Extract: The Profiler Diaries by Gérard Labuschagne

This entry was posted on 03 August 2022.

In this gripping account, the former South African Police Service head profiler recalls one of some 110 murders and countless other bizarre crimes he analysed during his fourteen-and-a-half-year career. An expert on serial murder and rape cases, here, Labuschagne walks the reader through the senseless murder of Thembinkosi Cebekhulu by an assailant who turned out to be former Blue Bulls player Phindile Joseph Ntshongwana. Ntshongwana was found guilty in 2014 of killing four people with an axe, kidnap and rape.



“On 20 March 2011, Thembinkosi Cebekhulu was in Empangeni for his brother’s funeral when he received a phone call from his employer, asking him to come in and work the next day, which was a public holiday. He agreed, and on that same afternoon he started his journey back to Durban, where he lived with his girlfriend, Mabel Dlamini. He called Mabel at about 21h15, telling her that he was at the garage in Montclair, which was close to where they lived. He asked her if she needed anything for the house, and Mabel asked him to bring home some bread. That was the last time she would hear from Thembinkosi.

At 21h40, Gildred Donnelly was driving along Kenyon Howden Road on his way home. As he passed Westwood Gardens, he noticed two people on the right-hand side of the road. Initially, he thought they were fighting. One appeared to be on the pavement and the other in the road. The person on the pavement was lying down, and Donnelly noticed that the person standing in the road was wielding an axe. This man was dressed in black tracksuit pants and a black T-shirt and wore a black cap; Donnelly was unable to clearly see the person’s face, but he described the axe-wielder as strong and well-built.

As he drove slowly past in a state of disbelief, Donnelly could see this man chopping away at the person lying on the pavement; he could literally see how the body on the pavement was bouncing from the impact of the blows. Donnelly continued home, from where he called the police. He then returned to the scene, where he found another man, who had also stopped. When the police arrived, Donnelly explained to them what he had seen…

The crime-scene photographs in this case are particularly gruesome, and the sight that greeted the two witnesses must have been severely traumatic for them.

The first police responders arrived on the scene at 22h00, covering the man’s body with a foil blanket used in emergencies, and were finished by 23h00. We don’t tend to spend hours and hours at crime scenes in South Africa, even in murder cases. My colleagues overseas would be quite shocked if they knew how quickly we process a crime scene. One has to balance out what we are forensically capable of and our limited human resources. Also, there is usually only one crime-scene investigator on standby, and he or she also has to attend to their other cases before their shift is over. Other factors, like statistics and response times, also put pressure on members to work faster. Statistics on response times and the number of scenes attended often seemed more important than doing a good job.


“It is never a good sign if a member of the police answers a phone that you are calling.”


By 22h00, Mabel started worrying that Thembinkosi was not yet home; the suburb of Yellowwood Park borders the suburb of Montclair, so her boyfriend should have been home long ago, if you took into account when he’d called. So, Mabel called his cell phone. Warrant Officer Thwala, who had responded to the scene, heard the deceased’s phone ringing in his pocket, and he took it out and answered it. He told Mabel that they were with Thembinkosi and would bring him to her. She quickly realised that she wasn’t being told the truth and began to cry. It is never a good sign if a member of the police answers a phone that you are calling.

At 22h15, Mabel again called Thembinkosi’s number, and another policeman answered. He told Mabel that Thembinkosi was ‘sleeping’, and that when he woke up, they would bring him to her. Mabel told the policeman that she knew he was lying to her, and she ended the call.

I mean, really, what a silly thing to tell her.

Mabel approached her employer, Cornelius Barnard, on whose property she lived, and told him that she thought Thembinkosi was dead. Barnard then drove her to the Montclair SAPS. On the way, however, they went past the crime scene and saw a body covered in a foil blanket. Mabel told Barnard that she suspected it was Thembinkosi lying there, but they continued on to the police station. There, some policemen informed her that the scene was at Kenyon Howden Road; in other words, the scene they had just driven past.

Barnard and Mabel then drove back to the scene. The mortuary van had arrived by then, and the foil blanket had been taken off the body. Mabel immediately recognised Thembinkosi’s clothes. I shudder to think how she must have felt, especially given the state of the crime scene. These are the types of things I allow myself to think of only years after leaving the police. At the time, you suppress any emotions. You don’t want to think about the emotional impact a crime has on others in order to protect yourself and to allow you to focus on the task at hand. That detachment allows you to stay sane and to continue to do your work; it also tends to involve the type of gallows humour that shocks outsiders.

The violent-crime report, which is supposed to be sent to the War Room at Durban Central within thirty minutes of the attendance of a scene, merely states the following under ‘Details of Crime’: ‘The deceased was attacked by unknown male with an axe on head, neck & hands’.”


Extracted from The Profiler Diaries by Gérard Labuschagne, out now.



Extract: The Profiler Diaries 2 by Gerard Labuschagne



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