Hunting Johannesburg’s first serial killer.

Mavis Davids struck a deal with the stranger in the big black car.

Then she opened the passenger door, got in, and disappeared into the night.

It was 1937 and in Europe Hitler’s land grab continued, South Africa still struggled through a depression and Johannesburg had a killer stalking its streets.

The killings had even brought an unlikely truce to the City.

Joburg serial 2

No longer were police harassing the prostitutes that stood on the street corners, they now protected them.

Each prostitute had at least two detectives, watching over them as they went about soliciting for Johns.

When the John drove off, a detective would scribble the licence plate in his incident book.

The City’s super sleuth of the day the head of CID Lieutenant Ulf Boberg had come up with the idea.

He had four bodies on his hands, and he was no closer in finding their killer. All the dead prostitutes were found dumped alongside the Potchefstroom road, that today runs through Soweto.

Each body had provided few clues. Post mortems revealed strangulation as the cause of death, and their handbags were missing from the crime scene.

The book, Boberg would later write telling of the investigation of the killings

The book, Boberg would later write about his career in the police.

Boberg must have realised, that he and his men were on the trail of a special kind of murderer. Something different from the usual Saturday night deaths that spilled out of the mining town’s ram shackle shebeens.

Boberg approached the higher authorities and got permission to allow his detectives to watch over Joburg’s street walkers.

The plan was that the prostitutes would get their clients to drop them off at the place from where they had picked them up from.

For months the detectives watched Johns come and go.

Then Mavis Davids went missing.

News spread quickly and police raced to Potchefstroom road, the killer’s known haunt.

There they found Mavis bleeding, but alive.

She told them, she had become uneasy when her client turned into Potchefstroom road. When he stopped the car, she tried to open the door and escape. But the man grabbed her, placed his hands around her neck and began squeezing. She passed out and remembered nothing more.

This time the cops had a breakthrough, a detective had scribbled down the driver’s licence plate.

A detective pulled the records and they had an address.

When they arrived at the house that same night, they noticed the black car with the licence plate was not there.

So they waited.

In the early hours of the morning , the car pulled up.

The man, armed detectives pulled from the car that morning was Cornelius Burger.

When they searched his house, they found his souvenirs hidden in a cupboard-the handbags of the murdered prostitutes.

Marvis’ handbag still lay in his car.

Burger, a later examination revealed, suffered from a venereal disease, probably syphilis. It had effected his mind, so much so he never stood trial.

He did however tell police that he had caught the disease from a prostitute and this had triggered his homicidal rage.

Burger would die in a mental asylum. In his later years Boberg would tell of his experience of hunting Johannesburg’s first street serial killer in his book, Boberg vertel.

Today Burger is a footnote in forensic psychology journals, that modern profilers now use to track the City’s latest generation of killers.

About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in johannesburg, south african history, stories behind the news and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Hunting Johannesburg’s first serial killer.

  1. silla grobbelaar says:

    You still write about interesting stuff. And very prolific.

  2. Silla Grobbelaar says:

    Very interesting story. Smillie always delivers with his usual offbeat stories.

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