The first thing Hazel Kidson did on entering the Johannesburg courtroom where she is standing trial for murdering her husband was reapply her lipstick.
Then the bejewelled 52-year-old sat clutching her miniature Bible. “I always carry it with me,” she later explained.
After more than a year in jail, she was dressed to the nines in a black lace shirt and short black skirt, and insulated from the courtroom chill by a smart tartan cape with velvet trimming.
Kidson, a habitual gambler, is accused of smashing the skull of her retired headmaster husband, Barry Kidson (53), with a rubber mallet and stabbing him with a knife during a frenzied attack at their home in Roodeport in Januuary 1996. She has pleaded not guilty.
It took police more than a year to gather enough evidence to arrest her – due largely to a taped confession surreptitiously obtained by Ashraf Alli Rabaney, a gambling friend who said he witnessed the brutal slaying.
Rabaney, who turned state witness in return for immunity from prosecution, said he saw the sprightly housewife clubbing her husband to the ground in their driveway after she phoned and asked him to come to the house that night.
The court heard that he struggled with Kidson for the hammer but she ran into the garage and returned with a knife, which she plunged into her husband of 30 years as he lay writhing on the ground.
“She was in a really frantic state,” said the taxi driver-cum-professional gambler. One of the blows sliced open Barry Kidson’s ear and another slashed an artery in his neck, sending blood gushing into the air.
Rabaney, who has known Kidson since he met her 10 years ago at the Marula Sun casino near Pretoria, said he felt sick and turned his head away at the sight. “I was in a state of shock. She placed the raincoat, hammer, kitchen knife and a can of Doom in my hands. I put them in my car, took off and went home.”
He explained that Kidson had asked him to get rid of the blood-stained evidence, which he dumped in a stream near his house in Lenasia. The prosecution alleges that she then staged an attempted hijacking for the benefit of neighbours and the police.
But it was the second time that Kidson had escaped unharmed during an attack on her husband, and detectives became suspicious. The first was in August 1994, when Barry Kidson was assaulted with golf clubs inside the house.
In that case, Kidson told police she managed to lock herself in a bedroom when three men walked through the front door. Her husband suffered brain damage and had a metal plate inserted in his head.
The incident forced his early retirement from Constantia Kloof Primary School and left him a broken man who stooped, drooled and slurred his words.
Rabaney said Kidson had pestered him continually before the first attack to kill her husband, because she had lost about R50 000 of his (Barry Kidson’s) money while gambling. He claimed she asked him again in December 1995, two months before the murder.
During day three of the trial, defence counsel Andr Knoetze tried to have the taped confession – recorded more than a year after the murder – ruled inadmissible on the grounds that it infringed Kidson’s constitutional right to privacy.
Judge Edwin Cameron ruled that the evidence, obtained from a hidden police tape recorder carried by Rabaney, would not jeopardise her chance of a fair trial.
In a transcript of the conversation read to the court, Kidson admitted killing her husband and seemed convinced that she had successfully evaded detection.
“They are shelving the case. They have nothing, that’s why,” she is alleged to have said after Rabaney told her the police had become suspicious of him.
“They can’t find anything, they are fishing. If they knew anything, those guys would have been here … You are innocent. You are not to break now … It was me. I have done it.”
Kidson appeared to brag about having rebuffed a woman who tried to blackmail her, by offering to take her to the police. She allegedly told Rabaney to keep his cool. “They tried to frighten me and I did not crack in the least, don’t crack up.”
Rabaney testified that Kidson also said she was haunted by the killing. “It’s killing me. Why do you think I look like this [she had apparently lost a considerable amount of weight in the aftermath]? I can never be happy.”
A small contingent of mainly female friends from the East Rand, who were sitting in the court, appeared visibly shocked when the passages were read out.
Kidson’s previously smiling face contorted into pursed lips as she stared through gold-rimmed glasses at her former gambling buddy.
The case continues.