Johannesburg - Three men have been arrested for allegedly being responsible for the murder of Barney van Heerden, more than a year after his death – and may be linked to a gang of robbers responsible for the deaths of seven other gay men.
Police are now trying to determine whether the three arrested at the weekend for Van Heerden’s murder are part of a gang who target gay men not just in Joburg, but in other cities as well.
Van Heerden’s murder was one of eight killings in Gauteng that a provincial police task team is investigating.
The arrests come after police on Wednesday told The Star and Eyewitness News that while they had identified a common suspect in four of the cases, they believed not just one man, but a gang, were responsible for the serial murders.
The three men, Maxwell Nyathi, Nthokozisi Ndlovu and Bheki Maseko appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday, where their case was postponed.
The head of the Gauteng police’s detective branch, Major-General Norman Taioe, said on Wednesday a team of eight detectives were monitoring all eight cases, looking for numerous other suspects believed to be part of the gang.
The gang and its members allegedly gain the trust of their victims to the point that they are invited into their homes. Once inside, the men murder their victims before robbing them.
Now the police are warning members of the gay community to be careful of who they trust.
Taioe has asked that gay men be aware of the identities of their sexual partners, and at the very least tell their friends or family where they are or where they will be if they plan to meet a stranger.
The reason they had not warned the gay community sooner was the constantly changing nature of information received on each of the cases.
Rights groups have claimed for the past year that the sexuality of the victims meant lax investigations by police.
Taioe denied this, saying investigators and the provincial department cared deeply about pursuing justice in each of the cases.
Until last week, Gauteng provincial police were adamant there was no connection between any of the eight murders – but they then revealed that investigations had uncovered a common suspect in four of the cases.
The confirmation came first from the Police Ministry on Tuesday last week, after families and friends of the victims asked the DA to query the seemingly stalled investigations in the National Assembly.
The eight murders began with the killing of Manolis Veloudos in April 2010. It was followed the next year by the deaths of Jim Cathels, Oscar O’Hara, 33, Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo, 36, a 47-year-old unnamed landlord and Barney van Heerden, 39, in September.
HIV activist Jason Wessenaar was murdered in his home in December, and theatre manager Rulov Senekal was found dead on February 25 this year.