Matricide is a relatively rare
crime. There is evidence to suggest that, in most instances, the killer
is excessively attached to his or her mother and the act of murder is a
demonstration of independence. However, Petrus Stephanus Francois
Hauptfleisch, who murdered his mother on Tuesday, 13 January 1925,
appears to have been motivated, at least in part, by greed.
Until he was over thirty,
Haupfleich lived with his mother at Richmond in the Cape. Shortly after
the outbreak of World War 1, he gave up the property he had been farming
and volunteered for the army. He entered active service, was sent to
Europe and fought in the trenches of Europe for four years. He returned
to Richmond in 1919.
By 1925 he was married and had a
young child, but his constant drinking and violent temper drove his wife
to leave him. After the break-up of his marriage, Hauptfleisch went to
live with his widowed mother, Barbara at her house on the outskirts of
At first Hauptfleisch worked at
the local butchery, then he set himself up slaughtering animals on his
own. However, his drinking problem grew so bad that that eventually
neither the bottle stores nor the hotels in town would sell him liquor.
Early in December 1924, this
drinking ban was temporarily rescinded and Hauptfleisch responded by
taking to the bottle once more. On the night of 11 December, he became
drunk and aggressive. His mother was so afraid for her own safety that
she ran to the neighbors house. “Petrus says he’s going to stone me to
death”, she said. Pointing to a pile of stones lying in the garden, she
continued, “He was so angry he threw them on the roof of the house”. Her
neighbour, Mr Peter Theron, was alarmed enough to call the police.
When Constable Strydom arrived,
Hauptfleisch was still aggressive. “Surely you dont believe that old
woman?” he shouted. “She’s of her head!” But Constable Strydom was not
that easily put off. He arrested Hauptfleisch and locked him up in the
police station for the night. By the next morning Hauptfleisch had
sobered up, but he remained bitterly resentful of his mother. When he
got drunk again two days later, he was once again black listed by
Richmond’s Liquor outlets, this time at the insistence of his mother. It
seems that as far as Hauptfleisch was concerned, this was the final
insult. He was left with no alternative but to rid himself of her. Just
two days later he began to make preparations.
Mrs Hauptfleisch was last seen
alive at around 2 p.m. on the afternoon of 13 January 1925, when her
next-door neighbor, Mrs Christina Botes, spoke to her over the back
garden fence. Just after three o'clock, Petrus Houptfleisch strolled
along to the Botes' home and chatted to Joanna, Mrs Botes' twenty year-old
daughter, who was sewing on the front stoep. Ten minutes later Petrus
visited Mrs Jacoba Nieuwoudt who lived directly across the street. Mrs
Nieuwoudt invited him into the house, but he declined, saying that he
was on the his way to the shops to buy sugar for his mother.
At around twenty minutes to four
Petrus arrived at Barend Pienaar’s store. He was in the habit of going
there most days to read the newspaper for about half an hour. This
particular afternoon was no exception. Petrus left the shop just after
four and was not seen for the next hour. He would later say that he
spent this time scouring the hills outside the town in search of a blind
Swiss goat and kid that he had lost. After a long search he had found
the two animals and had taken them to the town’s showground. He then
went to Conradies’ General Store, where he bought the sugar his mother
needed, and some cigarettes for himself. After spending some time
chatting to the owner, Hauptfleisch walked home in the company of Mr
Hendrik Victor. He reached his mother's house at about 5.45 p.m.. He was
later to claim that he had been out of the house between 3.00 and 5.45
This version of events was
contradicted to some extent by Petrus Booysen, the superintendent of the
Indigent Boarding House in Richmond. Booysen saw Houptfleisch outside
his mother's house at exactly two minutes to five. (He was able to fix
the time accurately because two minutes after they had passed each other
in the street, the church clock struck five.) Haupleisch had been in the
house only a few seconds when he ran out into the street again "Oh my
God help!" he screamed and dashed across the street to Mrs Niewoudt's
house “My mother's been burnt,” he shouted, then rushed home again. Mrs
Botes, the next door neighbour, had also heard the commotion. Thinking
that Mrs Hauptfleisch had been taken ill, she went quickly to the house
and followed Petrus inside.
