On Sept. 17, 1995, Dr. Mervyn Mansell was asked by police to assist them in determining the time of death of a body discovered in a field at the Van Dyk Mine near Boksburg, South Africa. Dr. Mansell, an entomologist at the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria, had been contacted two weeks earlier by Inspector Vivian Bieldt, who had read about maggots being used to estimate the post-mortem interval fairly accurately. He wanted Dr. Mansell to assist police in determining the time since death in certain murder cases.
On Sept. 17, Insp. Bieldt called Dr. Mansell again. A body had been found. This would be the entomologist’s first forensic case, and he had no idea what to expect. While he was trying to prepare himself during the drive to Boksburg, he was told that there was actually not just the one body, but five. By the time they arrived at the site, more bodies had been discovered.
It was, in fact, a mass grave. By the next day, police found a total of 10 women in varying degrees of decomposition, which meant the killer had returned again and again to leave his victims here.
Dr. Mansell decided not to view the bodies as people, but simply as organic remains. This helped him concentrate on his work rather than being overwhelmed by the horror of what he was seeing. As he told Ruda Landman in an interview on Carte Blanche, aired on April 13, 2003, ”When we examined the bodies it turned into a very interesting scientific scenario because there were bodies in all stages of decomposition, so we got a huge amount of baseline information, in one overdose on the first day.”
The first body had been discovered on Saturday evening, Sept. 16, when a police reservist took his dog to hunt some rabbits in the veld. More than 30 members of the police, including detectives from the East Rand Murder and Robbery Unit as well as forensic experts, searched the area for evidence during the next couple of days. A helicopter and dogs were brought in as well.
Micki Pistorius, police psychologist, was also on the scene. In her first book, Catch Me a Killer, she describes it as “one of the most horrific crime scenes I had ever seen. Decomposed bodies were strewn over the veld, some only metres away from others. Maggots were feasting and the stench penetrated our nostrils and clung to our clothing.” In fact, all 10 bodies lay within a radius of about 300 yards. They seemed to be everywhere.
It was possible to tell that the more recent victims had been killed at the scene. Micki Pistorius didn’t find it hard to imagine the killer leading his victim into the field amongst the rotting bodies, paralyzing her with fear before he raped and killed her. As if to affirm the profiler’s thoughts, one victim had a stain on her jeans where she had wet herself in terror.
Even worse, however, was that she recognized the familiar hand of a killer the police had been tracking, without much success, since the beginning of the year.
Ghost ArisenWhile police were still trying to defend the death of another serial killer, David Selepe, by stating that there was evidence linking him to at least six of the bodies found in Cleveland during 1994, about 40 miles away young black women were being found strangled and probably raped in Atteridgeville, just west of Pretoria.
The first body was found on Jan. 4, 1995, half nude in a field. She was severely decomposed and was never identified.
A second body was found on Feb. 9. She was completely naked, but her clothes had been placed on top of her chest and weighted down with rocks. Her fingerprints were later used to confirm her identity as 27-year-old Beauty Nuku Soko. She had gone missing in Jan., on her way to her sister in Klipgat.
On the morning of March 6, construction workers digging a ditch in Atteridgeville arrived to find a woman’s breasts protruding from the soil. They uncovered the body of Sara Matlakala Mokono. She was 25, and had disappeared three days earlier, on her way to meet someone who had promised her work.
On April 12, another body was discovered in Atteridgeville. This woman’s hands had been tied behind her back with a bra. She had been strangled with a ligature. Although her clothes were recovered in the surrounding area, her panties were gone. She was later identified as Letta Nomthandazo Ndlangamandla, age 25.
On April 17, Beeld carried the story of the four bodies found, and concluded that the modus operandi was similar to the one used by the Cleveland serial killer, believed to have been David Selepe. On April 19, police admitted the possibility of a new serial killer, operating in the Atteridgeville area. They suspected a copycat of the Cleveland killer.
A New Serial KillerThe next day, the body of a boy was discovered close to where Letta Ndlangamandla had been found. It was later learned that the boy’s name was Sibusiso. He was Letta’s 2-year-old son, and was found 65 feet from his mother’s body. Letta had left earlier in April to meet a man in Pretoria North about a job offer. Having no one to leave Sibusiso with, she took him along. The pathologist was unable to determine the boy’s manner of death—although there was an injury to his head—nor whether mother or child had been the first to die. It was possible that Sibusiso died of exposure, which seems much worse: Imagine this little boy walking around the field, staying near his mother’s corpse because he was only 2 years old and didn’t know what else to do.
On May 13, 29-year-old Esther Moshibudi Mainetja’s body was found in a corn field near Hercules in Pretoria West. Her lower body was nude and she had been strangled with clothing. She had last been seen the previous evening as she left a café for home.
The next body was found exactly one month later, although five women had gone missing in the interval. Francina Nomsa Sithebe, age 25, was found sitting against a tree on June 13. Although she was wearing a dress, closer examination revealed that her panties and handbag strap had been tied around her neck and then around the tree.
Three days later, on June 16, Elizabeth Granny Mathetsa’s naked body was discovered in Rosslyn, an industrial area about 9 miles to the northwest of Pretoria. She was 19 years old, and had last been seen alive on May 25.
On June 22, a body was found in Rosherville, raped and strangled. This woman’s identity document was found nearby. She was 30-year-old Ernestina Mohadi Mosebo.
Two days later, on June 24, Nikiwe Diko’s body was found in Atteridgeville. She had been missing since April 7, when she went to meet someone about an employment opportunity. Wild dogs had gotten to her, and her body lay in pieces. Her hands had been tied together with her panties. Police only managed to find her skull the following day, 130 feet from her torso. Her pantyhose had been tied around her neck and wound so tightly with a stick that bone fragments were embedded in the material. A stick had also been shoved into her vagina. Her wedding ring was still on her finger, and was identified by her husband.
Near MissAbsalom Sangweni lived in a caravan in Beyers Park, Boksburg. On July 17, 1995, he watched a man and a woman walk into the veld some distance from his home. He called out to them, since he knew that there was a fence around this patch of field and they could not continue far. But the man responded that he knew the area. After a while, they disappeared from view. Absalom, however, kept on watching.
Some time later, the man reemerged. Alone. Absalom thought he saw something bright in the man’s hand, and he was looking around furtively, “ as if he had been caught doing something and wanted to get away fast,” he would tell the court more than a year later according to The Star of Nov. 7, 1996. The man ran.
Absalom went into the veld, and found the woman, assaulted and still. He went to a nearby supermarket and called the police.
Sgt. Gideon O’Neil responded. He climbed through the fence and found the woman. She was still warm, but Sgt. O’Neil could find no pulse. His partner arrived with a first aid kit, but they were unable to resuscitate her. She had been strangled with the belt of her dress. Of the killer, however, there was no sign.
Absalom regretfully admitted that he had been too far away and was unable to provide a proper description of the man he had seen.
The woman was identified as Josephine Mantsali Mlangeni. She was 25 years old and a mother of four. She had gone to meet someone about a potential job offer.
On this same day, a special investigating team was established under Capt. Vinol Viljoen of the Pretoria Murder and Robbery Unit. He had been investigating the last couple of murders in the series and now collected all the dockets of victims with a similar MO. Micki Pistorius, the police psychologist, was also brought in. They went through the dockets, but felt uncertain about the confusing array of differences. Some victims had been bound, but others had not. Of those who had been bound, some had their hands tied in front and others behind them. It all seemed very haphazard, and they were unsure whether all the victims had been killed by the same man.
The next day, Granny Dimakatso Ramela was found in Pretoria West. Lying face down, she was clothed and the garrotte used to strangle her was still around her neck. A mere 21 years old, she had disappeared on May 23.
Mildred Ntiya Lepule, age 28, was taken to Pretoria by her husband a week after Granny Ramela disappeared, to meet a man about a job offer. He never saw his wife alive again. Her body was found on July 26 in a canal near the Bon Accord Dam near Onderstepoort, which is about 9 miles north of Pretoria. In the coming weeks, detectives would come to know this area well. Her pantyhose had been used to strangle her, and her panties had been drawn over her face.
In the meantime, detectives were busy setting up an operations room. As Micki Pistorius was affixing the crime scene photos to a board, arranging them in the order in which the victims had been killed, she saw a pattern. Earlier, they had been studying the dockets in the order in which the bodies had been found. Now that the victims had been identified, and the sequence of the murders was known, she could vividly see how the killer’s strategy had evolved and improved over time. Clearly, he was refining his technique with each murder.
Initially, the victims were not bound. Then their hands were tied in front with a piece of their clothing. Then, their hands were secured behind their backs. Similarly, the first victims had been throttled. Then, the killer had begun to use a ligature to strangle them, usually a bra or some other piece of clothing. Then he had progressed to a garrotte, where he would use a stick to wind up their clothing around their necks, a method providing increased control to the killer. The evolution of his cruel and sadistic tendencies was both disturbing and alarming.
On Aug. 8, another body was found at Onderstepoort. She was identified from items found in her handbag as Elsie Khoti Masango, age 25. She had been missing since July 14.
The next day another body was discovered in the same area. This woman had been burnt beyond recognition, most likely due to a veld fire. She has never been identified, and it is not known how long she had been there.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 23, 30-year-old Oscarina Vuyokazi Jakalase’s body was found near Boksburg. She had disappeared on the same day that Elsie Masango’s body had been found, Aug. 8.
On Aug. 28 and 30, two more bodies were found at the Bon Accord Dam near Onderstepoort. The second body seemed to have been there for some months. Neither has been identified.
Due to the increased police presence at Onderstepoort, the killer returned to the Cleveland area, where yet another unidentified body was found on Sept. 12.
Four days later, the first body was discovered at the Van Dyk Mine near Boksburg. Nine more would be found during the next two days.
he Graveyard Kept GrowingAlthough Capt. Frans van Niekerk of the East Rand Murder and Robbery Unit was the investigating officer at the scene in Boksburg, he had no qualms about contacting Capt. Viljoen, and they decided to join forces and share information.
This crime scene received an immense amount of attention. The media was present in full force, ensuring that the killer would seek out a new dump site. Commissioner George Fivaz, head of the South African Police, surveyed the area from a helicopter. Even President Nelson Mandela came out to the site and met all the detectives and other forensic experts at the scene.
There were two interesting aspects about the site itself. It was located more than three miles from Boksburg Prison, a proximity that seemed more than coincidence, although no one was sure what it meant. The other was the discovery of numerous items of ritualistic significance in the seemingly endless array of ant heaps scattered across the adjacent stretch of veld. These items included black and red candles, mirrors, feathers, knives, lingerie, et cetera—believed to be related to traditional healing.
Traditional healers or sangomas are prevalent in South Africa. According to Ingo Lamprecht, “sangomas (male or female) play many different social and political roles in the community. They are involved in divination, healing, directing rituals, finding lost cattle, protecting ’warriors’ (Sangomas offered protective medicine [muti] to freedom fighters during South Africa’s political struggles), and ’smelling out’ witches, as well as narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of his/her tradition.” Muti, in particular, is a problematic area, since it can be prepared using anything from roots to animal pieces to human body parts, especially the eyes, organs and genitals. Which ingredients are used probably depends on the conscience of the healer. There have been numerous accounts of ”muti murders,” frequently involving babies or young children.
For example, on Dec. 13, 2004, a 43-year-old traditional healer appeared in the Wynberg magistrates’ court in Cape Town. He was accused of raping a 30-year-old woman, leaving her naked, stabbed and with her throat cut underneath a bed. She somehow survived, but her 9-month-old son did not. The suspect took police officers to a ditch where he had left the boy’s body. Apparently, the murder was committed after an influential sangoma told him that it would assist him in amassing great wealth.
Although the possibility that the women at the Van Dyk Mine may have been murdered by the same person or group responsible for the paraphernalia in the ant heaps—whether for muti or other reasons—was investigated, Micki Pistorius saw the Atteridgeville killer’s signature on every victim. The typical railway line was nearby, as well. She was certain that he had walked where she was walking now.
In addition, there was an alarming discovery at this scene. With the four latest victims found at the Van Dyk Mine, the killer had combined his methods of binding and strangling. The most recent women had had their hands tied to their necks, so that they would essentially strangle themselves the more they struggled.
These are the women who were found at Boksburg:
Makoba Tryphina Mogotsi, 26 years old, went missing on Aug. 15.
Nelisiwe Nontobeko Zulu was also 26 years old. She was last seen on Sept. 4, on her way to search for a job.
Amelia Dikamakatso Rapodile, age 43, disappeared on Sept. 7, after she left her place of employment, Johannesburg International Airport, in the company of a man who had promised her a better job. She was found with her hands tied behind her back to her neck with her pantyhose. Her bank card had been used to withdraw money three times later on the night of her disappearance in Germiston.
Monica Gabisile Vilakazi left her grandmother’s house on Sept. 12 to look for work, leaving her 4-year-old son in the older woman’s care. She was 31 years old.
Hazel Nozipho Madikizela, 21 years old, was found with her hands tied to her neck with underwear. She was last seen by her parents in Germiston.
