SnuffAs anybody who has seen the movie 8mm now knows, a snuff film is a video recording of someone, usually a woman, being murdered as part of violent pornography. What nobody seems to know, is whether these movies actually exist, or whether they're simply the stuff of urban legend.
Sexual predators often have a predilection to somehow record their crimes. According to Roy Hazelwood and Stephen Michaud, in Dark Dreams, child molesters and sexual sadists seem particularly fond of creating a visual documentary of their deeds, although the actual murder is usually omitted. But snuff movies are not merely the recording of sex-related murder. Snuff movies are sold as pornography. While someone like Jeffrey Dahmer took photographs of the men he murdered in his apartment in Milwaukee as he cut them open and dismembered them, posing them in different postures, he did this for his own sexual pleasure. It undoubtedly excited him as he did it, and later he was able to use these photographs to relive these special moments through fantasy and masturbation. Although some of these pictures are available on the Internet today, Dahmer did not record these acts to sell it. Snuff movies, on the other hand, are created with financial profit as a significant motive. Of course, a third party who somehow obtains a recording made by a sexual predator may then sell it as snuff, but technically it is only then that it becomes snuff. Although the same actions are depicted, the distinction is important, since it speaks to significant differences in motive.
Do real snuff movies exist? Many sites on the internet advertise them, but it seems highly unlikely that even a few, if any, of these would be real. After all, it would constitute the best evidence of a crime that is punishable by death in the places that have a death penalty and a life sentence in those that don't. And, as Hollywood has proved time and again, it's not difficult to convincingly portray murder on film. There have been a number of commercial movies about snuff movies, such as Mute Witness, 8mm and the low budget Snuff which, according to Scott Stine in his article 'The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend', popularized the concept in the first place. There has even been a video game called Manhunt, which saw the player as a murderer stolen from his execution by a snuff movie director to star in his next film (even though the developers chose to define snuff as multiple murder and discarded the pornographic aspects). Snuff movies themselves, however, prove much harder to come by.
Several newspapers contacted various experts in law enforcement in South Africa and none of them could confirm an instance of true snuff. Superintendent Martin Aylward, national spokesperson of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS), told Beeld that he didn't know of a snuff movie having been made in that province in the past. Supt. André Neethling, head of FCS in the province of Gauteng, concurred, saying that recordings of sexual crimes have been recovered but never of murder. Sr. Supt. Gerard Labuschagne, head of the Investigative Psychology Unit, had not heard of a snuff movie discovered in South Africa either, but told Independent On-Line of October 16, 2003, that it wouldn't surprise him to find one. "People are killed all the time for no apparent reason. Would it be such a big step to put it on film for resale purposes?"
South African law was caught off guard. At the time of Tanya Flowerday's murder, the Films and Publications Act appeared uncertain about films depicting real murder. In fact, it wasn't stipulated as illegal to own or even import such movies. Since a snuff movie per definition contains explicit and serious sexual violence, it would be unlikely to receive a certificate from the Film and Publications Board, thereby making it illegal to distribute or present publicly. Of course, being involved in the making of the film would translate into complicity to murder at best and would consequently be a crime.
The Nigerian Connection
The investigation took Insp. Steinhöbel into Hillbrow, an area of Johannesburg that once was cosmopolitan in a good sense but has since deteriorated into a cesspool, and into its belly of drugs and prostitution. It led to at least one arrest. Onyebachi Mbanefo, a 33-year-old Nigerian and known drug lord, was taken into custody on October 9, 2003, in Hillbrow. Although he was arrested on drug charges, the Flowerdays were notified of his arrest and a source revealed that he was being investigated in relation to Tanya's murder. The police refrained from any meaningful comment, but the suspect's computer hard drive and several video cassettes were confiscated and sealed in evidence containers.
The criminal element of Nigeria seems to have found fertile soil in the post-1994 free and open society of Africa's southernmost country. Drugs and — oftentimes forced — prostitution are the preferred methods of making money on the streets of South Africa's cities.
During October of 2004, police received information from a girl that her sister was being kept as a child prostitute in Durban in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Following her rescue, police learned that it was part of an organised Nigerian syndicate dealing in drugs and child prostitution. A special task force was formed, including members from the Durban and Johannesburg Child Protection Units. They investigated the syndicate for a month and then began a series of crackdowns.
During the second half of November, 28 child prostitutes were rescued and 67 Nigerians arrested in Durban and Johannesburg. Most of the Nigerians were illegal immigrants. Almost all of the girls were between 10 and 15 years old. Some were lured with money or drugs, some were runaways, some had been sold by their parents, and others were kidnapped.
