By Mpume Madlala

It was the desperate crying from pain by the alleged Umzinto serial killer after he fell four storeys that alerted guards at Durban's Westville Prison to the escape of eight dangerous prisoners yesterday.

Thozamile Taki, 39, and eight other awaiting trial prisoners managed to break out of their cell at the Medium "A" section of the prison yesterday afternoon by sawing through a steel door and the grill gates.

The men used bed sheets, which they made into a rope, and one by one, they slid down to freedom.

Taki was the last to allegedly attempt to slide down the rope when it gave way, causing him to fall four storeys and break his leg.

He cried out in pain and guards realised that prisoners were escaping and sounded the alarm.

KwaZulu-Natal Correctional Services spokeswoman, Nokuthula Zikhali, said Taki and the other eight managed to cut the steel door and the grill gates, setting themselves free.

"Taki was the last one to try to escape and we suspect that because of his weight the sheets could not hold him and he fell.

"It was his crying that alerted guards of his escape and by the time they got there, the others were long gone," she said.

Zikhali said a BMW had been waiting for some of the prisoners on the outside while others ran away.

"An internal investigation is going to take place. People are however warned that if they happen to come across any of the escapees, they must not try to apprehend them, but call the police as they are all very dangerous," she said.

Taki has pleaded not guilty to murdering and robbing 13 women, 11 of whose bodies were found in a cane field at Umzinto on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast in 2007, and the other two in the Eastern Cape.

His co-accused, former girlfriend Hlengiwe Nene, has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of robbery.

Police spokeswoman Phindile Radebe said the prisoners were housed on the 7th Floor.

"The remaining eight managed to make their getaway, three on foot and five in an awaiting vehicle.

"All eight men who are at large were on trial for serious offences such as murder, robbery and escaping from lawful custody," she said.

Radebe said a full investigation of the circumstances of the escape would be conducted.

Taki was admitted to King Edward VIII Hospital where he is receiving treatment for his injuries under police guard.

Taki was expected to appear at the Ramsgate High Court today for the continuation of his trial.

With Taki's injuries described as serious, there is a strong possibility that the trial, set down to the end of this month, will be adjourned to later this year.

The case's investigating officer, Captain Nico Crouse, said this morning that he was on his way to the hospital to check Taki's condition.

"Depending on his condition, only then will we be able to say what will happen with the trial," he said.

Last week police witnesses testified that Taki told them he had thrown some of his victims over the Phenini Cliffs in the Eastern Cape.

The bodies were never recovered as the cliff was very high and police could not reach the bottom.

Anyone with information that may assist police in apprehending these escapees is requested to contact Crime Stop at 0860 010 111.