Barney Van Heerden
The investigation into the murders of eight gay men in Gauteng has taken a new and dramatic turn.
At a meeting with journalists from Eye Witness News yesterday, police officials revealed that three men have now been arrested in connection with one of the murders.
The men are suspected of killing Barney Van Heerden in Orange Grove in September last year. Van Heerden (39) was tied-up in his home and appeared to have been strangled. There was no sign of forced entry.
Police say that rather than being the work of a serial killer, as had been previously speculated, it may be a gang that has been preying on gay men all along. The primary motive, it appears, is robbery.
Disturbingly, a source told Mambaonline that there are indications that the gang might be operating in other provinces other than Gauteng.
Police believe that, at least in some of the cases, the criminals may have used chat rooms or online dating services to target their gay victims.
The police issued a warning to gay men to be wary of whom they allow into their homes as, despite the arrests, other suspects may still continue to target them.
In the wake of the revelation that forensic reports in a number of the cases were still outstanding, officials said that they would now fast-track completing the results of the forensic investigations.
A close friend of Van Heerden, who asked not to be named, said that he felt “completely relieved” at the news of the three arrests. “Finally we got the police to listen to us and investigate”.
He added that “without the DA, without the media championing these cases, I don’t believe that anything would have happened”.
He expressed his hope that the arrests would result in convictions and, in turn, lead to resolution in the other cases “to ensure that more lives are not lost and that these criminals are brought to book.”
The murders of gay men in Gauteng began with Manolis Veloudos, who was killed in April 2010. He was followed by Jim Cathels in Berea in December 2010; Oscar O’Hara (33) in May 2011; a 47-year-old un-named landlord in Northcliff in August 2011; Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo (36) in Soweto in September 2011; Barney van Heerden (39) in Orange Grove, also in September 2011; HIV/Aids activist and television presenter Jason Wessenaar (39) in his Pretoria West home in December 2011; and finally Rulov Senekal in February 2012.