Despite Conviction, Fear and Anger Remain in Cape Flats
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ South Africa abolished the death penalty last week, but residents of a mixed-race township want one more prisoner to hang: the man they believe is the nation’s worst serial killer.
Norman Simons, 28, was convicted Monday in one of the 22 murders that made the people of Cape Flats afraid to let their children play in the streets.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Cape Flats residents, relatives of victims and others crowded Courtroom 3 of the Supreme Court to hear arguments for Simons’ sentencing, expected Wednesday.
Many want to see him executed _ though that no longer remains an option. The prosecution is seeking life in prison, the maximum sentence available.
``The people are asking for the death penalty because there is no way a school teacher can go around killing children,″ said Karin Abrahams, who stood outside the courthouse and recalled searching through bushy flats for bodies of the killer’s young victims.
Others outside who could not get into the overcrowded courtroom echoed the sentiment.
Simons, who maintains his innocence, has been charged with only one of the 22 murders _ the strangulation of 10-year-old Elroy van Rooyen in March 1994. But relatives of other victims are convinced Simons was responsible for the 21 other murders dating from 1986.
``This is the right person,″ said Loraine Solomon, grandmother of 9-year-old Marcelino Cupido, who disappeared in December 1993.
Police also believe they have the serial killer. However, they don’t have the evidence to charge him in the other murders, and the only witnesses who have come forward in any of the other cases were children at the time of the crimes and their testimony was not considered reliable.
Police Capt. Johan Kotze, who headed the investigation team, said 150 suspects were ruled out before they arrested Simons in April 1994.
``The thing that convinced us about him was the fact that not only did he look a lot like the identikit, but the way he reacted when he was questioned about the incidents,″ Kotze said. ``He never really denied being involved.″
Youngsters began disappearing in 1986, but few initially noticed any pattern to the killings eventually attributed to the ``Station Strangler″ because many victims were lured away from train stations.
The victims were mostly young boys and teen-agers, and the first were found sodomized and buried face down in shallow graves. While more bodies were found in the same area the next seven years, long intervals between discoveries held down hysteria over a possible serial killer.
That all changes at the end of 1993, when more bodies turned up and residents displayed their anger and fear. Mobs searched the scrub land of the Cape Flats for more bodies and converged on any stranger approaching a child.
Only in January 1994, a few months before the nation’s first all-race election, was a special police team formed to investigate the murders. Most of the victims were mixed-race, and community leaders blamed the delay on politics from the apartheid era of white rule and racial discrimination.
``It was only in the 1990s, when people began to realize there was no more apartheid to defend, that they began to concentrate on crime,″ said Brent Simons, no relation to Norman, a spokesman for the African National Congress.
However, the eight-year gap between the first murders and the special investigation made much forensic evidence inconclusive, said Kotze.
Stung by failures in other high-profile cases _ a suspected serial rapist was found to have been out of the country when several of the crimes were committed _ police deployed scores of detectives and questioned dozens of people.
And they adopted new methods of questioning, working with a clinical psychologist to develop a technique of chatting suspects rather than interrogating them.
According to evidence from court hearings and the trial, Simons has twice confessed to killing van Rooyen and said he was molested by his brother as a child and has since heard voices telling him to kill people. He suffers a personality disorder, and was in a mental institution at the time of his arrest.
Even with the conviction, many people remain traumatized by the ordeal.
Solomon, the mother of triplet boys now 17 years old, warned them never to trust strangers.
``I told them if anybody stops them, even if its police, don’t listen, run to the nearest house and ask to phone home,″ she said.