Byleveld still addicted to the chase

2012-02-05 10:00
Johannesburg - If criminals don’t retire, then why should a good cop? As long as there is crime, and Brigadier Piet Byleveld, 61, is still around, there will be no rest, retirement or not.

Rest is a strange word for Byleveld, the cop who attained legendary status for the detective work that saw him help send notorious serial killers, robbers and murderers to long terms behind bars.

Two years ago, Byleveld retired from the police service after 39 years as a detective attached to Johannesburg's Brixton Police Station.

He’s worked on so many cases and notched up so many convictions he’s lost count.

Promoting his book

Speaking to him gives the impression he doesn’t like to dwell too much on past convictions. Rather, his focus is on getting the next murderer off the streets.

Although officially retired, Byleveld’s schedule is just as hectic as - or at times even worse than - his time as a policeman.

He spends a lot of time on the road, criss-crossing the land to promote his book, Dossier of a Serial Sleuth, written by Hanlie Retief, and doing what he loves best - investigating crimes.

Even when we speak on the phone he says he’s on the road, this time for a presentation in Pretoria.

He’s a man of few words, giving short, precise answers in a deep, gravelly voice that suggests many years of a love affair with nicotine.

He cracks a brief laugh when I ask if he’s the Hollywood version of a chain smoking, whiskey guzzling sleuth.

“I used to smoke a lot but recently I don’t smoke that much,” he chuckles.

Leigh Matthews case

The detective was in the spotlight again these past two weeks, when convicted murderer Donovan Moodley applied for a retrial in the South Gauteng High Court.

Moodley was accused and convicted of killing 21-year-old student Leigh Matthews in 2004. He was sentenced to life in jail after being arrested by Byleveld.

In his submission to the court, Moodley cast doubt over Byleveld, claiming he had framed him so he could get a quick conviction that would qualify him for a quick bonus.

He also claimed Byleveld ignored testimony that suggested Moodley did not act alone. But his bid for a retrial was dismissed by the court.

Byleveld says he is not at all bothered by Moodley’s suggestions that he did not act truthfully.

“From the word go, he co-operated with me. He made a full confession, pointed out the firearm he used and where he burnt the clothes. I interviewed other possible suspects and I have no doubt he did it,” he says of Moodley.

He’s still a busy man. “I’m scheduled to go to Cape Town soon, then Namibia and Mpumalanga,” says Byleveld about engagements to promote his book.

“I’m sometimes booked as a guest speaker and I do a lot of presentations.”

Dossier of a Serial Sleuth, written by journalist Retief and published by Umuzi, has made South African literary records after its Afrikaans version sold 27 000 copies in just two weeks.

Not only that, Byleveld’s investigative skills - which saw him help send notorious serial killers such as Cedric Maake, the Wemmer Pan killer, to a lifetime behind bars - are still in demand.

Private investigator

He now works as a private investigator and sometimes people stop him in the street to ask for help.

He has no recollection of the number of cases he’s investigated or how many criminals he’s caught and sent to jail. All he knows is that after each conviction, he moved on to the next one.

“What I know is that I served the community of South Africa very well,” he says.

One of his most difficult moments was the day it dawned on him that his time was up - he was retiring.

“It was definitely not easy, not at all,” he says.

But why, I ask, does he still chase criminals instead of enjoying his old age?

“I can’t keep still,” he says. “I must keep my brain active.”

Read more on:    donovan moodley  |  piet byleveld  |  leigh matthews
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