Ex-lovers guilty of murder
30 August 2019 | Justice
Rachel Rittmann (48) and her former lover, Rhyno du Preez (35), have been found guilty of plotting the murder of her husband, Rudolph Henry Rittmann, in Gobabis six years ago and then dumping his body and setting his car alight.
High Court Judge Christie Liebenberg yesterday convicted the two now seemingly estranged former lovers of murder, conspiracy to murder and attempting to defeat or obstruct the course of justice.
He acquitted them of robbery with aggravating circumstances, but convicted Rittmann of theft because she was found in possession of her husband’s cellphone and wallet after her arrest.
The two had met on Facebook in May 2012 when Du Preez was 28 and Rittmann was 42, and estranged from her husband at the time. She had later returned her husband, with whom she was living at the time of the murder on 23 August 2013.
In his judgment, Liebenberg said the motive for the murder was likely twofold: financial gain and making room for the couple’s relationship with Rittmann’s husband out of the way.
Rittmann and Du Preez had both been suspended from a cash-loan company months before the murder, on allegations of fraud and theft of close to N$200 000. Rittmann had been arrested and was out on bail at the time of the murder.
In the week before the murder, Rittmann had put in motion changes to a joint will and a life-insurance policy from which she anticipated to benefit on the death of her husband.
The judge further noted that with Rittmann’s husband dead, he would be “out of the way”, allowing the former couple to continue their relationship. “This they did,” he said.
Liebenberg said although the two accused had given different versions of the events leading up to and following the murder, the evidence “overwhelmingly favoured” Du Preez’s version.
Du Preez admitted that he had stabbed Rudolph Rittmann in his bed on 23 August, but said the plot to kill him had been masterminded by Rachel Rittmann, and that he was vulnerable to her instructions because of his deep feelings for her. Nevertheless, he admitted to the court that they both plotted the murder and carried out that plan together.
Rittmann denied having been involved in the plot to kill her husband, and placed the blame squarely on Du Preez. She justified her involvement by claiming that she was afraid of Du Preez, who had acted violently towards her, and that she feared he would blame her for the murder.
Du Preez admitted that he had stabbed Rittmann’s husband multiple times in the chest, while Rittmann, who had brought him the knife, stood by.
She had ensured that her daughter and tenant would not be at home, and that her husband was asleep when Du Preez arrived.
Together they cleaned the bedroom in which the murder took place, bundled her husband’s body into his bakkie, and then Du Preez drove the car to a spot on the main road between Gobabis and Windhoek near Kapps Farm.
He poured petrol into the vehicle and set it alight with the body inside, including towels and bed linen from the crime scene, in an attempt to stage an accident and cover up the murder.
They two were arrested on 1 September 2013, during an early-morning police raid in which they were found together in bed at a house in Windhoek, with Rittmann initially trying to hide beneath the covers.
Liebenberg said Rittmann’s version, in which she denied having been involved in the plan to kill her husband, and that she was forced to participate due to her fear of Du Preez, was not “borne out by her conduct after her husband’s killing.”
Liebenberg said she remained in contact with Du Preez after the murder, exchanged Sim cards to avoid their calls being traced, and fabricated evidence of her husband’s health in order to create the impression that her husband had suffered a heart attack while driving.
Liebenberg emphasised that Rittmann had failed to take any opportunity to report the crime to the police, neglected to call for help and later denied any knowledge of the matter when the police contacted her.