1989 – Finished matric at High School Victoria West. Subjects: Physical Science (HG), Biology (HG), Mathematics (SG), Accountancy (HG), Afrikaans (HG), English (HG).
1990 – Military training. Taken in at 1 Special Service Battalion, Tempe, Bloemfontein. After a selection process I was transferred to the School of Armour in Tempe, where I underwent a year-long Junior Leadership course to become a Troop Leader for the Eland 90 armoured vehicle battle regime. I underwent extensive training on the use of various types of weaponry and relevant ammunition, i.e. from a 9 mm handgun to the 105 mm canon (for the Olifant tank), but primarily on the complete operation and command of the Eland 90 armoured vehicle in a Troop structure, and the R5 assault rifle, as well as on other explosives and explosive devices (grenades, mines, etc.). I took up Bisley shooting as a sport.
1991-1993 – Studied B.Sc. (with Human Movement Science) – Stellenbosch University. Majoring in Physiology, other subjects and sub-subjects included: Anatomy, Histology, Hematology, Biomechanics, Biokinetics, Perceptual Motor Skills, Zoology (with a strong Genetics component), Statistics and Physics. (Copy of degree)
1997 – Underwent training as a security officer in London, UK, for Sabrewatch, to serve large retail outlets such as Woolworths and Mark & Spencer. Training included aspects relating to bombs, fire, first aid and CCTV systems.
2005-current – Involved in the publishing industry, as author but primarily as designer and editor. This honed my appreciation for detail and design skills (which I now apply in forensic work). In 2010 I formed Piquet Publishers – and its website arm, PiquetBooks.com, in 2016.
Together with my brother Calvin, I authored Bloody Lies and Bloody Lies Too (in 2014 and 2015 respectively, on the Inge Lotz case), and Oscar vs the Truth in 2016. Read more here.
During 2013, and while busy with the Lotz investigation, I developed a novel footwear identification method, that would later be used successfully by the State in a farm murder case. Following is an extract from Bloody Lies, detailing a subsequent comment by Senior State Advocate JM Van Nysschen, from the Free State DPP, relating to the use of this particular method in this particular case:
2017-current – MPhil: Biomedical Forensic Science at UCT. I am currently busy finalising my dissertation on a self-designed, novel research project on human decomposition at sea (specifically on the bloating phase). The structured Master’s course (i.e. including actual classes, practicals, lab work, assignments, written exams, etc.) included the following modules: Forensic Anthropology (including Anatomy, Osteology and Histology), Forensic Pathology, Forensic Genetics, Forensic Toxicology, Biostatistics, Forensic Research Methods and Applied Forensic Science (involving the integration and application of knowledge obtained from the other modules to the handling and investigation of crime and death scenes, including the interpretation and writing of Section 212 and 213 Affidavits, and training as an expert witness, to be able to testify in Court.) The course required the attendance of real autopsies (and the subsequent writing and compilation of Section 212 autopsy reports on autopsies attended) and Court sessions.
In March 2017 I attended a presentation by Dr Carlos Machado – the illustrator of medical handbooks, that is currently the primary artist to carry on the Netter tradition by contributing new Plates to several editions of the most famous Atlas of Human Anatomy and many other Netter publications (originally created by Dr Frank Netter). In an extra-ordinary presentation, the very talented and humble Dr Machado explained how he would dissect cadavers in order to create the amazing illustrations.
In 2017 I helped to excavate hundreds of graves in a graveyard dating back hundreds of years, under the supervision of Forensic Anthropologist Associate Professor Victoria Gibbon and Osteologist Dr Jacqui Friedling, both of UCT’s Department of Human Anatomy. This included the physical removal and cleansing of remains, and piecing remains together in order to establish some kind of identity.
In 2017 I attended a short course in ‘The Interpretation of Bone Trauma in Medicolegal Investigations’, by world-renowned Forensic Anthropologist Dr Steven Symes (employed by the Department of Mississippi State Medical Examiner), assisted by Professor Ericka L’Abbé, Head of Forensic Anthropology at the University of Pretoria. The course included a valuable practical component with UP’s large skeletal remains collection. (Copy of certificate of attendance)
In 2017 I attended the first Toxicology Symposium held at UCT, where the principal speaker was Dr Marilyn Heustes, a leading Toxicologist and researcher in Cannabinoids, from the University of Maryland, USA. The main focus was on Cannabinoids. There were also presentations by, among others, Colonel Jaco Westraat, Head of the Chemistry Unit at the Plattekloof Forensic Science Laboratory, Bronwen Davies, Chief Toxicologist at UCT, and Dr Tim Laurens, Head of Forensic Toxicology at the University of Pretoria.
I attended the launching meeting of SAAFS (South African Academy of Forensic Science), held at UCT, 18–19 April 2018, attended by a large number forensic scientists from across the country, many giving presentations on various forensic issues.
I attended the second Toxicology Symposium held at UCT in 2019, where the principle speaker was Dr Simon Elliot, a leading Toxicologist from UK and the director of Elliot Forensic Consulting. The focus was on Postmortem Toxicology. (Copy of certificate of attendance)
Over the last 8 years I have, on a private basis, investigated various high profile murder cases and also some lesser known and private cases on an invited consultation basis (covering a wide spectrum, from arson to alleged rape, and a suspicious sea drowning incident). During these investigations, private as they may have been, I consulted widely across the globe. In 2014 I toured Europe with the specific aim to gain more forensic insights and where I have met with various forensic leaders, among other with Professor Cristophe Champod of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Lausanne, about fingerprinting, and where I was also taken on a tour through their world-class facilities, Dr Marc Bollmann, of the University Centre of Legal Medicine, also in Lausanne, about head trauma, and with Dr Lucas Smacki, in Katowice, Poland, a leading developer of lip print identification systems.
