The mind of a fugitive: How escapee rapist and murderer Thabo Bester hid his identity
South African Thabo Bester, a prison escapee jailed for using social media accounts to lure plus sexually assault women, was a man of many faces who managed to change his identity and flee from South Africa.
However, the long arm of the law stopped him while on his way to enter Kenya from Tanzania.
Mr Bester, a convicted rapist and murderer, alongside his socialite girlfriend Dr Nandipha Magudumana were arrested in Tanzania as they headed to Kenya while in possession of several passports which had different identities, this was revealed by South Africa Police Minister Bheki Cele.
While addressing journalists over the arrest of the couple that has been on the run since March 2023 when it emerged that Mr Bester had escaped privately-run prison in Bloemfontein, Mr Cele said that they were also arrested alongside Mr Zakaria Alberto, a Mozambique national.
“They were arrested with multiple passports in their possession. None of the passports were stamped,” he said in the press conference.
Mr Bester was found with documents that identified him as Mr Tommy William Kelly, an American citizen while Dr Magudumana had documentation that identified her as Martha Patience Mmerika Nitshini.
According to the South African government, the passports, which had received details from Tanzania, where the trio was nabbed, also showed that Mr Bester had more pseudonyms.
They include; Mzali Jabuiabu, Thomas Magagula, Katlego Nkwana, Tom Rufus Reddy, Piet Timothy, Kelly Johnstone, Thomas Bester, TK and Rufus Mahopo.
Other names are; Tom Bester, Thomas Kell Young, Thabo Magagula, William Kelly, Tom Motsepe, Thabo Tom Bester, Kelly Young, Tom Kellu and Thomas Kelly Bester.
South African media reported that the two love birds traveled “from Johannesburg to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and then to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and later to Arusha.”
“We are told they were 10 kilometers from Kenya, (planning) to move from Tanzania to Kenya. So it does look like they were headed to the next country,” Mr Cele said.
He said they left the hotel based in Dar es Salaam while driving in a black Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
He said, “They have not [just] one passport per person. They have several, and all of them are not stamped, but in particular their entrance to Tanzania is not stamped. So, we cannot know which border [from South Africa they escaped through]. Those details are not in the passport.”
His arrest never took place without much drama, it all started when officers drawn from The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) tracked him down to a local hotel in Tanzania and decided to follow him as he hurriedly left the premises.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola also said that the Tanzanian government was willing to ensure that the three are deported back to South Africa to face the law.
Currently, a delegation from South Africa is headed to Tanzania to have a word with the government of the East African-based country so that they can be allowed to leave with the three.
“We are confident that indeed the good mutual working relations we have with Tanzania will enable us to ensure that all the fugitives South Africa is looking for… can be brought back to South Africa as speedily as possible,” Mr Lamola said.
Asked what are some of the charges that Mr Bester and the lover will be facing, the Minister said that Ms Magudumana’s was clear as she assisted the fiancé to escape from prison and South Africa.
“Firstly, you will understand that she [Magudumana] helped Mr Bester to escape. So, that is the charge that she will face,” he said.
However, Mr Lamola said that police officers would be the ones to decide on what they were planning to charge them with.
In 2012 he was sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault, robbery, and murder.
Last month, after it emerged that he had escaped from prison, he even managed to fake his death until a South African publication raised doubts about it.
It is worth noting that during the prison break, a body of an unidentified person was found inside the cell where he had been locked in.
When the publication cast doubts on the narrative, police in South Africa opened a fresh murder investigation.
An autopsy was carried out on the body of the person found in his cell, and it emerged that he had died due to blunt force trauma to the head before it was set ablaze. The body’s identity is still unknown.
Immediately after the incident, an investigation by British Private Security Company G4S, which operates the prison said that three of its members of staff had been dismissed.
Early, last week, police in South Africa raided a villa in an affluent Johannesburg suburb where Bester was thought to have spent time in hiding with Magudumana. They did not find him.