Cornelius Johannes Petrus van Heerden
Occupation Railway worker
Born ca. 1909

November 26, 1931(1931-11-26) (aged 22)
Bethlehem, South Africa

Cause of death Suicide
Attack information
Date November 26, 1931
Location(s) Bethlehem, South Africa
Killed 5
Injured 6
Weapon(s) Rifle

Cornelius Johannes Petrus van Heerden was a South African unemployed railway worker who killed five people and wounded six others in Bethlehem, South Africa on November 26, 1931, before committing suicide.[1][2]

Preceding eventsEdit

Like his father, van Heerden was employed as a railway worker, and at the time of the shooting still lived with his parents at their home near Bethlehem.

On November 4, 1931 he was tried and found guilty of six counts of theft by conversion, after his father raised charges against him of defrauding him, though the sentence was suspended due to van Heerden's age and his status of being a first time offender.

In the same month he lost his job, because of frequent, unexplained absences, and one day after his dismissal was summoned to appear in court on charges of negligent driving.[3][4]


On November 25 van Heerden, who supposedly felt persecuted,[5] and according to his parents began to act strangely, travelled to Betlehem, where he stayed for the night and wrote several letters, including to his father, his girlfriend, and to the police, writing: "I just want you to know that though you now contemplate prosecuting me, you will probably have to prosecute my corpse. The weapons I will use are stolen and with them I am going to make a mess among the things [the natives], so you can go to Hell."

The next morning van Heerden bought fifty rounds of ammunition for his father's rifle, as well as several cartridges for a revolver, and then visited T. S. Lessing, an acquaintance of his, whom he told that: "I want to shoot a kaffir before I die, otherwise my soul will not rest." He also showed Lessing a handful of cartridges, noting: "You watch, there is going to be bloodshed before I appear in court."

Afterwards van Heerden returned home, took his father's rifle, as well as a revolver, and told his brother that he would go out for a bit of shooting. At one point he asked for Dawie Viljoen, a farmer who lived at Bethlehemspoort, not far from the van Heerdens. It was speculated that van Heerden hated Viljoen for laughing about him when he fell off a ladder, and wanted to kill him and take his car.[6]

Around noon van Heerden stopped the car of commercial traveller John Edward Darby, who was travelling on the road from Bethlehem to Reitz,[7] and killed Darby with a shot to the head. He then pushed the body over to passenger seat, and drove back towards Betlehem.

On his way van Heerden shot and wounded a native woman, and also fired at a group of railway workers, wounding two of them, while searching for his father's group, probably with the intent to kill him. When he was unable to find his father van Heerden threw a wallet containing his farewell letters into the road and drove on.

After killing three natives he eventually came across Antonie Michael Prinsloo, a former commandant of the Boer War, who supervised the planting of trees along the road to Bethlehem near Loch Lomond. Van Heerden killed him, and also wounded two of the native workers.

By that time police was already notified and finally caught up with him. A police car pursued van Heerden for four miles, until he reached Liebenberg's Vlei, where he found hmself trapped on the road due to flooding. When police approached his vehicle he shot himself in the head with his revolver.[3][4][8]


  • John Edward Darby, 50, chairman of the Natal Commercial Travellers' Association and vice-president of the South African Commercial Travellers' Association
  • Antonie Michael Prinsloo, 60


Since the town council refused to permit his burial at the same cemetery as Antonie Prinsloo, van Heerden was buried alongside the Bethlehem - Reitz railway track.[9]


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