Serial killers look like … anybody

Time of article published Sep 6, 2011

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In 2004, Piet Byleveld became a household name when he and his team solved the Leigh Matthews case. SA’s most famous detective has a 100 percent success rate with serial murders. In her new book, Hanlie Retief brings Byleveld’s triumphs to life’

Six months. That was how long it had taken Piet to catch one of South Africa’s cruel-lest serial killers. He had shot 23 people and raped 15 women.

Cedric Maupa Maake.

A Pedi, 32 years of age. Handyman, suburban garden-er. Serial killer.

As one journalist from Beeld described him during the trial, Maake was a small, thin, fresh-faced young guy, someone you wouldn’t hesitate to employ if he came knocking on your door on a Saturday morn-ing.

On the way back to Brixton after Maake had been arrested, Piet watched Maake in the rear-view mirror. He saw his lips turn white. “Do you feel all right?” Piet asked. Silence.

After an arrest Piet always watches the suspect, taking note of the way the suspect speaks to him, looks at him, or doesn’t look at him. Piet is able to detect the slightest sign of nervousness – how the suspect keeps swallowing, for example.

“I see the person. I immediately know if the person I’ve caught is the right one.”

Cedric Maake’s white lips gave him away.

At Brixton, Maake asked to see his wife. “I’ll arrange it,” Piet said. Mmm, his weak spot, Piet thought. But his face showed nothing.

In the meantime, Piet knew very well that he could detain Maake for only 48 hours – the window period during which he would have to collect enough evidence to charge him.

First, he arranged for a blood sample so that it could be compared to the DNA profile the police already had of the murderer.

The technicians at the forensic lab in Pretoria worked right through Christmas so that they could have the results ready before the deadline was up.

Only hours before the cut-off time, Captain Luhein Frazenburg of the forensic division phoned with the news: the DNA matched. It was the same man.

“Suddenly Christmas had come for me too!” Piet says.

But Piet’s client was in no party mood. Neither were the two policemen who had to guard him at Brixton. Piet grins. “The s*** was literally flying, and they had to duck to avoid it! Maake was throwing his own faeces at them, screaming like a stuck pig.”

As with (Lazarus) Mazingane, Piet had to rush to Brixton in the middle of the night to calm the man down.

When he arrived at Maake’s filthy cell, Piet asked casually: “Can I get you a cooldrink? You might as well know you’re not getting out of here. You can do what you like, but it would be better not to upset the people around here.”

Piet then offered him a cigarette. No, Maake shouted, he didn’t smoke.

Nevertheless he took the cigarette and put it behind his ear before breaking it into pieces. Piet stood there, watching, impassive.

“I spent two, three hours with him. He swore at me and carried on, repeating over and over that he had no idea what I was talking about.

“Later, I said: ‘I’ve been so kind to you. I fetched your wife, and I’ll bring her again if you want me to. And your mother.’”

Maake really cared for his mother. Piet had learnt that earlier from Maake’s wife.

He used this information to calm Maake down.

If you talk to Piet’s colleagues, they’ll all mention Piet’s endless patience with suspects. Other investigating officers often become irritated, but not Piet.

He seldom gets angry, but when it does happen, it’s highly effective. He uses anger only to get results.

Piet Byleveld is one of those rare people who are in full control of their emotions.

The next day, DNA results in hand, Piet confronted Maake in his office.

“Cedric, I know it’s you who killed all those people at Wemmer Pan, raped the women and did all those things.

“He watched me in silence for about a minute. The next moment he said, almost proudly, ‘Yes, I did it. It was me.’

“He admitted it. Right there in my office.” Piet smiles, savouring the moment once more. “The thing is, serial killers won’t stop until they are caught. Actually, they want to get caught. And it’s my job to catch them.”

Piet arranged for Maake to point out the murder scenes in the company of an independent officer and an interpreter.

“It’s important to do it immediately, before the suspect gets cold feet,” says Piet.

Maake took them to more than 40 sites, including the one where he had shot “the white man” (Gerhard Lavoo) beside Wemmer Pan for his bicycle.

The clothing and shoes he had taken from his victims were stored with his mother in Giyane, near Tzaneen in the former Northern Province, he told Piet.

Mazingane had left the shoes of the women he raped neatly next to their bodies. Maake generally only took one shoe from the male victim.

