Pretoria vagrant killer may be linked to 8 unsolved murders in Eastern Cape

Police hope unsolved murders can help profile Pretoria killer

23 June 2019 - 00:00 By GRAEME HOSKEN
Homeless people in Pretoria are living in fear after yet another homeless man's body was found at a bus stop near Unisa in Pretoria this week. This brings the number of dead to five over the last month.
Homeless people in Pretoria are living in fear after yet another homeless man's body was found at a bus stop near Unisa in Pretoria this week. This brings the number of dead to five over the last month.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

The unsolved murders of eight homeless men in East London four years ago might help police solve the killings of five Pretoria vagrants this month.

The Sunday Times has learnt that a police task team, established this week to look at the Pretoria killings, is to request the dockets of the eight murders, which occurred in August 2015. They are hoping to find clues previously overlooked and use them to solve those crimes and find the Pretoria murderer.

Key to the investigation is the recent discovery of two survivors of the Pretoria attacker, dubbed "The Ghost" by other homeless people, and two men who claim to have witnessed one of the killings.

The Ghost's haunts
The Ghost's haunts
Image: Nolo Moima and Sebabatso Mosamo

Since June 1, five homeless men have been murdered while sleeping in Muckleneuk, one of Pretoria's plushest suburbs.

Police are stumped by what motivates the killer to attack the city's vagrants, who number an estimated 10,000.

Investigators are pursuing a number of theories, including whether the killer could also be homeless, with a leading forensic psychologist describing the killings as unique and psychologically motivated.

A Sunnyside police station source said some of the victims, who were all badly beaten over the head, were found partially clothed, with four of them stabbed.

A source with knowledge of the inquiry said the investigation team was looking at the unsolved East London murders to see if they could be linked.

"There are a number of similarities. They were all asleep and alone when they were stabbed and beaten. The victims were also all homeless, which is unique. It's hoped information in those dockets will help police identify a profile of the Pretoria killer."

East London police spokesperson Capt Hazel Mqala confirmed none of the murders - which she said were believed to have been committed by one person - had been solved.

Blood stains mark the place at the bus stop where the fifth victim was killed on Wednesday.
Blood stains mark the place at the bus stop where the fifth victim was killed on Wednesday.
Image: Sebabatso Mosaomo

The Pretoria killings, which have seen police urging vagrants to go to shelters at night, have left the homeless living in fear, with those running shelters speaking of their heartache at having to turn people away because of a lack of space.

"It feels like we are playing God. We could be sending people to their deaths," said Moses Hlope, a supervisor at the Homeless Upliftment Project.

Since the killings began, they have been overwhelmed by the number of homeless coming to their centre. "In winter we usually get about 25 people. Now most nights we have over 50. Some nights it's 70."

Richard Mabizela, whose brother, Doctor, 23, lives on Pretoria's streets, said their family fears for his safety. "Every night we wonder whether Doctor is safe."

He said he had pleaded with his brother, who has a one-year-old daughter, to return home - but he would not.

"After the two homeless men were found dead in the [Magnolia] park I spoke to him, but I have not heard from him since."

Daniel Motshweni, who lives on Pretoria's streets, described the killer as a ghost. "No- one knows him. No-one sees him. He comes only at night. All one sees are the bodies the next morning."

Clothes and belongings of the man known as Rasta who was killed at Magnolia Dell on June 8.
Clothes and belongings of the man known as Rasta who was killed at Magnolia Dell on June 8.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

He and his friends have to sleep on the streets because the shelters are full. "Everyone wants to get off the street, but there is not enough space. We go to the Union Buildings park to sleep because there are lights there. We take turns to stay awake. The Ghost is quick when he kills, so someone has to be awake at all times. If not, we are dead."

Two men, who the Sunday Times has chosen not to name, claimed to have witnessed the attacker murdering their friend, known only as Rasta, on June 8. They said they were walking into Magnolia Dell Park when they saw a man standing over him.

"We could see his knife. His arms were moving up and down. As we walked closer, he saw us and ran. We tried to chase him, but he was so fast," one said.

Assistance plan in pipeline

The City of Tshwane will soon approve its homeless policy to assist those living on Pretoria’s streets, according to the mayoral
committee member for community and social
development, Sakkie du Plooy.

He said the day after Rasta was murdered another body was found in the park.

Gauteng police spokesperson Brig Mathapelo Peters said early investigations indicated one man could be behind the murders.

"Whether the killings can be linked can only be confirmed once the investigation has been concluded. A team of specialists has been established to look at all probabilities."

Detectives have located two victims who survived similar attacks. "We are appealing to people who witnessed or survived the attacks to come forward," Peters said.

Asked if those who survived the attacks had been questioned, she said: "Once an investigation commences, we are not at liberty to comment on any aspect of the investigation pending its conclusion."

At the time of the attacks, she said, the survivors had not reported them to police.

Asked about the eight East London murders, Peters referred further questions to Eastern Cape police. "We will not be giving public updates nor progress of the investigation."

Eastern Cape police spokesperson Col Sibongile Soci said while no request had yet been received, they would assist if needed.

Forensic psychologist Dr Gerard Labuschagne, the former head of the Saps investigative psychology unit, said the killings were unusual in that they were unlikely to be motivated by robbery.

"While there have been serial killers who have targeted men in the past, these murders, if committed by a serial killer, would be psychologically motivated.

"What that motivation is, though, will only be learnt once the person is arrested."

Residents of Muckleneuk in Pretoria are living in fear after the body of another middle-aged homeless man was discovered in the area. Police have confirmed that five homeless men have been found dead in the area over the space of a month.


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