On the 27th of May, 2017, the 21 year old student, Hanna Cornelius and her friend, Cheslin Marsh, were hi-jacked and kidnapped in front of a block of flats in Stellenbosch during the early hours of the morning. Armed with a screw driver and a flick-knife, Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons and Eben van Niekerk forced Hannah between the front seats of her blue Citi Golf which she inhered from her grandmother. Cheslin was forced into the backseat between the rest of the thugs. After driving around for a while, the abductors stopped and forced Cheslin into the boot of the car. They drove around for another hour or so and stopped in a secluded area in Kraaifontein where Cheslin was forced out of the vehicle and made to lie down with his face on a brick. A severe beating with bricks followed and he was left for dead. This because he gave the gang the wrong pin number to draw money from his account at an ATM.
He miraculously survives this attack but would only regain consciousness the next day, fully remembering every detail of what happened to him and Hannah, but totally unaware of what the abductors did to his friend. While Cheslin was out cold, Hannah was taken to a secluded paintball site where she was gang raped. She was then forced back into the car, driven to a farm road next to a stream and a vineyard and dragged away from the car after they stopped. She was stabbed in the neck after they dropped a large rock on her head. They simply left her dead body in the middle of nowhere, drove away and went on to terrorize and attack two more woman in Kraaifontein, using Hannah’s car, before being spotted and arrested within eleven hours of abducting Cheslin and Hannah.
It is one of those horrific stories with South Africa’s name attached to it, which made international headlines and were followed by millions of people worldwide. Anthony Molyneaux is a senior video journalist at TimesLIVE, a person who covers dozens of brutal crimes and their resulting court cases, but Hannah’s brutal murder somehow affected him more than others. In 2018 he produced an award-winning video which mapped out Hannah’s last hours in great detail:
Molyneaux decided to return to the case in order to create a more detailed account of her life and the crime that destroyed her family by means of a documentary. The result was Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story – a very detailed and respectful account of the events that took place. By using a drone he re-traced the route of the killers, giving a detailed, albeit ominous step-by-step sequence of events. Alongside an interview with the survivor, Cheslin Marsh, Last Blue Ride also features CCTV footage from the night alongside a recreation of that hell-ride, and is narrated Anthony Molyneaux himself, who also directed the doccie. His intention with the film was dual in purpose: most importantly to honour the memory of Hannah Cornelius. Again, this was done tastefully. Despite the harsh and painful detail, you won’t find any hint of sensationalism, but it is truly gut wrenching. You will feel a mixed bag of sad and angry watching this. Secondly, his aim was to highlight the challenges surrounding the the difficulties South Africa faces with rehabilitating criminals within the South African prison system. This is a massive problem. During court proceedings, it has come to light that the attackers were members of the notorious prison Number Gangs. Last Blue Ride features interviews with journalists, a criminologist and ex-gang members, looking deeper into the Numbers gang and the attempts that are made try to understand why the recidivism rate (rearrests, reconviction and return to prison) in SA is thought to be as high as 87%. One tends to feel defeated to a measure, once presented with these shocking stats…
Just at the beginning of this week, we talked how Die Antwoord filmed a movie in Cape Town glorifying gangsterism towards the end of 2018, making use of real members of The Numbers gang as cast members, as well as all the horrible things that went down behind the scenes – something that certainly doesn’t help addressing this massive problem. Last Blue Ride shows the true life consequences and the unbearable life that violent crime and gangsterism leaves in its wake. People’s lives are constantly destroyed. Ten months after Hannah’s death, her mother went for a swim in the ocean, never returning. Hannah’s father, Willem Cornelius, was now left alone with his autistic son…
Hannah’s father stated during the court proceedings:
“Me and my son are not a family – we are the survivors who live in the ruins of what once was.”
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