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'Facebook Rapist' Thabo Bester Escaped Prison By Staging His Own Suicide, DNA Testing Reveals
Thabo Bester, who was serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of an aspiring model, duped South African prison guards by staging a suicide last May. DNA tests show that the charred corpse found in his cell belonged to another man. Now, authorities are scrambling to find the escapee.
South African authorities are scrambling to locate the criminal known as the "Facebook rapist" after learning he'd faked his own death to dupe prison staff and make an escape. The discovery came about after DNA testing of the remains that were found in his cell last May.
Thabo Bester was convicted of killing a model in 2012 and had also been found guilty of robbing and raping two aspiring models that he'd lured through Facebook in prior cases, according to BBC News.
Prison guards at the private Mangaung Correctional Center in Bloemfontein assumed the inmate had committed suicide by self-immolation last May after a fire broke out in his prison cell, leaving charred human remains behind, according to reporting by CBS News.
But DNA testing of the corpse against samples provided by Bester's mother revealed those remains belonged to another male who died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to a statement posted to Twitter by the country's Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services on Saturday.
Autopsy results also suggested that the unidentified male died before the blaze ever began.
"The post-mortem report further revealed that there were no signs of smoke inhalation in the body," the release stated. "It uncovered that the pancreas and spleen in the body were in early stages of decomposition."
The agency implored the public to share any information that might lead to the convict's recapture, promising that "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."
On Monday, police spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe said that authorities' priorities are "to find this fugitive of justice [Bester] and establish exactly how he faked his death,” according to CBS News.
“We want to find people who are directly involved in this matter as well as his accomplices,” Mathe said.
Local media outlet GroundUp raised doubts about the convicted rapist's death last November, long before Saturday's announcement, according to Al Jazeera. Photographs of the escapee grocery shopping in Johannesburg were published by the outlet and women have since alleged that the con artist contacted them on social media.
Revelations of the convicted rapist's escape have sparked outcry from human rights groups who assert that the South African government does not do enough to protect victims of sexual violence. More than 12,000 rapes were reported across the country in the last three months of 2022 alone, according to Al Jazeera.
"The unfolding of this story has been like a movie and sent shivers down everyone's spines ... I can imagine what it did to the victims," said Bafana Khumalo, the co-director of NGO Sonke Gender Justice, according to CBS News.
In a statement, the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party said Bester's escape "is testament to the incompetence of the Correctional Services system, and the endemic corruption in the sector."