British family reunion barbecue in South Africa turns into bloodbath

Retired David Thomas, 67, wife Brenda, 61, and close friend Shaun Vorster, 51, were tackled to the ground and tied up as victim Heila Kilian, 63, died before them from a single shot.

A Brit has described the harrowing moment a family reunion barbecue turned into a bloodbath when five armed men attacked his South African home and shot his sister-in-law through the heart.

Retired David Thomas, 67, wife Brenda, 61, and close friend Shaun Vorster, 51, were tackled to the ground and tied up as Brenda’s sister Heila Kilian, 63, died before them from a single shot.

Despite the horrific scene, devout Christian Brenda told their attackers that God still loved them – quoting scripture with a knife to her throat.

The group was enjoying a barbecue at 10pm in the back garden of their Questus Lighthouse home near Stilbaai, in the Western Cape when suddenly the men in masks and boiler suits pounced.

Father-of-two David was dragged into the darkness, had his head smashed repeatedly against a brick wall, had a gun put to his head and was told by his attackers they “hate whites”.

South African born wife Brenda – who met David when she was working as a school teacher in Dubai and he was working for a US corporation – pretended to be dead and lay on the floor.

The attackers did not fall for it though, beating her and putting a knife to her throat.

They threatened to kill her as they tied her up and all three feared they would all die that night.

Just half an hour before the horrific attack David had taken video that recorded the last moments of Heila laughing and giggling with sister Brenda as they toast each other with red wine.

Both play up for the camera and tease Shaun to smile for the video which David is filming as the embers of the food cooked in Heila’s honour finish off the meal they were never to eat.

Two bottles of red wine are seen open on the table as they prepared to dine.

Minutes later five men stepped out of the darkness, one raises a revolver and shoots Heila dead before attacking David, Brenda and Shaun.

David, from London, said: “My feet and hands were tied up and then tied to each other and I was trussed up like a turkey and gagged and then this robber put his gun up to my head.

“He said ‘I hate whites’ and I thought that was it and was just waiting for the bang from the gun to kill me but it never came. But the beatings and threats went on for hours and hours.

“My wife and I are devout Christians and we bought this small holding to develop it into a venue for uplifting people through music and song and art in the image of how we both see life.

“Even with a knife at her throat my wife was still quoting the scriptures to these men telling them that God still loved them – I have never seen anything like it. She was just so brave.

“We called this homestead the Questus Lighthouse and set up a coffee shop here. Brenda and I are musicians and artists and our plan was to turn this into a tranquil retreat from life.

“The four of us were enjoying a braai (barbecue) and having a drink. It was a lovely evening and then these men came round the corner and one of them just shot Heila dead through the heart.

“I didn’t see it myself as I had been bundled to the ground and was having my head beaten against a wall and when I was threatened with knives and guns and was sure I was going to die.

“They had triangular yellow masks on under balaclavas and orange boiler suits and it was almost like they were in uniform.

“The three of us that were still alive were dragged in different directions, beaten and tortured with the threat of death from knives and guns. I didn’t know if my wife was still alive.

“We do not have money here and I kept telling them that. But they had information about Shaun and kept hitting him with a rock until he opened his safe and there was R40,000 (£2,350) in cash in there.

“They took that, two rifles, a shotgun and pistol and threw it into my bakkie (station wagon) which they drove off in. They were headed back to Cape Town judging by the way they were going”.

Unknown to David, Brenda had managed to untie herself and jumped over a steep ledge behind the house 3 metres onto the hard Earth and begun running through the bush in the pitch black to safety.

David said: “She ran a quarter of a mile through the harshest vegetation you can imagine with snakes and scorpions out there and jagged rocks and thorns and even got through a barbed wire fence.

“These five guys left after about two hours of putting us through hell and convincing us were going to die but then they left . Shaun said although tied up he was going to wriggle to the neighbours home.

“How he got there I don’t know but he managed to wake them up banging on the door.

“They raised the alarm and the South African police turned up and when Brenda saw it was safe she was able to shout out in the dark and let them know where she was and was rescued.

“Shaun was brought back to the house and he told me that Heila had been shot dead. It was a single shot through the heart. She died instantly. She had not offered them any resistance.

