Prison VideoOn Dec. 3, 1996, a video was shown in the Pretoria Supreme Court. It wasn’t of good quality, but it featured Moses Sithole in prison, speaking about the women he had murdered.
The video was made by fellow inmates in Boksburg Prison not long after Sithole’s arrest. Charles Schoeman, Jacques Rogge and Mark Halligan, former police officers, were involved in a $491,800 diamond robbery in Amanzimtoti in 1995. They also murdered an accomplice. Rogge met Sithole in the infirmary, where the former slept due to his diabetes. Apparently, Sithole asked Rogge if he could steal some pills so that he could commit suicide. But first he wanted to tell his story. Schoeman, Rogge, Halligan and Sithole all signed a contract, whereby they would share the profits from the sale of the story. Sithole’s share was to go to his daughter.
Sithole looks quite comfortable on the video, sitting back and smoking. He describes how the first woman he killed, shouted at him when he asked her for directions. This, according to him, was in July 1995. Apparently he manage to calm her down and arranged to meet her at a later date. That was when he throttled her. ”I cannot remember her name,” he says on the video, according to The Star of Dec. 4, 1996. “I killed her and left her there. I went straight home and had a shower.”
He continues to tell the camera that he has killed 29 women. ”I don’t know where the other nine come from,” he is quoted in the Beeld of the same date. ”If there was blood or injuries, they weren’t my women.”
All his victims had reminded him of the woman who had “falsely” accused him of rape in 1989. On the video he claims that he did not rape any of them, although some apparently offered to sleep with him in order to live. Some women he did not attack, because he saw that they were ”sincere and without pretensions,” according to the Beeld article.
He strangled his victims from behind, because he did not want to look into their eyes. This is interesting. Despite the fact that Sithole liked to inspire fear in his victims by leading them through the rotting corpses of his earlier victims, he did not like blood and he didn’t want to see their faces as he stole their lives. Stewart Wilken, on the other hand, got his main thrill from watching his victims’ eyes bulge at the moment they died. He called this the “jelleybean effect,” and he would throttle and rape them simultaneously so that he could climax at this very moment.
On the video, Schoeman asks Sithole if there is a victim that he recalls more than the others. Sithole tells him about Amelia Rapodile, one of the ten women found at the Van Dyk Mine, as reported by The Star of Dec. 4, 1996: “She started to fight. I gave her a chance to fight and I tell her, if you lose, you die ... She was using her feet and kicked me [Amelia was apparently trained in karate]. Then she tried to grab my clothes, but she could not grab me. I just tell her bye-bye.”
At one stage, while Sithole is describing these murders, he languidly bites into an apple.
Although chilling, it was not the content of the video which led to the drama, but everything surrounding its production.
At first there was no indication as to how Charles Schoeman and his cohorts got their hands on a video camera. The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) wanted to launch an internal investigation when the existence of the video had become known, but Deputy Attorney-General Retha Meintjes asked them to defer since she wanted to keep it secret until the trial. Still, since it is illegal both to make a recording in prison and to publish a prisoner’s life story without the written authorisation of the Commissioner of the DCS, Schoeman and the others faced possible criminal charges. Any potential financial gain was highly unlikely.
There was a postponement at this stage, and when the trial resumed on Jan. 29, 1997, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of President Mandela, was in attendance. Sithole smiled at her; she only stared back.
A week later it became known that Charles Schoeman did not want to testify in the trial, for fear of his life. Apparently, since his involvement in the Sithole video had been revealed, Schoeman had been threatened. He wrote in a letter to the Boksburg Prison Prisoners Executive Committee, quoted in The Star of Feb. 6, 1997, that ”since the day all this became known, my whole life has been turned upside down and now I am being harassed and intimidated to such an extent that I can no longer see my way open to testify for the prosecution in this matter. I should have kept my mouth shut and stayed out of this affair.” He also claimed a warder had helped him to obtain the video equipment. The content of Sithole’s confession had troubled him to such an extent that he contacted the police.
