How axeman met his match

2014-11-24 00:00

DURBAN’S “Raging Bull” axe murderer was taken down after this tip to police from a ­suburban neighbour: “The light is on in his room”.

It triggered a 48-hour frenzy of detective work, and marked one of the fastest and most ­successful serial killer investigations on record — and which “undoubtedly saved lives”, ­according to criminologists.

A former Blue Bulls rugby star, Joseph “Big Joe” Ntshongwana is to be sentenced for four ­separate, savage murders, two attempted murders, rape and kidnapping next month.

Hours after his midnight ­arrest on March 28, 2011, one ­detective was combing hardware stores for an identical axe; another was rushing to buy time at the post mortem on one of the four murder victims; and ­another was speeding to King Shaka International to make sure that blood was not being cleaned from the suspect’s hire car.

This, after an “all-nighter” in which Montclair investigating officer Rico Naidoo and his ­colleagues processed the house, returned to the Brighton Beach ops centre to co-ordinate ­forensic help over cold pizza, and rushed out again before dawn to secure evidence.

With serial killer cases ­normally assigned to specialist Hawks detectives, the general detectives of Montclair and the Bluff “were not about to miss a step”.

The arrest came just eight days after the start of the 37-year-old’s bloody spree, which saw him decapitate three victims, crush another man to death, and attack two more people with a hatchet.

Investigation co-ordinator Colonel Jason McGray told The Witness that the profile of the killer was still a mystery after the second murder — that of Paulos Hlongwa, whose head was found in a bin hundreds of metres from his body. With another murder in Ntshongwana’s suburb yet to be discovered, the known ­murders had happended in ­Montclair, Lamontville, and Umbilo and only one witness had come forward.

“We were all patrolling. I’ve never looked at so many cars,” he said. “We drove around looking for a silver car with a big giant of a person with an axe! Rico and three other guys from Montclair were patrolling incredible hours. We were running around with pamphlets all over the show, speaking to everyone we knew in the area, asking policemen if there were any [similar] scenes they’d worked. We were drawing the unsolved files.”

The reach-out to policemen paid off. One constable reported to McGray that he recalled being accosted by a well-built man in a silver car three months earlier, as he [the constable] walked down the street with his girlfriend.

McGray said: “He ­remembered this guy threatening a fight, but saying, ‘I don’t do war in front of a woman’.”

McGray’s team quickly linked this incident to another in which a man was severely assaulted with a baton by a “huge guy” in a similar car late in 2010, in which he had also made strange remarks about women.

He said: “We got the ­registration of the car and got an address.”

With the serial killer known to have struck three times in a single night, the detectives planned to raid the address that same evening.

But — with an average of 80 crime dockets each — his investigators had to somehow work other urgent cases at the same time, including a “wanted ­suspects” operation hours before the Yellowwood Park raid.

McGray said a resident in Sandpiper Street in the suburb reported that — although the silver hire car was not in the ­driveway — the light was on in the room of the “big guy” he knew to live there.

There was some concern about how to get past the ­electric gate at the house, but McGray said someone inside simply opened it when police pressed the buzzer.

He said, “The moment [Ntshongwana] came to the door, we knew this was our man.”

Warrant Officer Marius van der Looy had volunteered to work on the case in his spare time. He was one of the officers who found items and ­“trophies” from the murder scenes — including the bloody axe, clothing and fragments of human remains — hidden in a dog kennel directly outside Ntshongwana’s bedroom ­window.

“The smell was horrendous; I can’t imagine how anyone in that bedroom could stand it,” he said.

“But when I smelt that dog kennel and saw those clothes, the satisfaction we felt with that breakthrough you can’t explain it. It’s joy.”

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