Johannesburg: The South African police have found a bloodied cricket bat at the home of Oscar Pistorius, who has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, found dead in the early hours of Friday.
The finding, amidst speculation that Reeva was having an affair with a national rugby star, appeared to further weaken the family's version that Pistorius attacked his girlfriend, mistaking her for a burglar.
Police sources close to the investigation told a South African newspaper that 29-year-old Steenkamp's skull had been "crushed". "There was lots of blood on the bat," one source said.
Police are investigating whether the bat was used to assault Steenkamp, who was shot four times in the early hours of Thursday, or if she used it to defend herself. "The suspicion is that the first shot, in the bedroom, hit her in the hip. She then ran and hid herself in the toilet... He fired three more shots," a police source said. Reports said she was wearing a nightie at the time of the incident.
The paper said the Olympian and Paralympian athlete, a double amputee who runs with carbon fibre blades, could have experienced "roid rage", aggressive behaviour linked to taking large doses of steroids, describing the case against Pistorius as "rock-solid".
Other reports suggested there had been a fight between the two lovers that had spilled over from Wednesday night when neighbours called security guards complaining about a "commotion" inside the Pistorius house.
Media reports said Steenkamp was believed to be in a relationship with playboy rugby player - Springbok Francois Hougaard - could have been behind the quarrel which may have led to her tragic death, according to the Sunday Mirror. The 24-year-old, a close friend of Pistorius, failed to turn out for a scheduled match with his side, the Vodacom Bulls, in the days after Steenkamp's death. The pair, who have been friends for a number of years and were in regular contact via Twitter, are understood to have dated in the past, the paper reported.
Pistorius is due to apply for bail at a court hearing on Tuesday, the same day a memorial service will be held for his slain girlfriend. He faces a life sentence if convicted of premeditated murder.
Another friend of Pistorius, businessman Justin Divaris, said the runner had called him moments after Steenkamp's death, saying, "My baba, I've killed my baba. God take me away."
Divaris, who introduced Steenkamp to the London 2012 double gold winner, said Pistorius phoned him at 3.55am, even ahead of calling emergency services, media reports said. Divaris said he kept repeating that there had been a terrible accident, and that he had shot Steenkamp. Divaris and his girlfriend dashed to Pistorius's luxury home and found the police had already arrived.
Pistorius's family maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the runner was "numb with shock as well as grief".
"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all," his uncle Arnold Pistorius said in a statement.
His father Henke Pistorius, 59, told Britain's Sunday Telegraph that the family had "zero doubt" his son shot Steenkamp on instinct after mistaking her for an intruder. "When you are a sportsman, you act even more on instinct," he said. "It's instinct - things happen and that's what you do."
Police have dismissed the intruder theory, noting that there had been several previous domestic incidents at Pretorius's home.
Pistorius, who broke down sobbing in his first court appearance on Friday, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, pathologists and public relations experts for his defence.