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Johannesburg - A massive manhunt for a Kagiso police officer who went missing earlier this month after withdrawing money from a bank had a tragic end on Wednesday.
Warrant Officer Thabo Abednigo Mahlaba was last seen at an Absa branch in Krugersdorp two weeks ago, withdrawing cash from an ATM.
His disappearance fits the profile of a group known as The Planes gang, who kidnap their victims from banks and would often dump them in the veld.
The gang’s activities were revealed by The Star last week after police launched a manhunt to try to thwart the perpetrators and to find Mahlaba.
Assisted by a police helicopter and accompanied by police dogs, a big group of officers on foot searched numerous places in the vicinity last Wednesday but found nothing.
Around 9am on Wednesday, Mahlaba’s decomposing body was discovered in Randfontein by a group of miners going to work – about 13km from where he was last seen.
While the cause of death had not yet been determined, provincial police spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said the body showed signs of a struggle.
He said investigators believed it was possible that Mahlaba had been murdered the same day he went missing. “Nobody has yet been arrested,” Dlamini said.
Mahlaba’s wife Deborah was unavailable for comment.
Last week, after his disappearance, she was frantic with worry.
Police have been unwilling to comment on whether his disappearance is linked to The Planes gang, whose activities became known through André Snyman, the head of the crime-fighting organisation eBlockwatch.
Snyman had posted an image of Mahlaba at the Absa ATM and said he believed his disappearance fitted the gang’s modus operandi.
“When a team viewed the footage, they picked up a guy who they recognised as one of the gang members.
“He follows clients from the bank after drawing money,” Snyman said on eBlockwatch’s Facebook page.
They call themselves The Planes “because they fly like planes behind the victim when they follow them from the bank”.
A detective said the gang had been operating for more than 10 years and were also involved in other crimes, such as house robberies and hijackings.
The cars they hijacked were used to commit other crimes. They were arrested for various crimes but were soon on the street again. – Additional reporting by Angelique Serrao