Opinion on the blood in the Kempton Park lodge room

Thomas Mollett – 16 May 2021

Further to fragments of an Opinion of mine published in Rapport (16/05/21), herewith a short expansion to give the more detailed Opinion on the blood in the lodge room (in Kempton Park), a scene believed to be related to the murder of Yolandi Botes. Dismembered parts of Botes’s body were found disposed of in the Vaal River around the time of the discovery of the scene in the room.

The following have to mentioned first. I did not have access to the original scene photos and worked from photos provided by Rapport and found myself on the Internet. With Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) it is important and preferable to work from good, high-resolution photos, as minute phenomena like spines and satellite stains can provide valuable information (wrt e.g. height of fall). While some deductions could be made in his regard, I, therefore, veered towards a macro-approach, and also given the limited material in my possession, this must be seen as a first impression and not as firm deductions.

Due to the media coverage in this regard, it was impossible to escape the possibility (or suspicions) that this scene may be related to the discovery in the Vaal River, but I did not take this possibility into account in my evaluation.

Indications of two bleeding events

The difference in the nature of the patterns (transfer/drag/swipe/wipe vs drips) is indicative of two bleeding events. The difference in intensity also supports this notion.

While it is impossible to guess the difference in time of depositions, it appears as though the body was first handled on the floor (including a degree of dragging) – which would have caused the patterns in the yellow ovals.

The overall pattern (other than drips) includes transfer stains as well as disturbed blood, indicative of a wounded and bloodied body handled on the floor. The blood that caused the intense drip pattern was deposited after the first event of deposition and may be indicative of an outpour of blood from a height rather than active bleeding (i.e. arterial spurts or blood flowing down an upright-standing person). It is suggestive of a person (e.g. with a severe neck wound) who was picked up and flipped horizontally. The blood would then gush out of the wound/s. The rather isolated nature of the pattern (i.e. also no significant drip trail) supports this notion.

Bloodied of body part handled above the basin

When one looks at the basin, it appears as if it overflowed. But it clearly did not. It is also not reconcilable with e.g. washing of hands or a wounded body part IN the basin. So how did the blood flow onto the rim and down the sides? The only reasonable explanation for these patterns is that it is the result of the handling of a bloodied/wounded body part above the line of the rim – where the body part extended over the inside of the basin to such an extent that blood that flowed from it, flowed onto the rim and down the sides. If the source was inside the basin, this could not have happened. However, this must be seen together with the photo below.

Below the basin, to the side but in line with the edge, is a blood pool, indicating intense bleeding. It is at an unlikely place. Together with the blood that flowed down the sides of the basin (and more towards the side of the blood pool), supports the possibility of dismemberment as the body part extended over the edge. Blood would drip down from the body part as it is cut or sawed, to drip onto the floor in a concentrated pool.

While photos from closer and other angles may help to give a better idea, it appears as if a bloodied body part pressed/rested here on the rim. On the premise that a body part was handled on the basin, one would expect it to touch the rim over a wide area, but it is not a given that blood would be transferred onto the rim, and transfer stains could also be masked by blood flowing onto and over the rim.

What appears, at first glance, to be a spatter pattern, is not indicative of (high-velocity) impact spatter – that you would get, for example, as a result of blunt impact (i.e. hammer blows to the head). It is too widely distributed (and with it, too consistent), and too watery/runny (seems diluted). The indications of flow in the yellow oval support the notion of dilution. It is more likely the result of the washing of hands/arms or a bloodied body part under the shower. The water would splash from the blood source (i.e. body part) onto the wall in this inverted U pattern. The chair (with some blood on, also on the seat) could have been used to assist in an act of dismemberment.

It is difficult to evaluate this photo without scale but given the peculiar configuration, it can be assumed with a high degree of confidence that it represents the fingertips of a left hand pressed against the wall – with the lower part of the palm (bordering the pulse), from which diluted blood flows.

This photo is not good enough to say anything meaningful about what appear to an imprint of a right bare foot. If it were a footprint, taking the tile size as a scale indicator, it would suggest a large foot, likely that of a male. Given enough recorded minutia, a footprint can be identified uniquely. Given the amount of blood on the scene – but based on the available photos alone – the lack of footprints is remarkable.


From the available (and limited photos), it is difficult to make deductions that veer towards the micro-level – such as to conclude that a mark was made by a foot or shoe, or to deduce height of drip falls (as indicators such as spines and satellite stains are not clearly visible), but on a macro-level, the available photos suggest, in my opinion, the following:

Seen in totality, the blood on the scene is that of a person that was dead by the time of the depositions, although possibly first seriously (and fatally) wounded, likely in the room. It is not indicative of a wounded person that moved around on his/her own accord, but rather of being moved around by another person. The bleeding appears to have been passive rather than active.

There are convincing indications that there were two bleeding sessions, although the time between these sessions cannot be known. It gives the impression of a person who was handled on the floor before being picked up at a later stage.

Although initial blunt trauma cannot be ruled out (there are no clear indications of such, such as impact spatter), the bleeding largely seems to be the result of sharp trauma.

Particularly revealing, the blood flowing over the sides of the basin, together with the intense blood pool directly under the edge (at an unlikely place), supports the possibility of a dismemberment act performed on the basin.

Diluted spatter in an inverted U pattern against the shower’s wall (on the side of the showerhead) is indicative of a bloodied body part (including bloodied hands/arms) sprayed off under a running shower.

Especially the aspect of the basin, but also the copious amount of blood – and what can be deduced in terms of sequence – leaves a convincing impression that an act of dismemberment was committed in this room.

With all respects to the victim, but the scene is rather more reminiscent of what you would see in a butchery than on a kill-and-leave scene. While it cannot be deduced from photos whether it is one person’s blood, on this premise, given the amount of blood and time-frame suggested, it is highly unlikely that the victim left the room alive or in any effective state. Severe wounding (and bleeding) is suggested. The mere fact that the (or a) body was not found in the room, would suggest disposal in one way or another.

At the time of writing, it has not been confirmed whether the blood in the lodge room is that of Yolandi Botes.

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Opinion on ‘Making a Murderer’ (The Steven Avery Case)

Thomas Mollett – March 2021

This short preliminary Opinion will only look at some points regarding this case as specifically displayed in Netfix’s Making a Murderer (P1 and P2). I am still exploring the case (which includes looking wider than MAM) and I will, at a later stage, publish a more comprehensive Opinion and video on the case. For now, I will concentrate only on a few forensic aspects, and also on the approach of Kathleen Zellner, Avery’s attorney, and on the input of her experts.

What I specifically want to focus on, for now, is Zellner’s firm assertion and allegation that the police framed Avery by planting his blood in the murdered Teresa Halbach’s vehicle. I am not going into the background of the case, and more background can be found on the internet, such as on Wikipedia.

I need to start with Kathleen Zellner. Zellner is famous for getting 17 wrongful convictions overturned. I do not know enough about the merits of any of these cases to say anything about them. But, what is clear to me, at least, is that the Avery case is simply a challenge for Zellner – nothing more – it is simply to add another wrongful conviction case to her list. Early on, before a proper and full investigation, she declared that her firm “is looking forward adding the Avery case to their list of overturned cases”. She also declares on Netflix that she firmly believes that Avery is innocent and that “she would bet her life on it”. At the same time, Zellner declares that apart from her needing to destroy the State’s case, she is “actually more interested in knowing what really happened”. There are a lot of contradictions and signs of an erroneous approach here.

