The Station Strangler and the Media <Pdf 11mb>
The Cape Talk radio interview with Anthony Molyneaux and Professor Colin Tredoux
Documentary soon to be released…Mid 2015
A video by Anthony Molyneaux and Jaco du Plessis
Ubuntu B-Boyz is a South African breakdancing group from Mitchell’s Plain. They received international acclaim when they were crowned world champions in 2006 in Germany.
The Ubuntu crew have opened for artists like 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce and Kanye West. They perform throughout South Africa, and have just recently performed at Rocking the Daisies festival near Cape Town.
Apart from commercial performances, they also take part in ‘dance battles’ and competitions against other break dancing groups around the world.
The word Ubuntu is an African concept meaning ‘I am because we are’.
Professor Colin Tredoux speaks about the infamous Station Strangler case, being taught by J.M Coetzee and the difficulties facing court convictions. Anthony Molyneaux sat in his leafy offices at UCT to find out what’s next for Tredoux.
“There was someone murdering young boys in the 80s and 90s in Cape Town. Modus operandi was the same it seemed, he would meet young boys between the ages of 8 to 18 years at train stations and he would ask them to do things for him,
‘Carry a box and I’ll give you R5.’
“Once he led them away from the train station, he would tie their hands up, rape them, murder them, mutilate them and shove their heads in the sand. Twenty two boys over an 8 year period were killed.”
Professor Colin Tredoux, a psychology professor at UCT, strokes his grey goatee thoughtfully as he recalls all the information on the infamous station strangler case.
There was a R50, 000 reward for any information on the murders in the impoverished Mitchells Plain area. Vigilante groups were escalating in their violent behaviour against suspected residents.
On the 19th March 1994, after another boy was found in the sand, the police finally got a break in the case in the form of two eye-witnesses.
The identikit drawn up by the two eye-witnesses led to a tip-off by a nurse of a patient undergoing treatment in a psychiatric ward in Cape Town.
The eye-witness testimony and the line-up that ensued made up the crux of the evidence against a 28-year-old Mitchells Plain school teacher named Norman Afzal Simons.
Simons was found guilty of the death of Elroy van Rooyen, the last boy to be murdered. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and locked in Drakenstein Maximum Correctional Facility near Paarl.
Tredoux, having investigated the finer details of the case, believes that the station strangler case has many curious tactics and methods that may have led to an example where the law and investigation can go wrong.
He is not the only one.
“Most of the police you ask about this are convinced he is not the guy. The lawyers who defended him are absolutely adamant he is innocent,” states Tredoux.
Advocate Koos Louw, who defended Simons, refused to cut his hair for 16 years in a sign of protest against Simon’s trial and conviction.
“You look at the theory of our law and what is supposed to happen and then you get the actual judgments and procedures. These two are remarkably different to what they are supposed to be,” says Tredoux.
Tredoux has a monumental knowledge of the case as he is an expert in eye-witness recall and line-up fairness through his barrage of published research papers.
“Early on my research centered on devising measures to improve the fairness of police line-ups. My second strand of research was Eigenface which is a tool to assist the police in getting better quality pictures of perpetrators from eye-witnesses. The third strand is armchair investigation as to why the current method is so inaccurate.
“In Simons case, not only was the eye-witness extremely hesitant of pointing Simons out, but the line-up had serious concerns in terms of fairness. All the participants of the line-up were supposed to be of similar height, dress and have similar features such as scars or tattoos. In the line-up footage, Simons is the only one that has a facial scar and wearing the most notable mustard coloured pants,” states Terdoux.
“In South Africa we have more of a bias to prosecuting people rather than defending them. If you defend people more vigorously, more guilty people go free. We are desperate to prosecute people and drive crime down, we are happy to let innocent people have a little less protection.”
Even with the current method being so inaccurate, there are more factors at play that reduce the chances of accurate convictions.
Internationally, he found through his studies that a large factor in identification inaccuracies is cross-race identifications.
“There’s a difficulty in recognizing people from other groups. If you look at the mistaken convictions in the United States, three quarters of them are white people trying to identify black perpetrators. Of the roughly 330 cases that DNA has now vindicated in America, three quarters of those were cross-race identifications,” states Tredoux.
If memory recall, eye-witness inaccuracies and questionable line-up discrepancies are so prevalent, is there a future where DNA and technology rule, instead of subjective memory recall?
“DNA testing is always circumstantial. All it proves is that you were there. You can argue that you had been there before on another occasion. That’s different from someone saying, ‘I saw him do it, he is the guy who had the gun and he pulled the trigger.’ DNA needs to be backed up by a visual record of the perpetrator being there at the time of the incident,” states Tredoux.
CCTV is the new kid on the block in court rooms for attorneys to identify suspects. This ‘objective’ method should rule out all these inaccuracies in terms of eye-witness recall. However, Tredoux has mixed feelings about this new form of identification.
“The likelihood of identifying the CCTV image with the actual person has been shown to be 50 percent. The images are grainy for one, but it’s not just that, it’s a tricky task to match a photograph of a person at point one versus the person at point two. It sounds absolutely straight forward, dead-easy, but it’s not,” states Tredoux.
“CCTV and cell phone footage won’t be good for arguing identity; it will be good for circumstance. In this case, it’s not an argument about identity, it’s about likelihood.”
On the 28th of August, four teenagers were convicted of killing Dean Mayley in west London. The CCTV footage shows the criminals blocking Mayley’s path and then stabbing him in the chest when he refused to hand over his money. Just as Tredoux pointed out, their faces are indiscernible but the footage did help to place the perpetrators at the scene and aided in convicting the four teenagers.
Regarding Tredoux’s past work, I spoke with one of Tredoux’s PhD students, Alicia Nortje, about Tredoux and his motivation behind his work.
“If Colin has an opinion about something, he has probably thought about it for some time because he doesn’t make any hasty judgments. He is not hell-bent on justice. I think in the station strangler case, it’s a really interesting application of our work, and there is social responsibility that goes with that.”
PAST and FUTURE
Tredoux grew up in Pretoria and attended the reputable Pretoria Boys High School.
Upon moving to UCT to study English Literature in 1982, he was taught by the legendary Pulitzer, Nobel and Booker Prize winner, J.M Coetzee.
“Coetzee was a very cool person, quite distant. Formidably clever and he taught us unusual things like Defoe. I remember when I was an honours student and working in the computer science building. I used the word processes, as it was in 95, and Coetzee was always there, every night, typing away frantically on the processor,” reminisces Tredoux.
Coetzee is currently living in Adelaide in Australia. I wondered if Tredoux would continue his current direction and spend the rest of his working years in Cape Town
“I have another fifteen years [left]. It’s tricky because you can become a member of the overfed bourgeoisies very easily,” he says, laughing loudly.
After a long pause, he continues,
“I think a change of scene of some kind might be the best thing for me. A totally different country, a totally different way of doing things. A gigantic change could be it.”
Tredoux, working tirelessly over the past twenty years, has published many research papers such as ‘Evaluation of ID: using Eigenface as an eye-witness tool to aid the police’. He has also studied the accuracies of cross-racial prejudices in identikits and facial composites, has tackled racial preferences in children and researched line-up construction and fairness.
Concurrently, Simons has been in jail over the past twenty years and just as Tredoux is looking for a change, a major change may be facing Norman Afzal Simons. The alleged Station Strangler is due for parole in 2015. It seems Tredoux and Simons share something in common.
A documentary feature regarding the Station Strangler case and the details surrounding this case will be released soon. Follow this blog for more information.
Parents save their hard earned cash for years to ensure that their children have the opportunity to attend university. Some scholar’s social lives and fingernails are in tatters from the strain to gain a scholarship or bursary, just to have the chance to study at places like Harvard or MIT.
The cost of a university education rules out millions of people from ever having the advantage of a degree. Should the socio-economic world we are born into dictate our future?
What if a university education was free AND top class?
Today we have massive resources online at our disposal. People across the globe can access this information through their cell phones or computers. With this vehicle, there are new ways to gain a quality education, free of charge.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have given a chance to those less fortunate to gain the skills required for higher learning and special skills.
According to the BBC, at Harvard University, more people signed up with MOOCs in a single year than have graduated from Harvard throughout its 378 year history.
Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed possible. Today, institutions like Harvard and MIT have set up Edx, an online education platform offering Harvard lectures and short courses, free of charge, to anyone who has an internet connection.
The first online course offered by Harvard drew 155,000 students from 163 countries. That’s more than all the students that have ever graduated from MIT, all within the first week.
Is this the beginning of the end for universities and its ‘passport to life’ idea?
Much like in newspapers, the old school traditional approach has had to change rapidly in order to stay afloat. Many newspapers were casualties of not adapting fast enough.