The syndicate targets the poorer communities. Once they have a girl, she is immediately moved to another city, and the girls are also ferried between the cities of Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein and Cape Town, depending on the demand for sex. Detectives were concerned that girls may even have been taken to Nigeria.
A 14-year-old girl freed in Durban related how she was systematically lured deeper and deeper into debt by a Nigerian drug dealer in Gauteng. When she owed him thousands of rands, he demanded payment. Since she couldn't repay him, she had to work for him. At some point he gave her to other Nigerians until, finally, she ended up in Durban. Here her life consisted of sex and drugs, as she told the Rapport of November 27, 2004: "Our wake‑up call is three rocks [cocaine crystals], which we get each morning for free. Then we have to earn money to buy more rocks. You just want more and more and all the money you get is given for rocks."
Many of the girls are imprisoned in flats where they are controlled through drugs, usually heroin or cocaine. The Nigerians lock them inside a room and always keep the key in their pockets. Here they pimp the girls, easily making R2,000 ($328) a day with one girl, of which she only gets enough to buy the drugs she needs.
Following the revelation that a snuff movie might have been made of Tanya Flowerday, the 3rd Degree team conducted their own investigation into the Nigerian sex trade. They also spoke with a former drug addict who used to be involved in the Nigerian drug scene. He gave the following account:
"The Nigerian dealer will offer you money for the lady friend. They'll normally say, 'At some stage you came in with ... with a friend or a girlfriend'. They'll say, 'That girl you had here last week, I'll offer you a thousand rand cash and cocaine and heroin worth two-thousand rand if you just bring her around.' When you ask what they're gonna do with the lady, they'll say, 'No, we're just gonna chat to her and smoke with her upstairs. We're gonna give her free drugs.' On the one occasion I arrived in time and the lady was crying hysterically. I asked her what happened. She said to me she's just been raped by five guys. I said, 'How'd this happen?' She said, no, she went upstairs and ... they gave her some heroin, some cocaine, the next thing five guys came in, they kept her mouth closed and then raped her."
He also stated that such acts are recorded, using a laptop computer and a camera, often in hotel rooms. "So, yes, they film it." He also claimed to have taken such CDs to the airport or to other Nigerians.
In a world of forced child prostitution and filmed gang rape, is producing a snuff film really such a stretch? In the final analysis, there is only one way to know for certain, and that is to find the tape.
"Blackout'"But then Grimsley changed his story again. He had misled her, he told Insp. Steinhöbel. There was no snuff movie. There were no Nigerians. A variation of his original story, it had only been him.
On June 13, 2003, he had bought heroin for R150 ($24.50) in Hillbrow, which he mixed with tobacco and smoked. Later he also smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. Tanya phoned him from Julian's Bistro, asking him to come and fetch her, which he did. They stopped at his parents' home, so that he could get something to eat to counteract the alcohol he had ingested.
"In the kitchen we began to kiss," he said, according to the Beeld of September 4, 2004. "Before I could put my hands on her buttocks, she pushed me away and said we couldn't go on. I didn't eat and she asked me to take her home."
In Darrenwood, Grimsley stopped his Opel Kadett, ostensibly to apologize to Tanya for his behavior. He tried to kiss her again, but she refused. So he decided to smoke a heroin cigarette instead. Tanya didn't condone drug use, and they argued when she realized that it was heroin he was smoking. She tried to grab the cigarette from him and they wrestled. According to Grimsley, Tanya was shouting at him about the drugs in his car.
And then, Grimsley "completely blacked out", according to The Star of September 1, 2004. "Once I came to my senses, I was seated on top of the deceased, my hands around her throat with one leg of her pants undressed and my pants unbuttoned. I do not know how long I had blacked out."
He realized that Tanya was dead. So he redressed her, pulled her from his car and dragged her to where she was later found.
He had no memory of raping her, beating her or throttling her.
In other words, it's that old favorite, "I don't know what happened. The gun just went off." The problem is that guns can't go off on their own; they need something, usually a finger, to pull the trigger. The problem with Grimsley's heroin-induced blackout is that he would have needed to ingest two to three times the amount of heroin he was used to in order to have a blackout, according to a drug expert who later testified at Grimsley's trial. Another expert, Sophie Ditsi of the Sanpark Rehabilitation Centre, told the Beeld of September 3, 2004, that heroin, a member of the opiate drug family and classified as a depressant, "slows down brain functions and the person doesn't react normally. It leads to tiredness, lethargy and emotional instability. Like someone who drank too much, a heroin user won't just hit someone. How do you rape someone while you're under the influence of heroin? It's impossible."
Then, after the "blackout" and the large amount of heroin still pulsing through his veins, Grimsley managed to find enough sense to redress Tanya's body, place her in a seated position, steal her cellular phone, and throw her jacket from his car some distance away. Pretty organized for someone supposedly out of control only moments before, who now has to deal with this shocking situation.