On Feb. 10, Schoeman did take the stand. He had been promised indemnity for his involvement in the making of the video and all charges surrounding it, provided that he testified honestly. Apparently, they had originally made audio recordings of Sithole’s story. Schoeman contacted the police and Capt. Leon Nel of the East Rand Murder and Robbery Unit provided him with the video recording equipment via Schoeman’s wife. Since there was now police involvement, and Sithole had not been told that the recordings would be used during his trial, nor had he been informed of his rights prior to the recordings, his attorney stated that he would object to its inclusion.
An American voice analysis expert, Loni Smrkovski, was flown to South Africa to testify about the recordings of the man who had phoned Tamsen de Beer. He concurred with Dr. Leendert Jansen’s findings that the voice matched that of Moses Sithole. He also provided a practical example, using the voices of Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca and Rich Little, a voice mimic.
This was followed by days and days of DNA testimony, linking Sithole to numerous victims with varying degrees of certainty. Superintendent Petra Hennop of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria began by explaining the nature of DNA, the tests involved and the other basics of DNA analysis, since this was still relatively new to South African courts.
The trial dragged on. There was also a trial-within-a-trial to determine whether the confession recorded by the police in 1 Military Hospital shortly after his arrest was admissible, since Sithole claimed he had been coerced and told what to say, without proper representation. In addition, it dealt with Sithole’s state of mind when he had pointed out the crime scenes. He claimed these had also been shown to him by the police. Finally, on July 29, the judge denied Sithole’s accusations and the confessions were accepted into evidence. Detectives proceeded to testify about the scenes Sithole had pointed out.
On Aug. 15, the State closed its case. It had taken almost a year and $229,500.
The defence put Sithole on the stand. Basically, he told the court that he knew nothing, he had done nothing, and everything he had said in his confession and any crime scenes he had pointed out had been fed to him by the police. He did admit to knowing one of the rape victims, Lindiwe Nkosi, stating that her sister had been his girlfriend at that time, but he denied raping her. In addition, he still professed his innocence in relation to the rape for which he had been sent to jail in 1989. The Star of Aug. 27, 1997, described Sithole’s testimony as ”rambling, often incoherent.”
Finally, on Dec. 4, 1997, Justice David Curlewis was ready to pass judgement on Moses Sithole.
Growing UpLike practically all serial killers, Moses Sithole’s formative years were not ideal. He was born in 1964. His father, Simon Tangawira Sithole, his mother, Sophie, and his five siblings lived in Vosloorus, a historically black area just south of Germiston and Boksburg. While Moses was still a child, his father died and his mother was soon unable to manage financially. When they had to leave their home, Sophie had nowhere to take the children, and consequently decided to leave them at a police station. She made them understand in no uncertain terms that they were not to tell the police officers that she was her mother. The children were placed in an orphanage in Benoni, but the boys were soon transferred to the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Sithole claimed that they were mistreated and he ran away three years later.
Thus, again we find the absent father figure identified by Robert Ressler as a frequent characteristic in the serial killer’s childhood. In addition, the rejection by his mother undoubtedly left an indelible impression on the young Moses, and probably initiated his resentment towards and hatred of women. What is interesting, however, is that his brother Patrick did not choose such a destructive path. Perhaps Patrick’s increased age played some role, but this still reminds us that environmental conditions only explain a part of the picture.
There are many fascinating parallels between the lives and crimes of Moses Sithole and American serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy, of course, did not grow up in ideal circumstances either. Being conceived illegitimately, his mother, Louise Cowell, went to a home for unwed mothers, leaving her son there for two months after his birth to decide what to do. In the end, she came and took him home, where he was raised somewhat transparently as if he were his grandparents’ adopted son. When Bundy was 5, his mother moved away and later married John Culpepper Bundy. Ted Bundy never really knew where he belonged, and the same is true of Moses Sithole.
Moses fled from the orphanage and found a place to stay with his brother. Patrick moved to Venda, and not long after, Moses sold the house without permission. It’s not mentioned how old he was. He found employment in a number of menial capacities, on farms and at the numerous gold mines surrounding Johannesburg.
Like Bundy, Sithole apparently didn’t lack female company, although his relationships tended to be fleeting. Sithole told some of his rape victims that a girlfriend had wronged him. Thus we have an absent father figure, a mother who deserted him and a woman who, whether real or imagined, mistreated him in some way. Bundy lost the father figure he maintained that he adored, his grandfather, when his mother moved them away to Tacoma, Washington. In addition, his mother lied to him about his legitimacy for years, and a college woman he coveted for all that she symbolized, broke up with him.