It is clear that Zellner already decided that Avery is innocent – and it soon becomes evident in the way she conducts experiments and how she engages with her experts, that this is all she wants to prove – she is not really interested in what really happened. It is clear that Zellner does not investigate all possibilities, and that she is only out to disprove the police’s version at all cost, and to get back at State Attorney Ken Kratz, who she clearly detests. Zellner is out to grind axes. In another case (also on Netflix), she talks about “getting revenge”.

It is fine that Zellner is Avery’s attorney, but when you investigate forensic matters, you do not mingle with the family, as this can lead to a biased approach creeping in. You do not sit with them and console them, and promise them how you would free their son. Zellner must decide if she is an attorney or a forensic investigator. She is clearly way too emotionally invested in the case, and it becomes very clear in the way she approaches her investigation. A forensic investigator investigates a case irrespective of what the outcome may be – but can certainly drive campaigns once firm and robust evidence has been uncovered. Evidence you are not only willing to defend in a court of law, but evidence that you can actually defend. But, the investigation itself cannot be driven by emotion and sentiment.

Just to put a few things on the table first. I do not make any case here that Avery is guilty, or that the police’s conduct was all above board, or that Ken Kratz is a savoury character. The question simply is: How right and robust is Zellner’s approach?

Let’s look at Zellner’s approach regarding the blood in the victim’s vehicle. Just a short background, for context. Steven Avery’s blood was found in the victim’s vehicle. Next to the ignition, there was what appears to be a swipe-like contact-transfer bloodstain mark. On the side of the left front seat, there was an elongated bloodstain mark – that shows signs of flow. There were some other bloodstain marks and blood flakes as well but no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob. What we do know, is that at some stage circa the murder, Avery sustained a rather severe cut to his right middle finger.

So, Zellner set out to prove that the bloodstain mark next to the ignition could not have been made by Avery’s bleeding finger. To prove this, she pasted a piece of paper where the mark was found and then asked her associate, with blood on his middle finger, to stick the key into the ignition and turn it, a couple of times, to see if the middle finger would touch that area. It did not. So she found that it can’t. “Even if you do it a hundred times.” And that this is now “a lie” by the police. “If you find one lie like this, there must be more …” Zellner then set out to prove that there would have been blood on the door handle if Avery opened the door of the vehicle (on the premise that he committed the crime). With her experts, she asks why no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob.

There are quite a lot of issues here, most of which left me dumbfounded. Regarding the mark close to the ignition, this “test” was done in a highly controlled and “perfect-world” way (with calculation not excluded) – not what you would necessarily find with an anxious man, perhaps in the dark, trying to start a vehicle, when he may not get the key in the first time – and, where he may have elevated his injured finger away from the others so that it does not touch the key or the other fingers – because the finger is sensitive. It may then well touch that area where the bloodstain mark can be seen. Zellner did not consider or test this possibility.   

But, then it became weird. So, Zellner “proved” that blood would have come onto the door handle if Avery opened the door. But, she conveniently assumed that he can only open the door with his right hand – as if it is impossible that he could have opened it with his left hand. On the premise that Avery is guilty, one can only wonder what conceivable reason can there be that he could not have opened the door with his left, uninjured hand.

[In fact, when you open a left-sided door of a vehicle, you will most likely use your left hand to do so – since when you use the right hand, your body is in the way of the opening door. Standing to the right of the door as you face it and while opening it with your left hand, the door will swing open past your left side, without you having to move one bit. So, it would not have been strange if Avery opened the door with his left hand. Why was this never raised by Zellner? This goes way beyond a mere oversight and ventures to the realm of plain dishonesty.]

Then, Zellner and her experts, a bloodstain pattern expert (Stuart James) and a forensic pathologist (Dr. Larry Blum), wonder how an open, bleeding wound could have left such isolated and widespread stains, and not all over the place. It must have escaped them that it is very easy to wipe a bleeding finger off on your clothes – which would remove blood for a while, for it to yield more blood, to be wiped off again. Or you can keep it tucked in your shirt to limit the bleeding. This may explain why no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob. (Even if he wiped his finger off on his clothes, or lifted it away from the others, one may still expect minute traces of blood on the steering wheel and lever knob, from transfer from the hand or other fingers that may have had some blood on, but it may depend on how well these areas where swabbed. It is unlikely that every square millimeter was swabbed.) There is also the possibility that he could simply have elevated his finger not to touch the steering wheel or knob, simply because it was hurting and sensitive (so the finger is essentially dangling in the air). Whether this happened or not, it is disconcerting (but not surprising) that these possibilities were not raised and considered by Zellner, which confirms her selective and biased approach.

[Of course, a vehicle’s door can be opened without using all your fingers, and the cut on his finger was on the outside. So, even if he opened the door with his right hand, blood transfer onto the handle was not a given. Then also, a steering wheel can be operated by using only one hand, or with the assistance of, say, the palm of the other hand. Ten fingers on the steering wheel are not required. Whether automatic or manual, the gear lever knob also does not necessarily require a full grip with all fingers.]

Then, while I thought the bloodstain pattern expert, Stuart James, tried to be reasonable (one could sense his discomfort at times), he was pushed and led by Zellner to give the explanations and answers that she wanted. Their experiments to disprove the police’s claim that the spatter on the back door was caused when the body was “flung into the back”, were particularly odd. The police’s version may not be true (not that is necessarily a lie, simply that it is not the real explanation) but even if it is not quite what had happened, it still does not mean that there are no other possibilities that would still implicate Avery. And this is a problem throughout with Zellner’s approach. She only wants to disprove the police’s claims at all cost, without looking at all possibilities.

So, they flung a dummy with short, stiff, artificial hair, drained with blood (of which we don’t know the make-up of), into the back of the vehicle, to disprove the police’s version. Not taking into account many variables, one which is the viscosity of blood at the time of the action. If Halbach was deposited into the back of the vehicle, nobody can simply assume that it would have been immediately after she died. Another variable is the distance between the source of the blood and the stained surface, as small drops can fly in an arc when the distance is rather long – and therefore directionality is not always crystal clear from the shape of a stain on the stained surface.

Zellner’s associate, then, with his back to the back-door, performs a rather strange experiment, by flicking a hammer backward as he tries to simulate an attack with a hammer, trying to establish how the cast-off spatter pattern on the door would look like. All well, but that is not how a hammer is moved backward when cocking it up for the next blow. The action is much slower and there is no turn of the hammer. Why did the tester not rather face the back-door, to see what may happen from forward cast-off – where blood droplets could have flown off the hammer’s head as it was projected forward at an exponential speed, as is the case with hammer blows? Or why did they not do simulated blunt impact tests on a head, with the head positioned close to the door? Zellner asked James about this, but when he said, “then it becomes difficult”, it was simply left there. Again proving a selective and pedantic effort to disprove the police’s “flung in” version at all cost, as if there are no other possibilities. That is not “to find out what really happened”. That is to selectively prove what you want to be true, at all cost. And that is not the way to go.

