Death on the move: Egypt’s express train killer

People can so easily become that which they hate the most. For Ramadan Abdelrahim Mansour, that meant becoming a rapist, a murderer and a mutilator of young boys.   

His twisted tale takes root in 1992 when Mansour started working at a café in Cairo’s grim and grimy Ramses train station at the age of 12. No one could have imagined that this kind and gentle boy would grow up to rape and murder over 30 children.

Mansour during his youth

A difficult home life of poverty and neglect wasn’t the only thing that would irrevocably scar the young Mansour. It was at this rundown café that he was bullied and tormented by a local thug named “Al-Tourbini” – a moniker that he would later adopt himself in a graphic and grisly way.

The man would savagely beat Mansour and steal his money, until eventually the man raped Mansour and threw him off a moving train – what would later become his exact M.O. The fall hospitalized Mansour for a month and left him with severe injuries including permanent damage to his right eye and a gruesome scar across his cheek.

This experience with his childhood tormentor at the café must have played an influential and formative role in the later pathology of his dangerously disturbed psyche. But this story was recounted by Mansour himself during his interrogation, when he would most likely attempt to gain any semblance of sympathy, so its veracity is questionable.

Fourteen years after his own rape and abuse, Mansour, who was originally from the Gharbia governorate of Egypt, was arrested for the murder and rape of at least 32 children (mostly boys) in 2006. Mansour and six accomplices liked to torture children aged between 10 to 14 years old on the top of the Express Train (also known in Egypt as the “Al-Tourbini” train). Their victims were sadly runaways, street children who had nowhere to go, and no one to report them missing.

Mansour during his 2006 trial

Because of the unique, mobile nature of the crime scenes, Mansour committed these murders in various cities across the country including Cairo and Alexandria while astonishingly avoiding any police attention for over seven years.

His M.O. was simple, effective and heartless. Al-Tourbini and his accomplices would lure street children to the top of the train where they would rape and torture them, often slashing their bodies with razor blades, their cries and screams drowned out by the wailing wind and the cacophony of the train’s old engine. He would then throw them off of the train dead, or barely alive. He would throw them onto the tracks of incoming trains so that they would pulverize the victims’ small, limp bodies. Mansour also claimed to have thrown some of the bodies into the Nile, while the truly unfortunate ones he buried alive.

Al-Tourbini’s mugshot

His downfall came after the police finally discovered the bodies of three children around the railroad tracks in early 2006. This led them to arrest two of Mansour’s accomplices, who quickly confessed and ultimately pegged him as their leader.

The news astounded everyone that knew him.

Mansour’s brother was aghast that his quiet, calm sibling could commit such horrific crimes. His neighbors were shocked too, having loved and pitied the solemn young man, whom they perceived as ‘slow’. What these reactions really reflect is Mansour’s cunning ability to project a wide range of personas to the different people in his life – the classic hallmarks of a psychopath. 

Many questions remain unanswered, along with the many souls that will never be laid to rest.While claiming over 32 victims, only 15 bodies were ever found. Although Mansour and his accomplices promised to lead the police to the location of the other 17 bodies, they were scattered around eight other cities across Egypt. Recovering the bodies was apparently deemed too difficult to execute because of this. One possible explanation is that the police wanted to intentionally limit the scale of his murders, the scope of which had surely embarrassed them and brought to their doors an uncommon degree of public scrutiny.

Another oddity of this case, and perhaps an indication of Mansour’s disturbed mental state as well as his thinly veiled homophobia, was the Gharbia Killer’s insistence to police officers that he was possessed by a female Jinn (or spirit), that compelled him to rape and kill these boys, although he did tell officers that he enjoyed it.    

He was convicted of these horrific murders, sentenced to death, and was executed by hanging on 16 December 2010. But his mark on the Egyptian psyche remains as potent as ever today, with any murderer of children in Egypt dubbed the “new Tourbini” – a dark testament to his awful legacy.

Perplexingly, the people in his home town of Tanta, as well as across Egypt, perhaps due to shock or a callous disinterest in the lives of street children, began using his nickname on store signs, cars, and even named sandwiches after him – the man responsible for the death of over 32 children.

These macabre marketing ploys are just some of the symptoms of the many, repeated failures of Egyptian society that are highlighted by these murders. There is the failure of police to notice, discover, or care about the murders of children, ostensibly because of their socioeconomic status. And the failure of a society that has neglected, and continues to neglect, the ever-increasing numbers of incredibly vulnerable street children, who are now conservatively estimated at one million in Alexandria and Cairo alone – all of whom unnoticed and expendable.

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