OPINION: Why we always think the lover did it

When pictures of Jayde Panayiotou began circulating on social media a few weeks ago, accompanied by a desperate plea to help find her, I didn't think too much about it. She was just another missing person, wasn't she? But in a well-orchestrated media campaign, the search gathered momentum and when her body was found on the outskirts of a Uitenhage township, the story of the teacher from Riebeek College Girls' High School had been elevated to 'high-profile'.

Some may argue that it was because she was white, or beautiful or middle-class that news of her murder went viral and that it resonated with society, trending on Twitter under the hashtag #RIPJayde. Personally, I suspect it was because there was immediately a suspicion that this was not a straightforward case of random robbery. There were too many lingering questions.

As South Africans, we are attuned to the subtleties of reports, we can pick up the nuances in events and we interrogate more intensely as a result. Perhaps we are more cynical or maybe we are just experienced in this field, but we know when things just don't seem lekker.

And so it was when Jayde's husband Chris Panayiotou was arrested for allegedly orchestrating the hit on her, that a chorus of 'I told you so' rang out. I certainly heard it more than once that day last week. People invariably think the lover did it and they have good reason to in this country. Look at the litany of so-called 'high profile' cases that have been characterised in this way.

The most obvious example is that of the Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius, who shot and killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's day in 2013. While the Paralympian was acquitted of murder, he was convicted of culpable homicide and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

The so-called honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani stood trial for arranging a hit on his bride Anni in Gugulethu in November 2012. Three men were arrested in connection with the murder and they claimed Dewani offered them money to kill his wife, but he was later acquitted.

In 2013, the 'Black Widow' Thandi Maqubela was convicted of killing her husband, acting judge Patrick Maqubela, in his apartment in Bantry Bay in Cape Town. It was initially suspected that he had died of a heart attack, but it then emerged that he was suffocated.

In June 2007, Najwa Petersen was arrested for the murder of her husband, theatre personality Taliep Petersen. He was killed at his home in Cape Town in 2006. It emerged that she had hired assassins to do the job and that she was the one who had pulled the trigger, murdering her husband.

Then, of course, there is the complex case of Nico Henning, who is alleged to be the mastermind behind the shooting of his estranged wife Chanelle in November 2011. She was gunned down in Faerie Glen just after dropping her son off at school.

It is within this context that we immediately expect that there will be an inevitable twist to a story when it first comes to light. Maybe it's just because it's the more intriguing crimes that garner a higher degree of public attention. Perhaps it is because the straightforward clear-cut random crimes aren't salacious enough to make the headlines. It's 'just another murder' you might argue astonishingly - there are more than forty of those in South Africa a day anyway…

The statistics provide a more logical explanation.

According to Statistics South Africa's Victims of Crime Survey 2013/2014 study on the relationship between victims and perpetrators, the majority of victims were murdered by known community members. A total of 39,3% of victims were killed by someone they knew in their environment. An incredible 24,9% of victims were murdered by a relative or a household member, 20,9% by friends or acquaintances and just a miniscule 2,3% were targeted by 'unknown people'.

The motive for the murder also tells a story.

The study found that about 30,1% of households mentioned discipline or attempted arrest as one of the motives behind the murder. They also indicated outstanding debt (21,9%) and jealousy (12,8%) as leading motives for committing murder. 'Sudden personal anger', at just 0,5%, was found to be the least probable motivation for committing murder.

With all this in mind, the chances of Jayde Panayiotou being kidnapped and murdered in an anonymous crime were pretty minimal. A random killing also made it far easier for the public to vent their outrage at the high crime rate and to brazenly call for her killers to be hung and the death penalty to be reinstated. But when the almost inevitable twist in this story was revealed, the shock to many seemed difficult to digest and those calls laden with fury and outrage went quiet in some quarters. I don't know why though, the statistics tell us that we really should have seen it coming. After all, we always suspect the lover did it, don't we?

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener