Sipho Agmatir Thwala was South Africa’s Phoenix Strangler. Although he only operated for the relatively short period of a year from 1996 to 1997 he was to make it a terrifying year for KwaZulu-Natal province and rapidly became the most wanted man in the region.
His MO was straightforward – he would lure women to sugar cane fields with the promise of work before raping and strangling them with their own underwear, then bury them in shallow graves.
Thwala appeared normal around his family and was above average intelligence. A police profile described him as “intelligent and charming to women, but extremely dangerous”.
He was arrested in 1997 after police matched DNA found on the victims to DNA taken from Thwala several years earlier when he was arrested for rape, though he was later acquitted of those charges.
On 31 March 1999, Thwala was found guilty of 16 murders and 10 rapes, and sentenced to 506 years in prison. In testament to the strength of local feeling about the murders, Thwala’s house was burned down by an angry mob who had received a false tip-off that he was there. His mother and sister were locked inside at the time and only just managed to escape with the help of a friend.