A university student gang-raped and murdered in South Africa last year, suffered such powerful violence against her skull, she is likely to have ‘died instantly’, a court heard today.
Hannah Cornelius, 21, was carjacked by four men as she was dropping off fellow student Cheslin Marsh, 22, at his flat in Stellenbosch, west of Cape Town, after a night out in May 2017.
Mr Marsh was locked in the boot, after which three of the men dragged Ms Cornelius into some bushes at a vineyard and raped her, before stabbing her in the neck and crushing her skull with a large rock.
Murdered: Hannah Cornelius, 21, was raped and murdered in Stellenbosch, South Africa, after she and her friend were carjacked by four men in May, last year
‘The skull is made of very strong bones. It is not easy for a skull to break or crack, unless a lot of power is used to break the skull,’ state pathologist Dr Deidre Abrahams told Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
Describing the sexual assault, Dr Abrahams told the court it ‘would have been a very painful experience to the person,’ News24 reports.
Both the trauma to the head and the stab-wound in Ms Cornelius’ neck were fatal, however Dr Abrahams concluded that the blunt violence which cracked her skull is the most likely cause of death.
Vernon Witbooi, 33, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Nashville Julius, 29, and Eben Van Nieberk, 28, were all in court today to face a string of charges including murder, kidnap, robbery and rape.
Prosecutors claim the four men surrounded Ms Cornelius’ VW Golf, put a screwdriver to her chest through the open window and put a knife to the back of Mr Marsh and threatened to kill him.
Pure evil: Describing the sexual assault Ms Cornelius suffered, a state pathologist told the Western Cape High Court it ‘would have been a very painful experience to the person’
Four men Vernon Witbooi, 33, Geraldo Parsons, 27, Nashville Julius, 29, and Eben Van Nieberk, 28, face a string of charges including murder, kidnap, robbery and rape (pictured)
Cornelius and Marsh were chatting in a blue Volkswagen Citi Golf (pictured right) when they were approached by four men during the hijacking
Shocking: Ms Cornelius was dragged from her car and raped by at least three of the men, before they stabbed her in the neck and crushed her skull with a large rock
Three men made Mr Marsh (pictured after) put his head on a rock then battered his skull with house bricks until they thought he was dead
Mr Marsh was robbed of cash and his phone and locked in the car boot and then the four men drove to a drug dealers home to buy drugs and smoked crystal meth.
Ms Cornelius was ordered into the back seat before they drove out of Stellenbosch and pulled over near a local vinyard.
They reportedly dragged Mr Marsh out of the boot and made him lay his head on a rock on the ground before battering his skull with bricks until they thought he was dead.
Mr Marsh recovered consciousness the following day, and staggered to a nearby home suffering severe head injuries and a broken arm to raise the alarm about Ms Cornelius.
Unknown to him her body had been found earlier several miles away dumped by the roadside and a huge police search was already underway for him and the gang.
Ms Cornelius, the daughter of a local magistrate Willem Cornelius and his late lawyer wife Anna, was described as a ‘brilliant student’.
She was in her second year at Stellenbosch University studying for a BA in Humanities when she was gang raped and murdered.
Distraught fellow student Mr Marsh broke down in tears repeatedly as he told how they were hijacked and he was locked in the boot while Hannah was kept inside the car.
He said they had been out for a few drinks and to a dance and said he was going to use his skateboard to get home but Hannah insisted on driving him in case he was robbed.
A witness who found Marsh said that Marsh was ‘barefoot and covered in blood, completely disorientated and didn’t know where he was’
Mr Marsh said when they pulled up the gang pounced threatening to stab Hannah to death with a sharpened screwdriver and him to death with a knife placed at his back.
He described how they were driven to a suburb of Cape Town called Kraaifontein, some 11 miles from where they were hijacked in Stellenbosch and he was pulled from the car boot.
He said: ‘I lay down on the ground as they told me and put my head on a rock. I closed my eyes and I prayed. The two men were standing over me with bricks in their hands.
‘I lost consciousness and when I woke I was in horrible pain, everywhere pain. When I last heard Hannah talking her voice was very soft and I could tell she was scared’.
He managed to stagger to a nearby house covered in blood and raise the alarm.
Mr Marsh was so traumatised he never returned to his studies and is now deaf in one ear as a result of his injuries and vivid scars could be seen on his head as he gave evidence.
One of the men accused of the murder of Ms Cornelius had his confession made the day after his arrest read to the court and said the gang went into town ‘to see what they could get’.
Ms Cornelius (right) was a straight A’s student in her second year at Stellenbosch University where Mr Marsh (left, after he was beaten) also attended
After a high speed chase the men are seen on CCTV leaping over a ditch (Pictured) to evade authorities before eventually being caught.|The other two suspects were eventually arrested
Witbooi alleged the other three took Mr Marsh out the boot while he had a ‘smoke’ and into the bushes and said they told him they had tied him up and left him to be found.
He said he was ‘only after money’ and said after Mr Marsh was left for dead the gang drove off and later took Ms Cornelius into bushes but denied any part in her rape and murder.
Witbooi said that 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’ he said.
The gang then high on drugs went on a robbery spree in the hijacked car robbing at least three women before the stolen 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.
The latest crime figures in South Africa revealed that 56 people are murdered a day and that 110 people are raped a day and that there are 45 carjackings a day.
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