South Africa’s lone criminal profiler battles crime tidal wave

The woman’s breasts had been cut off, but her genitals were untouched. An unusual choice for a killer. Even stranger, no blood had spilled at the crime scene. The body must have been moved.

It may have been the work of a murderer — but not a mutilator, says Elmarie Myburgh, the only criminal profiler in South Africa’s police force.

“There are just so many cases,” says Myburgh, who has investigated 70 murders and 90 rapes — many by repeat offenders — over her 25 years in the role.

On top of which, South Africa’s police struggle with a reputation for inefficiency and corruption, while years of underfunding and budget cuts have seen their ranks decimated.

Myburgh’s cramped Pretoria office overflows with files of interrogations, ballistics, blood reports and medical examinations.

She carefully studies each beating, and how the violence escalates to a fatal blow, looking for hints to a killer’s relationship with the victim.

Myburgh was already working for the national police when South Africa’s first psychological investigation unit was set up after the end of apartheid in 1994.

“Now we may be quite on par with them,” Myburgh says.

Then 27, she’d already seen her share of gruesome photos.

Soon after, the young Myburgh was called for another murder: a woman stabbed repeatedly in her home.

Neither of those cases was resolved due to lack of evidence.

The system is so overburdened that just getting telephone records or DNA results can take months or years.

The figures are not reassuring: fewer than two out of 10 murders are solved in South Africa, according to police figures.

“People think they get away with it,” she says.

To unwind, she enjoys good wine, and she confesses to sometimes watching “CSI” — the hit forensics cop show — even if it gets on her nerves.

Bestselling South African crime novelist Deon Meyer sends Myburgh his manuscripts to proofread. Her razor-sharp eyes catch inconsistencies in even the tiniest detail.

Meyer manages well, Myburgh laughs. “We can make a detective out of him.”

It was her handiwork that helped solve the case involving the women whose breasts had been out off, a particularly gruesome crime.

At 50, Myburgh has started training three other cops to take over when she retires. But that’s still more than nine years away, and she doesn’t plan to quit.


Originally published as South Africa’s lone criminal profiler battles crime tidal wave


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