Then the input of DNA expert Karl Reich was quite peculiar, to say the least. This with regards to the “sweat DNA” that was found on the latch below the bonnet – Avery’s DNA. In a smug and very confident way, Reich declared that one cannot test for sweat. Which is simply not true. The police may not have tested for sweat, and it may not be a standard test and not routinely done, but to say that there is no test for sweat, is untrue. While non-specific, and while not widely used, there are ways to detect certain chemical compounds (i.e. sodium, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, calcium, and other metal traces) in relative concentrations in sweat, which would at least distinguish it from other body fluids such as blood, saliva, vaginal fluid, breastmilk, urine, or semen. Read more about body fluid identification for forensic purposes here.

Let’s look at exclusion. While bloodstains may not always be visible with the naked eye, given the quantity of DNA found, one would expect that if blood was the source (or carrier) of the DNA, it would have been visible. If there was reason to believe that it may be blood, routinely used reagents such as Luminol or Blue Star would give a presumptive indication. So we can rule blood out. Also semen. Apart from pretty obvious practical problems (i.e. where would they get his semen?) sperm DNA is haploid (i.e. it only has only one set of chromosomes as opposed to diploid DNA, of say, blood), so it would be detected and distinguished as such. That leaves saliva and sweat. Breastmilk and vaginal fluid can be excluded for obvious reasons. Urine carries very little DNA, as pure urine also does not contain DNA. (It mainly carries loose cells collected from the urinary tract.)

Presumptively one can test for saliva with the alpha-amylase test. But, where would they have gotten Avery’s saliva? From a swab? (As Zellner implies) Unlikely, the swabs that were taken would have been used in the extraction (lysis) process, where the cotton tip is wholly dumped into a test tube with a solution in, to break the cells open to release the DNA for further downstream processes in the profiling process. Even if they had an extra swab – it would be difficult to transfer any significant amount of DNA from an absorbent and dry swab. If they wettened it, it would have diluted the sample.

Reich declares that blood and saliva are very rich in DNA, which is not necessarily untrue, but it may depend. Blood actually only contains 1% DNA, as of all cells in blood, only white blood cells (WBC) contain DNA – and WBCs constitute only 1% of blood cells. In saliva, it may depend on the amount of loose epithelial buccal cells in the mouth at the time of sampling, as pure saliva does not contain DNA. WBCs contribute significantly to the DNA constitution of saliva.

It is also important to note that contrary to popular belief, pure sweat also does not contain DNA. Sweat simply collects and carries loose epithelial cells from the skin and transfers them onto surfaces. While there is a debate (among a very few) about “shedding” – it can reasonably be understood and accepted that a person who did not shower for a day, who is sweaty and has dry skin, may yield significantly more sweat (or transfer) DNA than that very same person who had a shower recently, and who sits lotioned in an air-conditioned laboratory.

Reich’s experiments to show how unrealistically “high” the DNA quantity under the hood is, by doing laboratory-bound and controlled experiments, are simply not robust and reliable. In a certain set of conditions, sweat can transfer a whole lot of DNA (imagine a man stroking his hands through his sweaty, dandruff-rich hair). Furthermore, an anxious person (i.e. one that just committed a murder and needs to get rid of the body) can sweat profusely, and by virtue of that, the sweat may collect and transfer more DNA onto surfaces than is normally the case. Whatever the case may be, these issues were not explored by the DNA expert. Reich gave Zellner the answers that she wanted.

I actually found their arguments rather self-defeating. It does not seem to be disputed that it was Avery’s DNA under the hood, on the latch, and that the DNA count is high (they use this high count to dispute sweat, so they accept the high count). But, they argue that it was planted on the latch and dispute that it was by sweat transfer. So, that only leaves us with saliva. But, again, where did they get Avery’s saliva from? [Just again, a person that did not bathe or shower recently – whose skin is dry and flaky (i.e with dandruff), and who is sweating profusely, can transfer a lot of DNA by sweat, as the sweat picks up loose epithelial cells from the skin. This is a much more realistic proposition than stealing Avery’s saliva.]

While saliva is routinely used in DNA tests and while it yields enough DNA for that purpose, it is not necessarily and always an incredibly rich source of DNA. DNA in saliva would come from loose buccal epithelial cells and white blood cells – WBC which only constitutes 1% of blood – so while it may be a good source it is not necessarily incredibly rich in DNA. It is quite possible that a cell-rich sweat sample can yield the same (or more) DNA as a saliva sample. A further problem with saliva is that degrading enzymes and bacteria within the sample attack DNA integrity and decrease quality very quickly. (A human’s mouth is full of bacteria – that is why a human bite can be so infectious – bacteria is not good on the integrity of DNA). Therefore, DNA in a saliva sample may not last very long, and a planted sample under the hood may have expired soon in terms of DNA yield. Based on this conspectus of points against saliva, saliva can be ruled out. So too vaginal fluid, breastmilk, and urine. Which leaves us with sweat. So where did they get Avery’s sweat from?

What must be borne in mind is that nearly all DNA in your house, as you read here, was transferred there by sweat. DNA is all over the place because of sweat transfer. Sweat is a popular carrier of DNA. Sweat collects loose cells containing DNA from the skin and carries it onto surfaces. Therefore, sweat transfer onto a latch is not an unreasonable proposition to believe.  [Apart from transfer by body fluids, DNA transfer onto surfaces can only happen when loose cells (such as dry skin flakes) fall from the body onto surfaces, and from hair and nail clippings. Retention properties and quantities would be minimal and, therefore, these can also be excluded as the source of the DNA under the hood. Which leaves us with sweat as the most likely candidate.]

Then a particularly weird statement by Karl Reich. He found it an “anomaly” that if Avery was guilty and given that his finger bled, that there was not a mixture of his blood and the victim’s blood. Zellner, theatrically, declares how strange it is that “all her blood was found in the back” and “all his blood in the front” of the vehicle. I would really like to ask both Reich and Zellner: Assuming for the sake of the argument that Avery is guilty, who said he bled at the same time that the body was put in the back of the vehicle? It is quite possible that he could have killed Halbach – chucked her into the back of the vehicle – and then injured himself (but before getting into the vehicle). In fact, it is quite possible that he injured himself minutes or even a few hours later. Nothing about the bloodstains can indicate that they were deposited at the same time, or even close to the same time. Or even hours or days apart. On the assumption that Avery is guilty, it would actually be unlikely that he sustained the incision wound on his finger during the attack – as the victim was unlikely to have had a sharp weapon handy to inflict that incised wound. So, it is very possible that he sustained the wound afterwards; say, when he went into the house after he killed her – in whatever way. We do know that he had a cut on his finger. It is common cause. He could have sustained the wound in the minutes or hours after the murder just as he could have sustained it at any other time. The point is, the fact that there was no mixture of their blood, means absolutely nothing. Also, it is possible that he recurringly and concurrently wiped his finger off on his clothes while he placed her in the back of the vehicle. Things do not always happen as we see it in our heads.