Tsidi Malekoae Matela was identified more than a year later, in Nov. 1996. Originally from neighbouring Lesotho, she was 45 years old when she died.
The other four women only received numbers, allocated by the mortuary as they were entered into the Death Register. All we know about them is how they died.
Commissioner Fivaz told the press that there was no connection between this site and the Cleveland murders, because David Selepe had been killed. He admitted that it was possible that the killings may be linked to those in Atteridgeville, however. He also revealed that a reward of $82,000 would be available to anyone who had information that may lead to the arrest of the killer.
Because of the exponentially growing list of victims and the tremendous pace at which they were being killed, it was decided to contact some international experts. Micki Pistorius had attended a conference in Scotland in June, where she met Robert Ressler and Roy Hazelwood, both retired FBI profilers. She had actually consulted with Robert Ressler telephonically during an earlier case in 1994, but in Scotland they became properly acquainted. In fact, they had discussed the Cleveland and Atteridgeville murders. She contacted him now, and he immediately agreed to fly to South Africa.
The ex-FBI man arrived on Sept. 23. Two days later, while a prayer service was being organized for that evening at the Boksburg site, they began visiting crime scenes and studying dockets.
ProfileMicki Pistorius had already drawn up a profile, and together she and Robert Ressler worked to refine it.
There had been three discrete locations where bodies had been found: Eight women were found in or near Atteridgeville (along with the 2-year-old boy); six women were found in the area surrounding Onderstepoort; and 12 women were found in the Boksburg area. There was also one woman found near Cleveland. The profilers believed that the murders of these 27 women were related. In addition, they believed that more than one killer may have been involved, working together on at least some of the murders.
The locations seemed to have been carefully chosen, and the killer(s) quite familiar with them. Although the sites were remote and relatively safe in terms of being discovered in the act, they were still easily accessible by means of rail and road. Despite indications that the women were assaulted and killed at the scenes where they were found, there was very little evidence. This indicated an organized, intelligent offender. He was also growing in both confidence and arrogance—whereas the original Atteridgeville victims had been scattered, the Onderstepoort victims had been left closer together, and the Boksburg victims almost on top of each other. There was also no attempt at concealment.
Victimology revealed middle-class women in their twenties and early thirties, who looked after their appearance. Most of them had been unemployed or looking for better employment. This seemed to be the killer’s approach, since many victims’ relatives, friends or coworkers told of appointments with a man about a job offer. He had probably been affronted and hurt by a woman who was now represented by the victims. He was raping and killing her over and over again, which was why the victims were very similar to each other.
In her book, Strangers on the Street, Micki Pistorius lists the following characteristics of the killer(s) contained in the profile: (1) a black male in his late 20s or early 30s; (2) he would be self-employed with access to money; (3) he would drive an expensive car; (4) he would wear flashy clothes and jewellery; (5) he would be competent socially, charming and a ladies’ man; (6) he would probably be married, separated or divorced; (7) he would visit places where alcohol is sold and enjoy socialising; (8) there would likely be or have been some involvement in fraud and theft; (9) he might tell someone that he is the killer—although he would use the third person—and he might taunt the police; (10) he would follow reports of the murders and the police investigation in the press; (11) he would detest women, despite being very charming to them; (12) he would masturbate after the crimes, collect mementoes and later dispose thereof; (13) he would have a high sex drive and peruse pornography; (14) there was some kind of exposure to sexual violence in his past, perhaps as a juvenile; (15) he would be very intelligent and streetwise.
Robert Ressler, in I Have Lived in the Monster, predicted that he “has a high sex drive and reads pornography. His fantasies, to which he masturbates, are aggressive, and he believes women are merely objects to be abused. He enjoys charming and controlling women. When he approaches a victim, it is done in a very calculating way, and he is very conscious that he is eventually going to kill the victim, and savours the thought while he softens her up.”
The profile bore a striking resemblance to the one on the Cleveland series. Ordinarily, this isn’t of much concern, because a profile describes a type of person rather than a particular one. And although every killer is different, some do share many characteristics. Still, in this case it was somewhat disconcerting, with the crime scenes overlapping, the MO being so similar, the time frames so close together, and most problematic of all, David Selepe being killed before he could be tried for the Cleveland murders.
The National Commissioner of the Police did, in fact, ask Robert Ressler to look into the case against David Selepe. Together with Micki Pistorius, he pored over the dockets and the evidence, and concluded that Selepe did appear to have been involved in the Cleveland killings.