The two men liked to kill quite similarly, although Bundy was perhaps more violent. Although Sithole slapped his early victims, there was never any evidence of blunt force trauma found. Bundy, of course, was quite partial to his crowbar or tyre iron. Both, however, liked to strangle women, and underwear, particularly pantyhose, worked very well. Bundy’s last couple of victims at the Chi Omega sorority house were left face down in their beds, their skulls bashed in. Perhaps, like Sithole, he also preferred to kill from behind.
They killed in fairly rapid succession. Their lust for power and control was not to be easily sated.
Interestingly, both had on occasion helped others, even to the point of saving a life. Bundy worked on a crisis line alongside author Ann Rule, who provides testimony in her book, The Stranger Beside Me, that he helped numerous callers, some clearly in the process of committing suicide. He also saved a toddler from drowning in 1970. Sithole helped streetchildren and even reunited some runaways with their parents.
The two men approached their trials differently. Bundy, with his affection for the centre stage, frequently usurped his defence and engage in court theatrics. Sithole, in contrast, preferred to remain silently in the dock, merely smiling as if the extinguished lives of 37 women and one child were all very amusing. Which is indicative of the mindset of both the psychopath and the serial killer—other people are merely objects and props for them to use and abuse according to their whim.
In the end, Sithole was convicted of all the murders he is believed to have committed; Bundy of only three. Bundy received death; Sithole, life.
Neither Ted Bundy nor Moses Sithole employed crude techniques in obtaining victims. Women weren’t forced away at knife- or gunpoint. They weren’t blitzed from behind and dragged away under the cover of night. Although Bundy sometimes killed during the day, sometimes during the night, Sithole invariably lured his victims away in broad daylight. Both frequently took women from amidst crowds. Both were intelligent, organized and extremely efficient.
Bundy, not only having studied psychology, but also receiving training in it, knew that women would not be intimidated by a man in a cast and would be inclined to help such a man struggling to carry or move something. Sithole may not have been formally educated, but he knew that employment opportunities in South Africa were scarce and could be exploited to lure women into a vulnerable situation. Both manage to charm and evince trust from their victims.
Bundy used numerous disarming techniques—crutches, posing as a police officer. At Lake Sammamish Park, on July 14, 1974, he approached women with his left arm encased in plaster, trying to enlist their help with a ”sailboat.” Janice Ott and Denise Naslund didn’t view him with suspicion and obeyed their helping nature. They paid for their altruism with their lives.
Ted Bundy and Moses Sithole in fact epitomises the horror and fascination of serial killers. They appeared perfectly normal and blended in completely. These weren’t troll-like creatures, creeping closer under the cover of dark, crazed and drooling, snatching daughters away while their parents were sleeping. They walked in the sun, smiling and chatting, mixing with the crowd before leading one member away. To bludgeon and strangle and rape and kill.
The David Selepe ConnectionPolice were never able to tie Moses Sithole to David Selepe. Of course, this does not preclude such a connection from having existed in some form at some time.
On one hand, there are numerous coincidences and points of overlap between the two stories, while on the other, information and evidence thought to be related to Selepe later turned out to belong to Sithole instead.
Messages were written on the first victim, Maria Monama. Although she was originally attributed to Selepe, she was later believed to have been killed by Sithole. Apparently the 18-year-old was the only victim to have been written on. It would appear to be significant that she was also the first. She a beach, he wrote on her according to the Beeld of Oct. 31, 1996. I am not fighting with you please. This was on the right thigh. On the left one, he wrote, We must stay here for as long as you don’t understand. In retrospect, the last sentence was a grim prophecy. To whom were these messages directed? Who’s the “bitch”—this woman, all women, the women who hurt him in the past? If it’s the woman/women who hurt him, then he was telling this victim that she was not the real target of his rage. He was “not fighting” with Maria, but with this other woman; however, he “must” continue to kill until women come to somehow “understand” his pain. If this interpretation is relatively accurate, it indicates remarkable insight into himself, something serial killers apparently tend to lack according to John Douglas. He could also be speaking to those who would find her, perhaps even the police in particular. He wasn’t “fighting” with the police. Perhaps he wanted someone to “understand” what he was feeling, that he “must” kill these women—who are just “bitches”—to silence his pain? To feel alive?