There are some other issues too, especially on the circumstantial side, which I will get to at a later stage, but for now, just a brief but important question to Zellner, and to those that slurp up her every word. Steven Avery himself told anybody who cared to listen, that at some point after the murder, his finger re-bled and that he bled into the sink in the kitchen. He then alleges that the framers (which must be the police) drew his blood up from the sink – and that this blood was used to frame him by planting it in the vehicle. The question is: How did the police know that his finger was going to re-bleed – or that it re-bled at a particular time – and that they needed to stand ready with a syringe pump to quickly go to the sink to draw the blood up? This would also entail breaking into his house – he could have arrived back anytime. How could they know his movements?

The police would also have needed an impossible amount of foresight to move the vehicle around on the Avery property and to burn the victim just about next to Steven Avery’s house without being seen (or fearing to be seen); it was impossible for the police to have had this type of foresight. And it would have needed an incredible amount of luck not to have been seen by the various occupants living on the property, including by Avery himself. Coincidence can be ruled out – they needed to be near Avery when he re-bled in order to have sucked the blood up before it congealed – and how much can a healing wound bleed? The stains in the vehicle suggest a reasonable amount of blood, not only a drop or two. (On Avery’s own argument the “hospital blood” is ruled out as the source of the stain in the car. He said it was blood from his finger after it re-bled.)

Therefore, reader, in the meantime, be careful what you simply believe. Don’t be gullible and be careful to be duped. The fact that a lot of things are said in a one-sided TV documentary, albeit on the mighty Netflix, does not make it true. And yes, the series is one-sided – if it was not, they would not have featured only Kathleen Kellner’s experts; they would have consulted with other experts as well. Otherwise, if it was supposed to be about Zellner and her theories, they could have called it ‘The Zellner Diaries’, or something like that. Even the suggestive name ‘Making a Murderer’ implies it as a fact that Avery was made into a murderer.

When you explore a case like this, you consult wider. Netflix has the resources to do a properly balanced series, but at the moment it seems like they simply want to milk this hopscotching narrative. Why Zellner’s word on this must be seen as the final answer and premise of this series, is actually plain strange.

It is one thing to flaunt “facts” around in a documentary – it is something completely different to defend them in a court of law, under cross-examination. So far I have seen nothing from the Zellner camp that would stand up in court, even under below-par cross-examination.

Zellner may have noble intentions but that does not make her approach or assertions right. The mere fact that she did not even consider that Avery may have opened the vehicle’s door with his left-hand shows us that her investigation cannot be trusted one bit. To use her own words, “If you find one lie like this, …”

Zellner made up her mind, decided on the end-point, and is doing everything in her power to selectively shape and fit the path to the end-point that she had decided upon.

Also by Thomas Mollett:

Essay on Familial Searches

On the Removal of Blood and DNA from Surfaces and Objects

The Chris Watts Case: Opinion on the Toxicology

Covid: Too much too late

The Oscar Pistorius Case – Some key points

The Shrien Dewani Case – Some key points

Opinion on the Michael Peterson and Elisa Lam cases (and respective videos exclusively on MurderUncut.com) to follow on this website soon.

Free Full-length HD TV MurderUncut Video on the triple murder Van Breda case.

Murder Uncut

The Chris Watts Case: Opinion on the Toxicology

Thomas Mollett – June 2018

Following is my pro bono Opinion requested by and for true-crime author Nick van der Leek, who has written and published various eBooks on the case. This Opinion was provided in 2018.

Problem Statement: The decedent had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of sampling (i.e. at autopsy). Does this BAC infer actual ingestion or is it possibly the result of postmortem synthesis?

Case History

Wikipedia Background

On 13 August 2018 at approximately 13:40, Nicole Utoft reported her friend Shanann Watts missing. Nicole stated that she dropped Shanann off at her residence at around 01:48 (the morning of 13 Aug) after Shanann returned from a business trip to Arizona. Nicole stated that Shanann was fifteen weeks pregnant at the time and was not feeling well during the trip.

Later that morning, Nicole became concerned because Shanann was not answering her cellphone calls or text messages and because Shanann also missed her doctor’s appointment that was scheduled for 10 am. Nicole went to Shanann’s residence and discovered her car in the garage. Nicole attempted to open the front door but a latch prevented it from opening.

Nicole called Shanann’s husband Christopher Watts, and requested him to come to check on Shanann as she believed Shanann may be suffering or was passed out due to some medical condition.

Officer Coonrod, who was called by Nicole, checked all the windows and doors and rear slider door and discovered all to be locked and that there was no way into the house. Officer Coonrod contacted Chris, who said that he was not working and that he was only five minutes away and on his way. When Chris arrived, Officer Coonrod entered the home in an attempt to locate Shanann and their two children but discovered that they were not there.

When questioned by Officer Coonrod, Chris said that Shanann arrived home from her business trip at around 02:00 am (the morning of 13 Aug). Chris stated that he woke up at around 5 am and began talking to Shanann about martial separation and that he wanted to initiate a separation. According to Chris, this was a civil conversation, and that while it was an emotional conversation, they did not argue.

Chris stated that he left the house that morning at about 05:30 and that Shanann was in bed at the time. A neighbour’s video surveillance system recorded this event. Chris stated that Shanann told him that she would be going to a friend’s house later that day with their two children but did not know the name of the friend. Chris stated that he went to a job site near Hudson to check in.

At Officer Coonrod’s request, Detective Baumhover responded to the scene and arrived at the scene at approximately 14:30 (13 Aug). Upon arrival, Detective Baumhover was briefed by Officer Coonrod and learned that Shanann’s personal effects, such as her cellphone, purse, wallet, and medication were located in the house. Upon entering the house, Detective Baumhover observed Shanann’s purse on a kitchen counter and a suitcase located at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedroom. A pair of women’s shoes were located close to the front door. Upstairs, Detective Baumhover observed that the bed in the master’s bedroom was stripped of its bedding, which was lying on the floor. Both Officer Coonrod and Detective Baumhover checked the bedding for foul play but found nothing to suggest as much. In a loft area, they located Shanann’s cellphone between two cushions of a sofa in the loft area.

On Detective Baumhover’s request, Chris walked them through the timeline again. He now stated that while Shannan arrived at around 2 am, they had the emotional conversation at about 4 am.

The neighbour’s video footage shows Nicole’s vehicle departing from the Watts residence at 01:48 am (Nicole dropped Shanann off at the house after fetching her from the airport). The video footage also shows Chris’s truck backing into the driveway at around 05:27, leaving a few minutes later.

The next day, 14 August, at approximately 07:00, Detective Baumhover learned that Shanann and the children had not returned to the residence. Detective Baumhover requested an immediate press release to be issued and initiated assistance from CBI and ultimately the FBI.

A two-day investigation revealed that Chris was actively involved in an affair with a co-worker, which he denied in the previous interviews.

Chris confessed that after he told Shanann that he wanted a separation, he walked downstairs for a moment, and when he returned, he saw their one child sprawled out on her bed, blue in the face, and that Shanann was actively strangling their other child. Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death. He then loaded all three bodies on the back of his work truck and took them to an oil work site where he buried Shanann near two oil tanks and dumped the girls inside the tanks.

Chris was presented with an aerial photograph of the tank battery area and identified three separate locations in which he placed the bodies.

Drone searches were executed over the area. At approximately 16:15 on 14 August, investigators spotted a bedsheet in the field near the tank battery. The sheet matched the pattern of several pillowcases and a top sheet recovered from a kitchen trash can from the Watts residence earlier that day. The drone search also revealed the fresh movement of dirt, consistent with a clandestine grave, near the oil tanks.

