‘A serial killer in Johannesburg’

2011-10-22 00:00

TRUE crime writer and television presenter Aphrodite Jones believes a serial killer may be operating in Johannesburg.

In an interview for Carte Blanche, made while she was in South Africa for the launch of the ID: Investigation Discovery channel on DStv, she was asked her opinion on a series of killings of gay men in the city. At the time of the interview six men had been murdered.

“Having worked with profilers and the police for 20 years, I think there is a [serial killer] profile here,” she said. “I think there is an Internet connection because some of the victims used dating sites, I think the killer is aware that his victims are lonely and I think he is either posing as a gay man or is gay, but hates his sexuality. He’s young, decent looking. I do see him as a serial killer and I hope that the police will connect the dots because at the moment they aren’t.”

While in South Africa she also read reports about the arrest and confession of Johannes Jacobus Steyn, the “Sunday Rapist”, who raped and murdered Louise de Waal (16) before setting her body alight.

“I have a copy of the newspaper with him on the cover confessing to the crime. I was so happy to be in South Africa when he turned himself in … the murder of his last victim was horrific,” she added.

Initially a journalist covering celebrity stories, Jones’s 20-year career covering true crime began when she was living in the remote Appalachian region of America and a story broke about FBI agent Mark Putnam, who killed an informant in Kentucky.

“He was the first FBI agent to be convicted for manslaughter, but none of the big news agencies covered the story back in 1989. I was also infuriated that the woman, the victim, was called a hillbilly, that she didn’t count … that anyone could be viewed as disposable.

“A number of small local newspapers covered the story so I took those stories to my publisher and said something needed to be written. He said why not put forward a proposal. I had never written true crime, so I read Truman Capote’s In True Blood. When I read it, I thought: ‘I can do this’ … but I never expected it to launch a career or spawn movies.”

Jones’ book, The FBI Killer, was later turned into a made for TV movie, Betrayed by Love, which starred Patricia Arquette.

Since then she’s gone on to write a number of books, including: Cruel Sacrifice, which profiled four teenage girls who committed acts of violence; Della’s Web, about Della Dante who trapped men into marriage and then tortured them; The Embrace: A True Vampire Story, which tackled the subject of violent goth teens in America’s Bible belt; and All She Wanted about Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon, the trans-gender individual murdered in Nebraska.

The book, which was made into the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry, challenged the public’s ideas about gender stereotypes and sexual freedom.

Her latest book, Michael Jackson Conspiracy, examines the media’s role in the court of public opinion, using evidence and exhibits from the highly-charged molestation trial against Michael Jackson.

While Jones admits to having received death threats in the course of her 20-year career, she says it’s the emotional toll of dealing with victims that can be more difficult.

“Sometimes when I walk from the victims, I weep like a baby. But I can’t show them that. I have to tell them that in the process of telling the story they can vent and share their story, so that someone else won’t have to experience something similar.”

Among the many cases that remain in her mind is one which involved an elderly couple, Thomas and Jackie Hawks, who, when they decided to retire, bought a boat and sailed off the coasts of California and Mexico. When they became grandparents in 2004 they decided to sell the boat and go back to their family.

A former television child star, Skylar Deleon, answered an ad regarding the sale of a yacht, and asked if they could take him out on it.

Out at sea, he and two henchmen overpowered the couple, forced them to sign powers of attorney, chained them to the boat’s anchor and threw them into the ocean, alive.

“That case will never leave me,” says Jones. “Its unfathomable to me that they were killed in such an unimaginably cruel way, simply for greed.”

Asked who she would still like to profile, she said she very much wanted to do a show on Amanda Knox, but says that right now the case is too controversial as there are very opposing views on her guilt or innocence in the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy.

As for why she believes people are fascinated by true crime and crime fiction, Jones said: “Every single person is capable of murder … it’s been part of human DNA since the dawn of time. So, I think people are fascinated by people who go through with the act of murder and their psychological manipulation as they try and get away with crime.”

• True Crime with Aphrodite Jones can be seen on Discovery (DStv channel 252) in October and November weekdays at 7.20 pm.

• arts@witness.co.za

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