– RECOUNTING THE EXPLOITS OF A YOUNG DETECTIVE’S CAPTURE OF THE MAN WHO MURDERD EIGHT CHILDREN
By Michael Jordan
I was just eleven years old when the killings began.
It started in April 1969, when the body of a young female, with limbs bound behind her back, was found in a canal in Bushy Park, East Bank Essequibo.
The victim was eventually identified as Basmattie, an eight-year-old schoolgirl from Anna Catherina, West Coast Demerara.
The child was reported missing from her home on March 20, 1969, and reports at the time had suggested that she was last seen in the company of a “tall, bearded man,” while on her way to school. She was slain while on her way to school, and vendor remembers her buying a snack as she headed on her way.
Five days later, the trussed-up corpse of an Amerindian child, known only as ‘Achikoo’ was found in a canefield at Turkeyen. At the time, no one saw a possible link between the two deaths.
But then on August 30, 1968, David Bacchus, 15, of Tucville, was reported missing after leaving home around 6:45 a.m to purchase bicycle parts.
His body was found in a trench in the Lilliendaal canefields on September 13.
A month later, the decomposed corpse of 11-year-old Mohamed Fazil Nasir, missing from his home at Number 78 Village, Corentyne, on October 3, was taken out of a trench at Plantation Skeldon on October 20.
In scanning through the Guyana Graphic, one sees no reports of those early murders.
Nevertheless, the public sensed something, and rumours of a child-kidnapper on the loose began to fly thick and fast.
But the police insisted that there were no kidnappings. In fact, a 19-year-old man was arrested after he turned up at a city school and informed parents that children were being abducted. He was eventually jailed for six months after reportedly admitting that someone had paid him to spread the rumour.
The then Police Commissioner Carl Austin reassured the media that while the police had received several reports of kidnappings, all were investigated and found to be untrue.
Commissioner Austin went as far as to reassure parents that they “should harbour no fear as their children were well protected.”
Nevertheless, the hysteria persisted. A man was arrested after he allegedly told a schoolboy that he could get the lad a job on a ship and assist him with his GCE exams.
Another man was arrested for allegedly trying to drag a schoolgirl to his car and telling her that he wanted the hairs from 12 “straight haired” children.
The man appeared in court and denied the claim, while alleging that the girl and her friends had teased him.
And the press was also not buying into the ‘rumours’.
The editor of the Guyana Graphic, veteran journalist Carl Blackman, lampooned the “child kidnapping” reports.
In the editorial, headlined “The big, bad, bungling kidnapper”, Mr. Blackman wrote: “I can assure you that the kidnapping ‘bogey man’ is not waiting to pounce on your straight-haired child.
“I am at a loss to understand how the rumours have been paid any heed when the whole monstrous tale is too stupid to be believed.”
Carrying his satire further, Mr. Blackman suggested that the ‘kidnapper’ appeared to be a cross between Dracula and slapstick comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.
“Instead of waiting until dark and pouncing on a child on some lonely road, he attempts snatches at high noon…when thousands of screaming children are on hand to snatch back the victim from the jaws of an indescribable death…”
That editorial would return to haunt him.
On October 20, 1969, the headless and partly decomposed body of a 12-year-old boy, Mohamed Faizal, was fished out of a shallow drain in Crabwood Creek, Corentyne. The skull was found eight days later in a drain not far from where the other remains were located.
Faizal had vanished on October 3, 1969, after leaving his parents’ home and heading to the Number 79 Village market on a bicycle.
The police were forced to concede that the ‘child kidnapper’ rumours were indeed true and that an individual, or a gang, was murdering children.
And the reports about the child murders, with all the lurid details, began to appear in the newspapers.
One news report suggested that the latest killing was an ‘obeah murder’. The Guyana Graphic reported that police had seized a ‘black magic book’ from a Crabwood Creek home.
On October 27—a mere seven days after Mohamed Faizal’s body was found—the body of 14-year-old Jagdeo Jagroop, with hands tied behind his back, and feet bound, was found in a trench in Mahaica.
On November 3, 1969, a group of students preparing for school sports at Thomas Lands spotted something unusual in a shallow trench located near the Sproston’s Sports Club Ground.
They soon realized that they were gazing at the half-nude body of a boy—the child-killer’s sixth victim.
He was eventually identified as Mohamed Nizam Ali, who had disappeared after leaving home to view the posters at a Middle Street cinema.
Like Jagdeo Jagroop, his hands were bound behind his back and his legs were also tied. The body had been forced downward in the shallow drain.
Police Commissioner Austin assembled a special team of detectives to handle the case.
He appealed to parents to immediately report missing children, since the killer(s) seemed to be targeting loitering and ‘straying’ boys.
But Guyana Graphic editor Carl Blackman was right about one thing. The killer seemed to be invisible. They were striking in broad daylight throughout the three counties and getting away with it.
But an even more disturbing feature of the case threatened to shatter the peace between the two major ethnic groups, some of whom still harboured bitter memories of the political violence of the early sixties.
Because all of the victims, except one, were of East Indian origin, there was speculation that the killings were being committed by someone with a grudge against the Indian community.
Top members of the Maha Sabha met with then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham to seek assurance that everything was being done to catch the killer.
Under mounting public pressure, the police, under Crime Chief Paul Britton, tried to make sense of the few flimsy clues that they possessed.
What they already knew was this: Except for the first victim, Basmattie, all the dead were boys. Except for one child of Amerindian descent, all of the victims were of Indian origin.
From the autopsies, they knew that they were dealing with a psychopath, who was sexually assaulting his victims, before tying, torturing and then dumping them in shallow trenches.
The children had all been bound at the hands and feet and tossed alive in trenches in remote areas around the country.
After the sixth body was found, police began to get their first clues about a possible suspect.
Scouring the Thomas Lands murder scene, detectives unearthed a brown ‘yachting’ boot, minus its laces and tongue. Further searches unearthed another boot and a pair of underwear. Acting on a tip-off, detectives questioned a Kitty Railway Line resident, who identified the boot as belonging to one Harry Rambarran.
Other breaks followed. The father of Jagdeo Jagroop, the sixth victim, recalled that a man who said that his name was Anant, had visited his home around July, and had enquired about a job. He returned on October 16, and received permission to sleep in a launch with Jagroop’s two sons. The stranger had left on October 26, the same day that the lad’s body was found.
Police announced that they were looking for ‘Anant’, who had last resided in the vicinity of the junction of East and Middle Streets and had also resided at Sheet Anchor and Canje, Corentyne.
They also revealed that they were looking for another man, known as Anand Ramlall, who was said to be a ‘preacher’.
They stated that Ramlall had recently escaped from prison.
But neither man could be located and while detectives were pursuing these leads, the killer struck two more times.
On December 31, 1969, ten-year-old Harrinarine, also called Paulton, was found in a canal at Mahaica. The boy lived at Hogg Island, Essequibo, but had disappeared while staying at an aunt at La Bagatelle, Leguan. He was reported missing shortly after a man informed the aunt that he was instructed by the boy’s father to take Harrinarine back to Leguan.
Shortly after, seven-year-old Orlando Guthrie, of Grove Village, East Bank Demerara, disappeared.
But by then, police had a better profile of ‘Anant.’
He was Harrynauth Beharry, 30, a weeder and fisherman, alias Harry Rambarran, alias Charles Bissoon, alias Charles Pereira, alias Anant Persaud and Maka Anant.
Beharry had several convictions, mainly for simple larceny. His last conviction was for “an act of gross indecency”, for which he served a twelve-month sentence.
His release on March 10, 1969, coincided with the murder of Basmattie, the first child, and the only female victim.
Police now had an idea of how Beharry selected his victims.
The perverted individual would roam villages, pretending to be looking for work. The houses he targeted were those with children.
“He was five feet seven inches tall,” veteran Guyanese journalist Steve Narine recalled.
“He had a squint in one eye, liked to keep his hat pulled down and never looked anyone in the face. He walked with a slight limp, and his yachting boots were always worn down at the heels.”
But somehow the suspect managed to elude the dragnet, until a suspicious villager and an alert detective constable became his nemesis…
DETECTIVE BROWNE ON THE CASE
It was June 1970, and a resident of Grove, East Bank Demerara was at home when a diminutive man with a cutlass visited his premises looking for work. The villager agreed to hire the labourer to weed his yard.
But the man saw something that made him suspicious. This man who apparently earned his livelihood by weeding had apparently not sharpened his cutlass in ages.
The stranger later sharpened the cutlass, weeded a portion of the yard, and left.
And the resident might have gotten over his suspicions if something else hadn’t happened.
That very night, the resident learned that a child from the village was missing. The missing child was seven-year-old Orlando Guthrie.
A few days later, the villager was heading to Georgetown when he spotted a familiar figure. The ‘weeder’ was coming out of a dam at Houston, East Bank Demerara.
As the resident watched, the ‘labourer’ caught a taxi. The villager decided to follow. He caught another vehicle and trailed the ‘labourer’ until the man disembarked near the Charlestown Post Office.
Spotting a police sergeant whom he knew, the villager immediately told the sergeant of his suspicions. The sergeant ignored him.
Shortly after, the resident spotted James Browne, a detective constable, driving a police jeep near Broad Street, Charlestown. The man flagged the young detective down and again related his suspicions.
Detective Browne took the man into his jeep.
Their perseverance paid off a few minutes later, when they spotted the ‘labourer’ walking in Charlestown.
Browne exited the vehicle and began to trail the suspect. But then the man spotted Detective Browne. He ran.
But Browne was a champion athlete in the Police Force. Sprinting after his quarry, he quickly cornered the fleeing man in a Charlestown yard.
After a brief struggle, Browne overpowered the ‘weeder’ and took his cutlass.
As he carried the man to his vehicle, the young detective became even more certain that the ‘labourer’ might indeed be the killer who had eluded them for 14 months.
The ‘labourer’ literally began to tremble when he spotted the Grove resident, whose premises he had weeded.
His agitation increased when Detective Browne suggested that he was the child-killer.
At the police station, the suspect soon broke down under intense questioning.
“About six of us were grilling him. We were firing questions at him. Suddenly, he began to make requests. First he asked for a smoke, and I bought him a pack of cigarettes. Then he asked for a fried chicken, and we bought that and a soft drink.
“After he had eaten, he was questioned again, and this time he confessed that he had killed the children.
“He told us that he would take us to the area where the last victim (Orlando Guthrie), who was still missing, was slain.”
All speculation that Beharry was indeed the killer ended when he took Browne and other detectives to a trench at the back of Diamond Estate, East Bank Demerara.
“Suddenly he said: ‘look he deh’, and we found the body in the trench,” recalled Brown, who would later be promoted on the spot for his role in the dramatic capture.
“He was further cautioned, and he took us to the areas where the other children had been killed.”
Beharry would later insist that he was under the influence of a mysterious figure called ‘David’ who had made him commit the murders. But no ‘David’ has ever surfaced, and Beharry was charged.
But the incensed public was to be cheated of a sensational trial.
On April 3, 1970, Beharry was found hanging from a bar in a cell in the Georgetown Prison.
The nondescript-looking labourer who had terrorized the nation for 14 years had chosen to die by his own hand.
That was 48 years ago. But Mr. James Browne is still around. At 92, it’s not too late to express gratitude to him with a National Award.
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