Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Moses Sithole

Near Miss

Absalom 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 mans 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.

South Africa police badge
South Africa police badge

Absalom went into the veld, and found the woman, assaulted and still. He went to a nearby supermarket and called the police.

Sgt. Gideon ONeil responded. He climbed through the fence and found the woman. She was still warm, but Sgt. ONeil 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 killers 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 Jakalases body was found near Boksburg. She had disappeared on the same day that Elsie Masangos 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.

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