Not finished with the Spearman

2008-10-10 00:00

The American Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a serial killer as someone who commits three or more murders, with a “cooling off” period between each killing.

Petros Mthethwa (26), the house-robber and murderer sentenced to life plus 31 years in jail this week, may well be a serial killer by this definition, even though he has only confessed to a single murder.

Police told Weekend Witness they are investigating numerous serious criminal charges against Mthethwa, who on Wednesday confessed to the murder of 88-year-old Gideon Roberts and a string of armed robberies.

Detective Inspector G.N. Ngcobo told Weekend Witness that he and his partner, Keith Caswell, are probing several additional murders and a number of violent rapes that they believe Mthethwa committed.

Ngcobo said he intends charging Mthethwa with all the crimes he can link him to in order to give his many victims closure. “We will charge him in prison and bring him to stand trial in his prison uniform. We want him convicted of every crime he committed. We will be proceeding with this investigation,” he said.

In one case, a murder committed nearly 16 months ago, the prosecuting authority is awaiting a post-mortem report from the state pathologist, which is legally necessary before a charge of murder can be brought.

And in another case, in which Mthethwa is believed to have murdered a pregnant woman, police have not been able to locate the complete original investigation docket at the police station where it was filed.

Mthethwa was arrested in November last year in connection with the murder of a neighbour in Cato Crest informal settlement. While in detention in Cato Manor police cells, Mthethwa had a knife smuggled to him — and used this weapon to stab two police guards during mealtime, grab their pistols and run away. Athletic and muscular, Mthethwa jumped a two-metre razor-wire-topped fence to make his escape.

Detective Captain Ronald Pillay took the unusual step of assigning two detectives to hunt for Mthethwa, who went on a rampage of violent crime, in which he mostly targeted women, after his escape. Although Mthethwa pleaded guilty to several armed robberies during which his victims were raped, he did not confess to the rapes themselves.

In most of these cases police have overwhelming evidence, including DNA, of Mthethwa’s guilt.

Pillay said he went all out to catch Mthethwa as he knew that every day the man remained free he posed a lethal danger to society. He described Mthethwa as “an evil and violent animal. He showed no mercy at all while committing his crimes and now he shows no remorse at all for what he has done.”

Of the single murder that Mthethwa admitted to, the state handed in a pathologist’s report detailing the injuries inflicted on Roberts.

After being tied up, Roberts was repeatedly burned with lit cigarettes on his arms. At some stage during his torture, Roberts broke free from his tormentor and pressed a burglar alarm panic button.

Mthethwa stabbed Roberts in the back as he pressed the alarm and then, as the retired dentist turned to face his attacker, delivered the killing blow to his chest.

Police conducted countless operations to catch Mthethwa, staking out shebeens and pubs where he was known to drink, visiting building sites where he occasionally worked as a plasterer’s assistant and using police dogs to follow his trail from crime scenes.

Mthethwa’s former lovers and his family were monitored and questioned, all without success. Mthethwa committed most of his crimes alone, and his occasional accomplices refused to co-operate with police out of fear for their lives.

However, last month, while following several leads that linked Mthethwa to crimes committed in Gauteng, detectives traced their man to a house in Primrose where he was working as a plasterer’s assistant.

At the time of his arrest, Mthethwa was carrying with him the evidence of how he had twice come off second best in robberies. The pants he was wearing to work had been neatly darned where a young La Lucia man had stabbed him with his own spear after a struggle. Disarmed and hurt with his own weapon, Mthethwa fled the scene, leaving DNA evidence in the form of blood behind.

Mthethwa’s left side also bore the scars left by an un-treated gunshot wound — sustained when a south coast homeowner shot him and one of his accomplices during an attempted home invasion robbery.

Said Caswell: “As soon as he saw [detective] G.N. at the gates of the house he was working at, he ran, jumping over several walls to get away. We cornered him though — he wasn’t getting away this time.”

Caswell said the instant Mthethwa was in handcuffs he began to talk. “While we were driving back to Durban he admitted to several crimes, including the murder of Roberts. When G.N. asked why he had killed an old man, Mthethwa just shrugged and said he did it because he was hungry.”

Mthethwa also showed police his injuries and promised to co-operate with their investigations.

Among other things, Mthethwa (whom police nicknamed “Spearman” because he allegedly used a stabbing spear during his attacks) told police where he had been sleeping — underneath a bridge on the banks of the Umgeni River.

Said Caswell: “He did a pointing out within a few days of his arrest and showed an officer where he had been hiding, as well as where the murder weapon had been hidden. It was wrapped up in plastic along with some clothes and buried on the banks of the Umgeni River.”

Pillay said he is delighted with the arrest of Mthethwa and satisfied with his sentencing.

Caswell told Weekend Witness that he considers Mthethwa “despicable” and one of the worst criminals he has ever pursued. “He is young and tough and violent, but also a coward. He targeted the weak and ran as soon as he was challenged.”

In one of his several failed robberies, which he has yet to be charged with, Mthethwa allegedly fled after being repeatedly hit with his victim’s crutches.

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