Sizzlers: sex workers in a loveless city


Sizzlers: sex workers in a loveless city

Twenty-one years ago, 10 men were attacked in a brothel in Sea Point. Only one survived. Now there is a book about the murders. HERMAN LATEGAN remembers and gives his impressions.


LAST week, I visited 7 Graham Road in Sea Point, just over 21 years since I last stood in front of that house.

As it does every May, fog washed over the suburb from the sea. The sunlight dimmed and the foghorn howled.

A large frangipani tree grows in front of the house that was once home to Sizzlers, a men's brothel. The gate was closed. Memories flashed back like an old slide show projected against a wall.

I peeked through a slit in the fence and saw the old door. As the unnamed character in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca says in the first paragraph:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate.

This is what the house looks like today.
This is what the house looks like today.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Sea Point’s Salon Kitty

My association with Sizzlers began in 2002. A short walk away, there used to be a bar and late-night eatery, Café Erté, with flashing neon lights and an art deco façade. 

The atmosphere in Café Erté was that of a spectacular Moulin Rouge that epitomised the colourful nightlife of Paris — with a dash of the high-class Berlin brothel Salon Kitty in the Thirties.

It was just after the turn of the century and the country had experienced a period of unprecedented uhuru. Our belle époque, characterised by peace, prosperity and optimism.

Café Erté, an integral part of Sea Point's nightlife at the time.
Café Erté, an integral part of Sea Point's nightlife at the time.

It was a time of cultural mixing, artistic advancement and social prosperity. Sea Point (and Green Point) was in many ways the epitome of this era, its entertainment venues full of bohemian gypsies of the night.

People could mingle with whom they wanted and be who they wanted to be, without the moral guardians of the previous regime's creepy halitosis breath down their neck. Sea Point rose again after falling apart for a while.

I was young and could sit for nights chatting with writers, dancers, actors, fashion designers and artists. Cross-dressers in dazzling lamé dresses showed up there, and old rich queens with make-up and tailored suits, looking like Gustave von Aschenbach in Death in Venice.

There were also grandes horizontales (high-class sex workers) and ordinary night butterflies who came to visit after work. In time, I befriended them, especially since their stories captivated me.

The smells of sexy sweat, perfume and cigarettes were everywhere. This is where I met the sex workers of Sizzlers.

Those cowboys of the sex industry flourished. This was before the time of Grindr. People still had to go out and meet each other's living bodies.

There were several brothels in Sea Point and surrounds. Two — Sizzlers, and Knights in Mouille Point — were for gay customers. 

The last movie the guys watched that night.
The last movie the guys watched that night.

I befriended some of the men who worked at Sizzlers. It intrigued me that some came from the countryside to start a new life in Cape Town.

Why did they start making money as sex workers? I decided to write a story about their lives. This is where I got too close to my subject, but I have always preferred to write from the trenches.

I decided if I wanted to write about this place I would have to test it out. Once or twice was enough, then I could start writing my notes.

I wanted to tackle a large, creative, nonfiction article and talked to the men at Café Erté or at Sizzlers. Sometimes we sniffed cocaine together (I quit a long time ago), but they were not addicts because the owner was strict about using drugs.

These men were good people who tried to make money quickly. I did not judge them.

Sizzlers in 2003. The photo was taken by Johan Schronen, then the Cape Argus crime reporter. The view is from the flat of one of the killers.
Sizzlers in 2003. The photo was taken by Johan Schronen, then the Cape Argus crime reporter. The view is from the flat of one of the killers.

The call

Monday, January 20, 2003, my phone rang early. It was the now deceased TV producer Christo Gerlach, who knew about my connection to Sizzlers and might have considered making a show himself.

“Turn on the TV," he said. I saw Sizzlers and news reports about what had happened there.

I was devastated. Someone at The Guardian in the UK called. How they found out about me, I still wonder. I laid my cards on the table and I was quoted.

Sea Point and the LGBTQIA communities, not to mention the relatives of the murdered men, were ripped apart. Some residents were full of schadenfreude, saying the victims deserved it — the neighbourhood needed to be straightened out.

