THE 3-IN A BED MURDER

MARIA KREBS: 1987


At about 10 p.m. on the evening of 21 October 1987, Miss Beverly Gaskin, The receptionist at Playmates Escort Agency in downtown Johannesburg, received a telephone call from a woman who said she had given her husband a surprise party and wanted a 'lady' for him. Miss Gaskin asked how many ladies the caller wanted. The caller said she wanted only one and that she was going to sit and watch them. Miss Gaskin then asked the caller for her name and address. “Maria Krebs, 3 Munton Terrace, Bedfordview,” she was told. After confirming these details in the telephone directory, Miss Gaskin phoned back to say that she would be sending along a girl named 'Pat'.

'Pat's' real name was Miss Gertruida Magdalena du Preez. She was known to her friends as Linda. The events that followed were to lead to one of the most sensational murder trials in South African legal History: the so-called 'Three-in-a-bed' murder. It was also a night that 'Pat' du Preez and Maria Krebs will never forget.

According to Miss du Preez, she was taken to the house by her 'minder', George, who was paid R55. At the front door, she was greeted by Maria Krebs and her husband, Ralf. Ralf Krebs was wearing a dressing-gown and his wife a nightdress. The three of them went into the main bedroom where they drank wine together. While Ralf went to fetch another bottle, his wife explained to the call-girl that she (the call-girl) was her husband's birthday present. When Ralf Krebs came in with the wine, he gave Miss du Preez a cash cheque for R120 and told her to first caress his wife and then have sex with him afterwards. He then took off his dressing-gown. Miss du Preez also removed some clothing so that she was dressed in a blouse, panties and shoes. Mrs Krebs was also naked. “I kissed Mrs Krebs over her whole body. Then I kissed Mr Krebs over his whole body. Mrs Krebs sat behind me and kissed my back and breasts.” After this, Krebs had intercourse with Miss du Preez in the presence of his wife. It was at this point in the proceedings, however, that things started to go disastrously wrong. The Krebs had a violent argument, and while Ralf was out of the room, Maria confided in Pat that she was going to kill her husband because he had 'slept around with Coloured women,' and had 'only married me for my money.' Miss du Preez was alone in the bedroom when she heard a loud noise in another part of the house. Maria Krebs came back into the bedroom holding a pistol. “She aimed the gun at me and pulled the trigger; there was a clicking sound,” the call-girl said. Mrs Krebs went out again, locking the door behind her, but Miss du Preez used a telephone in the bedroom to phone the escort agency. She told them to send George for her because a woman was about to shoot someone. Before George arrived, she managed to get out of the house and ran to the house next door. It was just after midnight when the owner, Mr Chudleigh, answered the door. “There was a young lady at the front door who asked me to phone the police as the lady next door was going to shoot her husband,” he said.

While he was on the telephone to the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad, Du Preez left with her minder, George. About ten minutes later, Mr Chudleigh and his wife heard a noise, which sounded like a door slamming. “The next thing there was a rapping on one of the windows,” he said. When they went to the patio, they saw Mrs Krebs sitting naked on a bench. After getting her a dressing-gown, Mr Chudleigh went to get a torch from his car and rushed across to the Krebs' house. Mrs Krebs had changed into one of her own dressing gowns and was in the lounge speaking on the telephone to a friend. Ralf Krebs was lying in the hallway near the front door with a revolver next to him. Mr Chudleigh pushed Mrs Krebs out of the way and telephoned for an ambulance, only to learn that his daughter had taken the initiative and had already called one. Mrs Krebs went into the main bedroom where Mrs Chudleigh joined her, while Mr Chudleigh attended to the Krebs' two children, aged three and five years at the time. “I spent the rest of the time trying to keep them in the main part of the house,” he said. When Mr Chudleigh heard the ambulance in the street outside, he left the house to direct it to the house. When he looked for the revolver next to Mr Krebs' body, he found it had vanished.

While the paramedics tried to revive Mr Krebs, the Bedfordview police arrived, and shortly afterwards a friend of Mrs Krebs. A fireman, Mr Jan Liebenberg, went to speak to Mrs Krebs while the paramedics were busy with her husband. “At that stage I did not tell her he was dead. I didn't think it was the right time. I told her we were still attending to her husband.” Mrs Krebs was crying. “I hope the bastard dies,” she said. When she was later told that her husband was dead she replied, “I didn't mean to shoot him...”.

The trial of Maria Krebs, who was accused of murdering her husband and attempting to murder 'Pat' du Preez, was held at the Rand Supreme Court in Johannesburg, early in March 1989. The presiding judge was Mr Justice D.O. Vermooten. The lurid descriptions of the events of 21 Octobe, 1987 gave a public glimpse into the private world of a call-girl and attracted intense public interest. There was also a small measure of controversy when it was discovered that Mrs Krebs' account of that fateful evening differed in certain key respects from that given by the prosecution's chief witness, 'Pat' du Preez.

According to Mrs Krebs, she spent an uneventful day shopping and collecting her children from school. When she returned home, she had a row with her husband because she had not accompanied him to a lawyer to sign bond papers for a new home they were buying. Then they had gone to the new house together and taken some video footage so that Mr Krebs could send the film to his parents who lived in Germany. Mrs Krebs said that they were happy and excited at this stage because they had something to look forward to. When, at a later stage, her husband had asked what presents he should bring back with him from his forthcoming holiday in Germany, Mrs Krebs said that there was nothing they really needed or wanted, and that he should concentrate on the family first. When asked by her defence counsel why she had raised this topic, Mrs Krebs lowered her head and began to sob quietly. Eventually she composed herself enough to explain that a week before, her husband had confessed to having an affair with another woman. She also found out that he had pubic lice. Although she had been devastated at the time, she claimed that a few days later she had forgiven her husband.

