Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

ROBERT K. RESSLER: TAKING ON THE MONSTERS

International Sleuth

Between July and October 1994, 15 bodies of females who were in their twenties were found in South Africa, near the Pretoria-Johannesburg suburb of Cleveland. All had been raped and strangled, all were openly displayed, and the killer had removed personal items from the scene. Most of the victims were commuters, unemployed, or students. A man was identified as the offender, but when 15 more bodies turned up the next year in another remote suburb, Atteridgeville, it was clear that the real killer was still at large. Seven months later, another cache of bodies was discovered near Boksburg with the same MO but dumped closer together, and these three groups of victims came to be dubbed the ABC killings after the areas in which they'd been found.

"They had over forty homicides that they believed were connected," Ressler reports. "There was a psychologist named Micki Pistorius who was working as a volunteer with the South African police service. Since they had no expertise on multiple violent homicides, she got them interested in bringing me over. Ever since apartheid had shut down, there had been a certain lack of control by the police because they were pulling back on their oppressive posture, and after years of oppression, some people go a little overboard. Their murder rate had exceeded the United States, and we have one of the highest in the world. So they brought me over to work on what would turn out to be a series of 43 documented killings by one person. We laid out some of the basics and he was caught, so that was a success."

One thing Ressler and the newly-trained task force did was return to the crime scenes to see what they could determine about the killer's behavior and it became clear that he (or they) had returned to the bodies. There was also evidence from one site to the next of escalation and developing expertise. Ressler deduced that the offender was familiar with the areas, had done prior surveillance, and had grown arrogant. He was also probably luring victims rather than attacking them by surprise.

The resulting profile was detailed, but included the fact that the offender was black, owned a vehicle, appeared to be well off, but was young and had a strong sex drive. Ressler believed he would soon begin contacting the police or newspapers, which in fact, he did. An anonymous caller claimed that he was doing these murders because he'd once been falsely accused of rape and prison had ruined him. When police finally caught him he turned out to be Moses Sithole, a 31-year-old youth counselor.

While Ressler consults on cases like this, he also works hard to bridge the gap between psychiatry and law enforcement, and toward this end he brought two associates into his company. He calls them the "new generation" of profilers, and it's clear that they do bring a different perspective.

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