Jesse Hess was afraid of the relative who has since been identified as a person of interest in her murder, her paternal family has revealed.
“She feared him,” her aunt, Natasha Hess, said on Friday of the man who had spent most of Jesse’s lifetime behind bars for raping a relative.
The man has been linked to the case by circumstantial evidence, police confirmed this past week, but has not yet been charged.
He was arrested this week in a separate rape case after being on the run for two days.
On Friday, the 31-year-old appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on rape and robbery charges following an alleged attack on a 16-year-old girl in Hanover Park on Monday. He did not apply for bail.
Natasha said the man had been in jail since 2007 for raping a close relative. He was released on parole in December last year.
Jesse, 19 and her grandfather, Chris Lategan, 85, were murdered in the family’s Parow flat nine months later.
Jesse’s father, Lance, wore a pained expression as his wife, Audrey, recalled finding her stepdaughter naked and unresponsive in the one-bedroom unit she shared with her grandparents and aunt.
Lance and Jesse’s mother, Brenda who now lives in Florida, divorced when their only child was 3 years old. They shared custody of her until Brenda moved to the US and Jesse went to live with her grandmother, Cathy, and aunt Sandy two years ago.
Lance had known the man, one of Jesse’s maternal relatives, since he was just a child, never thinking the boy would grow up and one day be allegedly linked to the case involving his teenage daughter’s rape and murder.
‘He called me Uncle Lance’
“I saw him when he was a laaitie. He called me Uncle Lance,” he said.
They had rushed from their Parow Valley home to the flat on August 30 after Sandy had phoned to say that Jesse was not answering her phone, the couple recalled.
There, residents told her that Lategan was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Neighbours had seen him through the window after Sandy, who had been at work, raised the alarm when she could not reach either Jesse or him that afternoon.
Audrey, who is slight in stature and Lategan’s granddaughter, gained access to the flat by breaking a glass panel on the front door.
Besides a couch which had been moved, everything inside looked as it should, she explained.
That was until she saw Lategan in the bathroom and Jesse naked on the bedroom floor.
Her stepdaughter was blue in the face, Audrey recalled.
“I just knew she was dead. I don’t want to close my eyes sometimes because I can still see it.”
Jesse, a youth leader in the Church of Nazarene, had been preparing for a sermon she was scheduled to give to the youth in Bonteheuwel that night, Audrey said.
“Her notebook and pencil had been lying on the floor with her earphones.”
The first-year theology student at the University of the Western Cape dreamed of one day becoming a pastor.
Lance spoke proudly of his daughter’s love for God. She had spent most of her time at church and never missed a service.
Lance’s brother, Richard, the family’s spokesperson, said they had for the past three months mourned, fasted and prayed that the perpetrator would be found.
“We made peace after we went for counselling.”
‘Jesse had lived a full life’
Richard said he took comfort in the words of a church leader who told them that although she had died young, Jesse had “lived a full life because of how she had lived, through God”.
Lance said losing his daughter in such a violent manner had changed how he parented his youngest daughter, who is 9 years old.
“I am so afraid for her. I love my children with everything I am. My girls are my everything.”
He smiled as he recalled how he had plaited little Jesse’s hair during her weekend visits.
Audrey, whom he had been dating at the time, pointed out her hair was a mess, but Lance had been proud he had styled his daughter’s crown himself.
“Now, she is in the place she is supposed to be, a better place,” he said.
“Jesse was borrowed to us. She had to go be with her heavenly Father.
“But the way she died, the type of person she was… this is just wrong.”
Lance’s youngest daughter said she missed “everything” about Jesse who had showed her how to apply make-up and braid her hair.
Lance stared at the T-shirts his relatives were wearing. A collage of photos of a smiling Jesse was printed on the front.
He said he had made his peace with the person who had killed his daughter.
“I am not going to say I don’t want to hit him, but that’s not going to help me, or my family.
“The only thing that will make me happy is if the perpetrator is given a couple of life sentences.”