Serial killer who terrorised sex workers

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Cape Town - Theresa van der Vint said goodbye to the other sex workers who worked alongside her until late in the afternoon on a tree-lined stretch of Old Faure Road near Eerste River.

 

Most of them were older and were going home to take care of their children.

But 16-year-old Van der Vint, known as “Trish”, stayed on the beat a bit longer, and as dusk fell that Saturday, a client stopped and picked her up.

But o

nce she was in his car, there was no way out.

A few hours later Van der Vint’s body was found lying half-naked in the sand, covered with branches, near a footpath close to Macassar beach.

She had become the 19th victim of the Cape prostitute serial killer.

Murdered on May 15, 1996, Van der Vint was his last victim – and also his youngest.

Her legs had been spread apart, her skirt pulled up and her jacket twisted around her neck and face.

When her jacket was removed, a thin mark around her neck suggested she may have been strangled with wire.

 

The serial killer had used a similar modus operandi to murder 15 other prostitutes and three domestic workers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, between 1992 and 1996.

Only after the body of his 12th victim, Marilyn Persent, was found in September 1995 did police connect unsolved cases from many different police stations, and realise a serial killer was at work.

Street sex workers in Cape Town, who charged R50 for sex and R30 for oral sex at that time, were caught in a spiral of terror.

The bodies of the murdered women were dumped across the Cape Peninsula and Boland, next to highways near places such as Worcester, Durbanville, Atlantis, Gordons Bay, Somerset West, Camps Bay and Brackenfell.

And even though police offered R500 000 for information leading to a conviction, the case was never solved.

A month after Van der Vint’s murder, the only suspect identified in connection with the killings, George Weir, a grey-bearded hobo and divorced father of two from Parow, was arrested.

He lived in a caravan, drove around in a blue and white bakkie, wore a bandanna and a wristband with the stars and stripes of the US flag, and often socialised with prostitutes.

He was charged with the murder of Francis Seliston, one of three domestic workers whose deaths were attributed to the prostitute serial killer, because her fingerprints were allegedly found on the windows of his bakkie.

During his bail application, task team leader Sergeant Piet Viljoen testified that Weir had described his former wife as “a whore”, and said, “it’s clear to me he’s got a grudge against women”.

During an interview before Weir’s arrest, Viljoen said he believed the killer looked like an average client – a fairly intelligent white and married male, possibly a businessman, lawyer or policeman, aged between 20 and 35 and earning an above-average income.

 

But after a year and a half in detention without trial, Weir was released thanks to lack of evidence in December 1997.

Several years later, it was revealed that a police officer had committed large-scale fingerprint fraud and had “planted” Selesten’s fingerprints on Weir’s car.

This week, Weekend Argus interviewed various people who tried at the time to help the police solve the case.

Micki Pistorius, author of Catch Me a Killer, who profiled the prostitute murderer, said the man had staged the murder scenes to make it look as if the women had been raped – even though none had been.

 

This was why their legs had been spread apart. A bottle had been found between the legs of one of the victims.

 

“He wanted us to think they had been raped. He was possibly impotent and incapable of penetrating a woman. Or he lacked the self-confidence to have sex,” Pistorius said.

Ilse Pauw, a clinical psychologist who co-founded Sweat, the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Task Force, in 1996, remembered the “general panic on the streets”, with sex workers “intensely mistrusting clients”, even if they had known them for years.

“Some women definitely stopped working or became pimps because they were so scared. But for most of them, it was the only job they had and they kept on working.”

Pauw recalled how much respect police task team leader Viljoen had commanded.

“His dedication was remarkable. He absolutely went out of his way to protect sex workers. They are typically the rejected people of society and people felt they deserved almost any abuse.

“But here was a policeman who stood up for them.”

Pauw’s colleague at the time, Sweat social worker Shane Petzer, remembered how he and Pauw took statements from sex workers and handed them over to the task team instead of them having to go to a police station.

The killings reminded Petzer of the UK’s Jack the Ripper, an unidentified serial killer who murdered female prostitutes working in the slums of London in 1888 by slitting their throats.

“All over the world, there are episodes of sex workers being murdered.

“The murderers seem to despise sex workers or sexually powerful women who don’t obey the patriarchal order. Therefore they feel the need to punish them,” Petzer said.

He recalled how the case “just fizzled out into the background” after Weir’s arrest.

“Let there be a serial killer in Constantia, it would be different story,” he said this week.

Numerous attempts to secure police comment this week failed.

The women thought to have been victims

* October 28, 1992: Christene Fieltyn, 22, Atlantis.

* March 12, 1993: Elizabeth Martincich, 29, Worcester.

* March 13, 1993: Sarah Meintjies, 29, Philadelphia.

* March 31, 1993: Francina Manuel, 30, Durbanville.

* July 8, 1993: Unknown victim, Kraaifontein.

* September 8, 1993: Nolundi Mbukwana, 23, Gordons Bay.

* March 1, 1994: Elmarie Engelbrecht, 22, Worcester.

* June 12, 1994: Susan Opperman, 34, Gordons Bay.

* July 8, 1994: Margaret Phillips, 23, Somerset West.

* August 10, 1994: Bridgette Lindt, 28, Milnerton.

* September 9, 1995: Shireen Jooste, 38, Philadelphia.

* September 15, 1995: Marilyn Persent, 30, Milnerton.

* September 20, 1995: Patricia Gibson, 35, Camps Bay.

* October 13, 1995: Shahieda Abrahams, 31, Durbanville.

* January 3, 1996: Gloria Samuels, 39, Durbanville.

* March 24, 1996: Francis Seliston, age unknown, Brackenfell.

* April 7, 1996: Katrina Fredericks, age unknown, Brackenfell.

* April 14, 1996: Elizabeth Thompson, age unknown, Brackenfell.

* May 15, 1996: Theresa van der Vint, 16, Macassar.

henriette.geldenhuys@inl.co.za

Weekend Argus


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