'Each room told a gruesome story': Mom shares letter to Sizzlers Massacre killer as family petitions for law change

The family of Robert Visser has pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa and justice minister Ronald Lamola to consider changing laws that allow violent offenders to qualify for parole after just over 12 years in prison

17 March 2021 - 06:00 By aron hyman
Floral tributes outside Sizzlers, a massage parlour in Sea Point, Cape Town, where nine men were murdered in 2003. Archive photo.
Floral tributes outside Sizzlers, a massage parlour in Sea Point, Cape Town, where nine men were murdered in 2003. Archive photo.
Image: Terry Shean / Sunday Times

Eighteen years ago, Marlene Visser silently walked through a home in Cape Town, taking in the devastation. It was in this house that her son, Robert Visser, was brutally killed.

Now Marlene has shared a letter she wrote this week — but did not send — to Adam Woest, one of the two men convicted of the “Sizzlers Massacre” in 2003. Writing letters, she said, was to help her deal with the most agonising event of her life.

Robert's family is now railing against the justice system, after reports at the weekend that Woest may be released after serving 18 years in prison.

In 2003, Woest and Trevor Theys tied up, shot, and slit the throats of nine men — Aubrey Otgaar, Sergio de Castro, Marius Meyer, Travis Reade, Timothy Boyd, Stephanus Fouche, Johan Meyer, Robert Visser, and Gregory Berghau — at Sizzlers, a gay massage parlour in Sea Point.

One man, Quinton Taylor, survived.

Both men were sentenced for the nine murders in 2004 but, according to Visser's family, they were informed that Woest was a potential candidate for release from prison.

Correctional services department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed to TimesLIVE that Woest was serving nine life sentences for the nine counts of murder, as well as attempted murder, robbery and possession of ammunition.

Sizzlers murder accused Adam Woest covers his face with his hood as he leaves the high court in Cape Town during a court appearance in March 2004. Archive photo.
Sizzlers murder accused Adam Woest covers his face with his hood as he leaves the high court in Cape Town during a court appearance in March 2004. Archive photo.
Image: Terry Shean / Sunday Times

He confirmed that Woest did qualify for parole as many as five years ago, but didn't meet the qualifying criteria and was still behind bars.

“The offender was sentenced on March 16 2004 and therefore was due to be considered for parole on March 16 2016. As per the applicable law at the time, his minimum detention period is 12 years and four months.

“He did not satisfy all the requirements at the time of consideration for parole placement as per the departmental prescripts. As it is, the offender is still incarcerated and will remain behind bars until he meets all the requirements to be placed on parole,” he said.

Nxumalo said that Woest would be “considered again” for parole “when he has satisfied all the requirements and was ready for social reintegration”.

“To be succinct, offenders do not apply to be placed on parole, but qualify for consideration when they reach their minimum detention period,” said Nxumalo.

Visser’s sister, Leigh, and Marlene started a petition on Change.org to prevent “serial rapists” and “mass murderers” like Woest’s early release. The family is now based in Canada.

Marlene declined a phone interview, saying the massacre and her son’s death took “a terrible toll” on her health. Instead, she sent TimesLIVE one of many letters she has penned in her diary addressed to Woest — but none of which she ever mustered the courage to send to him. The full letter, unedited, is at the bottom of this story.

Marlene said she did visit Woest and Theys in prison shortly after they were sentenced in an effort to get some answers. In Theys, she said, she saw humanity and remorse. But with Woest, she found only emptiness.

Sizzlers murder accused Trevor Theys leaves the high court in Cape Town after a court appearance in March 2004. Archive photo.
Sizzlers murder accused Trevor Theys leaves the high court in Cape Town after a court appearance in March 2004. Archive photo.
Image: Terry Shean / Sunday Times

“I was venting in my letter to Woest with no intention of ever sending it to him. I usually do that,” said Visser. “I needed an outlet, I needed to detoxify the situation regarding Woest, so that I could process my thoughts properly, and I can think clearly without my life being affected negatively by anger and bitterness.”

This, she said, allows her to “make allowances for others”.

“In doing so, I find it's easier to forgive them,” she said.

In the letter, written just this week, she says she will never forget the devastation as she walked through the Sizzlers crime scene.

“It was quiet as I moved from room to room. The ear-deafening silence painful, as it echoed in the dark and dingy rooms. The stench of death, petrol, and blood hanging in the air. I dropped to my knees, and wept as I thought of the trauma, the anguish, and torment that our children must have gone through in their final hours.

