What you need to know:
- It was in 2006 when Dr Gérard Labuschagne, the former section head of the Investigative Psychology Section of the South African Police Services, gave Howes just over three hours of Wilken sharing, in his own words, everything he had done. Labuschagne also stipulated that Howes needed Wilken’s permission to use the recording.
Showmax’s true-crime documentary series Boetie Boer: Inside The Mind of a Monster takes us back to 1990.
This was when the African National Congress was unbanned following Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison. Stewart ‘Boetie Boer’ Wilken then starts his killing spree in Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha.
“Wilken was a highly unusual serial killer,” says director Jasyn Howes, who won Best SA Short Documentary at Jozi Film Festival for Dula, adding, “Unlike most serial killers, he had more than one type of victim: predominantly female sex workers and young boys, usually street children, across multiple races. He also claimed to engage in necrophilia and cannibalism with his victims.”
Howes had a picture of a “monster” in his mind, but when he met the Boetie Boer he was confronted with the image of “an old man, with no teeth, bifocal glasses, and a bad arm.”
The two met in prison where the serial killer is serving seven life sentences for his killing spree in Port Elizabeth in the ‘90s.
Billed as the most disturbing Showmax Original true-crime series to date, the five-part, documentary is now streaming, with new episodes on Wednesdays until November 15, 2023.
It was in 2006 when Dr Gérard Labuschagne, the former section head of the Investigative Psychology Section of the South African Police Services, gave Howes just over three hours of Wilken sharing, in his own words, everything he had done. Labuschagne also stipulated that Howes needed Wilken’s permission to use the recording.
“I’ve been to prisons a handful of times in my life, and it’s always weird, partly because you go through all of these steps to get in,” says Howes, adding, “And you’re going to prison to meet somebody who’s done horrible things; yet you have to build trust and show respect and thank them for their time.”
Howes says he bought Wilken “wine gums because he’s toothless.” Turns out, despite being diabetic, the Boetie Boer loves “soft sweets.”
“I grew up in a blue-collar community, so I went into this knowing what I needed to do to meet this man on his level,” Howes reveals, adding, “It’s about a stiff grip handshake, it’s about eye contact, it’s all of that. If he looks at me, I need to look at him. I was very clear not to let him feel dominant, and I was honest, as honest as I could be, within reason.”
Admitting that the meeting left him disturbed, Howes took away with him the image of Wilken’s eyes.
“The way he looks at you is very unsettling. He does look through you, and he has this weird glint in his eyes that, yeah, only a person that’s done what he’s done would have,” the director says of his subject, adding, “When Wilken talks about his murders, […] he talks about them quite plainly and goes into detail that is shocking.
It’s strange hearing a human being talk about what he’s done to other human beings, the most disgusting things possible, like cannibalism and necrophilia, with no emotion.”
Wilken had already been in jail for eight years at the time of Labuschagne’s interview.
“He’d had time to settle into that and he had nothing to hide,” says Howes, adding, “And he’s clean by then, so he didn’t have a head full of drugs. It’s about as clear and precise and candid as he was ever gonna get. And it’s quite unfiltered; it’s the honest truth, at least from his perspective.”
Howes balances his version of events with interviews from Labuschagne; Sergeant Ursula Barnard, the former Child Protection Unit investigator; and Sergeant Derrik Norsworthy, formerly of the Murder and Robbery Unit.
The two sergeants played key roles in bringing Wilken to justice. In addition, Howes interviews Wilken’s own surviving children, Sonnika-Lee and Sergius, and the family of one of Wilken’s victims, Georgina Zweni.
When Howes started production on Boetie Boer, Wilken was theoretically up for 25-year parole in 2023. This seems unlikely now but still shaped the series.
“Boetie Boer aims to remember Wilken’s crimes and his victims,” says Howes. “He preyed largely on un-homed, disenfranchised people that he thought would be easily forgotten; we’ve tried to help make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The five-part documentary series is a co-production between Stage 5 Films and Howes’ Fifth Floor Films. It’s the third documentary, and first true-crime docuseries, from Stage 5 Films, building on the success of “Unearthed,” which won the Green Award at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival and the Audience Award at Encounters, and The Journeymen, which took home Best SA Documentary at Durban.