Khan Academy is a famous non-profit educational organisation practicing online. Their mission statement is “Learn almost anything. Completely free, forever,” and they have already changed the way classrooms operate throughout the United States.
A ‘flipped-classroom’ approach has been adopted in many schools, where children use Khan Academy at home to learn new concepts, such as fractions or equations, through watching fun educational videos and playing math games. During school hours, the teacher will go through the exercises already completed by the students in order to focus on their specific areas of weakness.
Could university lecturers turn into tutors in a similar manner?
The socio-economic bias is somehow still present in the online model, with 80% of enrolled MOOC students already having a degree.
This is changing though. People from around the world are taking part on discussions and online forums, learning and benefiting from Ivy League schools. The chances of gaining a Harvard style education for those less fortunate have never been more exceptional.
Udacity.com have found an exceptional way of profiting from this new trend. Udacity have teamed up with Silicon Valley to offer courses made by Google and Facebook, specifically catering to the people they need in the industry. Completing these courses will dramatically increase ones chance of getting a job in this field.
These unique courses are offered at a fraction of the cost of a university course.
Added to this is the fact that you could do these courses in your own time, anywhere you want. You could gain work experience or get a job that still pays the bills while you are studying. No need to sit in classes or hand in assignments, everything is done online.
Obviously there are degrees and courses that will almost certainly require a University and the need to be physically present in class – Medicine being an obvious example – but the old models of three year degrees in philosophy and psychology for example, seem to be struggling to stay relevant in this new, unlimited world.
Universities are going through this crisis. They are facing some scary possibilities of economy redundant. Some might say that it is unfair towards these institutions of tradition and heritage…but then again, wasn’t it an unfair model in the first place?
Judas Priest’s lyrics, “Breaking the law, breaking the law!” bursts out of the speakers, entertaining the packed venue known as The Pit.
The Pit, a skating bar in Cape Town’s city “bowl”, is hosting the Vans invitational skateboarding competition on a cloudy Saturday evening. Skaters speed from one end of the fluorescent lit bowl to the other, performing grinds and wall rides on each end.
The association attached to skaters is normally that of reckless trouble-makers and vandals but watching the skaters and crowd, I don’t see the connection.
There are no fights breaking out; even when a board accidentally goes flying into someones face or a beer is spilled onto a spectator’s camera. There are no vandals destroying pot plants or mail boxes. If anything, there is a general camaraderie and respect between everyone present.
Quinton Robertson, one of the skaters taking part in the competition at The Pit, spoke about what he thought a skate park brings to the community.
The skate park hosted hundreds of young kids, some as young as 8, and people from all backgrounds.
Marco Morgan, a founding member of the National Skate Collective, an organisation hoping to advance the culture of skateboarding in Cape Town, believes however that this diversity has not always been present in the sport.
There has also been an increase in gender diversity. The Pit’s competition includes a female, Melissa Williams.
Williams is the only female competing against 35 male competitors.
Unfortunately Williams couldn’t comment on gender in skating as she had to be taken to hospital after severely breaking her finger in one of the heats of the competition.
A search for “skateboarding fails” in YouTube, offers days of footage that will make your eyes water and steer most people away from the sport.
So I asked Leigh Soulink, a young man with dreadlocks and a massive red rose tattoo covering his neck, what he thought drew people to skating, even with such high risk of injuries.
Sheldon Klopper, a spectator and skater himself says,
It seems this accepting environment is one that sets skating apart from most other sports.
Today’s park opening and the regular competitions are a sign of the sport’s increasing popularity. More importantly, skating has an opportunity now by using the parks to shrug off the stigma associated with skaters.
By setting up the Gardens Skate Park , skating is granted more awareness and with this, acceptance.
Although a positive step forward, Morgan believes that throwing more skate parks at the issue of bad reputation, is not always a good thing.
Morgan and the National Skate Collective are attempting to introduce a by-law that will allow skateboarders to skate on the roads legally.
There have also been talks about a new skate park being constructed in Woodstock using these task team approaches.
This accepting community of skateboarders seems to be making progress in communities around the world. In South Africa, the diversity is striking and promises positive change.
But will this diversification and exposure lead to more facilities and support for the sport? Or will it serve to isolate the skateboarder even more by confining them and “fencing the activity” to spaces catered for them.
A greater question is raised: Will skating only be practiced in cordoned off, ‘legal’ areas in the future or will it be accepted for its freedom of expression and allowed to be practiced wherever the skater chooses?
As for now, the growth of this niche sport is on the up and skaters around Cape Town all seem to be winning.