“What twisted and diabolical monsters would inflict such pain and suffering on 10 defenceless victims — all gagged, bound, and petrified!?!

“Each room told a gruesome story of pain, suffering, fear, torment, horror — blood spattered across the walls, carpets, cupboards ... My heart ached as I saw my son's boots under one of the beds. Boots that I'd bought him for his birthday. [They were] covered in blood,” she wrote.

Marlene added that she did not believe Woest was rehabilitated.

“I do not believe that you can ever rehabilitate, even if you wanted to because your personality ... your psyche does not allow for rehabilitation, or to reform, or for you to conform to the norm,” she wrote.

She was critical of the supposed early release.

“You were given multiple life-sentences yet you're being released early on parole for 'good behaviour', etc, after only serving a few years of your sentence. This is absolutely ridiculous. Good behaviour in prison shouldn't be rewarded with early parole. A gold star or lollipop would be more apt in this instance ... but definitely not early parole.

“After all, in a controlled environment like prison there are none of the temptations, pressures, or opportunities that you'd find 'out there' in society driving you to torture, torment, and murder innocent people — or to take from others what doesn't belong to you,” she writes.

Marlene also takes a dig at Woest.

She ends her letter with: “PS. Lastly, Mr Woest, for everyone's sake — don't forget to sign my daughter Leigh's petition opposing your early parole.”

Change the laws that allow these menaces to society the possibility of early parole. I ask specifically that you stop any possibility, any chance, of Adam Woest obtaining parole for early release.
Extract from the petition

That petition — which by 9pm Monday night had just shy of 900 signatures — calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and justice minister Ronald Lamola to look into the Correctional Services Act, which “allows mass murderers like Adam Woest, serial rapists and killers to walk the streets of a country plagued by heinous crime”.

“Change the laws that allow these menaces to society the possibility of early parole. I ask specifically that you stop any possibility, any chance, of Adam Woest obtaining parole for early release,” reads an extract from the petition.

Leigh also asks that laws are revisited so that “serial rapists and killers get to serve multiple life sentences consecutively and not concurrently”.

“Correct it, so that it is a fair and just system, one of which places real value on precious innocent lives. Correct it so we can live free and safe lives, correct it so we don’t have to feel like leaving our home is the only option for a normal life, a safe life. Correct it so that we may have ubuntu,” the petition reads.

Leigh, who now lives in Canada, said that as far as she was aware neither the families of the other victims — nor the sole survivor, Taylor — have been informed of Woest's possible release.

“It's important my intentions are understood and why I am doing this. I think it's an important message beyond the Sizzlers Massacre, a story that needs to be told because most South Africans are unaware of the injustice of the South African 'justice' system.

“I don’t want my campaigning for justice to become about me, my family or my brother. I want it to be about all the victims that lost their lives, their families and specifically about Adam Woest, reminding South Africans and the world about this crime that shocked us to our core,” said Leigh.

She said she wanted to bring attention to “absurd” laws which allowed offenders, some of who serve multiple life sentences, to be considered for early parole after 12 years and four months.

She also wanted to “highlight the fact that life sentences in SA are served concurrently and not consecutively, like in most first-world countries”.

“These heinous crimes often have young offenders which means these offenders will be out in the community after a short prison stint. We in SA have a revolving door on the justice system that releases mass murderers, serial rapists and killers into the prison system only to make way for a petty thief. We have taken a Band-Aid approach to justice in SA, in the absence of taking a solutions-orientated approach,” said Leigh.

Nxumalo said that Woest fell under what is known as the “Van Wyk Judgment”, a ruling that meant that lifers sentenced before October 1 2004 — who were initially required to serve at least 20 years before considered for parole placements — now had a remission of sentence that allows them to qualify for parole at 12 years and four months.

“He [Woest] was sentenced on March 2004 and, therefore, falls under the Van Wyk Judgment for lifers. The offender will be required to satisfy all the requirements to be placed on parole. This includes engagement with the victims of his crimes and the completion of all necessary rehabilitation programmes,” said Nxumalo.


Editor's Note: Below is Marlene Visser's letter to Adam Woest, one of two men convicted for the murders of nine men at Sizzlers in Sea Point, Cape Town, in 2003. It is published here, with permission, unedited.

