Serial killing — in the headlines this week after the discovery of the “Station Strangler’s” personal graveyard – is a relatively rare phenomenon in South Africa, police and psychologists said this week.
The six cases unearthed by the Mail & Guardian show how difficult it is to categorise multiple murders of this type. Two have a distinctly South African racial theme, four were sex killings and one was apparently motivated by psychotic greed.
According to Playboy magazine, the US accounts for 74 percent of known serial killers and Europe 19 percent. The first recorded serial killer in South Africa was Pierre Basson believed to have killed eight or nine people between 1903 and 1906 in Cape Town.
Basson ran a money-lending scheme, inducing borrowers to take out insurance policies naming him as beneficiary and then killing them. His first victim was his brother, whom he drowned on a fishing trip. When police discovered the grave of his last victim, a German’s farmer, he committed suicide.
His last words to his mother, as the police were excavating his yard, were “I’m going to get dressed for the police I have done no wrong.”
More recent cases are:
- Simon Mpungose, nicknamed “the Hammerman”, in 1983 broke into a succession of Empangeni houses, bludgeoned four people to death with a hammer and tried to murder four others. AU his victims were white adults. Mpungose’s motive appeared to be racial. According to Rian Malan, author of My Traitor’s Heart, he told an Empangeni court that he was fulfilling a dream he had had in prison 11 years earlier, in which he grew larger and stronger, broke out of jail and obliterated all the whites in his path. Refusing a defence, he said: “It (the murders) is because of what I have witnessed happening to my fellow black men and also to me because of all that was done to me by the white people. “He was executed.
- Race also appears to have been a factor for Louis van Schoor, a former East London policeman who between May 1986 and October 1989 killed 19 black intruders and wounded 64 others while working as a security guard for a burglar alarm company. Van Schoor (39) claimed self-defence during his trial in June 1992. The judge said he had “shown a callousness and a disregard for human life”, had misled the police and shown a lack of remorse. He was sentenced to 20 years 113 jail for seven of the murders.
- Between January and August 1988, 46-year-old David Motshekgwa killed 14 black women after “cunningly luring’ them to an isolated area near Klerksdorp. His trial, on 14 murder charges, was fie largest mass murder case in South African legal history. Motshekgwa was found to be suffering from necrophilia. There were hints of the ritualism which generally marks serial sex killings – the naked or half-naked bodies of Ids victims were found covered with twigs. He was sentenced to death.
- Philip Ndyave of Queenstown strangled 12 women in 1989, on occasions robbing and raping them. Found by the trial court to be psychotic, he said he did not know why he had committed the murders. Evidence was that Ndyave was the child of a cruel mother parental brutality is a common theme in serial sex killings – with whom he stayed in close touch after leaving home.
- Jacobus Geldenhuys (26), the “Norwood Rapist”, confessed to murdering four women and a 16-year-old schoolgirl, raping two of them, in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg in 1991. Three were shot in the head at point blank range. He was also convicted of two other rapes in the Rand Supreme Court. He was sentenced to death.
- Antonie Wessels, a homosexual and former bouncer, killed three men and maimed another with the help of his 15-year-old lover. Evidence during the trial was that Wessels derived sexual pleasure from slitting his victims’ throats. Described by the court as a “dangerous psychopathic murderer”, he believed his victims’ souls bonded with his at the moment of death.