Police in South Africa are on the hunt for a convicted rapist they say faked his own death in a fire before escaping lockup.
Branded the “Facebook Rapist,” Thabo Bester was serving a life sentence for allegedly luring victims on the social media platform before raping and robbing them. At least one victim was killed.
In 2012, he was sentenced to life in prison for rape, robbery and murder.
In May of 2022, authorities believed Bester died after setting himself on fire in his private cell of the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, South Africa
“He was discovered at about 03:35 (Tuesday) morning, where his cell was burnt, he was found on the floor,” a Department of Correctional Services spokesperson said, as reported by the BBC at the time.
However, the theory has now changed and over the weekend police revealed that an autopsy and DNA tests showed the charred remains belong to someone else and that they believe that person died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head before being set ablaze.
“At this point our priority is to find this fugitive of justice and establish exactly how he faked his death,” police spokesperson Athlenda Mathe told AFP on Monday, confirming that a new murder investigation has been opened.
The police have not revealed if they know the identity of the human remains or how the person might have been related to the prison.
The Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said in a statement it was appealing for any information leading to Bester’s arrest.
“No stone will be left unturned in getting to the bottom of Thabo Bester’s escape, and there will be serious consequences for any party involved,” the ministry said.
According to CBS News, doubts about Bester’s death were raised late last year by local media outlet GroundUp, whose investigation found that his escape may have been aided by the prison’s own guards.
Since then, photographs have purportedly surfaced, showing Bester grocery shopping in Johannesburg and Al Jazeera reports that a number of women have come forward, alleging the convict has contacted them using social media.
There have also been claims that Bester ran a scam media business from behind bars.
Local outlet News24 reports that Bester had posed as head of 21st Century Media, a supposed subsidiary of America’s 21st Century Fox and even addressed a company event from prison while pretending to be in New York.
Bester’s jailbreak has renewed scrutiny over the prison, which is a public-private partnership and run by a private company, G4S.
On Tuesday, South Africa’s Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union called on the Department of Correctional Services to revoke G4S’s 25-year contract in the prison.
According to local news outlet, Eyewitness News, the union has accused private contractors of chasing profits over security and wants the government to cancel prison contracts and take over the facilities.