Last May, South African prison authorities announced a man serving a life sentence for rape and murder had died in a fire in his cell. Dubbed the "Facebook rapist" for his habit of luring victims on the site, Thabo Bester had apparently set himself alight inside the maximum-security Manguaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, leaving his body burnt beyond recognition. Apparently is the key word here. Authorities now admit Bester didn't die in the May 3 blaze but instead escaped prison and has been at large ever since. In a weekend statement, South Africa's department of correctional services said a post-mortem and DNA test showed the body belonged not to Bester but to an adult male who suffered blunt-force trauma to the head before the fire was set, per CBS News.
"No stone will be left unturned in getting to the bottom of Thabo Bester's escape, and there will be serious consequences for any party involved," the department said in a release. It followed reporting from GroundUp, which suggested a coverup at the second-largest private prison in the world. The outlet noted two people were seen "hastily exiting the prison" less than a minute before the first signs of the fire were detected. It also cited a source as saying Bester had been moved into a corner cell that "is difficult for the CCTV cameras to see." According to GroundUp, Bester had been running the scam business "21st Century Media" from the prison and appeared via video-link at its "glitzy launch" in Johannesburg in 2018, claiming to be New York-based chairman "Tom Motsepe."
The outlet also claimed he's "been running a new business with celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana." Magudumana initially claimed the body as Bester's wife, though "she had been in a civil marriage with another man since 2013." Photos have since surfaced appearing to show Bester grocery shopping in Johannesburg and "some women have come forward alleging the convict made contact with them on social media," per CBS. "At this point our priority is to find this fugitive of justice and establish exactly how he faked his death," says a police rep. In its statement, the corrections department said it would not renew G4S's contract to run the prison, which expires in 2026. G4S previously said it would not pursue a new contract, Deutsche Welle reports. (Read more prison escape stories.)