Chilling countdown to Mother's Day murder of mom

Calendar marked before son kills mother, wounds sister and gasses himself

Barbara Sturdy, 77, in happier times
Barbara Sturdy, 77, in happier times
Image: Supplied

In a coldly calculated countdown to his mother’s murder, Maurice Pirzenthal marked off the days on a calendar leading up to Mother’s Day – when he brutally stabbed her to death – and to what would have been her 78th birthday the next day.

While other children were celebrating Mother’s Day with their moms on Sunday, the 50-year-old Port Elizabeth man sat waiting calmly on a chair in their garden with a speargun for Barbara Sturdy, 77, to return from a night church service and then stabbed her to death.

He also stabbed his sister, Sandra Coetzee, 57, in the throat, before killing himself.

Coetzee is in a critical condition in hospital.

She had driven her mother back to the Kanarie Road, Cotswold, home that Sturdy shared with her son at about 8.30pm after church on Sunday, when they were attacked by Pirzenthal.

While a badly bleeding Coetzee managed to escape, Pirzenthal calmly walked up his driveway after the attack, climbed into his vehicle and gassed himself in his locked garage – just metres from where his mother’s body lay.

Extensive bloodstains marked the street outside where the attack took place and a clear trail of blood indicated the path in which Coetzee had fled.

The shocking incident ended a bitter, six-year feud, and court battle, between Pirzenthal and his mother over occupancy of the property, where Pirzenthal had operated what tenants yesterday described as a commune.

The lodgings were run under the auspices of Pirzenthal’s registered non-government organisation, Rags to Life Safe Haven.

Two of the tenants – who, along with the others, have until May 30 to vacate as a result of the family feud – sketched a terrifying picture yesterday of what they described as a premeditated attack on Sturdy.

This was reinforced by a lengthy, rambling, suicide note found on Pirzenthal’s cellphone and which was temporarily uploaded to Facebook.

The two tenants, who did not want to be named, said they had been well aware of the discord between the mother and son, which made headlines in The Herald on March 1 after a Port Elizabeth court ruled that Pirzenthal and his tenants must vacate the property by the end of this month.

This despite the fact that Pirzenthal was the legal owner of the property, which he had bought from Sturdy in 2012.

As part of the sale, however, Sturdy held a usufruct on the house – meaning she had the legal right to use and benefit from the property.

“He had been marking off the days until the 14th [yesterday] on his calendar in the house,” a woman tenant said.

“We saw it. He used to call her [his mother] ‘Satan’.

“Yesterday [Sunday], he told us that he was waiting for ‘Satan’ to come home.

“He then went to sit on a chair near the gate.

“He had some sort of gas gun on him and then we later saw that he was sitting next to one of those spearguns.

“It is quite clear that he planned this down to the minute.

“He had already hooked all that stuff up to his car in the garage and the car was running while he waited for his mother.”

The second tenant said Pirzenthal had used a cable tie to lock a gate leading to the garage so that the tenants could not get to the garage to stop him.

He had even waved to another tenant as he walked to the garage after stabbing his mother and sister.

“We thought that he and his mother had had another fight and that it was all over.

“You could not see the stabbing from the top of the property where the tenants usually congregate,” he said.

“Later, while we were watching a movie, the police burst into the house like something out of the movies.

“We got a hell of a fright.

“But they had a dead person on the street and another stabbed – they did not know that Maurice was in the garage.”

The man said police had to break into the garage to get to Pirzenthal.

He said there were eight tenants still living on the property, which was heavily monitored by CCTV cameras set up by Pirzenthal to monitor his mother both on the property and outside.

He had also strategically placed three large rock formations in the driveway to make it difficult for Sturdy to access her garage – one of two on the property.

Pirzenthal’s suicide note, discovered on his cellphone by police and titled “Today I died!!!”, accuses Sturdy, his sister, and various officials – including police detectives, lawyers and court personnel – of being corrupt.

“My own mother who stole everything from me and tried to have me killed 8 times has finally got her wish,” he says in the note, claiming further that all his attempts to get assistance (in his dispute with his mother) had failed “because of corruption” in Port Elizabeth.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said Coetzee had been admitted to Livingstone Hospital in a critical condition.

“The daughter had arrived at the house to drop her mother off at about 8.30pm,” she said.

“They were standing outside in the driveway when Pirzenthal joined in and an argument broke out between all three.

“According to one of the tenants, screaming and shouting was not unusual at the house, so no one gave the incident any thought.

“But then the tenant heard cries for help later and alerted the police.”

Naidu said Sturdy’s body was found on the grass outside the property.

“Pirzenthal was found inside the garage a short while later by police,” she said.

Naidu said it was unknown at this stage what had triggered the argument.

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