Information from the aggregate Autopsy Report

Date and Time of Death: 00:05 – 16 August 2018 (pronounced dead)

Date and Time of Autopsy: 10:30 – 17 August 2018

Age: 34


I — History of being reported missing and subsequently being found unresponsive in an obvious state of death in a shallow grave

I-A — Asphyxiation due to manual strangulation

I-A-1 — Bruising of the anterior strap muscles of the neck (right and left)

I-B — Mild to moderate decomposition consisting of generalized discoloration, bloating, and skin slippage

II — History of intrauterine pregnancy, second trimester

II-A — Largely decomposed fetus and placental unit

II-A-1 — Found expelled from the gravid uterus

III — Toxicology

III-A — Postmortem – basic, Spleen blood:

III-A-1 — Ethanol – 128 mg / dℓ

III-A-2 — Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) – 0.128 g / 100 mℓ

Additional Observations

The stomach was empty

Cause and Manner of Death Opinion of the Forensic Pathologist, Dr. M.A. Burson:

Based on the history provided and the autopsy findings, the cause of death is asphyxiation due to manual strangulation by another individual. The manner of death is homicide.

Timeline of Events (based on provided version)

12/0817:00 17:30Dinner with Nicole, Addy, and CindyHad chicken salad and water
12/0820:00Original time of flight 
12/0823:00On flight 
12/0800:00On flight 
13/0801:00On flight 
13/0802:00Arrived home after being dropped by Nicole 
13/0804:00Argument with husband 
13/0805:00 05:30Argument with husband
Allegedly strangled children
Chris left the house with the bodies
13/0806:00 1 (Hrs after deaths)
13/0807:00 2
13/0808:00 3
13/0809:00 4
13/0811:00 5
13/0812:00 6
13/0813:00 13:40Nicole reported Shanann missing
Officer Coonrod arrived
13/0814:00 14:35Detective Baumhover arrived at the scene8
13/0815:00 9
13/0816:00 10
13/0817:00 11
13/0818:00 12
13/0819:00 13
13/0820:00 14
13/0821:00 15
13/0822:00 16
13/0823:00 17
14/0800:00 18
14/0801:00 19
14/0802:00 20
14/0803:00 21
14/0804:00 22
14/0805:00 23
14/0806:00 24
14/0807:00No sign of Shannan and children
Baumhover initiated searches
14/0808:00 26
14/0809:00 27
14/0810:00 28
14/0811:00 29
14/0812:00 30
14/0813:00 31
14/0814:00 32
14/0815:00 33
14/0816:00 16:15Drone searches
Grave spotted
14/0817:00 35
14/0818:00 36
14/0819:00 37
14/0820:00 38
14/0821:00 39
14/0822:00 40
14/0823:00 41
15/0800:00 42
15/0801:00 43
15/0802:00 44
15/0803:00 45
15/0804:00 46
15/0805:00 47
15/0806:00 48
15/0807:00 49
15/0808:00 50
15/0809:00 51
15/0810:00 52
15/0811:00 53
15/0812:00 54
15/0813:00 55
15/0814:00 56
15/0815:00 57
15/0816:00 58
15/0817:00 59
15/0818:00 60
15/0819:00 61
15/0820:00 62
15/0821:00 63
15/0822:00 64
15/0823:00 65
16/0800:00 00:05Pronounced dead (body found)67+Hrs
16/0801:00 681
16/0802:00 692
16/0803:00 703
16/0804:00 714
16/0805:00 725
16/0806:00 736
16/0807:00 747
16/0808:00 758
16/0809:00 769
16/0810:00 7710
16/0811:00 7811
16/0812:00 7912
16/0813:00 8013
16/0814:00 8114
16/0815:00 8215
16/0816;00 8316
16/0817:00 8417
16/0818:00 8518
16/0819:00 8619
16/0820:00 8720
16/0821:00 8821
16/0822:00 8922
16/0823:00 9023
17/0800:00 9124
17/0801:00 9225
17/0802:00 9326
17/0803:00 9427
17/0804:00 9528
17/0805:00 9629
17/0806;00 9730
17/0807:00 9831
17/0808:00 9932
17/0809:00 10033
17/0810:00 10:30Autopsy / Sampling10134
Table 1 – Timeline of key events


Time of Shannan’s death (strangulation) = Between 02:00 and 5:00 – 13 August 2018

The neigbour’s video surveillance system is important in this regard. This showed Chris’s truck pull into the driveway at 05:27 and leaving shortly thereafter. As far as is known, the video footage did not show his truck after 05:27 and before he arrived back at the house at 13:40–14:00 on 13 August. It can therefore be assumed that the Time of Death (TOD) was between 02:00 and 05:27 the morning of 13 August 2018.

For the purpose of this report the TOD will be assumed as ±05:00.

Objective Facts

Time of recovery of body (pronouncement of death) = 00:05 – 16 August 2018

Time of recovery of body after TOD = 67 hours.

Time of autopsy = 10:30 – 17 August 2018

Time of autopsy after TOD = 101 hours

Time of autopsy after recovery of body = 34 hours

Postmortem BAC Scenarios

Scenario 1

Assuming Shannan arrived intoxicated at the house at 02:00 and had nothing further to drink after arrival and between arrival and TOD at 05:00. Assuming thus that the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ reflects the BAC at the time of death: What was her BAC at the time of arrival to have had a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 ml at the time of death?


— Shannon consumed wine (based on history provided) [1 unit = 1 glass wine (125 mℓ)]

— Elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour (average for women)

What she consumed and absorption is not relevant here as the alcohol is already in the system and we are assuming a known BAC. The amount of food (or any other liquid) she may have consumed during this time is also not relevant as this will not influence the elimination rate.

02:00 0.173
02:00 – 03:000.173 minus 0.015^^^
03:00 0.158
03:00 – 04:000.158 minus 0.015^^^
04:00 0.143
04:00 – 05:000.143 minus 0.015^^^
05:00 0.128
Table 2 – Backward estimation of the BAC – from an end and known BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at time of sampling

Working back based on an elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ hour, Shanann needed to have had a BAC of approximately 0.173 g / 100 mℓ at the time of arrival at the house to have had a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at 05:00. This is assuming she stopped consuming alcohol at 02:00.

Table 3 – BAC vs Subjective Effects (Source)

As can be seen from Table 3, if Shannan had a BAC of 0.173 g / 100 mℓ (17.3%) when she arrived home, she would have been visibly intoxicated and subjective effects would have been clear.

Scenario 2

Shannan arrived with a BAC of 0 g / 100 mℓ at the house at 02:00 and then started to consume alcohol. How much did she need to consume between 02:00 and 05:00 to have a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of her death at 05:00?


— Elimination of 1 unit per hour (0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour) after the first hour and the same during every hour after the first hour. She arrives at the house with a BAC of 0 g / 100 mℓ.