“Do all serial killers leave messages and clues for their investigators, as profilers and detective series like CSI would have us believe?” I ask.

“With respect, that’s nonsense,” Piet says brusquely, keen to put paid to the idea.

“In not one of my cases did that happen. It’s a theory that is encouraged for the purpose of sensationalism.”

Piet sniffs at such gimmicks. “I never work with a profiler. I make sure of the true facts, as they appear in front of me, ma’am. Facts. They give more than enough information.” In spite of the stuffy Piet-speak, his eyes are twinkling mischievously.

He takes a piece of biltong from his friend’s snack tray and lowers it furtively to Seuntjie, who is lying at his feet under the table. Meisie, the other fox terrier, lives with Esmie. Dogs, it appears, also get divorced.

On December 29, 1997, Piet and his team set off with Maake for Giyane.

It was another typical soft-soap trip of Piet’s, with chats about sport, offers of a radio in his cell, and a copy of the Sowetan lying on the seat for the suspect to read in the car.

When they finally arrived at their destination, they found in Malekgolo Maake’s township house a pile of clothes and shoes. Here was her son’s macabre loot.

Malekgolo was clearly devastated when she saw her son, Cedric, in police custody. Piet left them alone for a while.

Malekgolo had been the first wife of Cedric Maake’s father.

He’d got married again, and after that, Cedric and his mother had played second fiddle. The cattle had been divided up and the second marriage had left Cedric’s mother poorer.

“It broke Cedric,” says Piet. “He told me that he hated his father with a passion.”

On their way back that evening, Piet’s and Maake’s conversation in the car was forthright and easy.

Then, out of the blue, Maake offered to show Piet where he had hidden the pistol.

It was late, about half past 10, when they stopped in the Wemmer Pan area. It was also pitch dark and it had begun to rain. Maake led the way, with Piet and the two sergeants in tow. They felt their way past a flattened mine dump, until they were behind a tree.

“You won’t believe it, but even in that darkness he went straight to the spot. Suddenly he bent down. Luckily I was on guard. Bloody hell! He was going to surprise me, grab the pistol and shoot me.”

Piet ignored Maake all the way back to Brixton. No more chit-chat. In the boot, safe in a plastic bag, was Exhibit 1: the pistol.

“When the report came back from ballistics, I knew there was no way he was going to get out of it. Victory.”

By this time Piet had already “got inside Maake’s head” and found out everything he could about him.

Now he knew even the smallest details about the killer and how he operated, yet very little was known about Maake’s childhood.

He came from Thohoyandou in Limpopo. He went to school until standard seven before coming to Gauteng, where he did painting and gardening jobs. His employers trusted him implicitly.

“One of his brothers is a police sergeant. Interesting, isn’t it? The same home, the same circumstances. But that very brother later offered me a R500 bribe to help Cedric.”

Maake had met his wife, Sophie, in Giyane. When he discovered that she’d had affairs with other men, the fat was in the fire. He discovered that she’d had sex with them on a nearby koppie. That was why he later chased his victims up mine dumps before raping and killing them, Maake told Piet.

While he was in detention, Maake would intimidate the policemen at the Brixton charge office.

He unnerved them to such an extent that they refused to speak to him and even asked the station commander to send him straight to prison.

The homeowners at 57 Forest Street, La Rochelle, where Maake and Sophie had been living in the garage, were frightened out of their wits when they learnt that the “nice Cedric” they knew was actual-ly the Wemmer Pan serial killer.

He had been a perfect, quiet tenant. In his room, detectives found more 9mm cartridges.

They found Sophie there too. The poor woman didn’t have an inkling.

Piet laughs, a belly laugh. Yep. Serial killers look like… anybody. Your gardener. Your taxi driver. Your husband. They conceal their underlying aggression very well; they usually work alone; they take no one into their confidence; they have memories like elephants and are extremely cunning.

Trying to catch one, Piet says, is like playing chess against a grandmaster. And catching one… He draws long and deeply on his cigarette.

And then, with Maake a new member of Piet’s exclusive group of prisoners, the Piet Specials, one of the biggest breakthroughs in Piet Byleveld’s career was lurking murderously around the next corner.

* Extracted from Byleveld: Dossier of a serial sleuth by Hanlie Retief, published by Umuzi at a recommended retail price of R220.

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