The Van Breda Family Massacre

Martin Van Breda (54) lived in Stellenbosch, South Africa with his family in 2015 – wife Teresa (55) and their kids Rudi (22), Henri (20) and Marli (16).

I believe the family were relatively wealthy – Martin was reportedly a director of at least 25 companies and owned the Australian subsidiary of international property group Engel & Volkers. He developed a private school in Pretoria, and founded a company that tracks and recovers stolen vehicles.

I found some records that say the Van Breda’s bought a house in Buderim, Queensland in Australia in 2012 for $2.2 mil Australian dollars.  They also lived in Melbourne at some point.  

The family had been living in Australia and moved back to South Africa in January 2014.  They decided to move back due to Martin’s work and Teresa also wanted to be close to her family.  Marli travelled with her parents, but Henri and Rudi stayed in Australia for a bit longer as they were both studying at University.  The boys joined the rest of their family later in 2014.

Their home in South Africa was in the De Zalze Golf Estate.  The estate looks beautiful with a world renowned golf course, vineyards and a restaurant.  Very fancy.

I had a look online and a 4 bedroom home in the estate is currently for sale for 19.5 million rand.  That equates to around $1.3m US dollars.

The Van Breda estate is valued at around $17 million dollars I believe.  

There isn’t too much other info online about the family before this all happened.  They seemed to travel a lot and there was nothing really exceptional happening -just raising the kids and working hard.

On January 27, 2015, Henri Van Breda attempted to call his girlfriend at 4.42am.  She didn’t answer.  He then searched the internet for emergency numbers (google tells me the emergency number in South Africa may be 10111 – this comes up as soon as you search).  The emergency number in Australia is 000, so it is different but you would think it would be common knowledge to a 20 year old?

Almost THREE hours later, he finally called emergency services. 

He said things like “My … my family and me were attacked … by a guy with an axe.”

Police rushed to the scene and they found Martin, Teresa and their oldest child Rudi dead from axe wounds.

Marli, the baby of the family, suffered horrific injuries and was rushed to an intensive care unit.  

Henri was found with only minor lacerations.  

Marli would remain in hospital for months and she endured many surgeries.  She has since been diagnosed with retrograde amnesia and has no recollection of the attacks.
The definition of retrograde amnesia is a loss of memory-access to events that occurred or information that was learned in the past. It is caused by an injury or the onset of a disease.

An axe and a knife were found at the scene – it was thought both of these had been owned by the Van Breda family prior to the attacks  Police found no signs of forced entry.

According to police, Henri was dressed in a pair of sleep shorts and white socks covered in blood.

No arrests were made straight away in the case.  

Marli spent months undergoing intensive physiotherapy and eventually returned to school, but was kept separated from Henri – they both lived with separate family members.  

Rumors persisted about Henri’s involvement in the murder.  He  continued to plead innocent while local news outlets reported that he had a “tik addiction.’  I believe tik is what they refer to methamphetamine as in South Africa.

The Sunday Times published an article stating that police had been investigating possible motives for the murders – it is believed that Henri may have had his allowance cut off by Teresa and Martin.  

The Times tracked down a man who claimed to have been Henri’s drug dealer and reportedly identified him from a photograph, saying that he had been a regular customer. Henri allegedly spent time at an upmarket drug rehabilitation centre in Cape Town.

Police also determined that the blood found on Henri’s clothing matched the DNA of his brother and his parents. 

In June 2016, police very politely called Henri’s lawyer to inform her of his imminent arrest.  They advised him to turn himself in, which he did on June 13.

Marli’s legal representative released the following statement at the time:

“The news is understandably very distressing to Marli, the family want justice to take its course.”
On 14 June, Henri appeared in the Stellenbosch Magistrate Court to face three charges of murder and one of attempted murder and defeating the ends of justice. Bail was set at R100,000 (around $6.5k US which seems awfully low) and Henri was released under the conditions that he report to his local police station regularly and not leave the area.

A pre-trial hearing was held at the Western Cape High Court in September 2016 and the case was postponed until November as state prosecutor Susan Galloway requested more time to obtain outstanding computer and DNA evidence.

Henri and his girlfriend, Danielle Janse Van Rensburg, were arrested on 6 September 2016 by Table View police for the possession of cannabis and were granted bail of R1000 and R200 ($13 lol) respectively. The case of drug possession was heard on 12 October at the Cape Town Magistrate Court and was postponed due to outstanding documentation.

Henri’s trial for the murder of his family started on April 4, 2017.

Henri pleaded not guilty.  During the trial he told the court that his family had been attacked by “an axe-wielding black man, wearing dark clothes, gloves and a balaclava-type mask”.

Henri told the court that his family was sleeping upstairs when an intruder broke into their home.

From the doorway of his bathroom he saw “a tall black man wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothes” go into the bedroom he shared with his brother and suddenly attack him with an axe.

