Gay murders: online love, offline murder

2012-03-17 15:44

Rulov Senekal (67) was a scared and deeply troubled man in the two weeks before his death, say close friends and colleagues.

Not one of them is willing to be named for fear that a serial killing syndicate is behind his murder.

Eight gay men have been murdered in Gauteng in the past two years. Senekal was the latest victim, found dead in his flat at the end of last month.

“It was the hugest drama,” says one. “He called and insisted we meet for coffee at once. I had never seen him in a state like that.”

He told his friend that a man he’d met online had visited and become extremely threatening because he (Senekal) had lied about his age.

The more people I talk to, the clearer it becomes that Senekal, described as “the gentlest soul in the universe”, was finding that his online dating life was affecting his daily life.

Like many gay men not interested in the club scene, he was active on at least four websites where men make friends, chat and look for love or casual sex.

The gay community first raised the alarm in response to media reports about the modus operandi of the murderers – more than one man is speculated to be behind each of the killings.

The victims are found bound, and seven have been strangled and suffocated. There is no sign of forced entry and it seems likely they had known their killers.

“Rulov would get phone calls at work. It sounded like he was talking to a man,” says a colleague at the theatre where Senekal worked. “He would move away with the phone. It was someone asking for money.

He didn’t like to walk alone in Braamfontein, so I’d go with him to the bank and he’d deposit six or seven hundred rand a time.

“This happened more than five times. It made him sad, but I think he was doing it out of kindness, not because he was forced.”

But the colleague wouldn’t know if someone was threatening his life if he didn’t pay.

Senekal ordered pizza ahead of a visit by the two men who murdered him. One was known to him, but according to security accounts was not the same man who had previously threatened him.

“My theory is that all eight men were trapped online,” says a member of the gay community gathering evidence of victims’ internet dating profiles to offer to the police.

The police last week announced the formation of a provincial task team to investigate the murders. This week the police would not comment on whether they were investigating online dating sites.

“He wasn’t into the club scene – except book clubs. He loved reading,” says Jay Matlou, a friend of HIV activist Jason Wessenaar (39), the only victim stabbed to death.

Matlou works at OUT, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex clinic in Pretoria.

“Jason had been in a long-term relationship that had ended, and he was single and back on the dating scene. A lot of his interaction was on Facebook. We don’t have places to meet in our communities and rely on the internet.

“Just this week we had a case of a man who met someone through Facebook and was beaten and robbed.”

SAPS provincial spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said this week: “An investigation into all cases is continuing. However, a thorough analysis was done and, at this stage, the cases may not
be linked.”

Many in the gay community don’t agree. Many speculate about a crime syndicate. Many wonder if there is a mastermind.

Everyone is confused by what the motive might be. It appears that not much is stolen from the victims – laptops, phones, credit cards being run up after the crime.

“You don’t have to kill someone to take their money,” says a friend of Barney van Heerden (39), another of the victims, who are all of different ages and races.

“Yet perhaps the murderers wanted to prevent their identity being disclosed. If there is a kingpin, the guy they arrested last week will hopefully sing. He appears in court on Monday.”

The 29-year-old was arrested for the murder of Siphiwe Nhlapo (36), found bound and strangled in his Kliptown apartment last year.

Senekal’s friends hope that at least his death will lead to more arrests, given the amount of evidence it provides. He was killed with impunity.

A security guard in his building describes how his killers left eating the pizza that Senekal ordered before
they arrived.

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