It's not congruent with the autopsy results either. The nature and extent of Tanya's injuries make it highly unlikely that she had been murdered inside a car, especially a small-sized one like an Opel Kadett. Not only was she badly beaten with a blunt object over numerous areas of her body, but she was raped both vaginally and anally, with enough violence that the pathologist found clear evidence of both sexual assaults. It doesn't seem particularly believable that all this happened not only in a small hatchback car, but while Grimsley was in the midst of a heroin-induced stupor.
So why the story about a snuff movie? "It's an addict's natural instinct to lie," he would later tell the court, according the Beeld of September 7, 2004. "I read about snuff movies in You [magazine]." He didn't want to accept responsibility for his actions and wanted someone else to take the blame. This was also part of the reason for his suicide attempt. "If I was dead, no one would've known what happened," he would tell the prosecutor during cross-examination, according to the same paper. "Everyone would've been in the dark."
Insp. Steinhöbel received a further explanation. Each time she interrogated him about the snuff allegations, she would fetch him from the Johannesburg Prison and take him to the Linden police station's holding cells, where he could see his family.
TrialUntil December 17, 2003, Ronald Grimsley made numerous appearances in the magistrates' court as the case was postponed for various reasons. Then the case was referred to the Johannesburg High Court, where the postponements continued. Throughout this period he remained in custody.
On March 17, 2004, Grimsley was allowed to be sent for psychological evaluation on request of his attorney. On April 19, a trial date was set for August 30. Due to a full court roll, however, the trial would actually only start on the 31st.
Grimsley was charged with murder, rape, indecent assault and aggravated robbery. Although he initially pled guilty, following consultation with his attorney, Charles Thompson, he changed his plea to not guilty, claiming that he was not of sound and sober senses at the time of the crime.
State Advocate Joan Spies argued that Grimsley had become angry when Tanya rebuffed his advances and refused to have sex with him. He then brutally forced himself on her, ultimately killing her. The prosecutor managed to unsettle him during cross-examination, causing him to erupt, "I'll go sit in prison for life! I'll accept twenty-five years!" according to the Beeld of September 4, 2004.
On September 6, according to the Beeld of the next day, Grimsley ended his testimony by saying, "I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Flowerday, If it's your wish that I die, I will."
The Flowerdays responded simultaneously with, "It's too late!"
Later that day Mr Justice Fritz van Oosten ordered Grimsley to undergo psychiatric evaluation for 30 days at the Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital in Klerksdorp. He wanted the psychiatrists to determine the merits of Grimsley's "blackout" defense and whether he had known what he was doing during the murder.
On November 10, Grimsley was sent for another month's evaluation, since only two psychiatrists had evaluated him and the law requires that it be done by three mental professionals.
Internal InvestigationA week into the new year, fresh headlines exploded onto the front pages. This time it had nothing to do with snuff movies, but dealt with police corruption.
Insp. Christelle Steinhöbel was arrested on January 7, 2005.
An informant who had helped her with the Tanya Flowerday case, Heinrich Rheeder, accused Insp. Steinhöbel of defrauding him. The South African Police Service had approved an amount of R12,000 ($1,967) as payment for his work on the case. However, Insp. Steinhöbel had only given him R1,800 ($295). Apparently, he only realized the true amount that he should've received during a visit from other police officers. Rheeder claimed that, instead of the official form, the detective had given him a photocopied page to sign as receipt. The two police witnesses, as required, weren't present. His signature on the form that she had given to the police, confirming receipt of the R12,000, was a forgery.
This wasn't the real beginning of Insp. Steinhöbel's woes, however. In September of 2004 she had granted an interview to a journalist from the women's magazine, Sarie. This was against regulations, since only official police spokespersons may speak with the media, unless explicit permission is granted. Some of her statements in the article also antagonized senior detectives and officials. Consequently, not long after the magazine appeared towards the end of October, she was transferred to another unit, pending investigation.
On May 5, 2005, the fraud and theft charges against Insp. Steinhöbel were dropped, since forensic analysis by handwriting experts had shown that the "forged" signature was in fact authentic. The internal investigation related to the Sarie article, however, remained in place.
AftermathOn May 29, 2005, another internal investigation was initiated against Insp. Steinhöbel, this time because she supposedly did not have the necessary approval for certain warrants she carried out. She was summarily suspended without salary or benefits. Denying the accusations, she decided that she'd had enough. Her marriage had deteriorated, her children had been ridiculed at school, and the police treated her like a pariah. Even though she loved working on homicide cases, after 16 years of service Insp. Steinhöbel "bought" her resignation for R200 ($33). She left for the Free State, where she had grown up, and bought a tea garden and nursery with her mother. Although she doesn't necessarily believe that a snuff movie exists, she does feel that Grimsley did not kill Tanya on his own. However, her plans to follow up on the investigation have been denied.