To: Mr Adam Woest

Going back to 2003, I will never forget the devastation as I walked through the crime scene at Sizzlers in Sea Point, after the horrendous massacre took place where nine innocent people were tortured, and murdered. It was quiet as I moved from room to room. The ear-deafening silence painful, as it echoed in the dark and dingy rooms. The stench of death, petrol, and blood hanging in the air. I dropped to my knees, and wept as I said of the trauma, the anguish, and torment that our children must have gone through in their final hours.

What twisted and diabolical monsters would inflict such pain and suffering on ten defenceless victims — all gagged, bound, and petrified!?!

Each room told a gruesome story of pain, suffering, fear, torment, horror — blood spattered across the walls, carpets, cupboards, and ... games. Games that reminded one that some of these victims were mere teenagers, as young as 16-17 years old. Games like Cluedo, chess, Monopoly, dominoes, cards, snakes & ladders were strewn across the floor, bloodstained.

My heart ached as I saw my son's boots under one of the beds. Boots that I'd bought him for his birthday ... It was covered in blood. In the far corner stood a mass of coagulated blood that resembled dark jelly ... as if a large bowl of jelly had been overturned. Is this where one of the victims was left gurgling and choking in his own blood a few hours before he died?

Ten victims were hunted, tortured, butchered, slaughtered like animals ... only one survived to tell the tale. I walked into the toilet, and staggered at the bloodied sight. The tiny room where the sole survivor clung to life ... determined to survive the ordeal. Bullet holes in the door showcased his survival instincts, his sheer courage, and determination to escape and run for help. We, the families of these nine victims thank you sincerely Mr Taylor for your bravery in trying to save the dying.

Mr Woest, I do not believe that you've rehabilitated. I do not believe that you can ever rehabilitate, even if you wanted to because your personality ... your psyche does not allow for rehabilitation, or to reform.
Marlene Visser

We're told that it was difficult to identify the victims at the mortuary — their expressions were distorted with pain, and suffering.

Mr Woest, I do not believe that you've rehabilitated. I do not believe that you can ever rehabilitate, even if you wanted to because your personality ... your psyche does not allow for rehabilitation, or to reform, or for you to conform to the norm.

Soon after you were incarcerated in 2003, I visited you, and Mr Trevor Theys in prison. I needed answers. My soul cried out as I looked up at you towering over me — your eyes two bottomless pits. The last sight our children saw before their shortened lives were plucked brutally away from them.

I cry for our children whose lives were snuffed out in one of the cruellest ways known to mankind. We're told that, at the time of you pouring petrol over them, they begged to be shot rather than be burnt alive.

Mr Woest, you're asking for your freedom after you turned a deaf ear to the pleas of 10 innocent victims begging for mercy ... begging for their lives. It would've cost you nothing to release them, but it cost them everything when you didn't. I forgave you, not because you deserved to be forgiven but because that's what my son would have wanted.

Forgiveness does not mean releasing a deadly mass murderer back into society to continue with his killing spree. It is written that a man's past behaviour predicts his future behaviour!

You were given multiple life sentences yet you're being released early on parole for “good behaviour”, etc after only serving a few years of your sentence. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Good behaviour in prison shouldn't be rewarded with early parole. A gold star or lollipop would be more apt in this instance ... but definitely not early parole. After all, in a controlled environment like prison there are none of the temptations, pressures, or opportunities that you'd find “out there” in society driving you to torture, torment, and murder innocent people — or to take from others what doesn't belong to you.

We are all entitled to treasure what God has given us freely — the freedom to live without anyone stealing from us ... especially not our lives! Why does it seem as though the constitutional rights of criminals are more protected than those of their victims? Why does our judicial system seem so twisted and corrupt?

Most of all, I cry for our future generations, and for our beloved country ... our once beautiful country is dying at neck-breaking speed. Contaminated ... poisoned by crime, corruption, conspiracy, destruction, injustice, divided powers, poverty, pestilence, murder...

I feel that if we can't rely on those in power to protect the innocent, who will be the voice of justice for those without voices ... for those who've been silenced permanently?

I believe that Mr President Ramaphosa and Mr Ronald Lamola, if you allow Adam Woest out on early parole ... if you allow him to serve his multiple sentences concurrently instead of consecutively for the murder of nine innocent victims, then you should be held responsible for every crime and murder that Mr Woest commits once he's released back into society. This is my opinion and I'm sticking to it!

Signed: Marlene Visser

PS: Lastly Mr Woest, for everyone's sake — don't forget to sign my daughter Leigh's petition opposing your early parole.


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