A massive‚ noisy shouting match took place in the Van Breda family home in Stellenbosch in the hours leading up to the killing spree there.
This was part of the testimony in the High Court in Cape Town on Tuesday of Stephanie Op’t Hof‚ who lived opposite the Van Breda home at 12 Goske Street‚ De Zalze‚ when parents Martin and Teresa and son Rudi were axed to death in January 2015.
“I have two small sons‚” she said.
“They are now 4 and 8. My husband goes away very often so I wanted to stay somewhere safe while our house was being built.”
On the night of January 26‚ she said‚ “I put my kids to bed at around eight. I am an interior decorator and had a lot of work to do. The children were asleep and things were very quiet. The television was also off.”
At around 10pm‚ she heard “very loud male voices” that sounded as if they were fighting.
“It was so loud that I got a huge fright‚” she told Judge Siraj Desai‚ who is presiding over the trial of Henri van Breda.
“I had never heard fighting at De Zalze before.”
Just before 4am‚ she was awakened by her two-year-old’s baby monitor. When she went into his room‚ he was “more awake than usual”.
As Op’t Hof shared these details‚ Van Breda kept his composure but his cheeks became flushed.
Defence counsel Matthys Combrink asked her why she didn’t call the police.
“It was distressing but I didn’t think people were going to kill each other. As I said‚ I didn’t want to get involved‚” she replied.
Combrink also went to great lengths to argue that it was actually the soundtrack of Star Trek 2 playing through the family’s new sound system that she had heard.
“I heard no music‚” she said.
“If you told me it was‚ I would not believe you. In my experience‚ the music is usually louder than the dialogue. I am dead certain I was not listening to a movie.”
Combrink said: “I put it to you that they didn’t have an argument.”
Op’t Hof: “Is that what they say? I don’t agree with that at all.”
Combrink: “How can you be sure the sounds were coming from the Van Breda residence?”
Op’t Hof: “My house has a lot of glass and windows on the front and there were no other barriers to break sound. I am absolutely certain the sounds were coming from the Van Breda household. I could hear very clearly with my ears that that is where the loud fighting sounds were coming from.”
The neighbour said that when she told police detective Colonel Deon Beneke that she had heard screaming in the house‚ he looked at her as if he might not believe her. But‚ she says‚ she had no vested interest in creating details that did not exist.
A sound expert was brought in to re-create the scene at De Zalze‚ she said‚ and it proved to sound very similar.
Op’t Hof stood her ground under repetitive cross-examination by Combrink‚ and made it clear she felt exasperated by him asking the same question over and over again.
Desai eventually told Combrink: “You are now simply repeating yourself‚ asking the same questions. She has answered you.”
When asked by Combrink whether she could discern between a recording of her husband’s voice and her husband speaking behind a wall‚ Op’t Hofsaid with bemusement she “doesn’t see how this is relevant”.
Combrink was further disarmed when a clearly annoyed Desai said that he agreed with Op’t Hof and asked him to “put a valid question to the witness”.