Now streaming on Showmax, Convict Conman is a two-part true-crime documentary from IdeaCandy, the production company behind Showmax record-breakers Devilsdorp, Rosemary’s Hitlist and Steinheist. As Fortress of Solitude says in their rave review, “IdeaCandy continues to prove there’s no one producing true-crime documentaries quite like this production company.”
In 2012, Carte Blanche journalist Sasha Wein receives a tip-off to investigate Dawie de Villiers, a Kempton Park photographer and founder of Modelling South Africa. Described in the first episode as “a sophisticated predator” and “the Kempton Park Hugh Hefner”, de Villiers is accused of fraud and of being sexually inappropriate with aspiring models, some below the age of 16.
Nine years later, in 2021, with de Villiers sentenced to life in jail, investigative journalist Jana Marx (Devilsdorp) receives a tip-off to look into Michael O’Connor. He runs a photography publication and is looking to start business and fashion magazines too. It’s during the COVID pandemic, so his staff have never met him – or even seen his face.
O’Connor claims de Villiers is a “good friend” but what else do they have in common?
Fortress of Solitude calls Convict Conman “compelling and riveting… a wake-up call to South Africans.”
The Showmax Original marks the documentary series directorial debut of SAFTA-winning editor Nikki Comninos, nominated for three SAFTAs in the past two years for her work on Steinheist, Devilsdorp and Murder in Paris.
“It’s a complex story, and there are some twists and turns that I won’t reveal,” she says. “Some parts will make you very angry, but there’s also some parts that will make you laugh. It’s a thrilling ride.”
Comninos is fascinated by the question of why women, in particular, love true crime. “That’s something that has puzzled me and I have been searching for answers,” she says. ”I saw something the other day that I thought was interesting: the upsurge in the popularity of true-crime in 2012 came at the same time as the increase in online dating through apps like Tinder. Women had to sleuth the men that they were going to see. It’s kind of amusing, but also kind of scary, because they are sleuthing to see that nothing bad is going to happen to them. So one theory is that people use true-crime as a form of education and self-empowerment, to learn the tactics of criminals in order to avoid things happening to themselves. So while it’s hugely entertaining, and people do find it, in some way, relaxing, the fascination also comes from a deep sense of fear, actually, especially in a country like South Africa, where we have such high crime rates.”
She says, in hindsight, there were red flags around Dawie de Villiers. “He definitely encouraged the women to come alone to his photo shoots,” says Comninos. “They were not allowed to have someone else in the room and not allowed to have their parents there, even if they were under 16. Those are red flags. But if you’re a young person, and somebody is telling you how the world works, you believe them, because you don’t know those rules.”
In addition to Wein, Marx and their fellow Carte Blanche investigative journalist Bernadette Maguire Rothman, Comninos also interviews de Villiers’ victims and O’Connor’s staff, as well as the likes of Captain Veronica Bank, criminologist Professor Anni Hesselink, and model Thando Hopa, who speaks to the broader context of this “so crazy it must be true” story.
Convict Conman is dedicated to those whom Dawie de Villiers hurt, and to all survivors of sexual assault. “I felt very privileged to speak to some amazing, wonderful, powerful women, who used their voices to bring a terrible perpetrator to book,” says Comninos. “They have amazing, full lives – but that is not to say that this doesn’t still linger. Trauma is not something that goes away; it manifests itself in different spaces in your life. So they’re living good lives, but he left an experience on them that remains.”
Showmax will release the second half of Convict Conman next Wednesday, 13 December 2023.
Trigger warning: Convict Conman contains descriptions of sexual abuse, involving both adults and minors, which may be disturbing for some viewers.
Watch the trailer: