Five serial killers operating in SA

Gustav Thiel

There are at least five serial killers currently on the loose in South Africa, striking terror into communities and confirming the view that these monsters have become widespread throughout the country.

Though a lack of data about past serial killings and a woefully inept computer system make it difficult to gauge the exact number, police psychologists know with certainty of five killers still at large. There could be many more, but, says South African Police Service investigative psychology unit (IPU) head Micki Pistorius: In violent areas like KwaZulu-Natal it is conceivable that a serial killer could get away with his deeds. I am not prepared to guess how many killers are at large, but we could be facing an epidemic in the future.

The so-called Wemmer Pan killer is the best-known currently, says Pistorius.
He started his murderous spree in April 1996, first claiming 10 victims around the area. In July he shifted his activities to Claremont, south of Johannesburg, claiming another four victims.

According to a profile of the killer released by Pistorius and her colleague, Elmarie Myburgh, he is a black man aged between 30 and 40. He has no distinguishable physical traits, but he left survivors after several of his killings. Most of his victims were sexually abused, before being shot or bludgeoned.

Another killer at large, but who stopped his spree about a year ago, is the so- called Nasrec serial killer. He killed more than 10 people in the vicinity of Nasrec, south of Johannesburg, mostly women whom he sexually assaulted. Police suspect he stopped because he knows they have a sample of his DNA.

Police spokesman Andy Pieke speculates that he will strike again soon, after relocating to a new killing field.

Pistorius and Myburgh are also investigating a killer who struck twice in KwaZulu-Natals Pinetown in 1995, raping both female victims before taking their lives. Unfortunately, they agreed, there is very little evidence at this stage to point to a possible suspect.

The same is true of two more killers, one in Ermelo and one in the Northern Province, who have each struck twice or more. Pistorius has not started her investigations into these killers.

Before 1994 no data existed about serial killers and Myburgh says that, although they now know of several killers who plagued the country before that date, it is conceivable that there are countless numbers of killers that we will never know about.

According to a leading criminologist, Dr Irma Labuschagne, the most notorious killer in South Africa was Louis van Schoor, a security guard from East London who killed 42 people in the early Eighties. He at the very least sensitised people to the fact that we do have a problem in South Africa. The media furore that his activities created also seems to have been a catalyst for peoples morbid fascination with serial killers. The earliest known serial killer murdered two prostitutes in Cape Town around the turn of the century.

Labuschagne estimates that there are currently about 12 serial killers operating in South Africa. Pistorius is more circumspect: Labuschagne is entitled to her opinion, but she is not very scientific. She fails to distinguish between serial killers, mass murderers and spree killers.

Pistorius identifies Norman Simons, Moses Sithole, David Selepe and Stewart Wilken as known examples of recent serial killers.

Although he was only convicted of one murder, Simons is classified as a serial killer as he is alleged to be the notorious station strangler who stalked and killed 22 children on the Cape Flats in the 1980s.

Sithole is on trial for killing 38 people in Atteridgeville and Boksburg in 1994. Selepe, the self-confessed Cleveland strangler, murdered 14 people since 1995 and Wilken, who is still awaiting trial, allegedly killed 14 people in Port Elizabeth, including his own daughter.

Pistorius says all these serial killers had a sexual motive for their killings, which is a criterion she uses in identifying serial killers. Labuschagne, however, believes Pistorius uses an over-simplified set of criteria.

It is rubbish that these killers all had sexual motives because this would normally mean that only men are termed serial killers which leads to many who are not identified, says Labuschagne.Yet not a single woman serial killer has emerged in South Africa.

She believes firmly that Eugene de Kock, the notorious ex-Vlakplaas commander appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this week in a bid to gain amnesty from his life sentence for his involvement in murders in the name of apartheid, should be termed a serial killer.

It is precisely because the IPUs criteria are outdated and over-simplified that they cant identify De Kock for what he is. They need to change their methods.

Pistorius counters by saying De Kock does not fit their description of a serial killer because he killed under instruction and knew his victims.

She believes South Africa will face a proliferation of serial killers over the next 10 years. We must remember that we are not the only country with this problem, but our socio-economic conditions indicate that we could become a focal point in the world.

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