At four A.M. on February 14, Detective Hilton Botha, a 24-year veteran of the South African Police Service, was awakened by a phone call from his colonel. “Oscar’s shot his girlfriend,” Botha told his wife, Audrey, after hanging up. She didn’t have to ask who that was. “We all know Oscar,” she told me a month later in a Johannesburg café, where we sat with her husband. The whole world knows Oscar Pistorius, who overcame amputation of both legs when he was an infant to become the Blade Runner, competing at the age of 25 against able-bodied runners at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But Audrey Botha also knew him as the hotheaded youth her husband had arrested for assault in 2009, after he had been accused of slamming a door so hard on a female guest at one of his parties that it caused severe injuries. (Pistorius denied the allegation, and the charge was dropped.)
Fifteen minutes after the call, Hilton Botha was at Pistorius’s home in the gated, high-security community of Silver Woods Country Estate, in Pretoria, one of the country’s three capitals, 30 miles north of Johannesburg. One of the first things he saw when he walked in the door was the body of Reeva Steenkamp, a beautiful, blonde 29-year-old model and reality-TV star, who had been shot three times by Pistorius, her boyfriend of four months. “There was a lot of blood, and I saw the body at the bottom of the staircase covered in towels,” said Botha. Minutes after the shooting, Pistorius had phoned the manager of the gated community, asking him to call an ambulance. Then he carried Steenkamp down the staircase from the bathroom, “her head and arms dangling,” according to a later newspaper report, and laid her on the floor. He reportedly gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and someone attempted to tie a tourniquet around her arm to stop the bleeding from one of the gunshot wounds. “She was still breathing, making a gurgling sound,” Botha recalled a witness saying. But a doctor who had rushed over from his nearby house said, “There’s head wounds—it’s not going to help,” added the detective. “And then she stopped breathing.