Consumption of Units per Hour (1 Unit = 125 mℓ Glass of Wine = 0.02 g / 100 mℓ)

TimeIntake & EliminationBAC FluctuationBAC
02:00Completely Sober 0.00
02:00 – 03:00Plus 2 Units Intake+0.04 V
03:00  0.04
03:00 – 04:00Plus 3 Units Intake+0.06 
 Minus 1 Unit Elimination-0.015 V
04:00  0.085
04:00 – 05:00Plus 3 Units Intake+0.06 
 Minus 1 Unit Elimination-0.015 V
05:00 (TOD)  0.130
Table 4 – BAC increase from 02:00 to 05:00 if consumption started at 02;00 from a BAC of Zero

With reference to Table 4, this means that Shanann had to consume approximately 8 glasses of wine in 3 hours to have ended up with a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of her death.

Opinion & Conclusion

To interpret postmortem toxicology results is a complicated process and should be done with great caution. Although alcohol is hydrophilic (thus water-soluble) and distributes equally throughout the body’s water content, unequal distribution to different body parts can take place – i.e. more into the blood and vitreous humor than into organs with greater fat content, like the liver. The time and intensity of consumption is also a consideration. If the decedent ingested a great volume of alcohol shortly before death, it is possible that not all ingested alcohol absorbed into the bloodstream by the time of death and after death may have stayed trapped in the stomach, from where it can diffuse to surrounding organs, leading to elevated and disproportional concentrations in these organs. For this reason, the site from where the sample for analysis was taken is also a consideration, as different sites may yield different results.

After death, postmortem processes alter and corrupt the body, among other leading to lowered pH levels. Autolysis, the self-digestion of cells, is followed by putrefaction when chemical processes further alter the body, which may lead to confusing postmortem results.

For these reasons, non-analytical evidence – i.e. history and context – should be considered in cases of ambiguous results.

Based on the history provided, it would be reasonable to assume that the decedent did not consume any alcohol before arriving at the house at approximately 02:00 on the morning of 13 August. While a depressive or “defeated” state can lead to increased alcohol consumption even among non-regular alcohol consumers, at least two friends stated that even while being anxious and depressed about her marital problems, she did not consume any alcohol at the business function and also not at the dinner they had before the three-hour flight over midnight. It is also unlikely that an airline would serve alcohol on late-night flights. In addition, existing video footage shows the decedent arriving at the house, carrying her suitcase, and that she did not appear to be intoxicated.

Perhaps the best evidence that the decedent did not either arrive intoxicated at the house or consumed alcohol between 02:00 and 05:30, is the statements by her husband (the accused). In neither his first oral statement to Officer Coonrod (which must have been between 13:40 and 14:00) nor during the interview with Detective Baumhover (which must have been shortly after 02:00) did the accused state that the decedent consumed any alcohol. However, more significantly, when the accused confessed that he strangled the decedent because he went into a rage after seeing the decedent strangling their two daughters, he also did not state that she was intoxicated at the time of their argument or of the alleged strangulation of the daughters by the decedent. On this premise, given the context, if the decedent did act irrationally (to such extent that she would strangle their children to death) mentioning during the confession that she was intoxicated, would have counted in the accused’s favour.

However, for the sake of the argument and perspective, if the decedent died with a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at 05:00 on 13 August, and an elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour is assumed, the decedent had to have arrived at home with a BAC of 0.173 g / 100 mℓ, which is a considerable high level where subjective effects would have been evident. This is not in agreement with provided history and eyewitness statements.

On the premise that the decedent arrived completely sober at the house at 02:00 and then started to consume alcohol, based on the Mellanby effect whereby the BAC peaks after approximately one hour of consumption after which there is a fixed elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ per hour, and that the decedent consumed wine, the decedent would have needed to consume approximately 8 glasses of wine in three hours. Apart from the fact that this would seem out of character behaviour, it would have been considerable consumption for a lean woman on an empty stomach and without developed tolerance to alcohol consumption. Her motor skills would have been significantly compromised at a BAC level of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ.

While it would be safe to include postmortem fermentation (postmortem synthesis) as the likely cause of the BAC at the time of sampling on an elimination basis, the following factors need to be considered.

If a dead body is exposed to temperatures higher than 5oC, postmortem processes will have greater potential to ensue. While cooling the body may slow these processes down considerably, even halting them, cooling does not eliminate decomposition completely. It must also be borne in mind that before the body is placed in the fridge, there is exposure to ambient temperature and also in the hours before autopsy when the body is prepared for autopsy and sampling.

In this case, in order to consider the possibility of postmortem fermentation, the two most significant variables to consider are postmortem interval time and temperature over this period. From historical weather data it appears that from the morning of 13 August until the discovery of the body (i.e. declaration of death) at 00:05 on 16 August, the temperature in the relevant area ranged from 8 to 31oC, with mostly sunny days. Given the time-lapse of 67 hours from the assumed time of death (at 5:00 on 13 August) until the declaration of death (when the body was not in cooling yet) at 00:05 on 16 Augusts, and given the average temperature of approximately 20oC (with higher peaks up to 31oC) over this period, in terms of temperature and time, conditions would have been most suitable for the rapid advancement of postmortem processes. However, whatever the conditions may have been, it is clear from the autopsy report that at the time of autopsy, generalized discolouration, bloating and skin slippage have been observed. Therefore, postmortem processes – notably putrefaction – were in progress.

For fermentation to occur, glucose and microbes (i.e. bacteria and yeast) are necessary. Glucose is prevalent in many organs of the body and the cecum is infested with bacteria, and during the postmortem process, especially under temperate conditions and in the presence of air, fermentation is very likely to occur.

Intestinal bacteria can penetrate the intestinal walls after death and can be distributed through the bloodstream via the hepatic portal vein and intestinal lymph system as long as the body temperature exceeds 5oC. For postmortem synthesis to occur, the body must be at 5oC or higher for longer than 4 hours (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996).

Although the body was buried for most of the postmortem period (until discovery), and while bodies in graves take approximately 8 times longer to decompose than in the open, the shallow grave in sandy soil would have allowed enough aeration for decomposition to advance. The thin layer of sand covering the body would have lowered the exposed temperature but it would have been considerably more than 5oC, and therefore still conducive for bacterial proliferation and the advancement of postmortem processes.

According to authoritative pathologist Bernard Knight, under the right conditions, fermentation can lead to elevated alcohol concentrations hours after death, and makes reference to a referenced case where a BAC of 0.15 g / 100 mℓ was observed in a postmortem case, where it was known that there was no antemortem alcohol consumption (Saukko & Knight, 2008).

In their article ‘Postmortem production of Ethanol and factors that influence interpretation’ O’Neal & Poklis (1994) make reference to several cases where postmortem synthesis has led to elevated blood alcohol concentrations. They make reference to a study by Bonnichsen et al. (1953), where a 3-month old infant found not more than 6 hours after death, showed significant ethanol concentration in blood, liver, kidney, and spleen – of 0.235, 0.112, 0.107, and 0.111 g / 100 mℓ respectively (this also shows how the site of sampling can yield different results). They also make reference to a study by Jones et al. (1991) where a 73-year old woman who died from a car crash, had a BAC of 0.053 g / 100 mℓ (it was reported that it was highly unlikely that the decedent consumed any alcohol prior to the crash) (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996). A review of studies of actual postmortem cases revealed that a range of 12–57% of ethanol positive cases was attributed to postmortem synthesis. When all postmortem cases positive for ethanol were surveyed, 12% were the result of postmortem synthesis (Caplan, 1990). When the cases were limited to only to decomposed bodies, the percentage rises to 20% (Zumwalt, 1984; Gilliland, 1993).

