The Valentine Murder of a Celebrity Model

Jax Hudur

Behind the mask of a hero hid a jealous and murderous control freak

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Reeva Steenkamp

In the early morning of February 14, 2013, as people around the world were getting ready to celebrate Valentine’s day, the renowned South African model Reeva Steenkamp lay dead in her new boyfriend’s bathroom. She was 29 years old. In a cruel twist of fate, Reeva was scheduled to deliver a speech on domestic violence on the day of her murder.

On August 19, 1983, Reeva was born in the South African city of Cape Town to her British mother June Steenkamp, and her South African father Barry Steenkamp, a racehorse trainer. Like her father, she also had a passion for horse riding, but she fell and broke her back in a horse-riding accident. She had to learn how to walk again through rigorous and intense rehabilitation.

Reeva Steenkamp was more than just a model on cover magazines. She was a reality TV star, TV presenter and made adverts for reputable companies like Toyota. She was also a law graduate from the University of Port Elizabeth and a trainee paralegal. In Tropika Island of Treasure 5, a South African reality TV, which she featured as a celebrity contestant, she described herself as “brainy, blond and bombshell.” She was a woman who knew her worth.

Close-knit family

A closer look at Reeva’s relationships reveals she was close to her parents and siblings. Shortly after her death, Reeva’s brother spoke to the media and said, “We are taking things one day at a time. We will get through tomorrow to remember my sister and all the goodness that she stood for. At the moment, it is family coming together, and actually, the one person who would be the strongest who held us together, unfortunately, is not here anymore, and that’s my sister.” He was not alone. His uncle, Michael Steenkamp, was in tears when he recalled his niece’s wish to be the voice of women, victims of domestic violence.

June Steenkamp also fondly remembered her daughter. She said, “This is the child I gave birth to, this adorable, wonderful child who worked hard at school, straight to varsity [university], did brilliantly. She was working hard at her career. I can’t even remember one argument that we ever had because she was so good. She was a perfect child and lovable. She loved us, and we loved her.” June wore Reeva’s denim jacket for weeks as she believed her DNA was on it, a mother’s desperate way of coping with the permanent loss of a child.

The Murderer

The man who robbed the Steenkamps of their daughter was none other than the renowned runner and Paralympic champion dubbed as the South African blade runner Oscar Pistorius. He had an impressive track record, becoming the first amputee runner to compete at the 2012 Olympics against able-bodied athletes, having already won four Paralympic championships.

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His story was inspirational and won the hearts of fans and fellow competitors alike. Luguelin Santos, a Dominican competitor, speaking on Oscar’s history-making moment at the 2012 Olympic games, said, “I know Pistorius was the focus of the race, but I love him, and he is a good racer.” How then could a man whose grit and dedication overcame his disabilities, a double amputation no less, a man who went on to symbolize that a disability is not the end be so callous as to murder his girlfriend on Valentine’s day? It appears that there is a dark side to the man. He had a history of violence toward women.

In September 2009, Oscar Pistorius, at a party he had hosted, slammed a door on a woman who was a guest, leaving her with severe injuries. The reason for this was because Oscar fought with his then-girlfriend. The South African police arrested him, and he spent the night in jail. The victim was a blogger, a Miss Cassidy Memory, who sued him for the injuries she had sustained due to his actions, but Oscar countersued and claimed that Miss Cassidy lied and made up the assault. He settled out of court and dropped the countersue in 2014 while standing on trial for Reeva’s murder. Samantha Taylor, a former girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius, as a witness at the trial, told the court how a furious Oscar fired his gun out of a car’s sunroof after being pulled over by the police indicating that he was prone to anger outbursts.

Text correspondence

Exchanged text messages between Reeva and Oscar also show that the couple’s relationship was going through a rough patch. Oscar was jealous and controlling, as shown in the following texts.

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On Valentine’s day

Reeva was looking forward to Valentine’s day, and on February 13, 2013, a few hours before her death, she asked her Twitter followers, “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?” Fifteen hours later, at 03:00 am February 14, Reeva was shot dead in Oscar’s apartment. She was in the toilet, shot three times while another shot missed her. He used a 9mm hand pistol loaded with Black Talon bullets on a closed toilet door. Speaking of the lethality of Black Talon bullets, Captain Christian Mangena, a police ballistics expert, said, “It hits the target, it opens up, it creates six talons, and these talons are sharp, it cuts through the organs of a human being.” A video emerged of an ecstatic Oscar shooting his gun with friends, saying, “It’s like a Zombie stopper,” in reference to the bullets he was shooting.

