Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Newscenter Staff

Police search for organized crime link in gay massacre

CAPE TOWN, SA — Police believe the execution style killings of eight men in a gay massage parlor are linked to organized crime and not tied to homophobia.

The bodies of seven men were discovered early Monday in a white, red tiled bungalow in the Sea Point area of Cape Town that had been converted into a gay massage parlor called Sizzlers. Three other victims, badly wounded, were rushed to hospital. One died a short while later. The remaining two remain in serious condition.

Police were summoned to the house by a nearby gas station attendant after a man covered in blood staggered in seeking help.

"He had jeans on, but was barefoot and stumbled around, calling for help. I only saw the blood when he came closer. It was flowing over his face from a wound in his head and he had tape stuck to his neck. He asked for help and collapsed on the floor of the filling station's shop," said Eunice Kani.

She and one of her colleagues stopped a police patrol car and the officers called the paramedics.

The first officers at the scene said the inside of the house was covered with blood.

The victims had been herded into one room where the slayings occurred. Their mouths, feet, and wrists were bound with duct tape. They had been shot and their throats had been slit.

One of the victims was Eric Ottgar (47) the owner of the business. The others were male sex workers employed by him. There appears to have been no customers at the time an investigator said.

Police have interviewed one of the surviving victims along with former employees and say the initial evidence is pointing away from a hate crime and towards the underworld. Sources familiar with the case say police are looking for links between Ottgar and the drug trade. They also say extortion could have been a motive.

A former employee, known to his customers as 'Johan', was a 'masseur' and manager of Sizzlers between 1998 and 2002. The 23 year old said he walked past the house on Sunday night and considered dropping in "to say hello" but at the last minute changed his mind. He's glad he did. "I could have been one of those guys," he said.

The 23 year old said he doubts the killings were the work of homophobic activists. "Eric (the owner) had many hostile boys because he had fired them.

"Many guys from other massage salons were jealous of us — because we were one of the oldest establishments in the country. Or perhaps the attack had something to do with drugs…" he said.

"Most of the guys who worked there used drugs, and many of the clients too."

Investigators believe the killings were well planned. There was a sophisticated security system and the gate to the street was always locked. Customers had to be buzzed in.

"Eric was very security conscious because of the threats the boys received on a regular basis," 'Johan' said.

"The security gate was always locked because clients sometimes tried to leave without paying."

The Triangle Project, a gay and lesbian organization in Cape Town, also said the killings might have been a drug-related, rather than a homophobic attack.

"From discussions with staff at similar massage parlors, it seems as if drugs were the primary cause of the attacks," the organization said in a statement.

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Created: January 27, 2003
Last modified: January 27, 2003
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