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Cape Town - Most serial killers are men, and proportionally more white men are serial killers than any other racial group.

Brigadier Gerard Labuschagne PhD, head of the police’s investigative psychology section, shed light on South African serial killers in his address to the Crime Stoppers International convention on Wednesday.

Labuschagne is a clinical psychologist and criminologist, and it’s his job to profile serial killers for the police.

South Africa has 160 serial killers on record, dating back to the 1950s. The earliest recorded was a KwaZulu-Natal man who lured young women to a secluded spot where he raped and killed them. The modus operandi of choice has not changed much.

A giant spike in serial murders in the 1990s prompted the establishment of the investigative psychology section, and later a dedicated serial DNA forensic lab. Both have contributed to solving an astonishing 80 percent of all murder series cases.

Two of the unit’s successes have been the convictions of former Blue Bulls player Phindile Joseph Ntshongwana in Durban, and Johannes de Jager in Cape Town.

“We’ve never had an active serial murderer we have not apprehended, and we have had a 100 percent conviction rate,” Labuschagne said.

South African serial killers operate differently from their counterparts elsewhere in the world, according to Labuschagne. This is because of the country’s economy.

Most serial killers don’t have a car, so they can’t pick up a sex worker or other victim, drive them to a secluded spot and perform the crime there. Instead, they have to lure their victims to a desolate place. They do this by taking advantage of unemployment.

“Almost 95 percent of serial murderers will approach a person and offer them a job, and one in 10 women will go with them immediately,” Labuschagne said.

He shared some myth-busting demographics about serial killers and their victims.

All South African serial killers so far since the 1950s have been men. While the rape-and-murder modus operandi is popular, there are many more male victims than expected - 35 percent of people killed in serial murders are male.

Women still bear the brunt of victimhood at 65 percent, although few sex workers are targeted by serial killers in South Africa compared to other countries.

The average age of victims is 31 years, and 40 percent were unemployed.

Racial distribution of victims is much less skewed than gender. “It matches standard racial distribution in the country,” Labuschagne said. “No racial group is more likely to be victims.”

However, when it comes to the killers, proportionally more white men are serial murderers than other racial groups.

The idea of a loner or outcast murderers is also a myth, as 60 percent of serial killers were in a romantic relationship. A staggering 89 percent had been previously arrested for other crimes. South African serial killers make their murder debut late compared to world averages, committing their first kill at an average age of 29.

The typical serial murder crime scene is in a quiet, outdoor space, with 78 percent of the bodies found in the veld.

Sadly, 18 percent of victims are never identified, due to decomposition, or the person being a foreign national without documents.

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Cape Argus