South Africa's most famous opera star, Van der Walt (born July 28, 1958 in Cape Town) studied voice at the University of Stellenbosch making his debut as "Jaquino" in Fidelio while still a student. In 1981, the lyric tenor was studying abroad on scholarships when he won the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg playing "Tamino" in The Magic Flute. In 1985, the 27 year old made his Covent Garden debut as "Count Almaviva" in The Barber of Seville. In addition to these professional accolades, he became the first South African-born singer to complete the "operatic grand slam" -- performing at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan, and London's Covent Garden. A familiar face on the international festival circuit, Van der Walt performed in Salzburg, Vienna, Barcelona, and Zurich and was regarded as one of Mozart's most skilled interpreters. After years of almost nonstop touring, the tenor decided to spend more time in South Africa to help train young singers and oversee his winemaking business. In 1988, Van der Walt purchased property near Paarl in a valley near the Klein-Drakenstein mountains 35 miles outside of Cape Town, christened the estate Veenwouden (after the Dutch village of his ancestors), and started producing highly regarded "boutique wines" known for their excellent taste and limited production. The tenor left the management of the estate to his father, Charles, and the winemaking to his brother, Marcel, a former professional golfer. When not performing internationally, he returned to Veenwouden to host intimate musical dinners in the winery's fermentation cellar.
The relationship between Van der Walt, 47, and his father had always been stormy, but it quickly deteriorated after the singer informed the 78-year-old man of his plans to move his parents off the estate when he took up permanent residence. Around 2:00 P.M. on November 29, 2005, Van der Walt's mother, Sheila, returned to Veenwouden to find her son in his bedroom dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest. Husband Charles was found in another bedroom with a fatal bullet wound in his right temple, a .38-caliber pistol next to his body. Lore Schultz, Van der Walt's agent, said the constant bickering between father and son about the farm led directly to the murder-suicide. "It really wore Deon down," Schultz told the international press. "He may have been shot on Tuesday, but they (his family) killed him years ago. Sometimes when he told me about it I just couldn't bear to listen to the horrible stories any more."