By Michael Jordan
The phone near my desk rang at around four on the afternoon of Monday, January 9, 2017.
The caller was a detective.
You remember that man who killed a woman in Herstelling sometime back?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“We catch him.”
I hung up the phone. I was as elated as if I had caught him myself. The man who the police had captured, had boasted to me about a murder, then had turned around and threatened me, almost eight years ago. His name was Charles Chapman and they also called him ‘Frenchie.’
This is how the killing happened…
Savitri Arjune stepped out of her home at 382 Herstelling, East Bank Demerara at around six-fifteen that morning of March 12, 2009. She then headed east along Rum Shop Street, deserted at that early hour, with the intention of catching a minibus that would take her to her workplace in Georgetown.
What the 34-year-old mother of two didn’t know was that death, in the form of an obsessed ex-lover, was literally waiting for her around the corner.
Perhaps she was too focused on reaching to work on time to notice the green-and-white bus parked on the East Bank Demerara Public Road.
Just as Savitri neared the end of Rum Shop Street, a slim, fair-complexioned, middle-aged man emerged from behind the bus. A knife gleamed in one of his hands.
Before the terrified woman could flee, the man grabbed her and plunged his knife repeatedly into her body. One of the wounds pierced her heart. Mortally wounded, Savitri Arjune collapsed on the dusty roadway.
Her killer then calmly boarded the parked minibus and drove to Peter’s Hall, East Bank Demerara, where he abandoned the vehicle.
The killer had made no attempts to conceal his identity. He was 54-year-old Charles Chapman, called ‘Frenchie’. He was a former soldier and former seaman who now drove a minibus. He was also the murdered woman’s reputed husband.
Their eight-year-relationship had been a turbulent one. Arjune’s relatives claimed that ‘Frenchie’ was obsessive, and physically abusive, and repeatedly threatened to kill her. In fact, he had nearly carried out his threat just a week before when he slashed her with a knife. All reports indicated that Chapman regularly accused his spouse of being unfaithful and of squandering his money. Chapman had also threatened to kill Savitri’s close family members and torch their home.
Both partners had filed several complaints at the Providence Police Station. Chapman was charged at least once for assaulting Arjune, while Arjune was charged for damage to property after she smashed the windscreen of a minibus that Chapman had owned. But the warring couple would always settle the matters out of court.
However, matters reportedly came to a head when Savitri announced that she was severing the relationship. That, and suspicions of infidelity, triggered ‘Frenchie’s’ killing frenzy.
Most of this was told to me by Savitri’s grieving family.
They gave me something else: The number for the killer’s mobile phone.
I dialed the number almost as soon as I had returned to the office. It had been about two hours since Savitri Arjune’s murder. Maybe the killer had switched off his phone. Maybe he wouldn’t answer.
A man answered.
“Frenchie?” I asked.
“Yes,” the man said.
“What happened to you and the woman?” I asked.
“Ah kill she,” he replied.
I gave him a false name and told him that I knew him from the army. This seemed to reassure him and he began spewing out his version of the events that led to Savitri’s death.
‘Frenchie’ said that he befriended Arjune in 2000. At the time, he was a seaman and was making a lot of money. He was residing in Berbice with his wife and family.
But ‘Frenchie’ left his wife and began to live with Arjune at Herstelling.
According to him, he splurged large sums of cash on his lover, but claimed that he eventually discovered that she was unfaithful to him, and was also physically and verbally abusive.
‘Frenchie’ claimed that they broke up in 2004 and he decided to return to his wife’s home.
“Meh wife accept me back and I carry me things to Berbice.”
But then ‘Frenchie’ said he rekindled his relationship with Arjune after she contacted him.
“Frenchie’ told his wife that he had landed a job on a ship. Instead, he rented a house in Herstelling “and put her (Arjune) in it”.
But he told me that her infidelity continued and he also ran into financial trouble to the extent that he was unable to pay his rent and his phone was disconnected. He said that three weeks before the murder, Arjune walked out on him and returned to her mother’s place.
