Johannesburg – It was in 2011 when South Africa first learnt of Thabo Bester, the seemingly charming young man in his early 20s who would later become known as the Facebook Rapist.
He lured scores of young women, raping them and robbing them, promising them lucrative modelling jobs.
At one point Thabo Bester, who at the time was a convicted fraudster, had up to 13 aliases.
Some of these included Thomas Bester, Tom Bester, Thabo Tom Bester, Tom Kelly, Thomas Kelly Bester, Thomas Berter, TK, Thomas Kelly Young, Kelly Young, Thomas Magagula, Thabo Magagula, Kelly Johnstone, Rufus Mahopo and Tom Rufus Reddy.
He targeted young women, some in their late teens and early 20s, promising modelling jobs.
Beautiful young women in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, who had modelling aspirations, were his prime targets.
At least one woman, Nomfundo Tyhulu, a car saleswoman who sold Thabo Bester a BMW in 2011, and who later dated the Facebook Rapist, was not so lucky. She lost her life after he stabbed her to death in Cape Town at a bed and breakfast.
Various Independent Media newsrooms, including the Cape Times, Weekend Argus, Sunday Independent, The Star, Sunday Tribune and IOL, to name a few, have over the past decade followed the story of the Facebook Rapist.
Thabo Bester is back in the news, almost 10 years after his conviction for the violent crimes he committed, because question marks remain if he is truly dead as the Department of Correctional Services announced in May 2022.
Bester was apparently spotted at a supermarket in Sandton shopping, just two months after he supposedly burnt to death in his prison cell.
The Department of Correctional Services said on Friday that investigations surrounding Bester’s death were still ongoing.
DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said on Friday: “On May 3, 2022, DCS issued a brief alert confirming an incident of death in custody, at Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) which is one of our public-private partnership (PPP) facilities, following reports of a fire in a single cell allocated to the said inmate.
“We further disclosed that his body was discovered by officials employed at MCC at about 03h35.
“A burnt body meant that this case could not be classified as a natural death; hence, an investigation needed to be undertaken in order to determine the cause of death.
“This is a standard practice for all unnatural death cases in correctional facilities.
An unnatural death will also mean that the South African Police Service needed to be involved in order to conduct an investigation, should there be foul play or a criminal element involved.
“DCS has been inundated with media enquiries on the matter and we have clearly stated that the investigation is ongoing and there are no new developments.
“Almost all media enquiries received were relying heavily on the so-called leaks from unidentified sources. It would be irresponsible for DCS to respond on unconfirmed or unofficial reports.
“What we have seen in the past two days relates to the information supplied by these unauthorised sources and the Department is pressured to confirm nor deny these reports.
“Let us reiterate that the investigation on the death of Thabo Bester has not been concluded and the autopsy report has not been tabled before the Department.
“The matter has become a subject of public interest and the Department is pressing on the investigation team to conclude its work so that the findings could be made available.”
In this article, we seek to help the reader understand the heinous crimes committed by the dating Facebook Rapist Thabo Bester, a decade ago as he taunted police, ran elaborate scams and stole cellphones and photography equipment, for months, before he was finally eventually caught and brought to book.
In October 2011, Lieutenant-Colonel Anton Booysen, who was the KZN head of the psychologically motivated crimes unit, said the presence of CCTV cameras did not appear to worry Thabo Bester in his pursuit as he met his victims at popular and often upmarket hotels.
“It seems he is not afraid. His modus operandi is so complex that we assume he is of reasonable intellect, but the cameras don’t bother him,” Booysen said at the time.
He also ran an elaborate email scam targeting women by sending them e-mails, saying international modelling scouts are interested in them.
In the e-mails, which included a contact number for a secretary, Bester said women unable to travel abroad could find work in the country.
Four days before he was arrested in Alberton, Gauteng, he posted a message on the social network denying he had hurt or killed any models, but admitted he had stolen from them.
Thabo Bester served two years of a three-year sentence for fraud under the name Thabo Magagulu in Johannesburg but was released on parole in 2011.
In July, shortly after his release, he broke parole and had been taunting police ever since.
Police believed Thabo Bester Facebook Rapist was stealing two to three laptops daily, in addition to running other scams where he asked women to pay him for auditions and setting up elaborate photo shoots and making off with staff and models’ belongings.
Soon after being released from jail in July 2011, Bester, using the alias Tom Kelly, was flown to Cape Town with some models using a Joburg charter company. Of course, they were never paid, because the proof of payment he issued POP was fake.
Thabo Bester also rented two buses and a photographic crew for a photoshoot with 13 models. He arranged lunch for the models and the crew. As they ate, he fled with the photographic equipment which was left in the buses.
He also charged the models a fee to be part of the shoot and ended up stealing their cellphones after he fooled them, telling them the phones had to be scanned for security purposes.
When he was arrested in 2012, he blamed his life of crime on the death of his grandmother and said he had been raped as a young boy. He also said he had been gang-raped in prison. He claimed not to know his parents.
On the night Thabo Bester was finally arrested, some of his victims spoke to our journalists expressing relief and joy.
“I’m so happy that he has been found,” said one of them.
Another said: “Tonight I will sleep well knowing I am safe. I need to see him in that jail cell. If the police need a witness, I am not scared, I will testify against him. That psycho deserves to rot in jail.”
In Durban, while appearing at the Durban Magistrate's Court for rape and other charges, he said he had been raped by his grandmother's friend and by a man.
LYING SINCE HE WAS FOUR
A businesswoman said Thabo Bester's life of crime and lies had started when he was as young as four-years-old when his grandad found him with a stack of cash.
He lied about the origins of the money, pointing out the businesswoman as the provider.
KILLER, NOT RAPIST
In 2012, Thabo Bester gave an exclusive interview to the Daily Voice from prison where he aimed to come clean about his actions.
In the interview, he said he had fallen into a life of crime because he was a father of three kids and he wanted to support his children.
He also said he was not a rapist, admitted to being a killer and that Nomfundo had been killed by mistake.
“It is not like I wake up in the morning sexually frustrated,” he said. “I’m a father, I have daughters and would not want anyone raping them.”
Thabo Bester was so convincing he managed to fool managers of the ZAR Lounge in Green Point into believing he was an ANC member planning a birthday party for Nelson Mandela.
He also got managers to put him in contact with Cape Town models he took to Johannesburg, where he stole from them and left them stranded.
Also in 2012, he shared that because he was a "high-profile inmate", he was placed in a single cell and had access to a psychologist three times a week.
MURDER A MISTAKE
In August 2012, in court, he described murdering his girlfriend Nomfundo Tyhulu as a mistake. Bester said Tyhulu was the only one who had stood by him when people accused him of crimes in Durban.
“She was a good friend... I knew her family. She was a good person. She believed in me,” he said in mitigation of sentence.
The story of the Facebook Rapist went quiet for over a decade, until he was suddenly burnt to death in a prison cell in May last year.
The Sunday Independent reported that he had been placed in a single cell five days before he set himself alight and was found with a cellphone and laptop in his cell.
It was reported that he was burnt beyond recognition. The newspaper described the events as "mysterious" at the time, especially after the Department of Correctional Services failed to answer specific questions that were put to it about the blaze.
Taking to Twitter on Friday, as reports emerged that the Facebook Rapist Thabo Bester could have been possibly spotted in a supermarket in Sandton, just two months after he was supposedly charred to death, questions remain.
Chrispin Phiri, the spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, said investigations related to Thabo Bester's death by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, SAPS and the DCS were still ongoing.