According to them, it had come to pass. Justice. The outsiders slowly retreated and life as I knew it there, the genius loci (spirit of a place), was slowly but surely drained. The moralists and vanilla purists won.

I threw my notes in the trash. I didn't want to become part of the story, didn't want to profit from other people's pain.

Nicole Engelbrecht and her new book.
Nicole Engelbrecht and her new book.

That book

The years ticked by. Recently, Nicole Engelbrecht's Sizzlers: The hate crime that tore Sea Point apart, was published. At exactly the right time.

The massacre came of age, too many people forgot. Especially a younger generation in the LGBTQIA communities.

At first, I was worried the book would be sensational and superficial, aimed at readers of gossip journalism. It is not.

Engelbrecht did her research down to the smallest detail. It is written in an austere yet entertaining style.

She takes you through how the bodies were found and includes a thorough profile of each victim. She talked to the detectives, the survivor, Quinton Taylor, and eyewitnesses.

She writes about the court cases and the two killers, Adam Woest and Trevor Theys. The horror of what happened that night reads like something Stephen King wrote.

If someone doesn't turn this into a film, it will be a lost chance. This book is every publisher's dream because Engelbrecht researched it so effectively, and especially because it will appeal to a wide range of readers, not just those in the LGBTQIA communities.

TV journalist Annika Larsen told me colleagues who covered the story recalled the strong smell of the blood at the scene. I don't want to reveal too much of what is written in the book, readers will have to find out for themselves.

Still, let's briefly revisit the scene of that night: in the early hours of January 20, 2003, two men walked into Sizzlers with a knife and guns.

The other knife they used was a steak knife from Sizzlers' kitchen. Ten men were in the house.

They tied them all up and cut their throats. They had to lie on their stomachs but Taylor insisted on lying on his back. “When I die, I want to face death," he said.

Socks were shoved into their mouths. After their throats were cut, they were shot through the head. Then the perpetrators left, with death rattles in the background.

The only survivor, Quinton Taylor, and flowers in the Sizzlers fence.
The only survivor, Quinton Taylor, and flowers in the Sizzlers fence.

I don’t want to die

Taylor broke free and stumbled out to seek help at a service station. There were two bullet wounds to his head and his throat was shredded.

He shouted: “Please help me! I don't want to die."

Among many other things, what stood out to me is that one set of parents was too poor to travel to Cape Town to identify their son. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela paid for them to come and take their son's body home.

Another murdered man's father drove his old bakkie from Theunissen in the Free State. It was his only child. A child whose dream it was to come to the Cape one day.

He left the Cape with his son's lifeless body on the back of his van and buried him at the Dutch Reformed Church in the town. Family and friends attended the funeral, the reverend preached beautifully and flowers were scattered on his coffin.

There are many moving scenes like this in the book, reminding you of the friends and families who were left devastated.

One murderer, Theys, died in prison. Woest, who has shown no remorse and never apologised to the families, is applying for parole.

Engelbrecht also investigates the motive for the murder. Was it robbery, a drug deal gone wrong, perhaps gangs wanting to mark “their territory"?

Did they want to send a message and to whom? Was homophobia involved? An aversion to sex workers?

I remember Woest as a waiter at the steakhouse Walter's Grill in Sea Point. His face was always lifeless as if he had no emotions, only a body. To this day, he remains evasive about the motive. We'll probably never know.

I conclude with the words of the sole survivor, Taylor: “I have nothing to hide. Neither did any of the men who died that night. We all had plans and dreams and goals, and we were all just doing the best we could to achieve them.”

The book is dedicated to the men who lost their lives: Timothy Boyd, Sergio de Castro, Stephanus Fouché, Johan Meyer, Marius Meyer, Travis Reade, Warren Visser, Gregory Berghaus and Aubrey Otgaar.

Sizzlers: The hate crime that tore Sea Point apart by Nicole Engelbrecht was published by Melinda Ferguson Books, a print partner of NB Publishers, and costs R288 at Graffiti.

A song for the deceased from Midnight Cowboy, Everybody's Talkin'

♦ VWB ♦

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