South African police have launched a manhunt for convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester who escaped from a privately-run maximum security prison in the Free State province under bizarre circumstances.
Bester, known as the "Facebook rapist", was found guilty in 2012 of raping two women and killing one after luring them with the social media platform.
In March last year, officials reported that he had died in a fire in his cell at the Mangaung Correctional Centre, near Bloemfontein.
But now it appears Bester escaped from his cell amid the fire and has been living lavishly in Johannesburg's posh Hyde Park suburb.
According to information first revealed by the South African news outlet GroundUp and confirmed by the police, the body found burned in the cell was not Bester according to DNA results.
Autopsy results have determined that the person found dead in the cell died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head before the fire.
The fire appears to have been part of Bester's elaborate prison escape which has raised many questions about the possible involvement of prison officials.
“A case of murder is under investigation following the outcome of the DNA analysis that confirmed that the body of the deceased which was found was not of Thabo Bester," police spokeswoman Motantsi Makhele said.
The identity of the man found dead in the cell is still unknown, she said.
A case of escape from lawful custody has also been opened as prison officials have confirmed that Bester is not in their custody, Makhele said.
“A manhunt has been launched for all persons of interest in this particular case," she said.
According to media reports, Bester has been spotted shopping in Johannesburg's upmarket Sandton area and has been romantically linked to a prominent celebrity doctor.
While in prison Bester used a laptop he had for studies to run an event and production company, according to the GroundUp report.
At one point he addressed a conference from his prison cell, wearing a tie and telling other attendees that he was speaking from the US, said the report.
The Mangaung prison is currently being run by Britain-based private security firm G4S which was awarded a contract to administer the facility until 2026, according to South Africa's Department of Correctional Services.
The department has no intention to renew the contract, it said in a statement.
“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,” said Correctional Services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo.