Moses Sithole: South Africa's Worst Serial Killer

Crime Files

Moses Sithole was born in 1964 to Simon and Sophie Sithole, one of five children, near Boksburg, in what was then the Transvaal Province of apartheid South Africa. Childhood poverty was exacerbated following the death of his father, and his mother, Sophie, unable to support the children, abandoned them at a local police station. They were placed in an orphanage in Kwazulu Natal, but systematic abuse caused the teenage Sithole to run away after three years there, seeking refuge first with his older brother, Patrick, before going to work in the Johannesburg gold mines. Sithole was sexually precocious from an early age, but relationships were short-lived: it has been surmised that his mother’s abandonment of her children might have played a role in his aggressive attitudes to woman. He is also reported to have told some of his rape victims of his own bad experiences, at the hands of a previous girlfriend. He has been described as a handsome and charming man, and most of his victims were enticed to their assaults, and often deaths, in broad daylight, with promises of employment opportunities that would never materialise. His social ease and intelligent demeanour made the string of brutal assaults even more chilling, and he was eventually charged with 38 murders and 40 rapes. A significant number of his victims were never identified.

Timeline

Born: 1964The Victims: (38 in total, some of whom were never identified)16 July 1994 - Maria Monene Monama, 18 6 August 1994 - Amanda Kebofile Thethe, 26 19 August 1994 - Joyce Thakane Mashabela, 32 7 September 1994 - Refilwe Amanda Mokale, 24 18 September 1994 - Rose Rebothile Mogotsi, 22 December 1994 - Unidentified Victim (discovered 3 January 1995) January 1995 - Beauty Nuku Soko, 27 3 March 1995 - Sara Matlakala Mokono, 25 7 April 1995 - Nikiwe Diko (discovered 24 June) 12 April 1995 - Letta Nomthandazo Ndlangamandla, 25 20 April 1995 - Sibusiso Nomthandazo Ndlangamandla 12 May 1995 - Esther Moshibudi Mainetja, 29 23 May 1995 - Granny Dimakatso Ramela, 21 (discovered 18 July) 25 May 1995 - Elizabeth Granny Mathetsa, 19 (discovered 16 June) 30 May 1995 - Mildred Ntiya Lepule, 28 (discovered 26 July) 13 June 1995 - Francina Nomsa Sithebe, 25 22 June 1995 - Ernestina Mohadi Mosebo, 30 14 July 1995 - Elsie Khoti Masango, 25 (discovered on 8 August) 17 July 1995 - Josephine Mantsali Mlangeni, 25 8 August 1995 - Oscarina Vuyokazi Jakalase, 30 (discovered 23 August) 9 August 1995 - Unidentified Victim 15 August 1995 - Makoba Tryphina Mogotsi, 26 (discovered 17 September) 28 August 1995 - Unidentified Victim 30 August 1995 - Unidentified Victim 4 September 1995 - Nelisiwe Nontobeko Zulu, 26 (discovered 17 September) 7 September 1995 - Amelia Dikamakatso Rapodile, 43 (discovered 17 September) 12 September 1995 - Unidentified Victim 12 September 1995 - Monica Gabisile Vilakazi, 31 (discovered 17 September) 17 September 1995 - Hazel Nozipho Madikizela, 21 (discovered 17 September) 17 September 1995 - Tsidi Malekoae Matela, 45 17 September 1995 - 3 Unidentified Victims 24 September 1995 - Agnes Sibongile Mbuli, 20 (discovered 3 October) 9 October 1995 - Unidentified Victim 10 October 1995 - Beauty Ntombi Ndabeni (discovered 11 October) 14 October 1995 - Unidentified Victim 6 November 1995 - Unidentified VictimArrested: 18 October 1995Charged: 23 October 1995Trial: 21 October 1996Convicted: 4 December 1997

The Trial

By the time Sithole’s trial began on 21 October 1996, mounting evidence saw the total charges against him increase to 38 counts of murder, 40 counts of rape and 6 counts of robbery. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.Building a chronological picture of his crimes, the prosecution introduced harrowing testimony, from his earliest rape victims, detailing their ordeals at the hands of Sithole before his first conviction for rape.There followed a detailed examination of his connection with each of the murdered victims, with testimony about the alleged job offers, and the specific techniques used to lure his victims to their deaths. Sithole appeared cool and collected throughout.On 3 December 1996, the prosecution introduced a video that had been shot during Sithole’s initial incarceration, in which Sithole candidly admitted to 29 murders. He describes his technique in some detail, although he claims that he began killing only in July 1995, selecting his victims for their resemblance to the rape victim, Buyiswa Doris Swakamisa, whom he regarded as responsible for his first jail sentence. The legality of the admissibility of this tape, recorded illegally in a jail cell, caused the trial to be delayed until 29 January 1997, and the technical issues relating to it, as well as Sithole’s original confession, caused the trial to drag on until 29 July 1997, when the judge finally ruled that the evidence was admissible.The prosecution rested its case on 15 August 1997. The defence case depended largely on Sithole’s denial of any involvement in the killings, when he took the witness box, but his testimony was often rambling and incoherent.On 4 December 1997, more than a year after the case had commenced, Moses Sithole was found guilty on all charges. It took three hours to read the verdict, with the consequence that sentencing had to be postponed until the next day.Next morning, the judge made a statement stating that, in view of the abhorrent nature of the crimes, he would have had no hesitation in pronouncing a death sentence on Sithole. However, since the death penalty in South Africa had been declared unconstitutional in 1995, Sithole was sentenced to 2,410 years in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least 930 years. Clearly, the sentence meant to keep Sithole behind bars for the rest of his life.