Oscar Pistorius claimed that he had suspected an intruder was in his house, and as a result of his disabilities, he couldn’t take a chance hence why he fired his gun four times. The investigating police officer, Detective Hilton Botha, in an interview, inquired, “Why would a burglar lock himself in a bathroom cubicle? Why would the victim be shot through her shorts if she was using the toilet in the middle of the night? And why would she have taken her cell phone into the bathroom at three A.M.?”

June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, believes that Reeva was leaving Oscar, and as a result, they had a fight, hence why she had her phone in the toilet with her at 3:00 am. June’s version of what happened to her daughter is also supported by a neighbor of Oscar’s who said she heard a woman’s screams. Even though the sitting judge at the trial dismissed it, June believes that what the woman heard was Reeva’s voice. On this, June said, “I think it was an argument about something and she ran away. She was afraid and locked herself in the toilet. You don’t normally lock the door in the company of someone you trust.”

Detective Hilton Botha does not believe Oscar’s impossible claims. According to him, there was no forced entry and that it was just Oscar and Reeva in the flat. Botha, in the same report, stated, “So I thought it was an open-and-closed case. He shot her — that’s it. I was convinced that it was murder, and I told my colonel, You already read him his rights, so you have to arrest him.”

A few days later, Detective Botha was dismissed from the case as the lead investigator and resigned from the force after previously dropped charges were reinstated against him. Coincidence?

Trial and Conviction

Considering the celebrity status of the victim and the murderer, the trial was widely followed and made international headlines in major news outlets of the world. At times, it was stated that the ‘South African criminal justice system’ was on trial, denoting that the world wanted justice for Reeva. The court case and its outcome aside, there were silent casualties; Reeva’s family had to relive their pain every time they went to court and had to see their daughter’s killer.

The Steenkamp family and friends were disappointed with the verdict as Oscar Pistorius was not found guilty of murder but was found guilty of culpable homicide at the end of a six-long months trial that had its ups and downs.

Below are the significant points of what the prosecutors allege to have happened on that fateful night.

  • Oscar claimed that they went to bed at 10:00 pm. The pathologist ruled this out as Reeva had food in her stomach, meaning she ate within two hours before her death at around 1:00 am. The time of death was around 3:00 am.
  • Due to an argument, Reeva flees from Oscar and locks herself in the bathroom with her mobile phone.
  • Prosecutors rule out the possibility of Reeva not responding to Oscar’s yelling for her to call the police. He claimed to have yelled out for her assistance, as he believed there was an intruder in the house.
  • Neighbors heard a woman’s petrified screams before the gunshots were heard.
  • Oscar contradicted himself; at first saying “he shot an intruder” and later in court changed this to “fired by mistake
  • Dr. Johan Stipp, a neighbor, saw the lights on in Oscar’s bathroom when the gunshots rang contra Oscar’s claim that the lights were off.
  • Prosecutors claim the phones belonging to Reeva and Oscar were found at the crime scene (bathroom) because she was attempting to escape.
  • February 15, Oscar is formally charged with murder.

Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 for culpable homicide but was released a year into his sentence to serve the remaining years under house arrest. He was rearrested two months later in a new ruling by the Supreme Court in December 2015, convicting him of murder with a six-year sentence, which was later increased to 13 years. He is now serving time in Atteridgeville prison, where he runs a “bible studies” class for fellow inmates. He will be eligible for parole in the year 2023.

Sadly, Reeva will never get a second chance, her beautiful smile cut too short, and her humanitarian efforts robbed from the many women she would have brought joy and relief. Reeva Steenkamp was cremated on February 19, 2013, at the Victoria Park crematorium in a private ceremony attended by family and friends.

On the day Reeva was murdered, she was to deliver a speech at her previous high school. Her mother, June, completed this task for her by reading the speech excerpts. The words she was denied to say were, “It’s that culmination of your person that will leave a legacy and uplift. I hope that you all had an amazing Valentine’s Day and you are spoilt with love and roses and chocolates. Go home and tell your parents, your siblings, your neighbors that they are appreciated, and you will go to bed with a happy heart and an open mind for the future.”

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I write about history, politics and true crime. Not to mention anything else that takes my fancy or newsworthy. "No special talents. Only passionately curious." Albert Einstein

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