Grotesque tattoos take centre stage at Hannah Cornelius trial

Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Even van Niekerk and Nashville Julius in the dock at the High Court in Cape Town on Thursday October 18, 2018.
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons, Even van Niekerk and Nashville Julius in the dock at the High Court in Cape Town on Thursday October 18, 2018.
Image: Aron Hyman

The men accused of raping and murdering Hannah Cornelius put hands over their gaping mouths as the meaning of their tattoos was described in the high court in Cape Town.

Sergeant Marlon Appolis‚ the detective who investigated the murder and rape of the 21-year-old Stellenbosch University student‚ testified on Thursday with a bulging file in front of him.

It contained photographs of Vernon Witbooi and Geraldo Parsons‚ taken after they were arrested on the afternoon of Saturday May 27‚ 2017‚ just 11 hours after Cornelius and her friend Cheslin Marsh were abducted.

Shortly after their arrest‚ which followed a high-speed chase involving two police vehicles‚ the men were taken to Victoria Hospital‚ in Wynberg‚ Cape Town‚ where they were stripped down and examined by forensic pathologist Dr Marianne Tiemensma.

Both had prison tattoos with the number 28 on different parts of their bodies.

Parsons’ tattoos also included crossed swords‚ a gun‚ a grotesque sketch of a naked headless female body with legs spread open‚ and stars on his shoulders depicting his gang rank.

Asked what he knew about the tattoos‚ Appolis was reluctant to reply‚ saying it was “crass”‚ but Judge Rosheni Allie encouraged him to speak his mind.

“To use the words we’d use on the street‚ the 28s take men from behind‚” he said.

Witbooi and Parsons laughed and gave Allie a look of incredulity.

During a tea break‚ the accused still sitting in the dock told TimesLIVE this was not true.

“Everyone does that [tattoos] in the prison‚” Witbooi said.

Laughing‚ Parsons said: “That stuff is illegal in prison.”

He said he was looking forward to returning home after the trial to his wife and daughter.

Both men’s Facebook accounts have been active while they have been in custody‚ but Parsons said he recently gave his cellphone to prison staff and deleted his profile.

Parsons‚ Witbooi and Eben van Niekerk are accused of robbery‚ hijacking‚ kidnapping‚ rape‚ attempted murder and murder.

A fourth suspect‚ Nashville Julius‚ is accused of robbery and kidnapping after he allegedly left the scene where Cornelius and Marsh were hijacked.

The trial continues.

The murder of 21-year-old Stellenbosch student Hannah Cornelius’ shocked South Africa. By using newly released CCTV footage of the alleged perpetrators, along with confessions of the accused and witness testimonies, we are able to map out the most likely sequence of events that led to her death and the arrest of the suspects after a high-speed car chase through Stellenbosch.

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