Henri says he cried out for help, waking his father who ran into their room.

Teresa and Marli followed.

All were brutally attacked, he says, while he stood watching, frozen with fear.

Henri has said he then struggled with the intruder, who laughed as he wielded his axe. He says he was somehow able to disarm him, at which point the intruder produced a knife, stabbed him and then fled the scene – still laughing.

A paramedic who attended the scene also gave his version of events.  “Blood ran like a waterfall down the stairs,” testified Christiaan Koegelenberg.

We learned that Martin and Teresa had been found in a pool of blood on the first floor of their mansion.

Rudi’s body was found close to Marli, who was struggling to stay alive. 

Martin’s brother Cornelius also testified during the trial and when asked who would want to kill the family, he said ‘No one.’ He told the court they were a close knit family who had no enemies.

The prosecutor Susan Galloway asked Henri to reenact the attack that he had allegedly seen, which he did.  There are photos of him in the court room with an axe, I will put them on the blog.

“Most people if you’re in that kind of an altercation, will tell you, ‘Listen, I don’t know what blow followed what blow, I just knew he was coming at me with an axe, which I managed to take from him,’” Susan Galloway said.

“[Henri] was able to give almost a choreographed version of the arms and the hands and the weapons.”

One fact that the defense played on was the high rate in South Africa, leading to the intruder theory being slightly plausible.   South Africa has the third highest crime rate in the world, only beaten by Venezuela and Papua New Guinea. 

The prosecution’s argument was that all of Henri’s injuries had been self-inflicted.  They also pointed out other inconsistencies in Henri’s story.  Why would an intruder seeking to rob a home ignore valuable items downstairs and embark on a killing spree upstairs instead?  The estate where the family lived in considered one of the safest places in South Africa – they had  motion detectors, an alarm-system, 24-hour guard patrol, access-controlled gates and an electric fence.

He also could not explain why there were no signs of forced entry or why he escaped relatively uninjured.  

Forensic Pathologist Dr Marianne Tiemensma analysed Henri’s injuries, and she told 60 Minutes that “they were all very superficial. They barely broke the skin.”

“They were uniform so they were similar in nature, had a similar appearance.

“If you think you were just involved in an altercation or physical fight, struggle for life and death, people holding onto each other, you would maybe expect to see bruises around the forearms, around the upper arm, as you’re pulling and pushing. But nothing.”

Expert analysis showed that all the victims had been attacked by the same single person.  

The prosecution also argued that Henri waited hours to call for help because he wanted to ensure that his family bled to death.  Henri’s rebuttal was that he had collapsed after seeing his family attacked and that he was unconscious for hours. 

Neighbors who lived close to the Van Breda family spoke about hearing a loud argument on the night of the attacks.  Henri’s team said that the sounds had been from a movie.  

Henri also spoke about the relationship that he had with his family.  He said they were “a normal family” with normal disagreements.

If any of the children got into arguments with their parents, it was generally Marli who was “growing and rebelling,” he said.

People close to the family though said that Henri had been the ‘black sheep’ of the family.  Rudi and Marli both excelled at their studies, while Henri dropped out and lacked direction.  When he returned to South Africa from Australia in 2014, he called it a ‘gap year’ and it was argued that he had no real plan for his life.

The court also got into detail about the injuries suffered by the family.  This info is from

Of all the victims, Marli, had put up the greatest fight.

Unlike her mother and brother, who had minor defensive wounds, which may mean they were asleep shortly before the attack, Marli maybe saw Van Breda coming and tried to fight him off.

Her father, Martin, had deep wounds on his back. Delivering his sentence, Judge Desai said this was an indication that he had used his own body to try and shield Rudi from his axe-wielding brother, believing perhaps that his son would not strike him. But he did.

The trial went on for 67 days. 

On 21 May 2018, the court found Henri guilty on three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and defeating the ends of justice. He was immediately taken into custody instead of temporary release until sentencing, in the interest of society, to be transferred to Pollsmoor Prison’s hospital section. He was under treatment for epilepsy and depression following the murders.

On June 7, 2018, Henri was sentenced to three life terms for the murder of his parents and brother, a further 15 years for the attempted murder of Marli, and another 12 months for obstruction of justice.

He was moved to the Drakenstein Correctional Centre to serve out his term.  

The prison is famous for being the location where Nelson Mandela spent the last part of his imprisonment for campaigning against apartheid.

Henri attempted to appeal his conviction in November 2018.  His girlfriend Danielle spoke to 60 Minutes Australia about the appeal and said that Henri was “unable to hurt anything”, let alone kill his loved ones.

“He told me everything. He was very open, he was very honest.” 

“His story still always made sense to me with the lack of evidence… We are very confident in the appeal.”

On November 7, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.