Cape Town - The suspected Rhodes Memorial rapist brazenly walked around UCT’s campus, despite being the focus of an intense manhunt, in the weeks leading up to his arrest on Saturday in a mountainside hideout.
He lived in bushes near popular jogging routes around the famous monument, at times went to a nearby petrol station in Newlands, and is even believed to have charged one of his victim’s stolen cellphones at UCT.
“He was walking around the campus with a UCT T-shirt and a cap,” a source close to the investigation told Weekend Argus.
The 35-year-old man was arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning, after more than four months of desperate attempts to catch him.
He is expected to appear in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
The suspect apparently kept victims’ cellphones, which is eventually what gave his whereabouts away. But this in itself posed problems for investigators.
On Wednesday they were initially baffled when the signal of one rape victim’s stolen cellphone was picked up in Wellington at 4am, and then hours later in Johannesburg.
At first they thought the suspect had fled to Johannesburg, but another victim’s stolen cellphone was then switched on in Cape Town.
A source said the suspect may have intentionally tried to throw investigators off his track by giving a cellphone to someone who was travelling, or stashing it in a car he knew would leave the province.
Since November, five women have been raped and a sixth came close to being raped near Rhodes Memorial.
Four of the five victims were UCT students, and the assaults sparked fear on the campus and in surrounding areas.
Amid the panic, UCT urged students to avoid the Rhodes Memorial area, where extra security was deployed.
On Friday, in another attempt to catch the perpetrator, UCT offered a R100 000 reward for an arrest and conviction.
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel André Traut said the suspect arrested early on Saturday faced a rape charge for an attack on November 19, in which a 23-year-old woman was robbed and raped at the bottom of Rhodes Memorial.
“The possibility that the same suspect could be linked to similar cases in the same area is now part of our investigation,” Traut said.
He declined to answer questions about whether the suspect had been traced via cellphones.
“We will not be elaborating on the finer aspects of the suspect’s arrest at this stage.”
Two sources close to the investigation told Weekend Argus that for a month stolen victims’ cellphones, when switched on, were used to pinpoint the suspect’s location.
The Rhodes Memorial suspect had relatives in the Eastern Cape and a sister in Khayelitsha, it emerged, but they had not known his whereabouts.
One cellphone in particular was used to help find the suspect. When different cellphone towers were triggered when the phone was nearby, this was plotted. “He went to the university where he also charged the cellphone,” one source said.
The second source said the movements of this cellphone were plotted. “We triangulated (the suspect) and found he was living in the forest (around Rhodes Memorial).”
Weekend Argus has seen some of the locations that the cellphone signals pinpointed, including a bushy section opposite UCT’s campus, near Rhodes Memorial and at a petrol station in Newlands.
On Tuesday, after the rape of another student, efforts to find the suspect intensified.
The source said on Friday evening investigators worked out the suspect’s likely whereabouts, based on plotting and patterning the movements of that victim’s stolen cellphone.
They believed he would be in a specific section of bush between Rhodes Memorial and UCT.
“At one stage he was 24m (from police and mountain rangers).”
Rangers who knew the terrain well then scoured the area and found him in bush above Rhodes Memorial.