Ronald Grimsley's trial finally continued on July 25, 2005, more than two years after Tanya's life was taken away from her. Dr. Paul de Wet, a psychiatrist from Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital, testified that he could find nothing to indicate that Grimsley did not understand the difference between wrong and right on the night of Tanya Flowerday's murder. He admitted that blackouts do indeed occur, usually in reaction to an excessive amount of alcohol, but Grimsley's account did not correspond to the nature of such a blackout. For instance, his memory of the events following the murder was almost perfect.
As Grimsley was leaving the court, the torture of the past two years wrenched through Tanya's mother. "Grimsley, can you not die, for God's sake!" she yelled to him according to The Star of July 26, 2005.
The next day, on July 26, Mr Justice Fritz van Oosten found Ronald Grimsley guilty on all four charges, labelling the defendant a "poor and unimpressive witness", according to the Beeld of July 27, 2005. He dismissed the "blackout" defense.
During mitigation, Grimsley told the court that he had fallen three storeys at the age of fourteen and had to be hospitalized for six months. He had to learn how to walk and talk again, and struggled to make new friends. The only peers who accepted him were those who smoked cigarettes and marijuana. That was when he had become involved in drugs. He told the court that he was sorry and again apologized to the Flowerdays. His attorney, Charles Thompson, implored the judge to forego the prescribed minimum sentence and proposed 18 years for the murder, to be served concurrently with the other sentences. Grimsley, he maintained, had exhibited remorse.
Delores Flowerday was not convinced. "He took my daughter's life," she told the media, according to the Beeld of July 27, 2005. "She was eighteen years old and couldn't even drive a car yet. Now he gets a second chance and he's not even sorry. He still says he can't remember what he did to her. All he's sorry about, is getting caught."
Judge Van Oosten seemed to concur. He sentenced Grimsley to life for murder, 18 years for rape, 10 years for indecent assault and two years for theft. The sentences would be served concurrently. "A young girl was callously murdered after a cruel attack," the judge said according to the Beeld of July 28, 2005. "Her rape and indecent assault can only be classified in the worst category of sexual crimes I have seen in my career of thirty years."
Did Ronald Grimsley murder Tanya on his own? Was there a video camera? Is there a tape somewhere? We'll probably never know for certain. Since there appears to be not a single case of an actual snuff film having been found anywhere in the world, it seems unlikely. Although it is possible that Grimsley's life and that of his family may have been threatened, that fear motivated him to first attempt suicide and then recant his claims of Nigerian drug dealers and snuff movies, there is no evidence to support such a scenario.
And Bob and Delores Flowerday? Their beloved daughter, their only child, is dead. Not only was this precious life that they had created together destroyed, but the dreams they had for her had been turned to ashes. They won't see her managing a second branch of the take-away delivery business. Bob won't lead his daughter down the aisle to marry a man who loves her. They won't witness a life being created inside of her, and later hear that little life call, "Grandma! Grandpa!"
A year after Tanya's death, Bob Flowerday told the Beeld of July 23, 2004, "Anyone who says it gets better with time to accept your child's death, doesn't know what they're talking about. It doesn't get better. It only gets worse. You just learn to hide your emotions better."
Note: Dollar equivalencies calculated at $1 = R6.10. This doesn't yield a monetary value that is directly comparable, however.< /EM >
ReferencesDiMaio, VJ & DiMaio, DJ (2001). Forensic pathology (2nd ed.). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Hazelwood, RR & Michaud, SG (2002). Dark dreams. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Stine, SA (1999, May/Jun). The snuff film: the making of an urban legend. Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved January 11, 2006, from the World Wide Web <http://www.csicop.org/si/9905/snuff.html>.
Sue, D, Sue, D & Sue, S (1994). Understanding abnormal behavior (4th ed.). Boston: Hought Mifflin Company.
To recount the story of Tanya Flowerday, I have relied on the following sources:
Tanya Flowerday (2003). 3rd Degree.
Swanepoel, M (2004, Nov). Gewone ma op moordenaar se spoor. Sarie, pp. 62-68.
Swanepoel, M (2005, Sep). Leigh Matthews-saak ruk lewens. Sarie, pp. 68-72.
The electronic archives of Beeld (<http://22.214.171.124/argief/berigte/beeld>), Rapport (<http://126.96.36.199/argief/berigte/rapport>) and Independent On-Line (<http://www.iol.co.za>). The latter also contains articles from the following newspapers: Cape Times, The Mercury and The Star.