By Sarah Newton-John • 29 March 2023 • 7:06
Bester escaped and is on the loose/Shutterstock Images
Authorities believed Thabo Bester had died after setting himself on fire in a privately-run prison in Bloemfontein in May 2022.
“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, the BBC reported, citing public broadcaster SABC.
But over the weekend police said DNA tests revealed the charred remains found in the serial rapist’s cell belonged to someone else.
“At this point our priority is to find this fugitive of justice and establish exactly how he faked his death,” police spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe told AFP on Monday.
The Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said in a statement it was appealing to the public 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.
Called the “Facebook rapist,” Bester allegedly lured victims on the social media platform, then robbing and raping them. At least one victim was murdered.
He was sentenced to life in prison for rape, robbery and murder of a model in 2012, the BBC reported.
Police said on Sunday an autopsy revealed the body found in Bester’s cell had died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head before it was set ablaze.
A fresh murder investigation has been opened.
This case has inspired outrage in South Africa, where women’s rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to tackle violence against women for a long time. The country has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world— between October and December last year police recorded more than 12,000 rapes across the country.
Doubts about Bester’s death were first raised by local media outlet GroundUp last November. Photographs purportedly showing the criminal shopping in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb have since surfaced.
Some women have alleged the convict made contact with them on social media.
Prior to his escape, Bester also reportedly ran a scam media business from inside prison using a false name.
Footage has gone viral of the criminal addressing a company event via video call from behind bars while pretending to be in New York.
Radical leftist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters said in a statement: “The escape of Bester… is testament to the incompetence of the Correctional Services system, and the endemic corruption in the sector.”
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