The discovery of a bloodied cricket bat in the home of Oscar Pistorius has been cited as "the central piece of evidence" that the disabled athlete murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day.
Reeva Steenkamp's last video:
The bat, which had "lots of blood" on it, is being tested by forensic scientists, according to reports in South Africa. If the blood is that of Steenkamp, it would strengthen the prosecution case for premeditated murder, sources said. If it came from Pistorius, police would argue that the model used it to defend herself.
Pistorius, 26, who faces a bail hearing on Tuesday, told an interviewer last year that he kept a cricket bat behind his door, along with a pistol by his bedside and a machinegun under his window.
His family have insisted that he shot at Steenkamp through the bathroom door of his home in Pretoria, believing her to be an intruder.
His grandmother, Gertie Pistorius, 89, claimed yesterday that the shooting of Steenkamp was "a mistake anybody can make".
His father, Henke Pistorius, 59, told The Daily Telegraph, "Until it's proved otherwise, I can't believe that this was anything but a tragic accident." He added that he believed his son acted out of a sportsman's "instinct".
South Africa's City Press newspaper cited three sources close to the investigation who said they believe that the evidence was now "rock solid" that Pistorius deliberately murdered his girlfriend.
They claimed that police found one bullet casing in the sprinter's bedroom. Detectives have reportedly surmised that he chased his girlfriend and fired the first shot before she locked herself in the bathroom and he then fired three more through the door.
A post mortem examination on the body of the 29-year-old model revealed that, as well as bullet wounds to the head, arm, hand and hip, she suffered a fractured skull, the newspaper reported.
A close friend of Pistorius told how the athlete called him moments after Steenkamp was shot and told him: "My baba, I've killed my baba. God take me away."
Justin Divaris told the Sunday People, "Oscar called me at 3.55am saying that Reeva had been shot. I said to him, 'What are you talking about? I don't understand you.' He then repeated himself - 'There has been a terrible accident, I shot Reeva.'?"
According to City Press, Pistorius also called his father and sister and asked them to go to the house at about 3.20am on Thursday.
When they arrived, it said, he was carrying his girlfriend's body down the stairs - her head and arms were "dangling", it added.
Steenkamp was said to be still breathing as security guards, neighbours and Pistorius's family gathered, and he tried to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She was declared dead when police and paramedics arrived.
According to a source cited by City Press, Steenkamp was wearing a nightdress, an overnight bag was found at the house and her iPad was on the bedroom floor.
"It was clear that both of them had slept in the bed," the source added.
The holster of a 9mm pistol similar to the weapon recovered by police was found on one side of the bed, the paper said. A bullet casing was also reportedly found in the bedroom and police are investigating whether Pistorius fired one shot then "chased" Steenkamp to the bathroom.
"The suspicion is that the first shot, in the bedroom, hit her in the hip," one source was quoted as saying. "She then ran and locked herself in the toilet. She was doubled over because of the pain. He fired three more shots. She probably covered her head which is why the bullet also went through her hand."
Police have refused to comment about the cricket bat and have denied leaking details about the case.
An estate agent who attended a party with Pistorius on the evening of Feb 13 - hours before the shooting said he was "delightful, charming and happy".
Valerie Berkow-Kaye said, "We were all mesmerised by such a smiley, delightful person. He certainly wasn't planning a murder on Wednesday afternoon."
Pistorius spent the weekend in a police cell in Pretoria and was visited yesterday by his brother Carl and sister Aimee. A police source told City Press he was frequently in tears and had asked a visiting church minister to pray for him.
The Daily Telegraph understands that a bail hearing at which he is due to speak tomorrow could last for up to three days and involve several witnesses.
Steenkamp's body is currently at a funeral parlour in her home city of Port Elizabeth. "Reeva is back home," her brother Adam said.
Jane Celliers, a friend of Steenkamp, said an "intimate" funeral for family and close friends would be held tomorrow. On Saturday night, the model appeared posthumously in a reality television programme filmed in Jamaica by South Africa's national broadcaster, SABC.
In a statement last night, Pistorius's agent said his sponsors would stand by him until the legal process was over.