Revisiting the Station Strangler cases

Published Aug 16, 2005


Eleven years after his conviction for the murder of just one of the 22 boys thought to have been the victims of the notorious Station Strangler, former Western Cape school teacher Norman Afzal Simons is back in court.

The Station Strangler terrorised the Cape Flats from 1986 to 1994, as 22 boys were found face down in shallow sandy graves, their hands tied behind their backs and bearing the signs of having been sodomised. The case sparked national horror.

Simons was eventually convicted of killing the last of the dead boys, nine-year-old Elroy van Rooyen.

On Tuesday, 10 years into his life sentence, Simons was back in court for the re-opening of the inquest into two of the boys, Donovan Swartz, 11, and nine-year-old Elino Sprinkle.

Simons, who is serving his sentence at the Drakenstein Maximum Correctional Centre in Paarl, was to give evidence in the inquest in the Mitchell's Plain magistrate's court.

The boys' bodies were among the last of the bodies found in early 1994.

Their bodies were all found in the same position - face down in a shallow grave with their hands tied behind their backs and their pants wound tightly around their necks.

The killer's reign of terror started in October 1986 with the discovery of the body of Jonathan Claasen, 14, near Modderdam station in Bellville South.

Nine bodies were found between 1986 and 1992.

In January 1987, Yusuf Hoffman, 14, was found in bushes near the sewerage plant in Mitchell's Plain. Altogether six bodies were found that year.

Mario Thomas of Manenberg was discovered in a field in Sarepta near Kuils River in January. In April an unidentified boy was found in bushes near Modderdam station.

In June the body of Freddie Cleaves, 12, was discovered in a ditch in Belhar and in August that of Samuel Nqaba, 15, was found in bushes off Modderdam Road in Bellville South.

In October an unidentified boy, aged about 15, was found near Modderdam station.

In 1988 only one body was found - that of Calvin Spire, nine, in a field near the University of the Western Cape in Bellville South.

Then there was a long pause.

In October 1992, the Strangler's ninth victim, Jacobus Louw, 10, of Beacon Valley, Mitchell's Plain, was found in the dunes near Mnandi Beach.

Then in January 1994 Cape Town was rocked by the discovery of 11 bodies in the Strangler's so-called killing fields on the outskirts of Mitchell's Plain.

The first was that of an unidentified man.

This was followed by Elino Sprinkle, 10, of Lentegeur and an unidentified boy in the field next to Lentegeur Shopping Centre.

Next were Jeremy Benjamin, 12, of Westridge, Donovan Swartz, 12, of Beacon Valley and Jeremy Smith of Rocklands.

Then on January 27, one single horrific day, police found six bodies - those of Fabian Wilmore, eight, Owen Hoffman, 10, Neville Samaai, 14, Marcellino Cupido, nine, Elroy van Heerden, nine, and an unidentified boy.

Elino may have been abducted by a gang of five while Donovan may have been lured away from home, police said.

Marcellino, of Eerste River, went missing on December 21, 1993 when he left his grandmother's Mitchell's Plain home for the nearby Town Centre complex.

Fabian and Owen went missing together on January 11, 1994. Their bodies were found lying together.

Cape Flats parents were terrified. Some refused to send their children to school and gathered in large groups to fine-comb bushes in Mitchell's Plain in an effort to come face to face with the mass murderer.

It became the largest hunt for a serial killer in South African criminal history.

The then minister of law and order Hernus Kriel offered an initial reward of R100 000 but subsequently increased it to R250 000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

Three months after Elroy's body was discovered, Simons, a Grade 5 teacher at Alpine Primary School in East Ridge was arrested for his murder.

He stood trial for only one of the killings as police lacked evidence in the other cases.

His three-month trial followed in 1995, which saw him sentenced to 25 years for murder and 10 years for kidnapping Elroy.

In 1998 the Bloemfontein High Court of Appeal rejected Simons's appeal and increased his sentence to life imprisonment.

Forensic psychologist Micki Pistorius, who did extensive work on the Station Strangler's killings in the 1990s, said at the weekend she was happy that the cases were being revisited so that justice could finally be served for the Mitchell's Plain mothers.

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