Whether you think they are evil, disturbed, or just mental you are part of a society that exhibits both a repulsion and fascination with the lives and minds of serial killers. Serial murders are not new to South Africa, however, I was very surprised to I discovered that South Africa has the third-highest number of serial killers in the world – after the United States of America and England. In this list, we take a chilling look at the country’s top 10 most notorious murderers.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.” – Ted Bundy
Known as South Africa’s first serial killer, Pierre Basson started acting out his violent fantasies on animals – as is the case with most serial killers, during his childhood. To satisfy his sadistic nature, Basson graduated to humans at the age of 12, viciously attacking another boy with a knife. Pierre would only offend some years later, age 18, after the death of his father. February 1903, his next victim was his little brother, Jasper. Pierre cooked up a murderous scheme to commit insurance fraud and took out a life insurance policy on his brother. Pierre invited him to go fishing. Pierre Basson returned home alone, claiming that Jasper had been swept off the rocks by a huge wave, Jasper Basson’s body was never found.
It is believed that Pierre Basson murdered nine people after successfully persuading them to concede their life policies to him. The police started getting hot leads and were on the verge of catching Pierre, as a result, Basson committed suicide in 1906. He was posthumously convicted of his crimes.
9. STEWART WILKEN
Studies show that serial killers target a specific type of victim. This makes Stewart Wilken a chillingly interesting case. A necrophiliac claiming to be working for God, Wilken favoured two types of victims, female prostitutes and young boys. Between 1990 and 1997, ten murders had the community of Port Elizabeth on edge. It was not until 1997 that the disappearance of 12-year-old, Henry Bakers, was Stewart Wilken brought in for questioning by authorities, after a family friend confirmed that he saw Henry with Wilkens, whom is also known by the Bakers family. During questioning, the police interrogated Stewart on his own daughters disappearance in 1995, it did not take long for Wilken to confess to both murders.
Wilken mockingly stared at the officers and said “I’m sick.” He later also admitted that he had sodomized Henry while he was dying and later returned to the deceased boy and had sex with his decomposing body. Wilken hid his daughter’s body (and later her skeleton) behind the Garden Court Holiday Inn Hotel for six months. Her skeleton was discovered in 1996. Stewart Wilkens full confession revealed disturbing details of his crimes. Wilken confessed to killing ten people and was sentenced to seven life terms in St Albans prison.
8. ELIFASI MSOMI
The KwaZulu-Natal killer become known for the widespread superstitious beliefs under which he committed his crimes. Elfasi Msomi, The Axe Killer, claimed that he was possessed by the infamous Tokolshe, (a tiny hairy, evil spirited, half-human/ half-animal creature) had driven Msomi to perform elaborate sadomasochistic rituals before his killings. In his “possessed” state, Elfasi went on an 18 month killing spree. He would also keep the blood of his victims, many of whom where children, to be used during his sacrificial ceremonies.
Elifasi Msomi infamously managed to escape from police custody during his pre-trial court appearance, twice. One month after his escape, Msomi was finally rearrested and was found guilty on 15 counts of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Local Zulu chieftains were present at his execution to ascertain the departure of the evil Tokoloshe spirit.
7. GERT VAN ROOYEN
Gert van Rooyen, began his violent crime spree in 1979 with the kidnapping and sexual abuse of two young girls, he had released the two girls the following day. Gert van Rooyen was subsequently arrested, tried and convicted of this crime and sentenced to four years behind bars. He was released after three. However, prison did little to rehabilitate van Rooyn. After his release from jail, Gert started dating Joey Haarhof, who willing aided Gert in luring his victims to their home.
Gert van Rooyen and Joey Haarhof have been linked to the deaths of at least six young girls, whose bodies all remain missing to this day. After van Rooyen’s last victim, 16-year-old Joan Booysen, luckily managed to escaped and alert the police. Facing the likelihood of capture, the paedophile pair saw no way out other than committing suicide.
6. CHRISTOPHER MHLENGWA ZIKODE
Zikode, the Donkeybrook Serial Killer, launched his murderous career at age 19. In July 1995 was arrested for the first time for attempted murder, granted bail and went on to commit at least 18 murders and 11 attempted murders.
Zkode would attack families and single women travelling alone in and around Donnybrook, a small rural town of KwaZulu Natal. His routine would be to break into a family home and shoot all male members in the house. The remaining women were then taken into nearby fields and raped continuously for hours on end, shot if uncooperative and he would proceed by committing necrophilia.
Christopher Zikode was arrested in September of 1995 and convicted on 21 charges, all of which were committed between April and September 1995, and sentenced to a prison term of 140 years.
5. JIMMY MAKETTA
Tattooed with the name “Jesus” on his upper lip, Jimmy Maketta, coined the nickname, The Jesus Killer. He has been described as a psychopath that has no remorse and can never be rehabilitated. Jimmy Maketta terrorised the women of Phillippi, a township just outside Cape Town. He would deliberately select the most drunken victim on after work on Friday nights in the Cape Flats. He would rape and kill his chosen victim by hacking them into pieces with axe or bludgeoning them with a hammer.
Jimmy was eventually captured after his cell phone was discovered at one of his crime scenes. In 2007, he was convicted of 47 charges, including 16 counts of murder and 19 counts of rape, Maketta was sentenced to serve at least 25 years behind bars. He will be eligible for parole in 2031, Jimmy will be in his mid-60s. It has been reported that Maketta “found Jesus” during his time behind bars.
4. SIPHO THWALA
Sipho Thwala began his year-long rape and murder spree in 1996 in KwaZulu Natal and became known as The Phoenix Strangler. Promising employment as domestic workers in hotels, Thwala would lure women seeking for work into the sugarcane fields on Mount Edgecombe. Once inside the sugarcane fields, Thwala would attack, rape, strangle and beat them to death. In efforts to destroy evidence, he would always set the sugarcane fields alight.
Sipho Thawala was arrested in 1997 after DNA taken from one of his victims, matched the DNA taken from Thawala during a previous arrest of rape back in 1994, which he was acquitted of. Before his sentencing, a rumor that he had been seen near his family home had spread through his rural village. Angered villagers locked Thwala’s family inside their home and then set it alight. The family escaped death when rescued by a neighbour and fled the village. In 1999, the Durban High Court found Sipho Thwala guilty on 16 counts of murder and 10 rapes, he was sentenced to 506 years in prison.
3. NORMAN AFZAL SIMONS
As a 5th Grade teacher, Norman Afzal Simons was well-known and respected by his community. Highly intelligent, Simons can speak seven languages and plays various musical instruments. He also knew exactly how to manipulate any situation and influence young children.
A series of murders during 1986 in the Mitchell’s Plain area of Cape Town, young boys would disappear from train stations in the area and were later found tied up and face down in shallow graves. Simons would sodomize and brutally strangle his young victims with their own underwear. A total of 11 bodies had been discovered during 1994 alone. One would-be victim identified him upon finding his friend dead after helping Simons carry boxes finally. Simons was apprehended.
Norman Afzal Simons was then convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for only one murder due to his confession. In 2010, police confirmed that cases had been re-opened. DNA collected from various crime scenes, never before tested, are now being compared and tested. The inquest in ongoing.
2. CEDRIC MAAKE
Cedric Maake had no victim or weapon preference, as long as he could mutilate, rape and kill any person of any race and gender, he was satisfied. Maake is known as The Wemmer Pan Killer because it was in the Johannesburg area of Wemmer Pan that he would target most of his victims.
Cedric Maake went through phases in his killing spree, first favouring shop owners and taxi drivers, robbing and beating them to death. Maake progressed to targeting couples and women, first killing the male while the female partner was forced to watch before he would rape and kill them. At first, police thought they were dealing with two separate killers. It was only when investigations started overlapping that it was realised they were on the hunt for one serial killer.
Maakes conduct in court was equally horrific, emphasized by his screaming outbursts, crying and his raging head-banging fits. He even went as far as to threaten the female state prosecutor with rape and murder. September 2000, Cedric Maake was convicted of 27 murders, 26 attempted murders, 14 rapes, 41 aggravated robberies and other less serious offenses. He was ultimately found guilty of 114 of 134 charges and sentenced to 27 life terms plus 1159 years and 3 months imprisonment, totalling 1340 years in prison.
1. MOSES SITHOLE
Moses Sithole is known as South Africa’s most evil serial killer. His crimes have been likened by several criminologists to those of American serial killer Ted Bundy. Sithole began raping women in his twenties. He was apprehended and served time in jail, where he himself was sexually abused by other inmates. It was shortly after his release in 1994 that he started his reign of terror in Johannesburg.
Sithole found his victims by claiming to be a businessman who could help them find employment, drawing his trusting victims to a scheduled meeting place. Leading his victim through open fields, Moses would over-power, rape and strangle them with their own underwear. It was after his fourth kill that a special task force was established to try capture the killer. He murdered 30 women in less than a year and would boldly phone and taunt the victim’s family afterwards.
All of Sithole’s victims bodies were found within meters from one another. The 2-year-old son of one of his victims was found near his mothers dead body, having died from starvation and thirst.
Only after 34 more bodies were found was Moses Sithole brought to justice. Giving explicit details, Sithole gleefully confessed to 29 murders during police questioning and disclosed his HIV positive status. After an extended trial that took more than a year to end, Moses Sithole was sentenced to an effective 2410 years in December 1997. He will live the rest of his days in C-Max, the maximum security section of Pretoria Central prison.
In South Africa, serial murders can be attributed to poverty, crime, violence and the disbanding of families and tribal ways of life. Despite the abhorrent crime statistics in the country, the public will always revel in the horror and elevate the most prolific murderers to infamous levels. Just like the Jeffrey Dahmer’s of the United States of America, South Africa has it’s own list of extremely violent and cruel serial killers.
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