Thirtieth Woman Dies In Three-Year Series Of Mystery Killings
December 20, 2000

By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Accra, Ghana

There is rising anger in Ghana after the discovery of yet another murdered woman - the thirtieth to be found in three years around the metropolitan area of the capital, Accra.

The body of the unnamed woman, thought to be in her early forties, was found in a dusty, undeveloped area of Accra near the airport, early on Monday morning. She was naked from her brassiere downwards, with a white blouse pulled up to her neck. A pair of rubber slippers and some clothing were found nearby.

There have been angry protests in recent months from concerned Ghanaian women's groups complaining that the police force is not doing enough to solve the murders, which many consider a national crisis. The killings have been dubbed the work of serial killers. Thirty women have been murdered in similar, unexplained, circumstances since December 1997.

So far, it has been established that victims have been strangled, with bruising on their bodies. In most cases they have been naked, with condoms and torn underpants lying close by.

Activists argue that because the victims are women, the police are not as concerned as they might be if men were being murdered. Many agree that neither the government, nor President Jerry Rawlings himself, have given the matter enough of their time or attention.

On Monday, as people filed past the corpse in the hope that someone might identify the dead woman, local women desperate for some answers wailed and shouted: "What have we done, why are women being disgraced, why can't the police sort out these killings?"

The police officer in charge of the team of forensic investigators said an on-the-spot assessment concluded that the woman's body had been dumped at the scene, though she was probably killed elsewhere, up to eight hours before she was found. He said that marks on her body indicated a struggle.

In response to a growing chorus of criticism, Ghana's Inspector General of Police, Peter Nanfuri, held a news conference on Tuesday, flanked by other senior police officers. The message seemed to be, 'we're doing our best to apprehend the perpetrators.'

Fielding tough questions from journalists, and calls for him and his top officials to resign since they had made little progress tracking down the killers of these women, Nanfuri responded that to step down would be cowardly and defeatist and would not solve the problem.

The Ghanaian police wanted to make it clear that neither weakness nor incompetence were the reasons behind their failure to solve these murder cases. "We shall only take measures to curtail it, if only they will work for us all," said the police chief.

Nanfuri said they had some leads from people who had come forward to assist the police, though he added: "we have sifted through, but unfortunately much of them have either been scanty or turned out to be false alarms."

The Inspector General of Police again appealed for vital information and more cooperation from the public. He also called on women's groups, religious organizations and civil society to encourage public education to help protect women.

He warned the media to avoid creating unnecessary tension and panic in reporting the killings. Nanfuri called for more discretion in news coverage. He said: "I can assure you that there will be no more murders. We know we can do it. We trust that we can easily do it, but it will take time."

The words of the police chief will be little comfort to the majority of Ghanaian women who do not have the luxury of their own transport and sometimes have to walk long distances alone, in the dark.

The commissioner in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), W.K. Aboah, who doubles up as the Director of Immigration in Ghana, told the news conference that detectives in his unit had received training from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, and that the FBI had studied and assessed the cases.

Aboah said that the FBI team had been satisfied with investigation procedures followed so far, but he also reiterated that the public could do more to assist the police.

Nanfuri said that the police recognised that scaling down night-time patrols and police check points might be partly responsible for resurgence in the murders of women. But he noted that there had been public complaints about the road blocks. "We therefore request the public to bear with us as we reintroduce these barriers at night as one of the measures we are taking to bring the situation under control," said Nanfuri.

The police have not been able to identify a motive for the killings or say whether an individual or a group is behind the murders. Nine of the thirty women killed in the past three years have yet to be identified.