South Africa’s most prolific serial killer to date, Moses Sithole stands convicted of 38 slayings in a series of “ABC Murders” committed between January and October 1995. The crimes received their media nickname from the fact that they began in Atteridgeville, continued in Boksburg, and claimed more lives in Cleveland.
The victims, all female, were apparently lured or transported to outlying fields where they were beaten, stripped, raped, and strangled with articles of their own clothing. Several victims were found with hands tied behind their backs, and one still wore a blindfold. Many were left with pieces of clothing draped across their faces as if to prevent them from staring at their killer in death.
South African authorities, virtually overrun by serial killers in the wake of apartheid’s collapse, consulted exFBI Agent Robert Ressler in their search for the “ABC” killer. Working in conjunction with Dr. Micki Pistorius, Ressler concluded that the murders in all three communities were linked. President Nelson Mandela was concerned enough about the crime wave to cancel a scheduled trip abroad, appearing in Boksburg with high-ranking justice officials, where he appealed for public help in tracking the strangler.
Police got their break in early October 1995 when a Capetown newspaper, The Star, received an anonymous telephone call from the slayer. He identified himself as “the man that is so highly wanted,” describing his murders as an act of revenge for a prior miscarriage of justice. As describes by the caller, he had been arrested in 1978 for “a crime I didn’t do”-specifically, a rape-and spent the next 14 years in prison, where he was “abused” and “tortured” by fellow inmates. To make matters worse, the caller said, his parents and sister had died while he was in prison. In retaliation for those wrongs, he explained, “l force a woman to go where I want, and when I go there I tell them, ‘Do you know what? I was hurt, so I’m doing ¡t now.’ Then I kill them.” When asked how many victims he had killed, the caller claimed 76-twlce as many as police had found thus far. To verify his claim, he signed off with directions to the corpse of “a lady I don’t think the police have discovered.”
With so many clues in hand, police soon focused their search on Moses Sithole, a 31-year-old ex-convict and youth counselor who had suddenly dropped out of sight. Known to use as many as six pseudonyms, he proved an elusive quarry, but a tip directed them to his hideout in the Johannesburg slum of Benoni on October 18. Armed with a hatchet when officers approached him, Sithole wounded one policeman before he was shot and disarmed. He survived his wounds and was soon transferred from intensive care to a military hospital, where physicians diagnosed him as HIV-positive. In custody, he boasted of teaching his victims “a very good lesson” by killing them.
Robert Ressler’s profile of the “ABC” killer had suggested the possibility of two TEAM KILLERS working together, and police initially suspected that Sithole might be an accomplice of David Selepe, linked to a half-dozen murders of women in Cleveland, but Sithole denied ever meeting Selepe, and no evidence has been found to connect the two men. (Selepe, for his part, had nothing to say on the subject. He was shot dead in December 1994, reportedly after attacking a policeman on a visit to one of his crime scenes. The officer who killed him was exonerated on a claim of self-defense.)
A full year passed before Moses Sithole made his first court appearance, on October 22, 1996, formally charged with 38 murders, 40 rapes, and six counts of robbery.
His trial, scheduled to begin on November 14, was postponed when Sithole arrived in court that morning, his pants drenched in blood. He was rushed to a hospital, treated for an open knee wound apparently sustained at Pretoria Central Prison.
When his trial finally convened in February 1997, an American voice expert identified Sithole as the caller who had boasted of his murders to reporters at The Star. Sithole had also confessed his crimes in detail to other inmates, some of whom were curiously equipped with both tape recorders and video cameras, capturing his boasts for posterity. The long-winded proceedings were delayed once again in August when Sithole started vomiting blood from a stomach ulcer, but there was no escaping justice.
On December 5, 1997, jurors convicted Sithole on all counts, the following day, he was sentenced to a prison term of 2,410 years.