Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Moses Sithole

Graveyard

African continent with South Africa
African continent with South Africa

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.

Dr. Mervyn Mansell
Dr. Mervyn Mansell

On Sept. 17, Insp. Bieldt called Dr. Mansell again. A body had been found. This would be the entomologists 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.

Inspector Vivian Bieldt
Inspector Vivian Bieldt

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.

Book cover: Catch Me a Killer
Book cover: Catch Me a Killer

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 didnt 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 profilers 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.

 

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