While there is no direct correlation between the in vitro cultivation of microbes and ethanol production, it is generally accepted that if no microbes are found in the specimen, the source of the ethanol is ingestion (assuming that the microbes responsible for postmortem synthesis survived long enough to be cultured) (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996). In forensic work, this is not so easy to determine as few laboratories cultivate microbes routinely. In this case, as discussed previously, the case history does not suggest antemortem ingestion.

Certain conditions may raise the microbe level, such as starvation and physical exertion, when the pH rises, leading to increased microbial proliferation and thus potentially increased postmortem synthesis.

When ethanol is absorbed from the stomach, it distributes throughout the body according to the water content of the various tissues and fluids. For this reason, the site of sampling is important to consider as the water content in different tissues varies. It is not clear why the spleen was preferred as sampling site, and although it is often routinely used as sampling site in postmortem cases, if vitreous humor were sampled, a different BAC may have been observed, as vitreous humor is more isolated (and thus less influenced by postmortem redistribution and diffusion) and contains no bacteria. The point being, that the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of autopsy, is not necessarily representative of either real ingestion or real postmortem synthesis.

Lastly, although it cannot be stated with any certainty or as fact, after sampling degradation of the sample and postmortem synthesis can take place in the test tubes if storage conditions are not adequate, or if sampling was not done correctly. For the purpose of this report and opinion it is assumed that the headspace gas chromatography method of analysis was done correctly and that the result can be trusted as a true reflection of the ethanol concentration of the sample at the time of sampling, whatever the source of the ethanol was.

Conclusion: Given the history of the unlikely digestion of alcohol prior to death, the 67 hours the body was exposed to temperate conditions, plus (to a lesser extent) the 36 hours after discovery until autopsy, and the evidence of bloating at autopsy (which suggests microbial presence and activity), it is not only possible but highly likely that fermentation and thus postmortem synthesis of alcohol could have taken place. There is no reason to exclude this possibility. A level of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ is a high BAC level, but the conditions would have been extremely suitable and conducive for the postmortem synthesis of ethanol, I order to produce said BAC.

Based on the reason explained in this report, it can be stated with a high degree of confidence that the 0.128 g / mℓ BAC was the result of postmortem synthesis in the body and/or in the collection tubes.

Additional Note: Although the decedent suffered from lupus and fibromyalgia, not enough information is known to consider the influence this may have had on the postmortem synthesis – such as the severity of the conditions and medication she may have been on, or if she had episodes of flare-ups close to the time of death (which may have aided corruption of the postmortem body). Although not entirely relevant, the expelled fetus was most likely the result of pressure on the lower abdomen due to bloating, which exerted pressure on the uterus. The manner in which she was buried (kneeling forward) would have contributed to the pressure on the uterus. It is unlikely that the fetus contributed to the BAC in the spleen as diffusion from the uterus to the spleen must have taken place, and there are various barriers to be crossed. It is also not known when the fetus was expelled, but that would likely have happened as bloating ensued (and the time of bloating would have been the most likely and prolific time of synthesis). Since the biology of a pregnant woman may be altered, the general condition of the body may have been conducive for increased synthesis, but this cannot be stated with any certainty, and therefore neither the medical conditions nor the pregnancy and presence of a fetus were deemed supplementary factors that contributed to the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ in the spleen at the time of sampling. The postmortem 0.128 g / 100 mℓ BAC due to postmortem synthesis is possible in perfectly healthy (and un-pregnant) individuals who were exposed to suitable conditions for postmortem synthesis. In this case, conditions were most suitable and conducive for the postmortem synthesis of ethanol.


Gilliland, M.G.F. & Bost, R.O. 1993. Alcohol in decomposed bodies, postmortem synthesis and distribution. Journal of Forensic Science. 1266–74.

O’Neal, C.L., Poklis, A. 1996. Postmortem production of ethanol and factors that influence interpretation. American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology.

Saukko, P., Knight, B. 2004. Knight’s Pathology . 3rd Ed. Hodder Arnold: London.

Zumwalt, R.E., Bost, R.O., Sunshine, I. 1982. Evaluation of ethanol concentrations in decomposed bodies. Journal of Forensic Science. 27:549–54.

Another Triple Murder

On 27 January 2015 Martin, Teresa, and Rudi van Breda were brutally killed in their house in an upmarket security estate near Stellenbosch South Africa. Henri van Breda, one of three siblings in the family, stood trial on their murder and was convicted of their murders in 2018.

Wikipedia Background

Below is my take on the case.

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On one of the most contentious murder cases in South African history …

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Crime Prevention Tips

Thomas Mollett – November 2020

Although we have been plagued with crime for long enough, the time has really come that we draw the line. What we must realise and accept first and foremost, is that the government is neither interested nor capable of bringing crime under control. We can have endless arguments about why not, but it is not going to help.

We all need to take responsibility for the situation. But just to first clarify “responsibility”. If somebody leaves a baby on your doormat, it is up to you to decide what to do with the baby. Obviously, the reasonable person would call the police immediately, but for the sake of this hypothetical example, you can (and have to) decide what to do with the baby. Whether you have not asked for the baby to be left there, you will assume responsibility for the baby. Therefore, to say that we must assume responsibility for the crime situation, does not imply that it is our fault – simply that we must exercise our options in order to resolve the problem. We must take control of it. This does not imply mob justice and that we should arm ourselves to the teeth with guns – but rather that we need to strategise and fight this epidemic collectively and on a mental level.

We have to accept that each and every one of us is a potential target. Whether we like it or not. And it does not matter how good you think your security situation might be, you remain at risk. The first step in assuming a mental approach is to EXPECT to become a victim of crime. This does not mean that you should live in fear all the time – quite the opposite; if you live with this expectation you can take preventative measures. Rather be ready than to be surprised.

There are many types of crimes, but relative to the more prevalent and concerning crimes, there are two types: 1) While still not justifiable, many crimes happen without planning – let’s call it crimes of opportunity. For example, somebody walks past an open gate and sees the opportunity to enter the premises and then commits a crime. 2) Then there are the cases where there is some level of planning – where, for example, a household or farm is identified and studied – and they plan how they would go about committing the crime.

There are many practical steps that each and every citizen can take, but first we have to meet and beat the criminals on a mental level. While there may be a combination of opportunity and planned crimes, in the end they exploit our weak spots. When they invade your space, it is because they believe they can. They are less likely to come there if they know it is impossible to intrude, or if the risks are really high. Saying that, risk is not necessarily a big deterrent – but criminals generally want to get the most they can in the easiest way. To make it hard (or rather impossible) for them to intrude/operate, is the ideal.

This all sounds really logical and obvious. Yet we still see so many incidents which in hindsight we feel could have been prevented. (Note, this is not to blame anyone, but we have to learn from past incidents.) The best we can do is to think like criminals do, in order to protect ourselves.

  • Thoroughly assess your security situation. Where are weak spots that could potentially be exploited? Remember, you are not in your house or office the whole day, and wherever you are, you are at risk.

