The ghetto girls’ murders
They were both in their late teens. They both lived in a squalid little street in the city. And within a year, they were both dead.
It was around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 15, 1994, that the phone rang at the East La Penitence Police Station and an anonymous caller said: “The body of a woman on the ‘dump’ (playground) at the Multilateral School” The caller then hung up.
On receiving the message, a detective from the station hurried to the school, which was a short distance from the station. He summoned the school’s caretaker, and the two men began to scour the playground, which was overrun with tall grass. Within minutes, they had found the nude body of a girl lying among a clump of bushes.
Word quickly got around about the discovery, and the playground was soon crammed with people, eager to get a glimpse of the body. Unfortunately, the detective was unable to control the crowd, which trampled any forensic evidence that might have been there.
What lay on the ground was not a sight for the squeamish. The body of a teenage girl of mixed ancestry was lying facedown on the grass. Her hands and feet were tightly bound. The victim’s tongue protruded and a sock was knotted around her face in the vicinity of her nostrils. A Ziploc bag, containing some clothing, was near the corpse.
An autopsy conducted next day by forensic pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo confirmed that the girl had been subjected to a slow and painful death.
Not only had she been raped and sodomised, but the teen’s attackers had also stuffed a plastic bag down her throat while she was still alive. She had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument and there were abrasions on her breasts and back. Detectives surmised that she had been slain the previous night while walking through the playfield which served as a shortcut to Stevedore Housing Scheme and Tucville.
A squatter living on a dam near the school recalled hearing screams coming from the vicinity of the playground at around 9.00 p.m. on December 14.
Usually, when a corpse is found, wailing relatives would turn up at the scene or at the mortuary to claim the body. But although persons from as far away as Buxton and Linden came to view the corpse at the mortuary, no one came forward to claim the ‘mystery girl.’ Acting on information, detectives detained two cobblers from Bourda Market, but found nothing to link them to the killing. On Saturday, December 17, 1994, the still-unidentified victim was given a pauper’s burial. One week later, on December 24, in a desperate attempt to have her identified, police, led by Crime Chief Winston Felix, allowed an artist to sketch a likeness of the victim from a photo that was taken of her distorted face.
The photograph was published in the Guyana Chronicle, but Christmas came and went without anyone identifying the ‘mystery girl’.
However, while the case appeared to be all but forgotten, the staff from a small fortnightly newspaper, the Guyana Guardian, was quietly working on the case.
Finally, on Thursday, February 2, 1995, the Guardian, run by journalist Nills Campbell, revealed that they had identified the victim.
She was Beatrice Bobb, a 14-year-old who had lived in one of the small shacks that a group of squatters had set up behind what is now the Water Street Arcade. .
Beatrice had lived with her mother and stepfather in a plywood and plastic structure that barely had enough sleeping space for the three.
Her mother, Joan Davis, would later tell me that Beatrice began using drugs at the age of 12 and would often beg in the streets. According to her, someone had informed her that Beatrice was the murdered ‘mystery girl.’ But she said that police had already buried the corpse by the time that she was preparing to come forward to identity it.
However, police had kept the clothing found near the body and Ms. Davis managed to identify a brown skirt as one that a friend had given her daughter.
According to the Guardian’s story, Beatrice and another girl were walking along Mandela Avenue one night when they were attacked by a group of young men. There are reports that the girls had just left a ‘bubble session’ when they were attacked.
The friend barely managed to escape. Beatrice was not so fortunate. The Guardian reported that the girls were familiar with their attackers.
Mr. Campbell alleged that after receiving the information, he contacted a very senior police official, indicating that he had information that would help the police to solve the crime. However, he said that the official never attempted to contact him.
Detectives visited the home of the now-identified victim and questioned her mother. They also took two young men and a woman into custody. But by then the trail had gone cold and the persons who had killed Beatrice Bobb were never caught. Again, interest in the murder waned.
But then on Saturday, October 28, 1995, the body of another young woman was found in the area of the Lamaha Conservancy near North Ruimveldt Housing Scheme. The victim had been strangled with her own dress. The day after the body was discovered, a young woman visited the Le Repentir mortuary to view the corpse. She identified the victim as her friend, 19-year-old Joy Douglas.
She recalled that Joy had followed a young man to the backdam to pick jamoon, but had not returned.
A police inspector who headed the investigation became intrigued when he learnt that Joy Douglas had lived in the same squatting area as Beatrice Bobb. He had also investigated the Beatrice Bobb murder, and he wondered if the two were connected.
Joy Douglas had run away from home at the age of 16. At one point, she had lived in an abandoned house with other runaway girls. She had eventually moved to the squatting community. By 17 she was a mother and lived in a shipping container with her baby daughter who eventually died.
A few days after Douglas’s body was identified, police took four young men, including a former soldier, into custody.
The former soldier was eventually charged with Douglas’s murder. But the case never made it past the preliminary inquiry stage. There was just too little evidence to incriminate the accused, and he was eventually released.
Today, if you pass the area where Beatrice Bobb and Joy Douglas lived, you will find no trace of those tiny plywood and plastic shacks. Nobody around there remembers the two girls. It is as if the two victims, and the ‘ghetto’ they once called home, had never, ever existed.
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