“I assumed all the way through my wife was dead as well but what I found out later what with her being threatened with death with a knife and a gun and escaping is that she went through hell.”

The retired engineer waited until he was sure that the five men had left and wriggled into the kitchen and found a serrated kitchen knife he used to begin cutting through his bonds with.

David said: “The next thing Shaun comes in and says : ‘Heila has been killed but Brenda is OK’. I was in total shock as Heila and Brenda were sisters and they were just so close.

“Brenda hadn’t seen her older sister for over a year and was overjoyed when she had come down from Johannesburg and they were enjoying their second day with an evening braai.

“She has been taken away from us and from her wonderful family,” he said.

Heila leaves four children Eugene, 45, Anton, 44, Marika, 43, and Zane, 37, and was married to Hein, a retired South African Police Colonel and former Commander of the countries riot police.

The ex-police chief had stayed at the family home in Springs, near Johannesburg, so that his wife could spend a fortnight away with her sister and was said to be devastated last night.

Distraught David added: “Brenda and I are coping OK but the tears will come at the funeral.

“My wife and I are a private people and devout Christians who only look to help and support others.

“There was no need for a life to be taken as we were not able to put up a fight,” he said.

The murdered woman’s daughter Marika, who lives with her parents in Springs, said: “My mum was known to everyone as “luvvie” rather than her name as that is the sort of person she was.

“Everyone loved her. She was like the sunshine in the room and was the most lovable person ever. She was all about family and keeping the peace and the love in the family unit.

“In all honesty the only little bit of peace we have is that she never suffered and that she died a hero because when those men took her life it meant in losing her life she saved the other three.

“My mother would never have been able to endure the torture and the beating and the fear her sister did and would not have had the strength to get herself free and the courage to run for it.

“She would have ended up in a mental institution after going through what the others did and I am thankful to God that he took her away from that suffering and too her to a safe place.

“If you look at that last video you will see she was in a peaceful and loving environment with her sister and people she loved and the next moment she was in heaven.

“My father is devastated as she was his rock and we are all in a bad place,” she continued.

“My father was for many years the Commander of the unit that tackled any riots in South Africa and he dedicated his life to enforcing the law and then loses his wife like this,” she said.

David has two sons from a previous marriage Peter, 31, and Nathan, 34, who live in the UK and Brenda who he married 5 years ago has a son Brendan, 34 from a previous marriage.

The five farm attack suspects were caught refuelling the Bakki at a local petrol station and were believed to be heading for Cape Town, about a four hour drive away.

Police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said: “Preliminary investigation and witness reports reveal the owner of a nursery and three friends were enjoying themselves at a garden braai.

“The braai was situated in the back of the house when they were accosted by five armed suspects whose faces were covered with balaclavas and all of them wore orange overalls”.

Witnesses said the men opened fire “without warning”‚ and Kilian was hit and died on the scene during the attack on Monday night this week.

Pojie said two male victims were then overpowered and handcuffed by the assailants but another female victim managed to untie herself and flee into the bushes and she was rescued later.

He said: “The suspects meanwhile ransacked the house and broke open the safe and fled with an undisclosed amount of cash and four firearms as well as a collection of hunting knives”.

The suspects fled in the farm owner’s white Toyota Hilux registration number CCC 12419.

Capt Pojie said:“Preliminary investigation reveals that the bakkie was later spotted refuelling at a petrol station indicating that the suspects were en route to Cape Town after this crime”.

White farmers in South Africa believe they are being deliberately targeted like those in Zimbabwe in an effort to scare them off the land and that the Government is turning a blind eye.

The last available farm attack figures made available by the South African police are for the year 206/17 which shows 74 farmers were murdered and that there were 638 attacks on farms.

Last year British couple Sue Howarth, 64, and husband Robert Lynn, 66, were put through an horrific attack on their smallholding in Dullstroom, in the North East of South Africa that lasted hours.

They were both tortured with blow torches before both were shot in the head and left for dead. Robert survived but his wife died in hospital.

Photo: David Thomas, 67, and wife Brenda, 61 suffered a terrifying ordeal 


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