A convict in South Africa known as the “Facebook rapist” is on the lam after he staged his death behind bars, a ruse that fooled authorities for nearly an entire year, police said.
Authorities previously believed that Thabo Bester – who lured his victims online before assaulting, robbing, and also killing at least one – died in May 2022 after setting himself on fire at a private prison in Bloemfontein, CBS reported.
Over the weekend, however, DNA revealed that the charred remains actually belonged to another, unidentified person who had been killed by blunt force trauma, Al Jazeera said.
Now, almost one year after the incident, Bester remains on the lam.
“At this point, our priority is to find this fugitive of justice [Bester] and establish exactly how he faked his death,” police spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe said Monday.
In a statement shared via social media, the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services pledged that “no stone will be left unturned” in the search for Bester, who was sentenced to life plus 75 years behind bars in 2012.
Police have also opened a murder investigation into the death of the individual found in Bester’s cell, Al Jazeera reported.
Bester’s escape has sparked outcry in South Africa, where human rights groups have longed agitated for greater protections against sexual violence.
“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,” Bafana Khumalo, co-director of the NGO Sonke Gender Justice, told AFP.
“The escape of Bester…is testament to the incompetence of the Correctional Services system, and the endemic corruption in the sector,” the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party added in a statement.
Suspicions about Bester’s alleged demise were first raised last November by the local news outlet GroundUp, which reported on sightings of the convict grocery shopping in Johannesburg, according to Al Jazeera.
Women also apparently reached out to the outlet to say that the accused predator approached them on social media.
Prior to his escape, Bester used his time in prison to run a lucrative scam posing as the head of “21st Century Media,” a fictional 21st Century Fox subsidiary, News 24 reported.
“We want to find people who are directly involved in this matter as well as his accomplices,” Mathe assured the public.