Amanda Thethe disappeared on Aug. 2, 1994, and was found four days later in Cleveland. Sithole knew Amanda, had visited her house and attended her funeral. Selepe pointed out the location where Amanda’s body had been found. But Sithole was later identified by his own sister as the man photographed while using Amanda’s bank card later on Aug. 2. He was also linked to Amanda through DNA. Did they kill her together? Did Sithole kill her and later told Selepe about it in enough detail so that he knew where the body had been left? Did Sithole by some exceedingly bizarre coincidence have sex with Amanda earlier that day and borrow or steal her bank card, and then Selepe killed her later? Did the police coerce Selepe into pointing out this site? Is it relevant that he was shot dead at this particular scene?
A man phoned Dorah Mokoena’s employer on Sept. 12, 1994, three days after she went missing. He claimed that Dorah had been in an accident and would not be returning to work. He asked that her employer pay her salary into her account. Supposedly she was in a critical condition and needed the money. When the employer asked the man who he was, he remained silent for some time and then gave his name as “Martin.” Sithole wasn’t charged with this murder, and it remains attributed to Selepe. But, “Martin” is the alias that recurs again and again in Sithole’s story. Did Sithole also murder Dorah? That is one possibility. But if Sithole and Selepe did, in fact, know each other, Selepe may have known of the “Martin” alias, and may have appropriated it for himself in this instance. Hence the long wait while he was searching for a name—presumably, Sithole would have been quicker in his response, since he frequently used this alias. Or did Sithole place the call? Did they kill her together?
Joyce Mashabela was found in a patch of veld in Pretoria West on Aug. 19, 1994. On Aug. 15, five days after she had disappeared, a man phoned her employer. He gave his name as “Moses Sima” and said that he had found her identity document in the veld. Her family members collected it from him. Sithole was later charged with Joyce’s murder. Was he the man who had phoned? If not, it’s another fascinating name coincidence. In addition, Peggy Bodile’s body was found in this very same patch of veld on Oct. 7, 1994, having gone missing three days earlier. Sithole wasn’t charged with her murder, and all the bodies attributed to Selepe, apart from Peggy and Joyce (initially) were found in Cleveland. What a coincidence that he would leave this one victim 40 miles away from his graveyard in the exact area where Sithole had left a body two months earlier. Sithole was linked to Joyce’s body through DNA.
Refilwe Mokale disappeared on Sept. 5, 1994. Eyewitnesses saw her speaking with a man on Church Plain in Pretoria the previous day. Apparently, he had offered her a job and arranged to meet her the next day. An identikit was completed and released on Nov. 10. Sithole was later charged with Refilwe’s murder, which means that it was probably his identikit and not Selepe’s—if it was indeed the killer who had spoken with Refilwe on that day. If true, Sithole’s picture had been released to the public after he had killed only five women (as per the charges eventually brought against him).
When Sithole phoned Tamsen de Beer of The Star, he readily admitted being responsible for the bodies found in Atteridgeville and Boksburg, but he specifically denied involvement in the Cleveland murders. On the controversial prison video, Sithole stated that he had killed his first victim in July 1995. Maria Monama, believed by police to have been his first murder, was killed during July 1994, and found in Cleveland.
Then there was the disclosure by Selepe of his two accomplices, “Tito” and “Mandla.” And Sithole’s use of “Mandla” as an alias when he called Monica Gabisile’s grandmother.
David Selepe had been linked ‘positively’ to six of the Cleveland victims, but police has never revealed which six. Even the details of these links, as provided to the press, are sketchy. Police also never answered questions on whether the four victims later attributed to Sithole fell inside or outside the six linked to Selepe. Such instances of nondisclosure in the absence of proper motivation frequently appear to be instances of hiding, or worse, cover-up, and are the most flammable kindling for conspiracy theories.