‘Frenchie’ confessed that he had harboured thoughts of killing Arjune and her family. He said he finally “tripped out” when he looked over from his home to the house where Savitri was staying and observed that she was laughing at him.
“The family laugh at me and I just trip, and I decide to do it,” he claimed.
On that morning of March 12, 2009, ‘Frenchie,’ accompanied by the owner of the bus he drove, parked the vehicle on the Herstelling road, since he knew that Arjune would pass at that time on her way to work. He was armed with his ‘blade.’
According to ‘Frenchie’, he indicated to the bus owner that he intended to make Arjune “an example.”
The fugitive alleged that he eventually spotted the woman approaching and emerged from the vehicle with the intention of merely holding her. But he said that everything changed when his ex-lover began to scream. He stabbed her.
“I try to hold she and she start screaming. “When I pull the ‘blade’ he (the owner and conductor) start run. When I give she de jook, (stab) I tell he (the conductor) reverse and I gun put she in and carry to the hospital.”
Instead, ‘Frenchie’ himself jumped in the vehicle and drove away.
Afterwards, ‘Frenchie’ said that he informed his wife and other relatives that he had killed Arjune. They reportedly told him “is you life and you done f— it up.”
I asked him if he would turn himself in. He said no.
“I will not to go to jail and punish. I ain’t going to jail to sit down three, four years (for my case start). I too old fuh that.”
The man had admitted to being a killer and of harbouring thoughts of killing others. I decided to try to arrange his capture.
After contacting the police and letting them listen in on part of our conversation, I told ‘Frenchie’ that I, an ex-army man like himself, would provide him with funds to help him in leaving the country.
We arranged to meet at a popular location in the Stabroek area. He warned me that he had grenades on him, just in case he was being double-crossed.
Ignoring his bluff, I caught a taxi and headed to the location. Meanwhile, he remained in touch to ensure that I was still coming. I had a photograph of the suspect, so I was sure I would recognise him.
Eventually, I reached the location. There was no sign of ‘Frenchie.’ He called back shortly after to say that he had gotten suspicious after seeing a policeman he knew and had cancelled the meeting. He made some threatening comments and I responded by taunting him that he only had the guts to kill women.
Later that day, ‘Frenchie’ also reportedly made several threatening calls to Savitri Arjune’s family. When I tried to contact him again he had switched the phone off.
‘Frenchie’ fled to Suriname. Meanwhile, I repeatedly printed his story. I wanted to make this arrogant killer uneasy.
It would be almost eight years before I would hear of him again. After living in Suriname for a number of years, Chapman slipped back into Guyana. In January 2017, police arrested Chapman at a house at Limlair, Corentyne. He had reportedly been living there for three years with a friend.
According to one report, police arrested ‘Frenchie’ after a resident tipped them off. However, another source said that police ranks detained him in connection with a wounding report. The ranks were unaware of Chapman’s identity, but realised that he was not from the area.
But they became suspicious after he stated that he was from Herstelling, East Bank Demerara. Under interrogation, Chapman admitted that he was wanted for Arjune’s murder.
Chapman, now 62, cut a pathetic figure. The former soldier now sported straggly hair and a beard, and looked nothing like the individual in the photograph that was posted of him several years prior.
Three days after his capture, Chapman was remanded to prison. But eleven days later, reportedly suffering from tuberculosis and asthma, Chapman was admitted to hospital, where he succumbed.
In death, ‘Frenchie’ had escaped his great fear of having to “punish in jail.”
If you have any information about this unusual case, please contact us at our Lot 24 Saffon Street office or by telephone.
We can be reached on telephone numbers 22-58465, 22-58491, or 22-58458. You need not disclose your identity. You can also contact Michael Jordan at his email address [email protected]
Pix – Frenchie
Caption: Charles Chapman called “Frenchie” in 2009 (left) and when he was apprehended in 2017 (centre). At right is Savitri Arjune
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