Read an excerpt from Blood on Her Hands: South Africa’s Most Notorious Female Killers by Tanya Farber
More about the book!
Blood on Her Hands: South Africa’s Most Notorious Female Killers is an in-depth look into the lives, minds and motivations of women killers, by award-winning journalist Tanya Farber.
With a writing style is lighter than the subject matter might suggest, Blood on Her Hands will keep you reading until late at night – probably with your light on.
This excerpt focuses on Chané van Heerden, also known as ‘Welkom Killer’, who was convicted of the murder of Michael van Eck in 2011, when she was 20 years old.
Van Heerden placed her victim’s facial skin in the freezer for preservation. She said she used skinning techniques she had learnt while hunting with her stepfather as a young girl.
Read an excerpt:
Chané van Heerden
The rifle felt cold and heavy in her hand. He’d warned her that the first time would feel strange, but that’s the thing about strangeness, her mother had said as they packed the bakkie that morning: you can know it’s coming but it still pounces on you. Only the smell of the gunmetal was somehow familiar, reminding her of the handrail of the staircase at the mall. Grown-ups’ fingers always looked like vultures’ claws there, curled around it. She recognised the smell, but wasn’t sure she liked it. Iron and blood smell the same, she thought, and just hoped she could stay on her feet as a dizziness came over her.
But as soon as she saw her finger on the trigger, and spotted the neat row of small buck springing past some hundred metres ahead of her, she felt a rush of excitement that rooted her to the spot, her legs suddenly feeling like sturdy poles that could withstand even the worst hurricane.
‘Just wait,’ said a voice in her ear. ‘Just be patient. And calm.’
‘But they’re right there. I can shoot them now,’ she whispered back to her stepfather.
‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s your first time, Chané. You must get a feel for it, not shoot the first group that comes past you.’
His hands were on her shoulders and every now and then she caught a whiff of his breath: yesterday’s beer and Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes.
‘Chané. Just. Wait,’ he said again, pressing her shoulders harder.
But, as one buck turned its head and looked at her, the finger on the trigger felt like something over which she had no control. It squeezed, and the shot ruptured the silence of the blue sky arching over them. She closed her eyes, expecting her stepfather’s wrath, but instead she heard him give a single hard clap of his hands.
‘You’re a natural,’ he said, flicking her on the back of the head.
The smell of the gunshot made her mouth water. She carefully placed the rifle down next to her, facing away, just as she’d been taught. An aircraft overhead drew a line across the sky like a flat white signature of approval. Its faint hum drew her eyes up and her head back until she was looking straight up at the sky.
‘Come,’ said her stepfather, drawing her back down to earth. ‘Now comes the best part of all.’
She fell in behind him, echoing his every footstep as they walked to where the dead animal lay. The smell of fresh meat entered her nostrils as they got closer. Pleasure pumped through her body in time with her own heartbeat, until she was standing right over the motionless buck.
Her stepfather went off to find a suitable branch from which they could suspend the animal. Chané squatted down right next to it. The buck looked young. She drew her hand over one thigh, brushing the fawn-coloured fur this way and that, now velvet, then rough, as the hairs prickled against the palm of her small hand. She moved her hand to the other thigh, which lay flush against the ground, like a neat sack of flour. She ran her fingers along the contours, half expecting the animal to respond like a dog, grateful for the affection. But it was the stillness of death that pleased her far more. She saw the sticky film of blood that had formed over the softness of its belly, crimson over silver-white, and she stretched out until she was lying flat on her stomach, her face right up to that of the creature. Its nose against hers felt like a soft leather purse that had lain on the grass at twilight, quickly turning from warmth to cold wetness against her skin. She closed her eyes for a second, and recited her favourite verse from the Bible. ‘All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.’
She opened her eyes as wide as they could go, and set them directly opposite the eyes of the dead buck. She stared into the glassy orbs, as if the life in her own eyes might jump-start the dead animal. The pupils were black as ink, still wide with fear from the seconds before death as it sensed the man and child among the thorny bushes.
There she lay for some ten minutes, so mesmerised by the up-close spectacle of death that she almost licked the creature’s eyelashes, which seemed like some sort of ancient paint brush.
When she finally heard the approaching crunch of her stepfather’s boots, she drew herself back up into a squat, and quickly pushed her finger into the single bullet wound just above the animal’s belly to see how far it would go.
Back at the house, in the kitchen, her mother gave her a cold hug before disappearing into her bedroom, as she always did when her stepfather came back from hunting.
She heard him laugh behind her. ‘Ag shame, your mother doesn’t like the dead animals in the house,’ he said.
Chané hoped her mother would ask how it had gone, but she also knew she could only tell her half of the story. There wasn’t, after all, another soul in the world with whom she would want to share her experience of lying there on the ground with the just-dead creature in front of her, the smell of its fear still hanging above its body. She followed her stepfather to the scullery, where he carefully laid the animal down on a stainless-steel table.
‘Ja,’ he said, looking pleased, ‘your mother has scrubbed this table clean for us.’
He held a pair of gloves against Chané’s hands. ‘They might be a bit big for you,’ he said, holding them up against her fingers like a dressmaker holding a sample against the figure of a bride-to-be.
‘It’s okay,’ she said, ‘I don’t need them.’
‘What? You’re going to help me skin it with bare hands?’ he asked, passing her a plastic apron.
‘Ja,’ she said. ‘Is it all right?’
He shook his head.
‘Germs,’ he said, and she knew to obey immediately.