On the evening of 21 October 1987, they put their children to bed just before 8 p.m., watched the news, then went to bed themselves and had intercourse. “My husband told me how much he loved me and I asked how he could hurt me, how he could go with other women? He told me love and sex were two different things and that he would prove to me they had nothing to do with one another. He told me we should get another lady. I didn't believe him because I had just made love to him.”

According to Mrs Krebs, her husband then dialled the Playmates Escort Agency and told her to say it was the Krebs' home and to ask for a lady to be sent for her husband. “I thought it was a joke”, she said. When there was a knock at the door, her husband put on his dressing gown, took some money from her purse, and went to answer. She remained in bed, naked under the duvet. He came back into the bedroom accompanied by Miss 'Pat' du Preez and wrote out a cheque for R120. He then suggested that Miss du Preez caress his wife and have sex with him afterwards. “I was repulsed by the mere suggestion. I have never had a sexual relationship with a female.”

After taking off her clothes, Miss du Preez walked towards her. “I pushed her away and started crying,” Mrs Krebs said. “I begged my husband to leave me alone. I was kicking and shouting and I didn't want to be touched. He pulled down the duvet and tried to open my thighs. He was trying to have intercourse with me and at that stage I told him to go to Pat if that was what he wanted,” which is exactly what her husband did.

At this point, Mrs Krebs became so angry, she hit him on the shoulder with a vase. When he still refused to stop, she picked up the bottle of wine he had brought into the room and smashed it over his head. There was a brief fight, after which Mrs Krebs ran into the bathroom and locked herself in the shower. Her husband went after her. He got hold of a hammer and used it to destroy the shower door. Miss du Preez claimed that the shower door was intact when she left the house. She agreed that the Krebs had had a violent argument and that Mrs Krebs smashed a bottle of wine over her husband's head. “He was shouting and swearing at me. He told me to come out. He said he would kill me. He was furious, angry,” said Mrs Krebs. After failing to get the shower door open, Mr Krebs went away.

Mrs Krebs went back into the bedroom, but there was no one there. She saw her husband's gun lying in a cupboard and picked it up. “I wanted to make it safe,” she explained. “I wanted to look at it to see if it was loaded.” She was still holding the gun when Miss du Preez came into the room. “I didn't threaten to harm or kill Pat,” she said. “I never saw her again after that,” she added. Seconds later, her husband came into the room. Mrs Krebs said that she was so scared of him she ran out of the main bedroom door and down the passage. “I ran down the steps and turned around because the front door was closed. He was at the top of the steps. I told him not to come any closer and to leave me alone. I was holding the gun with both hands against my chest to steady it. Suddenly, there was a loud noise. My husband touched his chest and sighed.” After shooting her husband she ran out into the night. “I was very frightened. I ran to the next door neighbours...”

By 10 March, both the prosecution and the defence had concluded their arguments. Over the weekend that followed, Mr Justice Vermooten retired to consider his verdict. On the morning of Monday, 13 March, he acquitted Maria Krebs of the charge of murdering her husband and found her guilty of culpable Homicide. She was fined R2000 (or one year’s imprisonment) and sentenced to a further three years imprisonment , suspended for five years. She was declared unfit to carry a firearm, but was aquitted of the attempted murder charges. There were gasps of surprise and some spontaneous clapping when Mr Justice Vermooten handed down the sentance. In his summing up, Mr Justice Vermooten said the court believed Maria Krebs version of the night of 21 October 1987, rather than that of Miss du Preez. In his judgement, Mr Justice Vermooten said that Miss du Preez’s evidence was rejected, except where it was corroborated by other witnesses. He said that Miss Du preez was only one witnness and that her evidence was full of contradictions. Her testimony fell short of the requirements for the acceptance of a single witness.

Mr Justice Vermooten also added, “It is an untruth that the money was not the important thing. She said she was prepared to go out to anyone for no money, which is a blatant untruth as this was her livelihood.” Furthermore, he added, there were two facts, which corroborated Mrs Krebs' version of the incident. “Firstly, the broken state of the shower cubicle door showed a vicious attack on her by Mr Krebs, and secondly, she arrived at the neighbour's place naked, which showed a state of extreme shock.”

After sentencing, the court was also told that Mrs Krebs had a previous conviction for possession of pornography. This was mentioned only after sentencing, as it was thought to be prejudicial evidence. In January 1986, she had been fined R300 or 30 days. Mrs Krebs maintained that the offence was committed by her husband but that she had taken the rap on his behalf since he was a German national and stood the possibility of being deported.

And so the three-in-a-bed trial ended, but the story wasn't quite finished. While Maria Krebs did all in her power to retire from the public eye, Miss du Preez first sold her story to Scope magazine and was then interviewed on M-Net's Carte Blanche television programme by Ruda Landman. “I am full of regret,” she admitted. “The trial has changed my life and I have left prostitution behind me.”

Only in France is a crime of passionnel, or crime of passion, a legally recognised defence. In South Africa, a murder committed in a moment of passion is seen as a mitigating circumstance and does not merit special treatment. If the court accepts the view that the crime was committed during a moment of passion, then this usually means that an act of murder is reduced to a lesser charge, such as culpable homicide.

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