Johannesburg - She is soft spoken, short, always wears heels, and her eyes light up behind her spectacles when she smiles.
Despite her cheerful and friendly demeanour, Sergeant Nomsa Masuku singlehandedly brought down a serial rapist, ending his three-year reign of terror during which he raped dozens of women, some in front of their partners.
Before she put him away, Mozambican Albert Morake left a trail of women traumatised for life and relationships broken.
Masuku, a 40-year-old mother-of-three who specialises in hunting down serial rapists, has been a police officer for 15 years.
In 2011, she was based at Tembisa police station and helping out as a personal assistant to the commander of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit. All cases of sexual violence went to the commander, and Masuku would read them before logging them on the system.
After a while, she realised there were cases with a similar modus operandi - a couple would be hijacked, taken to a deserted area, their bank cards would be stolen and the woman raped.
Towards the end of that year, Masuku went on maternity leave. When she returned four months later in 2012, she was surprised that the cases involving the hijacks and rapes were continuing.
“I was already doing other serial rapist cases, so the commander gave the dockets to me to investigate, saying I already had full knowledge of those cases.”
Masuku got seven dockets and took them to the forensics department to see whether the perpetrator could be the same man. The DNA was the same in all the cases.
The forensics department gave her five more case numbers in which the DNA matched the seven that she had brought to them.
Those cases were from years earlier and had been closed because the police had been unable to get leads.
Masuku went to the police stations where the five cases had been opened in search of the dockets to see what was in the statements.
Some of the dockets were from as far back as 2007.
The witness statements confirmed to Masuku that the same man was involved in all the cases.
More cases, with a similar modus operandi, were being reported as Masuku continued with her investigation.
“It hurt a lot because we are supposed to stop (criminals) after the first and the second case. But when the lists goes on and on, it’s as if we are failing,” Masuku said.
After a while, she got a tip-off that the person she was looking for might be staying in Ivory Park.
Determined to arrest the serial rapist, Masuku would don jeans and takkies on Friday nights, leave her small baby at home, and visit taverns in the area with a male colleague - although she does not drink alcohol.
She took the colleague with her because the criminal she was looking for always targeted couples.
At the tavern, they would leave their car keys and cellphones on the table in the hope that if the rapist was there, he would see that they had a car and be tempted to attack them.
They parked their car in the area where Morake had attacked victims in the dead of night, hoping he might think they had broken down and decide to strike.
Despite their efforts, the man never showed up.
The breakthrough came through the informant who had told her the man she was seeking could be in Ivory Park. A man in the area was suspected of being a hijacker, as he was always seen driving different cars, he said.
The informant didn’t know where the man lived but gave Masuku four possible addresses in Ivory Park. Masuku managed to get the names of all the men living in one of the houses.
When she put the names into the police computer system, Morake’s name came up, and she asked crime intelligence to profile him.
They found that Morake had been arrested for hijacking and rape before. He had spent two years behind bars awaiting trial but had been acquitted.
Masuku went back to the case docket and found the modus operandi was similar to the cases she was dealing with. She wondered how Morake could have been acquitted.
She went to the court where his trial was heard to get more information and find out how he had managed to get off.
It turned out that Morake and two other men had been accused of hijacking a couple and raping the woman. The two men’s DNA was found in the victim’s body but Morake’s was not. The two men had later implicated Morake.
One of the men had died of food poisoning behind bars.
The other was released on bail but was shot dead the following day.
Morake had been acquitted because no evidence could be found against him.
Masuku realised that for the two years Morake was behind bars, no incidents of the hijacking of couples where the woman was raped had been reported. A few months after his release, reports of crimes of that nature resumed.
Masuku asked the control prosecutor to have Morake retried for the rape but was informed that the case could not be placed back on the roll because he had been acquitted.
She reopened that docket, and went back to the victims to get more information.
When she dug deeper, the policewoman found Morake was not supposed to have been acquitted on that case but another one. She managed to put that case back on the roll.
A few day later, she staked out Morake’s house in her own car to check whether he was still living there. Although she remained there until 5am, she didn’t see him.
However, convinced that she had her man, Masuku decided the time was right to pounce.
She went back to the police station and got two colleagues to accompany her to the house.
Masuku knocked on the door and a woman answered.
She pretended to be a former lover of Morake’s who was there to get maintenance money for their child.
Angry, the woman opened the door and woke Morake up.
Masuku continued with her story and said she was there with the officers to demand maintenance money.
A bewildered Morake said he not even know who Masuku was and denied being the father of her child.
He told the officers his name and gave them his ID book as proof.
The officers arrested Morake and told him he was facing multiple charges of rape, hijacking and robbery.
Inside the house were many laptop bags without computers in them, 15 cellphones, CDs that filled a large enamel bathtub, and men’s wallets.
With the help of constables Johnson Machaula and Arthur Monarini, Masuku built a case that later saw Morake convicted of 30 counts of rape and 42 of kidnapping, among others.
Masuku said her passion for her job is what keeps her motivated and determined to catch serial rapists.
“At least justice was served. Morake’s victims will have closure because they will always know what happened to their attacker,” she said.
To this day, Morake’s wife maintains he is innocent. His accomplices are still at large.