Death threats and church murders: Krugersdorp witness testifies

Erstwhile church friends, from left, Cecilia Steyn, Zak Valentine and Marinda Steyn who have been charged with multiple murders including that of Mikeila Valentine, right.
Erstwhile church friends, from left, Cecilia Steyn, Zak Valentine and Marinda Steyn who have been charged with multiple murders including that of Mikeila Valentine, right.
Image: SUPPLIED

"Wherever I go they fall like flies," is one of many threatening messages Ria Grunewald got when she cut ties with Cecilia Steyn.

Grunewald was testifying on Wednesday in the trial of Cecilia Steyn, Marcel Steyn and former insurance broker Zac Valentine. The Krugersdorp neighbours and friends stand accused of involvement in the murder of 11 people from 2012 to 2016. The trio have pleaded not guilty. Three other people are serving lengthy jail terms in connection with the killing spree, including Marcel’s mother, Marinda Steyn.

The initial killings were allegedly sparked by a split in a church group called Overcomers Through Christ (OTC). The group’s aim was converting satanists to Christianity. Cecilia and her friends formed the Electus Per Deus (Chosen by God) group.

The first victims were linked to the OTC church: Natacha Burger, 33, and her neighbour Joyce Boonzaaier‚ 68‚ had their throats slit in Centurion in July 2012. Then 75-year-old pastor Reginald Bendixen was stabbed and hacked to death with an axe at his home in Honeydew in August 2012.

On Wednesday, Grunewald told the South Gauteng High Court of the period preceding the murders of the OTC church members, of becoming wary of Cecilia and of receiving anonymous death threats.

She said she and Cecilia were extremely close when they were part of the OTC church, and that she treated the other woman like a daughter.

“She knew everything about everything I did. I poured my life out to her,” said an emotional Grunewald.

Despite spending most of her time at Cecilia’s flat and helping her, because Cecilia claimed she was dying, Grunewald said Cecilia would ridicule her in front of other people.

"She told me how stupid I was and that I’m not worth being called a Christian. She said I’m a pathetic Christian.

“She isolated us all from each other [other members of the group].”

Grunewald, who taught Bible courses with OTC, said she became worried when Cecilia started drugging her and she would wake up disoriented and confused.

"I suffered from sleep deprivation so I asked her for sleeping pills. When I woke up I was disoriented. I didn’t know what was happening."

She said she received a call from one of her students and they asked if she was okay because she had called them at midnight.

"I told her I didn’t call her. I then noticed that I had called myself as well, from one phone to the other."

She said one day she received a call from one of the OTC members telling her that she should not trust Cecilia because she was a liar and was telling people that Grunewald had beaten her.

"I didn’t believe her. I phoned Marinda. I said to her 'Did Cecilia tell you that I beat her?' I was very upset."

Subsequently, Grunewald said she told Cecilia that she wanted to give her "maternal rights" in the group to Marinda.

"Cecilia said I can’t and that someone has to die for the hand over to happen."

Grunewald said she did not visit Cecilia as often as she used to and she did not invite her to a question-and-answer session she had with her students who attended the courses she was teaching.

"She was angry at me."

Grunewald said Cecilia also became angry when she did not go to a "high day" - when, according to her, certain sacrifices were made.

"I received a call from Marinda saying that one of Cecilia’s death curses was triggered. I decided to ignore the message."

When Cecilia’s death curses were triggered, Grunewald would pray for her so that she did not die, the court heard. Cecilia was, however, alive the next day, despite her not going to her apartment to pray for her, Grunewald said.

When she cut ties with Cecilia, Grunewald said she started getting death threats and people close to her started dying.

“I received threatening messages daily. One of them said “I’m sitting in the house of the stylist, the traveler, the cyclist ... Guess where I am?”.

Grunewald said she knew who those people were.

“Wherever I go, they are going to fall like flies,” another message said.

“On the 13th of August [2012] I got a message and it said: ‘I hope you said goodbye to Reg [Pastor Reginald Bendixen] and if you want to talk about it, we are outside in a white BMW’.”

“It sounded like they were outside my flat in a white BMW,” Grunewald said.

She said she called Bendixen but could not get hold of him. She then called his wife and told her to tell him to be careful.

She later got a call saying that Bendixen had been murdered.

“This was not supposed to happen. Nobody deserved that. I felt so guilty and I felt terrible. I felt responsible for his death. I asked why God did not let me die and not them,” Grunewald wept.

“At that stage I had nobody in my life. There was nobody I could speak to. I couldn’t understand how this could happen.”

Then she said: “I got a call from a police officer asking if me if I had set up an appointment with Reg on the day he died.”

“I told him that I had set up an appointment two days before he died to tell him that we should cancel the classes after Natacha [Burger] died.”

The police told her that, according to phone records, she had set up an appointment with Bendixen on the day he died.

“I told him I did not see Reg on that day.”

The threatening smses were from an anonymous number. Grunewald said the police told her that the person who sent them lived close to where she lived.

She told the court that she and Cecilia lived a block away from each other.

Prior to the trial, SowetanLIVE reported that Cecilia Steyn lived on the ground floor of a block of flats with her husband and two children, while her friend Marinda Steyn (no relation) lived on the top floor with her two children and John Barnard.

The trial continues.

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