The Stella High School Girls Murders.

[North West, South Africa]

Sharnelle Hough (17) and Marna Engelbrecht (16) were inseparable best friends. They both attended Stella High School in Stella, North West, South Africa. The girls shared a hostel together which is similar to dormitories at colleges. This school was a boarding school.

Sharnelle dated a boy named Xander Bylsma (19) for over a year before breaking up with him a month before the crime.

Just two days before the teens were found, Xander reportedly told a friend that he wanted to make Sharnelle’s life miserable to the point where she committed suicide.

On May 26th, 2018, Xander broke into the girls’ room and choked Sharnelle from behind. He strangled her so hard that she could not produce any screams for help. After killing Sharnelle, Xander turned his attention to Marna who was terrified and simply caught in the crossfire. Her murder was not premeditated by Xander, but once she witnessed her best friend being murdered, he felt like he had to eliminate the witness.

To deter any suspicion, he staged the crime scene to look like a suicide. This way it would support his statement about tormenting Sharnelle into committing suicide. Xander hung Sharnelle from the staircase near their room leaving her feet dangling just above the clutch of mountain bikes neatly lined up in the stairwell.

Marna’s body was left in the bathroom with a strap from a backpack around her neck. An adult that monitored the hostel area came across the girls and called authorities. She had left the main door the hostel unlocked because the girls told her they were expecting a relative to drop off some clothing.

An autopsy of both girls revealed that they had been strangled manually.

Sharnelle and Marna had a joint funeral to honor them because they were such close friends. Their parents said that they were slightly comforted knowing they weren’t going to heaven alone and they would have each other.

The same day that the girls were found, Xander told police that he got a “call” from “someone” saying that Sharnelle killed herself. Out of despair, he took 10 tablets of medicine used for anxiety that made him tired, nauseous, stressed, and “drunk.” These side effects are what Xander would later blame as to being the reason he confessed to investigators.

Xander admitted he “hanged” Sharnelle. However, just hours later he recanted his statement and said that he was manipulated into confessing due to a combination of investigators threatening to kill his family and the side effects from his attempted overdose. However, 6 witnesses stepped forward to corroborate Xander’s story saying he killed the two girls and to vouch for his horrible temper around town.

He pled not guilty to the murders, but was sentenced to two life sentences in August of 2020.

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Holly Alexis

Holly Alexis

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23. Sociology & Criminal Justice Major. True Crime Fanatic. Writer. All articles are tossed together from the comfort of my couch.