2 August 2021
Jana Marx on the making of true-crime series Devilsdorp
I tremble slightly from sheer nerves and excitement. “Are you ready?” asks the director. I nod slightly, while the make-up artist applies powder to one last shiny spot to my face.
David Enright, director of the production team IdeaCandy, flips through his notes. This is my first day of filming Devilsdorp, Showmax Originals’ first true crime docuseries.
The series is about the 11 murders between 2012 and 2016 that shook Krugersdorp and sent shock waves through the rest of South Africa. Eventually, all 11 murders were linked to Cecilia Steyn and her cult, Electus per Deus, which means “chosen by God”.
Large camera lenses focused on me, lights and a microphone strategically placed on my chest, make me very aware that I am a rookie in this extremely professional television industry.
But I have a story to tell. After all, Martin Luther King Jnr said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The Krugersdorp Killings case, or Appointment Murders as it became known, matters a lot to me. It is important to me that the victims do not just disappear into the country’s homicide statistics.
I shoot up a quick prayer.
“Project C, take 1, Jana Marx.” The sound of the clapboard two inches in front of my face makes me bounce at least a a centimeter high and my supposed silent prayer is concluded with a loud “blikemmer” instead of “amen”.
I blink my eyes to recover, and start to tell the story, beginning with the events that had been brewing in Krugersdorp for years, and that would eventually result in 11 or more murders. The one cameraman’s big eyes remind me that the events are so bizarre that it could just as well have been fiction.
I still get emotional when I talk about it as I’ve gotten to know the victims through their families over my years of reporting on the case. The Appointment Murders story has become part of me.
When I walked into the High Court in Johannesburg in May 2018 to cover the events as a court journalist for Netwerk24, I could not have dreamed that a book, and later a television series, would follow.
As a journalist, it was extremely important to me that the series should reflect the true events. After all, I was in court every day from the murder trial and did research for months before the book, The Krugersdorp Cult Killings: Inside Cecilia Steyn’s Reign of Terror, was published. IdeaCandy luckily shared my vision.
I soon got used to the clapperboard, words like call sheet and camera speed, and to strategically plan breaks because when we work, we work.
As a consultant for Devilsdorp, I assisted the team and the producers behind the scenes with materials, contacts and suggestions.
In front of the camera, however, I tell the story. IdeaCandy has recorded a wide variety of interviews to give different people a chance to share their version of events.. But, as a journalist, if one person says it’s raining, and another says the sun is shining, I can’t just accept both versions – I have to go out and see for myself what the truth is. So my role was to make the story flow and highlight the facts in the different versions.
Devilsdorp, a brand-new presentation of well-known events
As a journalist and author of The Krugersdorp Cult Killings, I am satisfied with the accuracy and authenticity of the production. As a fan of all that is an international crime series, I think this production can compete on a global level in terms of quality.
There is video footage that no on in the country – me included! has ever seen before.
The producers have managed to present a difficult crime story with a variety of intrigues professionally, accurately, simply and strikingly. It is also presented with the necessary compassion towards the victims.
I was immensely impressed with some of the exclusive interviews they were able to get. There is also video footage that no one in the country – me included! – has ever seen before.
People always wonder how Steyn managed to manipulate the members of her cult, who had normal careers in, for example, the education or financial sector, to commit the gruesome murders on her behalf. Devilsdorp zooms in on the psychology behind these people’s behaviour – and not in a way that justifies any crimes.
Devilsdorp is definitely not meant for sensitive viewers or young children. It’s strange and upsetting, but you can’t get enough of it. You want to know more. You want to understand better.
I commend IdeaCandy and Showmax for an excellent true crime series that puts South Africa on an equal footing on the international playing field of the television industry. I also praise every brave family member of the victims, who gives a voice to their loved ones in these interviews.