Mrs Hauptfleisch was dead in the
kitchen. She was lying half-naked on her right side on the raised stone
hearth. Her head, which was resting on a pile of ash in the fireplace,
was directly beneath the chimney. Although there was no fire in the
grate, her right side was badly burnt. Petrus tenderly lifted his mother
from the fireplace and placed her body on a small kitchen stool,
propping her elbows up on the hearth. Then he left Mrs Botes and some of
the other neighbours who had been drawn by the commotion, and ran to
notify the police. He went to the house of Sergeant Brooks. While Brooks
set about informing the local magistrate R.W Lambert, and the district
surgeon, Dr J.H Bam, he sent Constable ZJ.C Blom back to the house with
As soon as they arrived,
Constable Blom ordered everyone out of the house while he made a
preliminary examination of the scene. He noted fragments of burnt
clothing on the floor and a cork on a nearby table. There was a small
pile of ash in the grate, within which there was an indentation where
Mrs Hauptfleisch’s head had rested. The ash also contained a burnt
matchbox, matches and several fragments of broken glass. There was no
fire in the stove, and in the oven was a cold plate of cooked liver.
Shortly afterwards, Dr Bram
arrived. Mrs Hauptfleisch’s death had not surprised him. He knew she was
nearing seventy, but she had always been a vigorous, active woman and as
far as he was concerned, she had been in the best of health. Noting that
her hands were semi clenched, which was unusual in a death of this sort,
he asked. “Is this how you found her Petrus?”
Hauptfleisch shook his head.
“No. She was lying in the hearth with her face in the fire. I think she
was trying to burn out the chimney with petrol,” he said.
Using petrol to clean soot from
the chimney was a dangerous job - not at all the thing Dr Bam would have
expected from Mrs Hauptfleisch. Moreover when he glanced up the chimney,
it appeared clean.
When Dr Bam started to examine
Mrs Hauptfleisch body, he felt stirrings of alarm. At first glance the
damage seemed entirely consistent with Petrus's account of the accident
- the hair on the left side of her head was charred and there were burns
on her upper body, left arm, face and neck - but all the post-mortem
lividity patches he observed on her body were in the wrong place. In
this case, these stained patches showed on the back of Mrs
Hautpfieisch's corpse, in the lumbar region and on her heels. If she had
died lying face-down in the hearth, as Petrus claimed, they would have
been on the front parts of her body, The lividity patches on Mrs
Houptfleisch's body therefore indicated that she had died on her back!
At ten o'clock the following morning, Dr Bam conducted a post-mortem on
Mrs Hauptfleisch and discovered that she had neither burnt to death nor
suffered a 'heart spasm' as her son had suggested. She had suffocated.
Dr Bam based his conclusion on a
number of facts. Firstly there were no traces or carbon either in the
old lady’s windpipe or in her bronchial tubes, indicating that she had
not died in the fire. Secondly her lungs were dark-coloured, engorged
with blood and full of air. This suggested that she had not died
instantaneously. Thirdly her blood was black and fluid (uncoagulated) -
both indications of asphyxia. Dr Bam also found evidence of internal
haemorrhage in Mrs Hauptfleisch's lower stomach, a type of injury, which
is usually caused by a sharp blow or heavy pressure to the area in
question, but he could only surmise as to the cause of this injury.
Despite Dr Bam’s conviction that
Mrs Hauptfleisch had been murdered, he was not able to state with
absolute certainty that there had been foul play, because the victims
neck and throat and been to badly charred for any strangulation marks to
show. However later Dr Bam was able to conclude, “From my examination I
could come to only one diagnosis, and that was that the woman died of
Shortly after Mrs Hauptfleisch's
post-mortem, Petrus was arrested and charged with murder. It was
believed that his motive for the crime was simple greed: he was the sole
benefactor named in his mother’s will, and he stood to inherit £600.
Petrus Hauptfleisch's trial,
which was held at the Supreme Court in Cape Town, began Monday, 21
September 1925. The crown, which based its case essentially on the
overwhelming volume of circumstantial evidence linking Hauptfleisch to
the murder of his mother, contended that Mrs Hauptfleisch had retired to
bed for a nap at about 3 p.m on the afternoon of her death, and that her
son had crept into her room and suffocated her, probably with a pillow.
(The internal haemorrhage noted by Dr Bam would have been caused by his
kneeling on her stomach to apply the pressure. The ensuing struggle will
have also explained her clenched hands). Furthermore Mrs van Niekerk,
who had entered the house shortly after the body had been discovered,
had noticed that Mrs Hauptfleisch's bed had been slept in when she went
to get a blanket to cover the body.
