The first trailer for Stella Murders, a new true crime documentary from David Enright and IdeaCandy, the director and production company behind the breakout hit Devilsdorp, which sold internationally and won the 2022 SAFTA for Best Made for TV Documentary, has been released by Showmax.

Stella Murders, which premieres on March 17, 2023, investigates the deaths of best friends Sharnelle Hough (17) and Marna Engelbrecht (16) at Stella High School in North West. Sharnelle was discovered hanged by the staircase on Saturday morning, May 26, 2018, and Marna was discovered in a bathroom, with both deaths initially appearing to be suicides.

“Stella Murders is a heart-wrenching story,” says Yolisa Phahle, CEO of Showmax and MultiChoice Connected Video. “It addresses every parent’s worst nightmare. Sharnelle and Marna’s families collaborated on the production, hoping that their story will prevent similar tragedies.”

The 90-minute Showmax Original features interviews with Sharnelle’s parents, Ronnie and Sonja Hough; Marna’s father, mother, and sister, Stefaans, Rianet, and Riané Engelbrecht; Captain Zagaries Human, the Stella South African Police Services station commander; Captain Markus Ferreira, the investigating officer; private investigator Chris Saunders; and Advocate Johan Smit, the state prosecutor, now retired. Marizka Coetzer from Devilsdorp, who covered the Stella Murders case for Huisgenoot, should also be on the lookout.

Stella, a small, quiet cattle-farming dorpie near Vryburg in North West, is home to just over 4 000 people. “In such a close-knit community, danger is expected to come from the outside,” says clinical psychologist Elmarie Claassens in the documentary. “But the thing about danger is: it doesn’t come exclusively from the outside.”

The documentary shows that the town is still grieving over the deaths. “While working on Stella Murders, it became important for us to understand if there was any form of emotional healing for the families and community that experienced this trauma,” says David. “It became clear that the impact of this tragic event was far-reaching and calls for important reflection on the culture that cultivates gender-based violence. Hopefully this documentary will not only highlight some of the red flags to look out for, but will also become part of the nationwide conversation about the shameful levels of violence against women in South Africa.”

At the second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “Between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022 there was a 52 per cent increase in the murder of women, and 46 per cent increase in the number of children murdered. Not a day goes by without a story in the newspapers, on television or online about a woman or child that has lost their life or been abused in the most horrendous manner… These horrors defy comprehension. There are really no words for them. They tell a story about our society that is deeply disturbing. It is a story of a nation at war with itself. These barbaric acts are a shameful indictment of the men of this country. It is not women who are responsible for ending such crimes; it is men. As a society, ending violence against women and children cannot be anything but our foremost priority. This is about the lives of our country’s women and children. There can be no greater urgency.”