Sithole claimed he didn’t know David Selepe and that he worked alone. Of course, he also claimed that he never killed anyone. Micki Pistorius believes that Sithole would never admit to collaborating with Selepe, because he craves his ”celebrity status,” and won’t share his notoriety with another.
JudgementOn Dec. 4, 1997, Mr. Justice David Curlewis found Moses Sithole guilty on 40 charges of rape, 38 charges of murder and six charges of robbery. One of his two assessors felt that Sithole should not be held accountable, but the judge and the other assessor did not agree. It took three hours to read the verdict, and the packed courtroom was not happy that sentencing would only be pronounced the next day. Relatives of the victims wanted Sithole delivered to them.
On the day that Sithole’s daughter turned three, Dec. 5, Judge Curlewis sentenced him to a total of 2,410 years in prison. He got 12 years for each of the 40 rapes, 50 years for each of the 38 murders, and another five years for each of the six robberies. These sentences would not run concurrently, and the judge recommended no possibility of parole for at least 930 years. According to the Beeld of Dec. 6, 1997, the Judge Curlewis said that “nothing can be said in favour of Sithole. In this case I do not take leniency into account. What Sithole did was horrible.”
The judge also stated that he would have had no trouble imposing the death penalty, had it still been a viable option. He did not have the necessary faith in the prison authorities nor the parole boards to hand down life sentences. That would’ve meant that Sithole would be eligible for parole in 25 years. ”I want to make it clear,” Judge Curlewis said, according to the CapeTimes of Dec. 5, 1997. “I mean that Moses Sithole should stay in jail for the rest of his life.”
Sithole, who listened to his sentence without any emotion, was taken to C-Max, the maximum security section of Pretoria Central Prison and the highest security cellblock in South Africa. Here he would live with the other 94 prisoners considered to be the most dangerous in the country, including Eugene de Kock of the old Counterinsurgence Unit. Each prisoner is allowed one hour per day outside his cell and three visits per month.
Twelve women lie in pauper graves. There are no names above their heads. No one comes to visit their graves. No one leaves flowers. Their loved ones do not know where they lie.
Sithole has AIDS, and at the time of his trial was estimated to live another five to eight years. At the time of writing, it has been seven years and his health has not waned. In fact, thanks to the excellent medical care he receives in prison, free of charge, his health is now much better than it was at the time of his trial. Like any successful weed, he flourishes despite viral attacks and ill wishes.
Still, Moses Sithole is locked away in C-Max, where he will spend the rest of his days—with himself, his memories and his fantasies.
It’s a lot more than he allowed his victims.
BibliographyDouglas, JE & Olshaker, M (1997). Mindhunter. London: Arrow Books.
Douglas, JE & Olshaker, M (1998). Journey into darkness. London: Arrow Books.
Doyle, R & Cave, J (Eds) (1992). Serial killers. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.
Lambrecht, IR (2004). Cultural artefacts and the oracular trance states of the sangoma in South Africa. Art and Oracle. Retrieved Sept. 4, 2004, from the World Wide Web <http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/oracle/essaylambrecht.html#sub1>.
Pistorius, M (2000). Catch me a killer. Sandton, South Africa: Penguin Books.
Pistorius, M (2002). Strangers on the street: serial homicide in South Africa. Sandton, South Africa: Penguin Books.
Ressler, RK & Shachtman, T (1995). Whoever fights monsters. New York: St Martin’s Press.
Ressler, RK & Shachtman, T (1998). I have lived in the monster. New York: St Martin’s Press.
To recount the story of Moses Sithole, I have relied on the following sources:
Landman, Ruda (2003, Apr 13). Crawling with evidence. Carte Blanche. Retrieved Nov. 27, 2003, from the World Wide Web <http://www.mnet.co.za/CarteBlanche/Display/Display.asp?Id=2199>.
The electronic archives of Die Burger (<http://22.214.171.124/argief/berigte/dieburger>), Beeld (<http://126.96.36.199/argief/berigte/beeld>) and Independent On-Line (<http://www.iol.co.za>). The latter also contains articles from the following newspapers: CapeTimes and The Star.
The books by Dr. Micki Pistorius and Robert Ressler’s I Have Lived in the Monster.