Into the murky minds of serial killers

2011-05-14 00:00

CRIMINAL psychologist Dr Micki Pistorius does not believe apartheid was responsible for creating serial killers.

She was responding to comments made by Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi at the May 4 unveiling of the Umzinto Wall of Remembrance to the victims of Thozamile Taki, the Sugarcane Serial Killer, who robbed and killed 10 women in KwaZulu-Natal and three in Eastern Cape, dumping their bodies in sugar cane and tea plantations.

Vavi said at the ceremony that while the acts of barbarism committed by serial killers could never be excused, South Africa’s history had created­ conditions under which there are a greater number of serial rapists and murderers.

“The problem is rooted in our colonial and apartheid history­,” he said. “This cruel and immoral system was ruthlessly imposed through violence … Such a system inevitably fostered immorality and irresponsibility­ among a minority­, who could see no prospect of a normal life.”

But Pistorius disagrees. “I don’t think the apartheid system is to blame for the number of serial killers we have,” she said. “There are serial killers all over the world — in fact there have been many more serial­ killers in places like the United States, Britain, Australia … and none of those countries had a system like apartheid.

“There are more black serial killers in South Africa, but there are simply more black people in the country. And, if apartheid is to blame, how does he explain the existence of white serial killers? The bottom­ line is that we don’t have apartheid any more and yet we still have serial killers.”

Pistorius, who now works in private practice in Pretoria, was South Africa’s first criminal profiler appointed to work with the South African Police Force (SAPF), and remains one of the world’s best in this challenging field. During her police career she dealt with more than 35 serial killers, serial rapists and other sexual offenders.

Speaking about the Crime & Investigation Network’s Serial Killer Sundays series — which can be seen on DStv channel 255 at 9 pm every Sunday in May — she said people are fascinated by serial killers for a number of reasons.

“Many people might fantasise about killing someone, but very few do, and those who are interested in serial killers think ‘at least I’m not as bad that’,” she added. “People are also fascinated that [society’s] boundaries can be pushed in ways you simply cannot imagine. Fear is another reason. People wonder how they would react if they were a victim. We believe that the more we know about something, the better we can handle it. That’s why, for example, there are courses on anti-hijacking.”

Looking back at her time walking in the steps of killers and rapists, Pistorius admits that it was harrowing to do and left her with severe post-traumatic stress.

“I’m actually a real softie and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for,” she says, “Sometimes we had to work in rural areas and were wet and cold, sometimes we worked in townships, which was dangerous and people would shoot at us. But it was always a challenge to my mind, and that’s what I enjoyed.”

Among the cases which proved challenging were the Station­ Strangler, Norman Afzal Simons, who raped, sodomised and murdered 22 children on the Cape Flats from 1986 to 1994; and Stewart Wilken, from Port Elizabeth, who killed adult female prostitutes and early adolescent boys and committed cannibalism.

“Stewart is especially interesting because he didn’t have as many victims as some of the others, but he did eat body parts,” Pistorius said.


• Catch Serial Killer Sundays tomorrow at 9 pm tomorrow. This week’s episodes focus on John Wayne Gacy, a politician, father and a husband by day and a murderer who targeted teenage boys at night; and Myra Hindley, whose murders, committed with her lover, Ian Brady, shocked Britain.

• No photographs of Dr Micki Pistorius accompany this article as her high profile as a criminal psychologist and profiler has made her a target for criminals.

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