Chanelle Henning: A year after her murder
Barry Bateman looks at the mystery surrounding the young Pretoria mother's murder.
A year ago today I received a phone call from a paramedic telling me there'd been what appeared to be a road-rage incident in Faerie Glen. "It looks like a women got into a fight with guys on a bike and they shot her," he said.
It was a frantic dash to grab my equipment, jump in the car and get to the scene, which was only a few kilometres from home.
The police had already cordoned off Manitoba Drive near Michigan Street with tape. Several other journalists had already arrived and Community Policing Forum members in their reflective bibs were helping control the traffic.
Moms with their children, joggers and cyclists stopped to see what was causing the commotion. I was fielding calls from the news desk and John Robbie's producer. Everyone wanted to go live.
About 50 metres from the police cordon, a white Hyundai with parts of its front smashed in was stopped under a tree. At its passenger side was a silver blanket, the kind used by emergency personnel to cover dead bodies.
Her name was Chanelle Henning, I was told. The motive was unknown. She was shot, apparently by men on a motorbike. She had just dropped her son off at school. She died soon after the paramedics arrived.
It was the beginning of an almost unbelievable tale about a young mother, her estranged husband twice her age, a crooked cop, a drug addict, a former Nigerian Olympian-turned bouncer and the husband's hired private investigator.
Days later the police announced the arrest of policeman Gerhardus du Plessis and his friend Willem "Pike" Pieterse. The pair were linked by mutual drug abuse. The cop was already on suspension for allegedly stealing police dockets.
Pike admitted he was the getaway rider, with Du Plessis on the back - he shot two rounds into Chanelle, killing her.
They implicated Preshan Singh as the owner of the unlicensed revolver. Nigerian Ambrose Monye was fingered as the recruiter, who hired the pair to carry out the hit. Andre Gouws - a close friend of Chanelle's husband Nico - was identified as the suspect who commissioned a team to carry out the murder.
Arrests were swift. Du Plessis and Pieterse soon signed plea agreements with the state which saw them receiving 18 years in prison each, on condition they testify for the state. Singh received a suspended sentence with community service for providing the weapon - the court accepted that he was an unwitting participant in the hired hit.
What followed was months of legal wrangling in bail applications for Monye and Gouws. They both denied having any involvement in the crime, but they buckled under cross-examination from state advocate Gerrie Nel. The prosecution team which led the case against disgraced police commissioner Jackie Selebi was now after murder conspirators.
Gouws and Monye failed in their bids for freedom - the court found no exceptional circumstances, given the seriousness of the crime they're accused of, to grant them bail.
But what emerged during these proceedings came as no surprise to anyone - Nel told the court that their main suspect was Chanelle's husband Nico, and that he was the only person who had motive to have the young mother murdered.
Nico and Chanelle had been fighting a long, acrimonious divorce which centred on the custody of their son. Chanelle had been awarded sole custody of the boy.
The Hawks have raided Nico's home twice, but despite recovering large amounts of data which shows he was having his estranged wife monitored, nothing surfaced strong enough to prosecute him. Nico has monitored the case closely - he keeps every single press clipping published about the investigation and court proceeding.
In two weeks time, Monye and Gouws go on trial in the North Gauteng High Court. The state will proceed without their so-called mastermind.
Gouws - Nico's close friend - is believed to hold the key to unravelling the plot, but he remains tight-lipped. The hope is that he'll buckle under the pressure of Nel's cross examination, and the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Barry Bateman is an Eyewitness News reporter. Follow Barry on Twitter @BarryBateman