Note: we are republishing this story amid recent reports that suggest many US states are recording record highs in sexual assault incidents. 1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence. Violence against women is fundamentally a violation of human rights and can have devastating short term and long term effects. More on this here: https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women
Two strong security guards brought in a massive 82lb rock into the Western High Court in Cape Town, South Africa.
The sight of the rock, which was allegedly used to smash in the skull of a university student after she was kidnapped and brutally gang-raped, elicited gasps of shock and horror from the public gallery.
33-year-old Vernon Witbooi, 27-year-old Geraldo Parsons, 29-year-old Nashville Julius, and 28-year-old Eben Van Nieberk, stood trial on charges including murder, kidnapping, robbery, and rape.
The court heard that 21-year-old Hannah Cornelius, the daughter of magistrate Willem Cornelius and wife Anna, who tragically drowned 10 months after Hannah’s murder, was kidnapped after giving her friend, 22-year-old Cheslin Marsh, a lift home.
Hannah was a second-year Bachelor of Arts student at Stellenbosch University when she was attacked and murdered.
At midnight in May last year, Hannah was parking her blue VW Golf – a gift she’d received from her grandmother – outside Marsh’s flat when a gang of four men attacked them by opening both doors.
They put a screwdriver to her chest and a knife to Marsh’s back, threatening to kill him.
Marsh told the court that one of the men shouted at him: “Sit still or she dies.”
The men took Marsh’s cash and his phone before locking him in the trunk of the car. They then drove to a drug dealer’s home to buy drugs with Hannah sandwiched between two of the men in the backseat of the car.
At the home, the men smoked crystal meth before getting back in the car and driving to Stellenbosch. They pulled over and dragged Marsh into the bushes, where they made him lay his head on a rock before using house bricks to bash his skull. They left him in the bushes when they were convinced he was dead.
Marsh regained consciousness that afternoon and staggered to a nearby home to raise the alarm about Hannah. He’d sustained severe head injuries and a broken arm in the assault.
Unbeknownst to him, Hannah’s body had been recovered several miles away, dumped by the road. Police were already searching for him and the gang.
Hannah had been taken to a vineyard and dragged into the bushes, where she was gang raped by at least three of the men in what was described as an “extremely painful” ordeal.
She’d sustained severe vaginal and cervical injuries in the prolonged attack.
Following the rape, the gang allegedly found the large boulder, which was covering a water borehole nearby. Hannah had heavy bruising on her arms, indicating that she’d been held down. The gang, probably several members, then lifted the rock and dropped it on her head.
According to forensic pathologist Dr. Deidre Abraham, who performed the autopsy on Hannah, the men dealt the fatal blows by dropping the rock twice.
“The skull is made up of very strong bones indeed. It is not easy for a skull to break or crack unless a lot of power is used to actually break the skull,” Dr. Abraham said. “The blunt force injuries to her head were very rapidly fatal.”
Conrad Booysen and Flippie Matthee, two workers who had been repairing a borehole pump at Groenhoek Farm near Stellenbosch the day before, told the court that they’d placed the rock over the hole after they’d removed the pump from the bottom of the well to prevent people and animals falling in after dark.
54-year-old Booysen stated that it had taken two of them to move the rock because of how heavy it was.
Three of the defendants, Witbooi, Julius, and Van Nieberk, admitted that they’d been present but claimed that they only robbed the pair. They denied committing rape or murder.
After Hannah’s murder, the four men - high on drugs - drove around in the hijacked car and robbed at least three women before the stolen car was spotted and a high-speed police chase ensued.
Three of the men were arrested after dumping the car and fleeing. The fourth was arrested later.
Sources: Daily Mail