The Crown further contended that
Hauptfleisch had wandered around the town in order to establish an alibi,
then had returned to the house at around 4 p.m., carried his mother's
body into the kitchen, and contrived the accidental death scene.
Unfortunately for him, Mr Booysen had seen him in the vicinity of the
house just before 5 p.m. What was more, a few days before the death he
had sent a fourteen year old schoolboy, named Daniel van Niekerk, to buy
sixpence-worth of petrol, yet on the afternoon of the accident, he had
told Dr Bam that he did not know where the petrol was.
Another witness, Mr Conradie,
claimed that, when he had asked Hauptfleisch what had caused his
mother's death, he had replied that, ‘She had been speaking for some
days of burning out the chimney with petrol'. Conradie later remarked
that he had never heard of anyone doing such a thing before.
On Friday, 25 September, Petrus
Hauptfleisch was found guilty of murder. The judge, Justice van Zyl,
turned to the accused before he passed sentence. “Is there anything you
wish to say to the court?” he asked. For a moment or two, Hauptfleisch
nervously stroked his chin and clasped and unclasped his hands, then, as
if pulling himself together, he began to speak in a clear, low voice.
“My lord and gentlemen of the
jury. In this matter my learned counsel has already pointed out to you
the most important facts. I really cannot say anything to supplement his
address. But as this opportunity is afforded me, I would like to say
something about the effect my prosecution has had on me personally. The
crime with which I have been charged, matricide, is one I consider the
most dastardly in the calendar. It is for me inconceivable that any man
with ordinary intelligence, unless he be mentally deranged, could stoop
to take the life of one who conceived his existence, nursed it and gave
him life. It is a crime for which I have had great abhorrence since my
puberty. That, in itself, is sufficient to justify my innocence. The
very fact that I have even been suspected of murdering my mother,
coupled with this prosecution, has during many months of awaiting trial
- about eight months in all - caused me incomprehensible agony and, had
I been guilty of the commission of this crime, I would gladly and
voluntarily have made my confession to gain the punishment which would
have terminated my agonized existence. I was an only son, an only child.
I was spoiled and the result was bad company. All these facts, combined,
strongly stimulated by extraneous influences, turned me out other than
the dutiful son my mother expected. I have no compunction in
acknowledging these facts. For although I am disgraced by being
suspected even of such a crime, I cannot do otherwise in duty to my wife
and child. Although it is a further humiliation, I cannot remain silent.
I think, in analysing the various depositions, that the element of
possibility of the crime is only apparent, while the rest is merely
circumstantial. Such being the case, there is a doubt. I know there is a
doubt. No man is convicted of a crime unless he is conclusively proved
guilty. And I humbly submit that the evidence tendered by the Crown is
too unfounded, too slender, too doubtful to justify a conviction. In
conclusion, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, I humbly commit myself to
the clemency of the court, knowing full well that I shall receive the
degree of justice and mercy that I so humbly and urgently solicit.”
He paused, then added, “It is
not only punishing me, my lord, an innocent man. I am now condemned. It
is not only I who am punished, but my innocent wife and child as well.
They too must suffer.”
“Is that all you wish to say?”
Justice van Zyl asked.
“Yes, thank, you, my lord,”
”Then I have no further
discretion in the matter.”
So saying, he passed sentence of
death on Hauptfleisch.
The convicted man spent 83 days
in the condemned cell, during which time the body of his mother was
exhumed for further investigation. However, the pathologist who
conducted the autopsy could find no reason to argue with the State. On
18 December, 1925, Petrus Stephanus Francois Hauptfleisch was informed
that all his appeals had been turned down. Five days later, at seven
o'clock in the morning on 23 December 1925, he was hanged. He went to
his death protesting his innocence.
POST MORTEM LIVIDITY
Also referred to as hypostasis
or liver mortis - is the process whereby blood drains to the lowest
parts of the corpse as the result of gravity. There it collects and
coagulates in the vessels, causing livid patches or staining on the skin.
Lividity begins immediately after death, but the associated dark patches
on the skin do not normally show for three to four hours. These are
fully evident after twelve hours. However, lividity patches never occur
at those points where the body has been in direct contact with a hard
surface or where the blood flow has been restricted by tight clothing.