Reiger Park toddler Cuburne van Wyk was strangled and burnt alive, a Johannesburg court heard in gory detail on Tuesday.
Nathaniel Katlego Mpoku, also known as “Chicken”, is accused of kidnapping and killing the 3-year-old boy in an informal settlement in Reiger Park, Ekurhuleni, in August last year.
Van Wyk disappeared on August 6 while playing outside with his siblings. His body was discovered by a passer-by at a mine dump in Reiger Park three days later.
Forensic pathologist Dr Akmal Khan told the High Court in Johannesburg, sitting at the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court, that based on his assessment, Van Wyk likely died on August 7 2014, the day after he went missing.
“I think it is the strangulation, with the burning… starting quite soon after the strangulation, or almost simultaneously,” he said.
Haemorrhages to the muscles around the neck, ligature marks to the neck, and haemorrhages to the saliva glands just underneath Van Wyk’s jaw were found by Khan during his autopsy.
70% of body burnt
These injuries, combined with the burn injuries and black soot found in Van Wyk’s airways, pointed to Van Wyk suffering from both causes of death.
Khan, questioned by both prosecutor Annemarie Smith and Judge George Maluleke, said the autopsy was performed on August 11. Van Wyk’s body was found on August 9.
“There were burn injuries to the front of the chest and abdomen as well as the back of the chest, as well as lower legs and left arm,” Khan said.
The only areas not burnt were Van Wyk’s face, neck and right arm, with approximately 70% of the boy’s body burnt.
“What I also noted, is that there were predator injuries to the left upper leg and left lower leg, so it’s like a dog or something like that, a predator,” Khan told the court.
“You can see a chunk of the muscle is missing… and that is after death occurred in the post-mortem phase, when a predator has come and [taken] a piece.”
A blue top was bound around Van Wyk’s neck, tied at the back of the neck. Once Khan removed the top there was an abrasion mark that circled the neck, horizontally aligned, measuring around 60mm in diameter.
He also found an indentation on the left side of the face, and on the left upper scalp, which could have occurred after death.
Blunt force trauma
“And an indentation mark like this could indicate a heavy mark that was pressing against that surface,” he said.
“There was an abrasion on the right side of the face that occurred before death and this abrasion injury would indicate blunt force object trauma.”
Bruising to the back of the head was also found, also due to blunt force trauma. The blunt force trauma was not a factor in the cause of death, nor was there a sign of sexual assault found on the boy’s body.
Maluleke interjected every now and then, probing Khan about the chronology of the injuries that he found, and what the cause of death was.
Mpoku looked on, wearing tracksuit pants and a grey hoodie, hunched over in the dock as both his family and Van Wyk’s listened to Khan’s testimony. The boy’s family showed little emotion as they heard the evidence.
Smith said Van Wyk’s body was found with a stone or rock on his head, and asked Khan his opinion on how the stone impacted on Van Wyk’s body.
“As I can see… the face and neck of the body was covered by a rock with the rest of the body being burnt, with lots of leaves and debris around the body as well, some of which were burnt,” he said.
He suggested that the rock covering Van Wyk’s face and neck prevented them from burning.
No other fuel apart from leaves and branches were thought to have been used for the fire.
The trial continues.