South Africa's super sleuth Piet Byleveld has died

24 May 2017 - 16:15 By TMG Digital And Shenaaz Jamal
Piet Byleveld. File photo.
Piet Byleveld. File photo.

Veteran former police detective Piet Byleveld has died in Johannesburg.

This was confirmed on Wednesday by a senior police source who asked not to be named. Messages of condolences to his family and friends are already being shared on his Facebook wall.

Byleveld‚ dubbed the “man hunter”‚ was regarded as the country’s top detective for his track record of apprehending some of the worst criminals in South Africa.

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Byleveld‚ 67‚ a chain smoker who operated on Grandpa Powder mixed with Coke‚ brought notorious serial killers to book‚ including three of the worst that Johannesburg‚ and South Africa‚ has ever seen. He succumbed to lung cancer at the Life Wilgeheuwel Hospital in Roodepoort.

Cedric Maake‚ the Wemmer Pan Killer also known as the Hammer Killer‚ raped 14 women and murdered 27 between 1996 and 1997. His victims ranged from a 15-year-old to 74-year-old and included males and females. Convicted in 2000‚ he was served a 1‚340-year prison sentence for his reign of terror in southern Johannesburg.

Mine dump serial child killer Sipho Dube Mhlangathi was caught in 2004. He became Byleveld’s first escapee‚ after he walked out of Wynberg Magistrate’s Court wearing clothes Byleveld had lent him for the trial. He was eventually discovered hiding out in prison under a false name‚ and on a different charge. Mhlangathi‚ who used to drink a beer concoction containing battery acid‚ received 10 life sentences and 114 years in jail.

Byleveld’s skill also led to the arrest of the Nasrec Killer. Lazarus Mazingane was sentenced to 17 life terms and more than 700 years in prison for 16 murders and 22 rapes for crimes committed between 1993 and 1998.

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The renowned investigator famously also solved the kidnap and murder of Leigh Matthews‚ 21‚ who disappeared from Johannesburg’s Bond University campus. Fellow student Donovan Moodley‚ who initially pleaded guilty but later recanted‚ was convicted in 2005. He had kidnapped and killed her before trying to extort money from her parents. He is serving a life sentence.

It was Byleveld’s high profile in the Matthews case that entranced another murderer.

Andrew Jordaan‚ then 25‚ had an obsessive interest in the case‚ keeping newspaper clippings and even photographs of Byleveld as the detective in the case. Once identified as a suspect in the kidnapping‚ rape and murder of seven-year-old Sheldean Human (7) from Claremont‚ Pretoria‚ police brought in Byleveld.

Jordaan confessed to him‚ and pointed out where he had dumped the little girl’s body. Served with a life sentence‚ he was beaten to death in 2012 by a fellow inmate at Leeuwkop Prison‚ allegedly over the outcome of a soccer match.

Byleveld retired from the South African Police Service in 2010 after 38 years of service‚ starting a private eye business with associates.

A biography “Byleveld: Dossier of a Serial Sleuth” by Hanlie Retief recounted his career the following year. He told the Sunday Times in an interview it was never his intention to be placed on a pedestal.

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“I simply did my job and never expected the recognition I would receive later on. I wouldn’t have had much success if I allowed the ‘hype’ about Piet Byleveld to distort my focus.”

Offering advice to police investigators following in his footsteps‚ he said: “A good detective must have a passion for his job. You must accept that there’s no regular working hours‚ no time for holidays. You have to be totally dedicated to solving a particular case. When I put my mind to tracking down a killer‚ I don’t easily give up‚ even if the investigation lasts for years. I hate losing.”

His commitment to his job may have taken its toll on his private life.

His first wife‚ Esmie Byleveld‚ whom he married in 1972‚ spoke out in an interview with the Saturday Star after his retirement when it emerged he was leaving her.

“The first 10 years of my marriage was bliss. We did everything together. We were head over heels in love‚” she told the newspaper. “But then he joined the Murder and Robbery Unit. He changed. He saw some gruesome things. He was introduced to alcohol and beautiful women. He never offloaded to a counsellor because he didn't want to.”

Byleveld remarried at the age of 61 in December 2011 to Elize Smit‚ 52‚ in the Waterberg region of Limpopo.