When ballistics specialist Wollie Wolmarans (above) took the stand in the Oscar Pistorius murder case, media watchdogs and public viewers were hoping he would reveal more about the mystery of what happened behind the toilet door in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. But so far, what happened behind the door remains a total mystery and probably always will.
A key witness, Wolmarans has detailed ballistics tests in Court that he carried out for the defense. Involved from the start of the case, he was present when South African Police (SAP) employee, Captain Christian Mangema examined the now-infamous meranti door through which Paralympian super-star Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his gorgeous model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of February 14, 2013.
“What happened behind that door we will never know,” Wolmarans told the Court. But there are things that we do know for sure, and he listed these. He said that we know Pistorius shot four bullets through the door and that four cartridge cases were retrieved on the crime scene – which was in a toilet cubicle in the en suite bathroom of Pistorius’ luxurious double-story home in Pretoria, South Africa.
Wolmarans also told the court that he had retrieved a fragrant of bullet from the toilet bowl, together with a piece of tile, that indicated to him that Reeva Steenkamp was not sitting on the toilet when the shots were fired. In addition her pants were pulled up, and splinters found in her body indicated that she was “near to the toilet door when she was shot.” This, Wolmarans told the court, was “what we have got to build our story around.”
The tile and small bit of bullet from the toilet, which Wolmarans pulled out of the toilet wearing gloves, add to the mystery, not because they were there, but how and when they got there. Adding to the mystery, the bullet fragment he found may or may not have been the bullet that hit the wall and ricocheted back into Reeva, he said. Also, some of the wounds may have been caused by wood splinters and not bullets or bullet fragments.
The work we do is empirical science. It is like building a puzzle. Wollie Wolmarans
Relatively minor wounds on Reeva’s back were certainly not consistent with bullet fragments that were found in the toilet cubicle, he said. Apart from the fact that they were too small to have caused the back wounds, if she had been sitting on the toilet, the bullet fragments could not have hit her back. So he took a similar bullet, melted the core so only jacket remained, and discovered that it would have been too small to do the injury.
Wolmarans who has extensive experience in firearms, said he also did tests on a wooden door at a shooting range and those working with him recorded sounds to compare gunshots with the noise made by a cricket bat striking the door. The defense maintains that the four shots fired by Oscar Pistorius through his toilet door sounded the same as the sounds made by his cricket bat that he used to break down the door after the shooting. They also claim that people were not able to tell the difference between the sounds of the bat and the gunshots. Even though he is not a sound expert (but rather a ballistics expert) and suffers from constant ringing in his ears, Wolmarans said the sounds were very similar. State Advocate Gerrie Nel challenged this assumption saying that the recording of the cricket bat had the clear sound of crickets in the background, while in the gunshot recording the crickets sounded a lot softer, suggesting that the bat recording had been amplified.
Much of Wolmarans’ testimony involved his version of where and how Reeva Steenkamp fell as she was hit by bullets shot through the wooden door by Oscar Pistorius. He said he thought that she probably fell progressively and ended up sitting on the floor with her head next to the toilet bowl. But, “what happened behind that door is purely speculation,” and remains a mystery, said.
By Penny Swift