror by Jana Marx is published by LAPA Uitgewers (R295).Visit The Reading List for South African book news – including excerpts! – daily.