- On 3 May 2022, the Department of Correctional Services reported that convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester had been found dead in his cell at the Mangaung private prison in Bloemfontein after a fire broke out.
- The matter was initially investigated as a possible suicide, but the details surrounding his death remained murky.
- According to leaked documents, seen by GroundUp, the body, allegedly that of Bester, had suffered head wounds and had not experienced smoke inhalation.
"Facebook rapist" Thabo Bester's death at Mangaung Correctional Centre in May last year was murder, not suicide, a leaked report confirms.
Last year GroundUp reported on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the alleged death of convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester.
On 3 May 2022, the Department of Correctional Services announced that Bester had been found dead in his cell at the private prison near Bloemfontein. A mattress had been set alight in the cell in which Bester had been isolated. A body was beneath the mattress, burned beyond recognition.
Initially, the death was reported as a possible suicide by police.
However, the body in the cell, believed — but not confirmed — to be Bester, was already dead before the fire began, according to the post-mortem.
The findings of the autopsy were included in a leaked prison visit report by Judges Nokuthula Daniso and Ilse Van Rhyn of the Free State High Court, delivered in December last year. The judges visited the prison to investigate the circumstances of Bester's death after receiving a complaint.
Many uncertainties surrounding Bester's death remain, including whether the burned body recovered from the prison cell was in fact his. GroundUp still has not been able to establish with the South African Police Service (SAPS) whether DNA testing on the corpse has been completed.
In November, we were told by the Free State Department of Health that the body was still in the custody of the department. But this is in contradiction to the judges' report, which reported that Bester's body was handed over to his apparent girlfriend and biological mother some time in May, according to a 25 May 2022 statement from Detective Captain Tieho Jobo Flyman.
Bester was dubbed the "Facebook Rapist" because he used the social media platform to lure women with claims that international modelling scouts were interested in them. He would then rape them and rob them using a knife. He murdered at least one of his victims. In 2012, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for these crimes.
Bester was placed in the maximum security Mangaung prison, the second-largest private prison in the world. The prison is run by G4S, a multinational security company.
What happened after the fire?
According to the leaked report, after Bester was certified dead, the body was taken to a government mortuary and an autopsy was performed. The post-mortem report showed that the body sustained head injuries and there was no evidence of smoke inhalation in the airways. The report further revealed that there was also "a smell of paraffin on the deceased trachea".
The doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that "the cause of death is head injuries that resulted in brain injuries".
Consequently, the docket relating to the matter was amended from suicide to murder.
The judges' report described the circumstances under which Bester died as "concerning". The incident is still under investigation by the police.
Following the fire in Bester's cell, a source (name known to GroundUp) alleged that his death had been "covered up" by prison officials and the police.
The source also alleged that they spoke to Bester a few days before he died. Bester was "uncharacteristically happy", even mentioning that he would be "going away soon". The source found this odd, since Bester was serving a life sentence.
The source further claimed that on the day Bester allegedly killed himself, there was nothing peculiar about his behaviour, nor was there any commotion during the fire. The source said that "prison officials were merely walking 'up and down' to Mr Bester's cell" during the incident.
The judges' report also revealed that five of the 19 inmates who died at the Mangaung prison between January 2021 and October 2022 suffered unnatural deaths. Unnatural deaths include murders and suicides.
GroundUp did not receive replies to questions sent to the Free State Department of Health by time of publication. We asked if the body was positively identified as Thabo Bester by the medical practitioner who performed the autopsy or by the mortuary where the autopsy was performed; if so, how Bester’s body was identified (if by DNA or dental records); if they still had the body, and if not, when the body was released.
We also did not receive comment from the Department of Correctional Services, Free State SAPS or G4S.