ZAMBIA holds a nasty world record. Zambia was the home of the Lusaka Strangler who killed more victims in a shorter period than any serial killer before or since. He killed one person per week from January to September 1980.
During the school holidays of the Christmas break of 1979 to 1980, the first victim of the Lusaka Strangler was found. It is not known who phoned the police on 5th January 1980 that a dead body was lying in the bush just behind Lusaka Boys football pitch. The area is now part of the Complex of Villas erected for the OAU Conference next to Intercontinental Hotel.
When the police led by an Inspector Gondwe arrived at the scene a crowd of school boys were already at the scene and their game of holiday football was horribly interrupted.
Two days later Woodlands Police were also phoned by an anonymous caller to the effect that a dead body of a young woman was lying in the bushes near Chitukuko Road.
A KILLING SPREE
For nine months, once a week like clock work, the strangler killed a woman. Dead bodies started being found in a wide area around Lusaka and the newspaper headlines were full of the attempts by the police to catch the serial killer.
The Lusaka Strangler was to kill at least 29 women. The police launched Operation Rosemary to capture the killer. By the time the Strangler was caught, the official list of victims was 31 with 2 victims surviving.
The police worked out the Modus operandi of the killer after some intensive investigation. His technique was simple, approach a woman, seduce her, take her for a drink, rape and strangle her. The other variation was to offer accommodation. He would then dump the body at a place where it would be found easily.
He also played games with the police. Arranging items like bottles around bodies, leave coins on the body and notes and so on.
Some bodies were found in the bush now occupied by Manda Hill, some others where Arcades is, others were found in the bush where Winners Chapel is in Libala, others were found in the NIPA area and another in the bush in Longacres near where the Zambia Airways Head quarters (now Ministry of Health). Another body was found at the gates of Woodlands Stadium. As if to mock the UNIP government one body was found lying at the Freedom Statue. Another body, found near Chibolya, had a gloating cardboard sign with a message for the police. Another body was left at what is now the TEVETA headquarters behind Intercontinental Hotel. One of the victims was an off duty policewoman and the killer left her ID lying on her body. One horrific murder involved the rape and strangulation of an 18 year old girl whose naked body was found hanging on the NIPA fence. This was the murder that so upset Assistant Comissioner Mr. Sinyinda
The spate of murders scared the whole of Lusaka. He killed six women in January, five women in February, five women in March, three more in April, two in May, three in June, two in July and the last two in September.
The victims were picked up from the Old Kamwala Intercity bus terminus, the Lusaka Railway Station and the UBZ coach station. The police also noticed something. Quite a lot of the victims identified by the national registration cards he left on their bodies were Lozi or Lozi speaking.
The Police investigation caused friction within the force. Political pressure was intense from the top, with politicians demanding results, meanwhile Force Headquarters Police Command did not want to interfere with the Lusaka Division Command investigations. However Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Sinyinda was forced to officially rebuke Lusaka CID for their poor investigation methods. The police had instituted a huge round up of all known sex offenders and murderers. They had detained dozens of people without result. Lusaka rumour had its own suspects.
What incensed Mr Sinyinda, a seasoned detective, was the failure of the police to interrogate a crucial witness properly. A security guard at Premium House had seen a woman walking past Premium House late at night with a soldier in uniform. He was upset that when the guard offered this information the lead was not followed up as the very same night a body appeared in the vicinity !!!
After this gaffe, the Police Command took over and assembled a Special Investigation Team composed of all the best detectives and investigators from around the country.
The breakthrough came when one person survived an attack by the strangler. In July 1980, Nora Soko survived an attack by the strangler and gave police a description of him as a dark man in military uniforn with tribal marks on his face speaking English and Nyanja with a Lozi accent. She had been lured from the bus stop by the Strangler when he grabbed her bag and walked out of the station. She followed him to try and retrieve her bag and he engaged her in conversation. She was saved from death when in the bush near the Olympic Swimming Pool in Rhodes Park she was attacked but screamed for help. Guards at the nearby ZSIC flats came to her rescue. A police detective had seen the two talking at the Kamwala Intercity Bus Terminus and had assumed they were a couple. He had however noted the couple in his notebook and his report had included a description of the killer.
The police subjected both the survivor and the detective to intensive questioning and both their descriptions tallied and both agreed they would be able to identify the serial killer.
The police now knew they were looking for a soldier or soldiers. The three statements of the Premium House guard, the detective’s report from Kamwala and the survivor’s tale all corroborated this.
The killer seemed to have noticed the heavy detective presence at railway and bus stations. This was because in August he did not strike. It is said the police even planted Lozi speaking female detectives at various stations to look like travellers however the killer never approached them.
THE STRANGLER IS FINALLY CAUGHT
He then struck again in September 1980 and in the process was arrested. A Mrs Mutakasha arrived in Lusaka. She was in company of a young lady going to Petauke. They arrived late in Lusaka and fearing the serial killer decided to spend the night at the station.
During the night, two soldiers approached them. The soldiers tried to convince the two women to go with them to a guest house. Mrs Mutakasha refused and so did the young girl. One of the soldiers picked up the girls bags and walked out with them. The young girl followed. Mrs Mutakasha never saw her again and it is not known if she too was a victim.
After an hour one of the soldiers came back and persuaded Mrs Mutakasha to come with her to the guest house. She relented and followed the soldier. She was attacked and woke up in the bush at 0300. She was attacked in the bush near Kamwala Secondary School. Her last memory was drinking a Fanta the soldier bought for her. She staggered to a house in Madras and called for help.
She too provided a clear description. After a month, the police then set a trap. Using the two survivors as bait they sent them back to the bus station.
The strangler fell into the trap. When Mrs Mutakasha was at the station, a soldier approached Mrs Mutakasha and began talking to her. Detectives closed in and arrested him.
Corporal Milton Mufungulwa Sipalo was the name of the suspect. He was taken to Central Police and interrogated. He was identified by the Detective who saw him speaking to Nora Soko, by Nora Soko and Mrs Mutakasha as well.
Three days of intensive interrogation followed. An accomplice
a Lance Corporal Kenneth Kaluwe was arrested. He was later released as no evidence was found linking him to the murders.
However Sipalo’s Arrakkan barracks home was full of the posessions of numerous victims. He also led the Investigators to many sites where bodies had been picked up. When caught he was even wearing a watch for Mrs Mutakasha.
THE STRANGLER ESCAPES JUSTICE
The story ends in a final macabre twist. While transferring Sipalo to a conference room for interrogation he escaped the officers escorting him and rushed to the roof of Lusaka Central Police Station. He then stood on the roof and threatened to throw himself off the roof. Despite hours of pleading from police, the fire brigade and onlookers, he plunged off the roof top to his death.
Thus ended the life of the most prolific serial killer in Zambian history. He had killed women at a rate of one a week except for the pause in August. For nine months he terrorised Lusaka. Nurses slept at UTH or clinics for fear of the Strangler. Fewer women could be found in bars or clubs. It was said prostitutes charged more. He mocked the police. He caused friction in the ranks of the police as to how best handle his case. The police threw unprecedented resources at the case.
There are still unresolved issues. If Lance Corporal Kenneth Kaluwe was not his partner in crime then who was the other soldier he seemed to have done his dastardly deeds with ? How many women did he really kill ? Indications are there were several bodies never found. What were his motives for the murder spree ? Why did the Government refuse offers of help from the FBI and Scotland Yard and opt to use its own resources to solve the case?
Article authored by Brian Mulenga
Times of Zambia, Daily Mail, various conversations with policemen over the years including a conversation with Commissioner Sinyinda and my father in 1989.