Pretoria - South African police yesterday shot and arrested Moses Sithole, 31, the man they had named as the prime suspect in the serial killings of at least 40 women, some of whom were lured to their deaths by letters and telephone calls.
According to police, Mr Sithole may have used his previous job as a youth counsellor to ensnare women before raping and strangling them with their underwear. He was cornered in a slum district of Johannesburg on Wednesday night after detectives received a tip-off that he was going to see a relative.
When he was confronted, police said, he attacked two undercover investigators with an axe. They fired two warning shots and then shot him first in the foot and in the stomach when he did not stop. The police commissioner, George Fivaz, said Mr Sithole was in satisfactory condition in hospital.
"This was a person who has been sought for many weeks for the killings of many persons and up to now we can't determine how he may react," Mr Fivaz added, defending the police, who were criticised for having shot dead a previous suspect, David Selepe. Last week they named Mr Sithole, believed also to be an ex-convict, as their prime suspect. They published his picture, a list of his six known aliases and appealed to people not to exact mob justice if he was found.
The serial killings are part of a crime wave rocking South Africa. The bodies of the black women victims were found near railway stations, in open fields and in mine dumps.
The commissioner did not rule out links between Mr Sithole and the previous suspect, Selepe. "All indications are that he worked as a loner over the last couple of months ... [but] there are indications that he could be linked with David Selepe," Mr Fivaz said.
Mr Sithole may have been the man who called two Johannesburg newspapers claiming to be the serial killer. In one of the calls the man claimed to have killed up to 76 people.
Mr Fivaz said precautions would be taken to ensure the prisoner's safety and he would stand trial as soon as possible. President Nelson Mandela had congratulated the detective team for their work, he said.