A serial killer, believed to be behind the rape and murder of at least 10 young girls, is on the loose in the capital city, Pretoria.
A manhunt by a team of detectives is under way as fears mount that the body count could rapidly increase.
Police started patching together evidence three weeks ago, linking the killings, thought to have started in 2004, after the discovery of a body in East Lynne, Pretoria.
A 14-year-old girl found raped, murdered and dumped in Sunnyside, Pretoria, in 2004 is believed to have been the killer’s first victim.
South Africa ranks among the top three countries in terms of the number of serial killers.
Very little is known of the killer’s modus operandi which, according to police sources, appears to be to target teenagers in Pretoria’s northern and eastern suburbs.
The bodies of victims, who were bound, have been found dumped along rivers and streams running through Pretoria.
Detectives involved in the case, including officers from the police’s Investigative Psychology Unit, fear that, unless the killer is caught soon, the slaughter of young girls will continue.
The police are yet to compile a profile of the killer.
Forensic psychologist Dr Jackie de Wet said it was “incredibly difficult” to investigate serial crimes and to profile their perpetrators.
“It requires a lot of hard work, especially gathering useable and credible information. Unfortunately the police do not seem to be taking forensic psychology as seriously as they should. [Police] management, while being aware of the expertise and skills within police ranks, is seemingly under-using this very important resource,” said De Wet.
He said the police we re now including clinical psychologists in investigations “but unfortunately forensic psychology, under which profiling falls, is a very specialised field with a limited number of experts”.
A source with knowledge of the Pretoria investigation said that all the victims, including a boy, were aged between 14 and 19.
“Investigators are looking into at least 10 victims, but it could be more, a lot more.
“Members of the Search and Rescue Unit recently searched open veld near Eersterust where the bodies of five teenage girls, which are now also being looked at as possibly victims [of the serial killer], were found.
“If they are positively linked it could bring the number of victims up to 15,” he said.
He said the veld was searched after the police came to suspect that there were more bodies dumped there.
The bodies of the victims, which were in various stages of decomposition, had all been dumped in open fields around Pretoria.
Two were found in a field behind Mamelodi soccer stadium.
Four were found near the Tshwane metro bus depot, near East Lynne, and two between East Lynne and Eersterust.
At least one victim was found in Colbyn.
The first victim was found beneath the Telkom water tower in Sunnyside.
“When the first body was found, the bizarre crime scene … led police to predict that she was the victim of a serial killer.
“DNA obtained from other scenes and recently analysed alerted us to the fact that a serial killer is on the loose,” the policeman said.
Asked to elaborate on what was “bizarre” about the crime scene, the policeman refused, saying that to do so might jeopardise the investigation.
“We know that there is a serial killer operating in Pretoria. We are busy searching the archives and databases of police stations in the city to determine whether there are any more cases, especially involving missing teenage girls.”
He said investigators were waiting for the results of more forensic tests to determine whether a number of bodies of young girls recently found could be linked to the killer.
“At this stage very little is known about how the attacks occur except that they seem to take place after the victims leave school for home.
“In one case the girl phoned her mother to say she was boarding a taxi and was on her way home.”
Only last week serial rape suspect Shulters Sifiso Makhubo was found hanged in his Johannesburg Central prison cell hours before he was to appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court in connection with the rape of 35 girls.