On the run for a year, “the Facebook rapist” finally returned to prison

He had escaped leaving a charred corpse in his cell to make people believe in his own death. South African murderer and rapist Thabo Bester was caught and returned to jail last Thursday. But the incredible affair remains embarrassing for the authorities. Why did the prison services take several hours to intervene on the day of the escape? Why didn’t the police have the rapist’s DNA when they identified the charred remains? And finally why was the public not informed that a serial criminal was out in the wild?

In May 2022, a charred male body was found in Thabo Bester’s cell in Bloemfontein. Nicknamed “the Facebook rapist” because he lured most of his victims by posing as a model recruiter, he was sentenced in 2012 to life in prison for murder and rape.

The charred body is not his

At first, prison authorities believe he set himself on fire. In reality, the 30-year-old prisoner escaped in circumstances that remain to be clarified. At the end of March, almost a year after the escape, the police revealed that according to DNA tests, the body in his cell was not his.

On Saturday, the South African government announced that the fugitive criminal had been arrested in the Arusha region (Tanzania), near the Kenyan border, as he tried to leave the country with his South African partner and a Mozambican accomplice.

Under close supervision

They each held multiple passports, Police Minister Bheki Cele said Thursday. During the night of Wednesday to Thursday, the extradited couple arrived at an airport near Johannesburg. Thabo Bester has been “reincarcerated” in a maximum security prison in Pretoria where he will be monitored “24 hours a day, 7 days a week”, according to a prison official. His partner, Nandipha Magudumana, was presented to court in the afternoon. She is due to return on Monday.

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A parliamentary committee looked into the case on Thursday, questioning police and prison officials. The series of shortcomings in the affair which has held the country in suspense for several weeks is a concentrate of the ills of the country: maddening crime, botched investigation, impotent police.

A real fiasco

“The investigation took a long time,” said a police officer. “We still don’t know the identity of the deceased whose charred body was found in the cell,” another acknowledged. Police only opened a new murder investigation last month after an autopsy revealed the dead man found in Bester’s cell had died of head trauma before being burned. The announcement of the escape was “woefully late”, admitted the former judge responsible at the time for inspecting the prison services, Edwin Cameron.

“This story looks like a movie and sends shivers down your spine,” reacted Bafana Khumalo, co-director of a feminist association. It “testifies to the incompetence of the prison administration and the endemic corruption of this sector”, denounced for its part the EFF, a radical opposition party.

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