The Crimes

It is not known when Sithole took his first rape victim, but his first recorded incidence of rape occurred in September 1987, involving 29-year-old Patrica Khumalo, who also testified at his 1996 trial. Three other known rape victims came forward, including Buyiswa Doris Swakamisa, who was attacked in February 1989. She made a police report at the time that resulted in Sithole’s arrest and trial, and he was jailed in Boksburg Prison for six years, in 1989, for the rape of Swakamisa. Sithole maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and was released early, in 1993, for good behaviour.Perhaps Sithole learned a lesson from his time in jail: that rape victims left alive can produce consequences. It is not known how soon after release that he began his rape and killing spree but, in the period between January and April 1995, in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, four bodies of young black women, who had been strangled, and probably raped, were discovered. This began a chain of events that unearthed an appalling litany of brutality and death.When newspapers became aware of the similarities in the modus operandi of the killing of each victim, police were forced to admit that a serial killer might be operating in the area. When the body of the 2-year old son of one of the victims was also discovered, it incited further media coverage but, in a society inured to violence, interest was relatively short-lived within the media.However, the recovery of a number of bodies within the general vicinity of Pretoria over the next few months, all sharing the same gruesome pattern, of having been raped, tied up and strangled with their own underwear, gave the public pause for thought. On 17 July 1995, a witness saw Sithole acting suspiciously whilst in the company of a young woman, and discovered her body when he went to investigate. Unfortunately, the witness had been too far away to be able to identify the killer.A special investigating team was established within the Pretoria Murder and Robbery Unit, in an effort to establish whether the bodies conformed to a definite pattern, but the method of attack varied to such an extent that it was impossible to state with certainty that one killer was responsible. As more victims were identified, and the chronology of deaths, rather than the discovery of their bodies, became apparent, there was clear evidence that the killer was evolving his murder technique to extract the greatest pain from his victims, assumedly increasing his own pleasure. His means of approach was also clarified: in a significant number of cases, the victim had been meeting someone who had promised them employment.On 16 September 1995, a body was discovered at the Van Dyk Mine near Boksburg. Further investigation revealed mass graves; forensic experts recovered ten bodies, in varying degrees of decomposition, over the next 48 hours. Investigators were certain that the Boksburg bodies were linked with the victims at Atteridgeville. Media attention was intense throughout the recovery operation, and even President Nelson Mandela visited the scene of the grisly discoveries.Public concern increased with the media coverage, and the local authorities sought external help from retired FBI profiler Robert Ressler, who arrived on 23 September 1995. He assisted with the development of a profile of the serial killer, indicating that an intelligent, organised individual with a high sex drive was responsible, operating with a growing sense of confidence, and perhaps with the assistance of a second killer.

The Aftermath

Sithole was incarcerated at the maximum-security section of Pretoria Central Prison, the highest security cellblock in South Africa, known as C-Max. Ironically, the medical treatment for his HIV condition in prison far exceeds any treatment available to the average South African citizen, and may well secure him a far longer life, albeit in prison.

The Arrest

Whilst the profiling was underway, investigations at the site revealed that one of the victims found, Amelia Rapodile, had last been seen before an appointment to see a man, named Moses Sithole, on 7 September. A job application form was found, in which she was offered a position, and when a second victim showed a similar connection to Sithole, police were confident that they had unearthed a likely suspect. They were unable to locate Sithole, however, who continued with his killing spree, unfazed by the manhunt and media attention, and the body of Agnes Mbuli was discovered near Benoni on 3 October 1995.That same day, a phone call was received at “The Star” newspaper, from a man claiming to be the serial killer. As he seemed to have information not known to the general public, police were inclined to believe it was Sithole. An attempt to set up a meeting with him failed, however, and three more bodies were discovered over the next 10 days, forcing the police to release Sithole’s details to the media.With the manhunt now in the public domain, Sithole tried to seek assistance from family members, but undercover police intercepted him on 18 October 1995. Unwilling to go quietly, he was shot in the leg and stomach by a policeman, and hospitalised, operated on, and transferred to the secure Military Hospital in Pretoria, where Sithole admitted to numerous killings whilst being interviewed by detectives.He also denied ever having had an accomplice, and believed that some “copycat” murders had been executed using his modus operandi. A police claim, that he had waived his right to an attorney, whilst making his confession, was later denied in court. Five days later, on 23 October 1995, Moses Sithole was charged with 29 murders in the magistrates' court in Brakpan.On 3 November 1995 he was transported to Boksburg Prison, where he had served his rape sentence two years previously, to await his trial. During this time, press reports stated that he was HIV positive.