Over and above what the Masters course required of me, I attended, as often as I could on a weekly basis, academic presentations held by UCT’s Department of Pathology – hosted, mainly, by pathologists and medical specialists, covering a wide range of fields. In 2017 I also attended a presentation by Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry (2013), Professor Michael Levitt, on the ‘The Birth and Future of Multiscale Modelling of Macromolecules’.
While during my Master’s studies, but not as part of it, I, at three occasions presented practical demonstrations on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) to members of the public (i.e. pupils at open days at UCT).
In 2018 I attended the 3-day annual National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) workshop held in Bantry Bay on behalf of UCT’s Department of Pathology, where a wide range of speakers from primarily the DEA, DAFF, CSIR and NSRI gave presentations on, among other, data sharing principles, tracking systems, and ‘the science of where’.
In 2017 I attended over 50 (non-compulsory) sessions in the Cape High Court, closely following primarily the Van Breda, Rohde and Diego Novella cases, also some civil cases – and actively assisted the State in the Jason Rohde case, mainly with the pertaining pathology aspects (reference letter from the State prosecutor available on request).
In May 2019 I attended the First Falling Walls Lab event in Cape Town, at UCT. Eight presenters had to pitch their groundbreaking ideas in 3 minutes – after which a winner was chosen to participate in the final event in Germany. All fascinating and innovative ideas were strongly science based.
In March 2019 I assisted a fellow Master’s student in performing partial dissections on 40 human cadavers (over a five day period), mainly the neck and chest areas, to locate and track particular nerves.
In 2018 I consulted on another (past) high profile case, for a defence team. Due confidentiality and (still) sub judice reasons, I am not at liberty to mention which case, except to say that it involves strong ballistic and complex circumstantial aspects. I also consulted for a well-known true crime author on some forensic aspects for a book he was writing on the Watts murders (involves strong Toxicology and decompositional aspects), as I also often do with members of the media (also for TV documentary producers) when asked for on- or off-the-record opinions.
I (or about our work) have appeared in numerous documentaries, including in an unprecedented 3-segment insert on Carte Blanche, Kwêla and Huisgenoot Warelewensdramas, and on various radio stations, including (x2) Cape Talk with John Maytham, Smile FM’s ‘The Honest Truth’, Good Hope FM. Magazine and newspaper coverage included various articles and a front-page main article in Rapport, various articles in The Argus, and in various Media24 papers (Die Burger, Beeld, Volksblad), Daily Maverick, The Cape Times, Marie Claire, a four-page article in Fair Lady, and a front-page article in Huisgenoot. I (or our work) also featured in various podcasts. Our work on the Oscar Pistorius case (as documented in our book Oscar vs the Truth), made news around the world and included a live telephonic interview on ANN, and a live on-screen interview with Calvin on Australian TV. (Links to media coverage)
At the end of 2019 I signed a contract to feature in and consult on an internationally produced documentary series on a high-profile South African case, produced by one of the largest and most prominent production companies in the world, based in Los Angeles, USA.
I often give talks on cases that I have looked into. Read more here.
I do not view myself as a ‘forensic expert’ and so should nobody else – since what exactly is a forensic expert? Forensics is a wide field, and exactly how much qualifications and experience must you have before you are deemed to be a ‘forensic expert’? Fact is, one is first an ‘expert’ (if we want to use that overused word) in a particular discipline and then you apply your knowledge and expertise to a case in a forensic manner, to answer legal questions. There are ‘forensic experts’ out there, who have given shocking testimonies in our courts over the last years – who, for example, misses wounds during an autopsy – but because they have 30 years’ experience and 15 000 autopsies under the belt, it does not matter, since they are the ‘real experts’. After 30 years, it may just be that if you did not move with the times and have stopped being an active student of your discipline, that you were doing your first year thirty times over. Being complacent and over-confident. Judging things by the eye (and ‘gut’) and not by the ruler. Or that you have done things wrong for 30 years. So I have little regard for titles and years of experience. It is about being inquisitive, to have an eye for and respect detail, being eager to learn, to keep on learning, to move with the times, to respect your discipline, to respect the literature, to follow a robust approach, and to be honest.
‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.’
– Shunryu Suzuki –
I do not necessarily have an ultimate interest in convictions or acquittals, and even in ‘justice’. What may be justice for one may not be justice for another – i.e. it may be justice to the man who gets an expropriated farm, but is it justice for the man who had lost the farm? I rather care about the proper administration of justice, whatever the outcome, based on a factual and robust approach. Unless it may have affected results, I am not interested in technical loopholes and unnecessary (and mostly smokescreen) SAPS bashing (I am, however, not oblivious to their shortcomings and mistakes and is keen to point out SAPS mistakes, so that they can learn from and limit them). While I do not necessarily think we have the best legal system that one can have, it is all that we have, and it is still up to the Courts to decide on outcomes, and it is our work as forensic scientists and investigators, to provide the Courts with the best possible insights and information on which they can make trustworthy and just decisions.