Eight gay men have been murdered in their homes in Gauteng in the past two years in strikingly similar circumstances.
The men were all found with their hands tied behind their backs.
The most recent murder occurred just over a week ago. There have been no arrests.
And, with incomplete forensics and not a single prosecution, a family is now resorting to private investigation.
Last October, The Star reported on four similar killings – all of the victims gay men, murdered in their homes around Gauteng with no apparent motive.
Five months later, and another four similar incidents and a missing person have been reported.
Profilers of serial offenders are intrigued. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Police investigators aren’t convinced.
In seven of the eight cases on which The Star reported, robbery has been ruled out as a motive. There were no signs of forced entry. Could this mean that the killer or killers were invited in by the victims?
The latest victim, theatre manager Rulov Senekal, was found bound and suffocated in his home on February 26 after a meeting with two men in his apartment the night before.
His online dating profile indicated that he had logged on the night before his death.
The police have CCTV footage of the two men leaving the building. They appeared to have taken with them only a laptop and a plastic bag with some other goods.
HIV activist and ex-TV presenter Jason Wessenaar was murdered in his home in Pretoria West on December 18 last year.
He was stabbed seven times in the neck during what appeared to have been a struggle. The murder weapon was different, but there are similarities with the other cases.
There was no sign of forced entry into his home and very little was stolen. It also appears that he could have met his killer online.
Barney van Heerden was found in his Orange Grove house on September 19, strangled and bound after he had let someone into his home. His laptop and cellphone were taken, and again there were no signs of forced entry.
Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo was murdered a week before that.
Bound and strangled in his apartment in Kliptown, he had acid poured onto his face. Some clothes and a television were taken from the scene.
Last August, a landlord, who cannot be named, was found strangled and bound at his home in Northcliff. Police believe he had tried to fight off his attacker before he was bludgeoned with a heavy object. He was bound and strangled.
Tenants found the body the following morning.
Again, there was no forced entry, and almost nothing was stolen.
Oscar O’Hara was killed last May in Kensington. He had been house-sitting for author Ivan Vladislavic. He too was tied up and strangled. Again, very few valuables were taken.
In December 2010, Jim Cathels was found dead in his apartment in Berea. He was bound and strangled.
Yet again there was no forced entry and little was taken from the scene.
Manolis Veloudos was bludgeoned with a laptop and bound and strangled in his Linden home in April 2010.
A man was arrested for the crime, but the murder charge has since been dropped.
Another gay man, Thebe Mogamisi, is known to have arrived in Joburg from Bloemfontein late last year to pursue a relationship he had started online. He vanished on December 31 and is yet to be found.
Police say the cases are not linked and are receiving the same attention as any other case.
“Thorough analysis was done and, at this stage, the cases may not be linked,” said police provincial spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini.
He said two suspects held in Zimbabwe may go to court in relation to Cathels’s death once they are extradited.
Dlamini said a suspect had also been identified in the O’Hara case, but no arrest had been made.
“An accused who appeared in court for murder and possession of stolen property in the case of Manolis Veloudos was acquitted on charges of murder, but found guilty of possession of stolen property and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment,” he said.
A source close to the investigation said CCTV footage of Veloudos and his possible killer at a restaurant before his death had gone missing from police custody.
The DNA found at the scene of the murder did not match the man charged with possession of his stolen property, meaning Veloudos’s killer may still be out on the streets.
Two men are wanted for questioning regarding Senekal’s death.
This means five of the eight cases remain without suspects, and one arrest has occurred, but the man was let free
because DNA evidence vindicated him.
OUT, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender health and well-being group, says there may be a link to the police’s slow pace of investigation and the victims’ sexual orientation.
“In our view, there is a definite pattern in these murders, and the SAPS should investigate possible links,” said OUT director Dawie Nel.
“There was no sign of forced entry, and most of them were strangled. There is a suspicion that at least some of them met their attackers through online and cellphone dating services.”
The group claims to have attempted to follow up on some of the cases and met great resistance from the police to investigating the online aspect.
“Some of the victims’ (families) have also struggled to get information from investigating officers... One has hired a private investigator in an effort to ensure justice,” Nel said.
OUT has formed a task team and will be following up with the specific SAPS stations and their commissioners, and taking the issue further on a provincial level and with the Independent Complaints Directorate.
Forensic specialist Mark Welman is shocked that no serial investigators have been asked to examine the cases.
“It would be remiss of investigating authorities not to consider possible links, and they should certainly be drawing on their specialised behavioural science unit on these cases,” said Welman.
He said the few differences in modus operandi in the cases was not proof that the same person or persons were not involved.
“What I find noteworthy is that almost all the victims were strangled. Apart from the fact that this represents a thematic connection between the cases, let’s also note that to strangle a victim, the killer either has to be considerably stronger, or have the victim at some disadvantage. If they are bound, they obviously cannot fight back,” Welman said.
“But a perpetrator operating alone might find it hard to tie a victim up. So one also would not want to rule out the possibility that the perpetrator had one or more accomplices.
“I think the advice to persons in a vulnerable position (adult gay men using online services to arrange sexual encounters) should be particularly cautious about contacts that they cannot verify, and especially if that contact expresses any penchant for ‘kinky’ activities that include bondage, asphyxiation and so on,” he said. - The Star