Student begged for her life after gang rape, trial hears

THE killers of student Hannah Cornelius may have kept her underwear as sick "trophies", a court heard.

Prosecutor Lenro Badenhorst argued that this could be why the 21-year-old was found not wearing underwear after she was gang raped and murdered near Cape Town last year.

The disturbing theory is just the latest appalling detail to emerge from the trial, in which four men stand accused of Hannah's brutal killing.

Hannah Cornelius was raped and murdered in South Africa.
Hannah Cornelius was raped and murdered in South Africa.

The tragic case is being tried just a few months after the March death of the victim's mum, Anna, who will never get to see her daughter's killers brought to justice.

Horrific details have emerged from the court in the past few days of the trial - including the fact that one of the alleged murderers had pearls embedded in his penis which likely made the rape more painful.

The trial also heard that the victim's parents were sent a begging letter by one of the alleged gang rapists accused of killing Hannah.

The letter, submitted as evidence in the trial last Tuesday, read: "Don't be angry with me, please."

One of the accused, Vernon Witbooi, at Western Cape High Court charged with the rape and murder of student Hannah Cornelius.
One of the accused, Vernon Witbooi, at Western Cape High Court charged with the rape and murder of student Hannah Cornelius.

Vernon Witbooi, 33, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Nashville Julius, 29, and Eben van Niekerk, 28, face a string of charges including murder, kidnap, robbery and rape of the Stellenbosch University student.

The letter was from Mr van Niekerk, who claims it was written at the instruction of Stellenbosch police officer Sergeant Steven Adams.

While it was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, the letter, when translated from Afrikaans, read: "Herewith I write this letter to Henna's mum and dad.

"I am sorry for what I did and I ask if they can forgive me for what I have done …

Hannah Cornelius.
Hannah Cornelius.

"The girl was like a friend to me but the other accused, I was also scared of them and it wasn't nice to see.

"I was also scared of them. Don't be angry at me please."

The top of the letter read, "This letter comes from Eben VNK," and it was signed and initialled.

Hannah was dropping friend Cheslin Marsh home in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, after a night out when the pair were set upon.

He had parked her blue VW Golf - a gift from her grandmother - outside his flat but as they parked a gang of four men attacked them, opening both doors.

In grainy footage, Ms Cornelius' car was spotted driving from Mr Marsh's block of flats at 3.40am.

The car then appears on another CCTV camera at a petrol station an hour later.

A female figure seen in the front seat is believed to be Ms Cornelius in the last moments she was seen alive.

Also on the CCTV, one of the men accused of her rape and murder is seen exiting the vehicle at a shop and attempting to withdraw money from Mr Marsh's account.

In court previously, one of the four men accused broke down in court as he revealed the desperate plea she made to her attackers before being killed.

Geraldo Parsons, along with his co-accused, originally pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ms Cornelius, and attempted murder of her friend Cheslin Marsh, 22, near Cape Town last year.

However, the 27-year-old's story changed when he was called to the witness stand and made an unexpected confession.


Hannah Cornelius.
Hannah Cornelius.

Mr Parsons testified that as the group drove a terrified Ms Cornelius to an unknown spot, she begged the men not to kill her after they "have sex with her", according to Times Live.

"While I was driving‚ Vernon gave me a condom‚ I don't know where he got it from. Vernon said Hannah said we can have sex with her but then we must leave her after that," a weeping Mr Parsons told the court.

He claimed he was the first to rape Ms Cornelius, before Mr Witbooi and Mr van Niekerk, but "it didn't feel right" because he had a wife and child.

The accused claimed he told Mr Witbooi to let the woman go afterwards but they put her in the boot of the car and drove her to a nearby vineyard. When they reopened the boot Ms Cornelius allegedly refused to get out, clinging on to the car.

"Eben came up and stabbed her. I let her go as the blood started to spill," Times Live reported Mr Parsons as saying.

"Then I saw Vernon arrive with a rock. I told Vernon, 'Don't kill her, we've already killed Cheslin, let's leave her.' But Vernon threw the rock on Hannah's head," Mr Parsons claimed.

"I saw it in her eyes that she was terrified. She said we can have sex but I saw she didn't want to."

Friend Cheslin Marsh previously broke down in tears as he told how he was bundled into the boot during the attack, while Ms Cornelius was wedged between two of the four men in the VW Golf, the court heard.

They then drove out of the up-market wine-producing town of Stellenbosch and hauled Mr Marsh into the bushes, the judge was told.

Three men allegedly made him lay his head on a rock on the ground and battered his skull with bricks until they thought he was dead.

When Mr Marsh woke up, suffering severe head injuries and a broken arm, he staggered to a nearby home to raise the alarm about Hannah.

Unknown to him, her body had been found earlier several miles away by workers and a huge police search was already under way for him.

Previously, a workman described to a court how he initially thought the badly beaten body of the student was a "doll".

Giving evidence, pathologist Deidre Abrahams said she would have died "instantly" from the force of being hit twice on the head.

The 40kg boulder had been used to cover a borehole and was slammed down on her head twice as she was held down, a court was told.

She had also been stabbed in the neck and she showed signs of severe genital injury, reports 9News.

Three of the four accused, Mr Witbooi, Mr Julius and Mr van Niekerk, admit that they were present but claimed they only robbed the pair and did not commit the rape or murder.

Previously, one of the men accused of the murder of Ms Cornelius had his confession - made the day after his arrest - read to the court.

He said the gang went into town "to see what they could get".

Mr Witbooi alleged the other three took Mr Marsh out of the boot while he had a "smoke".

He said they told him they had tied him up and left him to be found.

They were "only after money" and denied any part in Hannah's rape and murder, the court heard.

Mr Witbooi said three others returned from the bushes after raping Hannah and said: "While we were driving, Parsons said I had missed out on having had sex with her.

"He said they had tied the girl up and that the workers would find her tomorrow."

The gang, then high on drugs, allegedly went on a robbery spree robbing at least three women before the car was spotted and a high speed police chase began.

Three were arrested after dumping the car and fleeing and the fourth was arrested later.


This article originally appeared on The Sun and is reproduced with permission.

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