  • Criminals act on predictability. If they know you leave your house at, say, 7 o’clock every morning, they can plan their activities around that – either to act as you drive out or to enter the house after you had left. Try to vary your schedule. This may not always be so easy practically, but at least be aware of the fact that your schedule may be a factor in their planning.

  • If you hear any suspicious or strange sounds outside the house during the night, do not leave the house. It could be a ploy to get you outside. Rather call security services or the police to check things out.

  • There are some pros and cons of leaving lights on. Some argue that criminals can now see inside the house. It is perhaps best to leave a light on somewhere in the house, where there is no direct sight into the house. Better even to have time-switches – i.e. switching some lights on and off at certain but unpredictable times – to create the impression of presence and activity.

  • Most crimes happen in the dark and light is certainly a good deterrent. However, it is not practical and cost-effective to leave it on outside the whole time. But it becomes effective when linked with activity sensors.

  • It is generally accepted that security cameras serve as a good deterrent, but then the cameras must be visible – otherwise it means very little deterrent-wise. Out of reach not to be damaged or eliminated, it must be clearly visible and in their face. Yes, if it records a criminal activity it could serve as evidence later or may help to apprehend the perpetrators, but then the damage has been done already. Practically difficult, but the ideal is to act when there is activity on the camera – then the deed can be stopped by calling security or the police in time. It can help to put a monitor somewhere in the house where it can be observed easily at certain intervals or when an alarm was triggered, so that you can quickly see what is going on.

  • While improving, the problem with many CCTV cameras is the poor footage quality. In this day and age and if we look at the good quality footage of even cheap cellphones’ cameras, it is hard to understand why these cameras’ footage is still so poor. In some cases identification becomes impossible. Rather pay a bit more but get good cameras. Make sure that the camera/s are functional and that they are placed at the most obvious points of risk.

  • In a neighbourhood, form clusters of, say, 6 houses (i.e. three on this side of the street and three on the other side), and form a WhatsApp group, which includes all members of the households in the cluster. If there is a potential problem, the cluster members can be notified immediately via the group.

  • While there may be such groups on Facebook already, each neighbourhood or town should have a Facebook page – where information about crime trends and incidents are posted.

  • In a smaller town, a good idea is for the whole town to be part of one WhatsApp group. Somebody must just take the initiative to form the group and then invite citizens to join. Advertise it in the local paper or on supermarkets’ billboards. Businesses can even be asked to promote joining of the group – such as offering special prices on certain items when somebody joins the group (so they collect the numbers and add them to the group). Imagine somebody’s car gets stolen and he/she can immediately send out on the WhatsApp group – “my car has just been stolen – red Ford sedan, registration AB123 – be on the lookout”. This can also work very well for farm communities/wards.

  • Although the ideal is to prevent crimes, contingency plans should be in place for when they do happen. Discuss the crime situation with your family and work out plans in case of an intrusion. Compile a list of safety measures and put it up somewhere in the house to encourage preventative actions (e.g. regarding alarms, the locking of doors, etc.). Also, what physical actions should be taken when an intrusion is suspected – like for everyone to go to a certain room with a safety door. It is also a good idea to have a section of your house which cannot be entered at all except through one security gate, at, say, the entrance of a passage leading to the rooms. Keep that gate locked at all times during the night. Remember, your life is more important than house items.

  • Place panic buttons throughout the house.

  • Always report crimes. How insignificant it may seem or even if you think that the police are not going to do much about it. Even just the statistic can help to establish trends that can be used in crime intelligence.

  • When a crime took place – such as after an intrusion into your house or car – take the most necessary steps to ensure you and your loved one’s safety but try not to disturb the scene or evidence. One fingerprint can help to land somebody in jail.

  • When you give statements, be concise and clear, and if you did not write it out yourself, make sure to read it thoroughly before signing it. You don’t want to be tripped up later when the case lands up in court. Although we rather want to prevent crime, we must make sure that those that do happen, are resolved and that criminals end up behind bars.

  • We may think it is our good right to walk or drive wherever we want to whenever we want to. That may be so, but criminals took that right away. There are certain things that one should simply not do in this day and age. Avoid walking or driving around late at night, especially in questionable areas. Avoid dark and out-of-sight areas. Do not flash belongings around. Wherever you park your vehicle do not leave any valuable items visible. Parking in side-streets is usually riskier.

  • Be very attentive at ATMs, always, day or night but especially during the night – and more so if remote. Trust nobody that offers to help you – unless members of the bank (just make sure of them too).

  • A very important point: If you are not on a contract – make sure you always have airtime when you go on the road. You need to be able to call for help whenever there’s a problem.

  • We must not think that when it comes to “small crimes” that there are bigger ones to rather be concerned about. New York reduced its overall crime rate drastically by clamping down on small, petty crimes. These petty crimes create a culture of lawlessness – which creates a climate for bigger crimes. Order creates more order.

  • This is not a call against guns – but there have been so many instances of mistaken identity – where, for example, a family member has been killed by accident. Stray bullets can cause collateral damage and criminals can even use your own weapon against you. Laws are also tricky and you instead of the criminal may end up with trouble in the end. Guns may form part of a prevention and protection strategy – but they are not the silver bullet when it comes to preventing crime.

  • Dogs are obviously good deterrents and protectors, but it is important to know that they are not insurmountable. Do not rely on them only to keep you safe. They should also form part of an integrated strategy. The same goes for electric fences.

  • Ironically, the more walls we build to keep criminals out, the less we can see them. Criminals operate within a maze of walls that can actually greatly assist them, i.e. a fleeing criminal can easily hide or disappear out of sight behind a wall, they can launch an attack or hijack from behind a wall, etc. Walls are obviously strong structures and in cases part of the aesthetics – but perhaps we should go back to open spaces (i.e. see-through fences) where we can see what is going on outside our yards and in our streets (and from outside inwards) – and that the criminals know that we can see them. These days there are really good see-through fences available.

  • We have become so desensitised to crime that we hardly hear or take note of the alarms and gunshots out there anymore, even those close to us. As long as it is not your house or car’s alarm, we tend not to care much. However, we need to stay alert and vigilant – and we need to watch out for each other. Tomorrow you may well need the help that you can give somebody today. (E.g.: If you see somebody parking his car in a side-street were you know break-ins occur regularly, warn them about the risk. Tomorrow somebody may warn you about a possible risk elsewhere.) We are in this together.

This list is not supposed to be exhaustive and will remain a work in progress. The idea is to create a list of crime hotspots and trends – so that we can inform each other.

You may have noted that while some practical tips are provided, this initiative really aims to rather promote a mentalstrategic and integrated approach, were proactive action is taken. Hope is a good thing, but, like in business too, the thing that makes the difference is action – to execute strategies. And so often it is the small actions that make the difference in the end. We are not going to hope this problem away. Action needs to be taken, now! We have to be proactive instead of reactive. We have to tire the criminals out and break their spirits instead of them breaking ours.

(Let’s get some perspective on the difference even a small percentage drop in the crime rate can make. But first, imagine all of us can raise our preventative mindset by 20% – and this results in only a 5% drop in crime. If we take 2018’s stats, where there were about 2 million reported crimes, then a 5% drop can result in 100 000 fewer crimes per year.)

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