Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Facebook Rapist

 Michael - alternate Thursdays

Thabo Bester

To hear him tell it to the judge in mitigation, Thabo Bester had an awful childhood. His mother deserted him when he was very young and left him with his grandmother who was a domestic servant. He was abused from the time when he was sent for ritual circumcision. And so on. No doubt much of this is true. Something turned him into the monster he became. However, the point is that Bester’s profession is confidence trickster. He was in a gang when he was young and found he had a talent for it. Tales of needing bus fare to get home escalated to million dollar fraud, rape, and murder. The judge didn’t buy it. She observed that he had expressed no remorse for the damage to his victims; he was sorry only for himself.

When all is said and done, if a rapist is picky, then Facebook would seem to be a good way to look for victims. Bester is picky. He likes models, and he developed a very successful way of linking up with them. He made contact via Facebook supposedly as a talent scout from overseas looking for potential modelling talent for the international market. He had a clever twist. On Facebook, he pretended to be a woman. That made it much easier to set up private meetings—meetings that then went violently wrong. The amazing thing is that he repeated the scenario several times before he was caught. Did the women not report him? There couldn’t have been any doubt in anyone’s mind that it was rape. He did it at knife-point and stole anything valuable that the women had with them. Or were the police totally incompetent?

The privately run prison where Bester was held

But all things come to an end, and Facebook, is not, after all, a very private way of communicating. Thabo Bester was arrested in 2010 and tried in 2011 for two rapes and in 2012 for murder. He didn’t contest any of the charges, and was sentenced to essentially life in prison. Normally, that would be the end of a short and nasty story. But for Bester, his career was just beginning. He established and ran a fraudulent events company from the maximum security prison where he was incarcerated. He even addressed meetings by internet, telling them that he was in the US attracting big name talent to South Africa. He never brought any of the big nmaes in. What he did bring in was “investment” cheques.

Thabo Bester and Dr Magudumana

Another good thing happened to Bester in prison. He renewed his links with Dr Nandipha Magudumana (“Dr Nandi”), whom he’d met while she was studying at university and who worked part-time for a modelling and promotions agency he was running at the time. Since she was the one who renewed the links with Bester after his trial, presumably their relationship was not merely a professional one.

Then, in April 2022, Bester claimed that he was being targeted by a prison gang and that his life was in danger. The warders put him into a solitary confinement cell supposedly for his own safety, but later they discovered a corpse burnt beyond recognition covered by a mattress. There was a smell of petrol fumes. The prison authorities reported the death as suicide. A sad end to what remains a short and nasty story? Nope.

Every unnatural death in South Africa requires an autopsy. The autopsy determined that the person was dead before the fire had broken out, in fact he had died from a blow to his skull. Dr Nandi claimed to be his “customary” (common law) wife and demanded the body for a customary burial, ignoring the counterclaim from Bester's mother. She collected the body from the mortuary, but at this point, in view of the autopsy report, the police were investigating a murder case and confiscated the body. In response, Dr Nandi approached the High Court, recovered the body, and arranged a hasty cremation rather than the customary ceremony she had so strongly demanded. 

Later, it was discovered that the day before the death, a vehicle was driven into the prison without a gate pass.

The next month, a fraudulent construction company made its appearance. It was based in the up-market Johannesburg suburb where Dr Nandi lived.

At the beginning of July, the police obtained the results of a comparison between the DNA of the body and that of Bester’s mother. The result proved that there was no possibility that the burnt body was Thabo Bester. It was finally clear that Bester had escaped and a body had been substituted for him. Still, no hue or cry was raised. Was it too embarrassing? Then in October (i.e. six months after the escape) another prisoner testified that Bester had indeed escaped with the help of a guard.

It still took until last month before it was admitted to the public that Bester had escaped from his cell, and for Interpol to be informed.

Then, last week, a man and a woman fitting the descriptions of Bester and Dr Nandi were arrested in Tanzania, apparently headed for the Kenyan border and evidently they were stopped pretty well by chance at a regular roadblock.. The pair were in possession of a number of passports, which were all unused. Since they were in Tanzania illegally, they will probably be deported to South Africa in any case, but otherwise South Africa will apply for their extradition. 

Meanwhile, Dr Nandi’s father and a prison guard have been charged with smuggling a body into the prison.

The accomplices?

The end of a not-so-short but even nastier story? Somehow I doubt it.

I was left wondering if this story would have worked as a novel. At first sight it has everything. Handsome, evil, protagonist who can tell any story and be believed. Beautiful twisted “celebrity” doctor who falls for the protagonist in such a big way that she’ll do anything to get him for herself. Fraud, scams, murder, rape, dead bodies, prison break! But, no, it wouldn’t work as fiction. Fiction has to be believable.


  1. What an amazing story, Michael. Fact always seems so more far-fetched than fiction, doesn't it?

  2. I much prefer to read about Kubu’s adventures. They are scary and suspenseful. And 100% believe able. This one is just disgusting.

    1. The above from AA

    2. Even worse, it now seems that the corpse used for the fire was pobably murdered to play that role...

  3. One of these incredible true crime stories--the kind that gets to Netflix.

  4. Back in the days when I served as Special Counsel to the New York City Board of Correction, I came across utterly innocent looking and behaving individuals accused of the most horrific crimes, including some who were extraordinary conmen (and women). Years later, a celebrated psychiatrist friend told me that within a one mile radius of virtually wherever you may live in the world, the most heinous of acts are being perpetrated by one human being upon another. They are stories few would want to believe are true.

  5. Horrible. (them, not your piece).