Finding Makhubu: A morphological forensic facial comparison

T. M. R. Houlton (Lead / Corresponding author), M. Steyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


June 16, 1976, marks the Soweto Youth Student Uprising in South Africa. A harrowing image capturing police brutality from that day comprises of 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a dying 12-year-old Hector Peterson. This circulated international press and contributed to world pressure against the apartheid government. This elevated Makhubu's profile with the national security police and forced him to flee to Botswana, then Nigeria, before disappearing in 1978. In 1988, Victor Vinnetou illegally entered Canada and was later arrested on immigration charges in 2004. Evasive of his true identity, the Canadian Border Services Agency and Makhubu's family believe Vinnetou is Makhubu, linking them by a characteristic moon-shaped birthmark on his left chest. A performed DNA test however, was inconclusive. Following the continued 40-year mystery, Eye Witness News in 2016 requested further investigation. Using a limited series of portrait images, a forensic facial comparison (FFC) was conducted utilising South African Police Service (SAPS) protocols and Facial Identification Scientific Working Group (FISWG) guidelines. The images provided, presented a substantial time-lapse and generally low resolution, while being taken from irregular angles and distances, with different subject poses, orientations and environments. This enforced the use of a morphological analysis; a primary method of FFC that develops conclusions based on subjective observations. The results were fundamentally inconclusive, but multiple similarities and valid explanations for visible differences were identified. To enhance the investigation, visual evidence of the moon-shaped birthmark and further DNA analysis is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-20
Number of pages8
JournalForensic Science International
Early online date4 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Facial Identification Scientific Working Group (FISWG)
  • Forensic facial comparison
  • Morphological analysis
  • South African Police Service (SAPS)
  • Soweto Youth Student Uprising

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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